Tale of Two Cities
While not the TTX variety, the Öhlins shock on the Ducati responds well to adjustments and provides a firm, yet compliant ride. No wonder it was a favorite of all the testers.
The WP rear shock did a fine job of damping until near the bottom of its stroke, where the overly-stiff spring rate would overpower the rebound damping and cause it to kick back. Note the eccentric insert in the shock linkage and the additional subframe mounting point to adjust seat height.
Ducati ergonomics for the 1198S place the bars low and the seat high, meaning the rider's weight is perched on the wrists/forearms. Meanwhile, the LCD gauge cluster is hard to read at full tilt. We strongly advise reading the owners manual before attempting to manipulate the displays.
Thankfully bars are higher on the KTM and much more comfortable, but the RC8R also suffers from a highly-cluttered instrument panel that displays too much information.
Ducati's single-sided swingarm make wheel swaps a snap. Spoke design on the forged Marchesini wheel varies from the standard 1198.
KTM's more conventional swingarm places the rear brake caliper underneath the disk for easier wheel removal. Note also the different rearset positions.
Öhlins suspension on the Ducati was a staff favorite. Four-piston monobloc Brembo calipers are mated to 330mm discs. Braking power is strong with good lever feel, typical Ducati.
WP 43mm inverted forks receive a titanium aluminum nitride coating to reduce stiction. Four-piston Brembo calipers bite on 320mm discs and provide strong stopping power with great feel.
Buttonwillow Raceway Park
This is a story about twins. Separated at birth, these twins went on to live vastly different lives. The first of these two twins was raised in Italy, where it learned to appreciate form over function, but still keeping performance in high regard. The Italian twin feels there's no reason why cutting-edge machinery can't also look timeless. At the other end of the spectrum, the second twin is of Austrian descent. There it formed a different appreciation for beauty and form; where soft, sensual lines made way for sharp edges and angular, contemporary flair.
Of course our two protagonists are the Ducati 1198S and KTM RC8R. The established king of V-twin performance, Ducati have a long history in building championship-winning machinery with its signature L-twin desmodromic engine and trellis frame combination.
With a bold company motto like "Ready To Race" it's clear KTM's ultimate goal would be to race on the world level. When the original RC8 was introduced we became huge fans of the bike's handling, but there was one glaring bit of information that left us scratching our heads: the 1148cc engine. A year after it was released in Europe the 1200cc RC8R made its U.S. debut and after Troy "Trizzle" Siahaan got his first ride taste at the intro in Laguna Seca, we knew what we had to do next.
So let's see: two European sportbikes, both V-twins, both 1200cc, and both hover around the $20,000 mark ($21,795 for the Ducati, $19,998 for the KTM). With stats like that the only thing left to do is pit them against each other. And so we did.
Together At Last
We've covered the technical aspects of both bikes in previous issues so we won't harp too much about that. This time around it's mainly about the riding experience from two of Europe's most exotic twins.
On paper the numbers look almost identical: both have nearly the same wheelbase (56.3 inches), both have equal trail figures (3.8 inches) and both even come standard with Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires. But there's more to these bikes than meets the eye. For starters, the KTM actually has slightly less displacement than the Ducati-1195cc vs. 1198cc-but made more peak horsepower on our dyno than the 1198S (151.1 compared to 145.1). Look at the dyno chart elsewhere in this story and you'll see a glaring figure: the 1198S makes substantially more torque much sooner in the rev range and continues building steadily, in the usable portion of the powerband that 95-percent of riders will be spending most of their time.
What that translates to in real world riding is being able to carry a gear longer, as the Ducati's massive grunt will carry you through. Of course it also helps that the red machine's gearing is spaced far enough apart to where you only need the first few gears for the majority of street riding anyway. The tall first gear and the sticky clutch we've become accustomed to on Ducatis rears its head again and we found it particularly annoying while riding around town. Speaking of which, we're starting to be convinced that ergonomics on the 1198S were designed by a masochist as the low handlebars and relatively high pegs place mass amounts of weight onto the rider's wrists and forearms, leaving the lower back in a world of hurt after only a short jaunt. A sentiment shared by Kento, scribing in his notes, "For the street...the 1198S only feels great when you're riding it hard...any other time and it's déjà vu to the old 916 torture-rack ergos."
To this end the KTM was a welcome surprise. We don't say this often for full-fledged sportbikes, but seating position was noticeably more comfortable than its Italian counterpart; clip-ons are positioned higher, while the seat and pegs felt lower as well. This is due to the adjustable saddle and rearset positions. Foot pegs have a "high" and "low" setting, and the saddle is able to be positioned in four different ways. Unlike the 1198's unforgiving clutch and tall first gear, the RC8R's short gearing helps it leap off the line and its silky smooth gearbox requires no effort to change up or down. And while it doesn't have the bottom-end torque the Ducati has, its engine spins much quicker compared to the tractor-like 90-degree twin of the 1198S. This is all well and good except for the overly sensitive throttle, something we've experienced on R model KTM's in the past. Strangely, Siahaan didn't experience this at the Laguna Seca intro.
Despite a low seating position, the rider is still perched quite high and this makes for quick and responsive turn-in, at the expense of stability. That said, the KTM is solid once at max lean, it just takes time to trust the WP suspension. Up front is a fully adjustable 43mm inverted unit which we found soaked up bumps quite nicely. In the rear a WP shock, also fully adjustable, was accompanied by a ride height adjuster in the form of an eccentric ball joint. With five different height positions, we chose to leave it at the middle setting. The nervous feeling we were getting upon turn-in was likely due to a stiff spring rate that caused it to kick back abruptly once it reached the bottom of its stroke. Despite our best attempts at slowing the rebound circuit, the problem would persist.
Other than that, the KTM's engine won over the testers as its quick-revving nature required all of our testers to keep the engine spinning to have the most fun. Its nimble handling allowed us to put the bike anywhere we wanted, and drive out of turns was strong, assuming one was in the right gear to keep the bike in the powerband.
For the Ducati, shifting wasn't an issue as the monster torque would pull no matter what gear it was in. While it was slower to turn, the proven Öhlins suspension soaked up everything in its path and even worked well given the wide weight ranges of our test riders. With its forward riding position, front wheel feedback was almost telepathic and that allowed many of the riders to feel more comfortable attacking corners. All were in agreement that the Ducati took the point in the suspension department, with Steve "Hollywood" Mikolas summing it up best in his notes, "You can't beat Öhlins. Period."
Bringing both bikes to a halt are a pair of Brembo four-piston calipers, each radially mounted. The Ducati's clamp on 330mm discs, while the KTM's rotors are 10mm smaller in diameter. While it may be nitpicking, none of the testers could come to a unanimous agreement on stopping power as some felt the Ducati was noticeably stronger, while others couldn't tell a difference. Either way, both units bring the bikes to a halt quickly with good feel.
It didn't take long on the jaunt home through highways and city streets-where a majority of owners will spend their time with these bikes-aboard the 1198S before joints started to ache and backs started to hurt. Not that the RC8R was immune to these issues, it just didn't occur until much later. As if that wasn't enough, at anything slower than hyperdrive the heat radiating from the 1198's underseat exhaust cooks your buns in no time. Mirrors on both bikes are practically useless and we've become harsh critics of the LCD gauge clusters as they are hard to read and display too much information at one time; none of which, mind you, includes a gear indicator. Throw in the hassle involved in trying to manipulate the different functions and one might be inclined to ride another motorcycle altogether. If we had our druthers we'd have an analog tachometer square in the center of the display. Everything else would be forced to fit around it.
After our street testing the KTM started to win us over simply because of its comfortable seating position. Despite a twitchy throttle and stiff rear suspension, it was able to hang with the Ducati in the tight stuff, and it's also easier to live with on a day-to-day basis.
|+||Rock solid handling|
|-||Slow to turn-in|
|-||Torture rack ergos|
|-||Gauges are hard to read and manipulate|
|x||Ducati's years of experience are evident|
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS|
|FRONT||Spring preload: 24 turns out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 7 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: 2 lines showing above top triple clamp|
|REAR||Spring preload: 12mm thread showing from top of preload ring; Rebound damping: 2.5 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: 0mm thread showing (lowest setting) on linkage strut|
|+||Quick and agile|
|-||Unsettled suspension at turn-in|
|-||Gauge cluster too cluttered|
|x||A very impressive attempt to dethrone the king|
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS|
|FRONT||Spring preload: 6 clicks out from full stiff; Rebound damping: 4 clicks out from full stiff; Compression damping: 10 clicks out from full stiff; Ride height: 2 lines showing above top triple clamp|
|REAR||Spring preload: 18mm thread showing from top of preload ring; Rebound damping: 21 clicks out from full stiff; Low speed compression: 12 clicks out from full stiff; High speed compression: 6 turns out from full stiff; Ride height: position 3 of 5 on eccentric adjuster|
Realistically, both bikes are home on the racetrack and it's only right that we settle the score there. Thanks to Mark Duncan and our friends at The Track Club (thetrackclub.com) we were able to secure some quality seat time at one of their trackdays at Buttonwillow Raceway. As usual, we strapped on our G2X datalogger and sent El Jefe out for some timed runs. The results show that Kento was a few ticks quicker on the Ducati in virtually every sector. With Buttonwillow's irregular track surface, this would exacerbate the KTM's rear suspension woes while strengthening the superior damping abilities of the Öhlins-equipped Ducati. As was the case on the street, the KTM's agility impressed all the testers, but is a little nervous transitioning from side to side. Both bikes are completely stable once finally on its side, but the Ducati never feels unsettled beforehand.
It's under power that the Ducati trumps the KTM. With its broad torque curve the 1198S drives out of corners with fervor and leaves the RC8R behind. The KTM, meanwhile, needs to be spinning quickly to take advantage of the peak horsepower advantage up high. "The KTM lacks the torque of the Ducati, but pulls very hard in the upper rpm range..." wrote racecar-team-manager-turned-motorcycle-racer John Olsen. The result is a bike that takes the most skilled of riders in order to fully realize its potential.
For a first real effort, the RC8R is a brilliant attempt to dethrone the king. But in comparison, riding around the track on the Ducati just comes naturally. Confidence moves up a point each time you flick it in a turn and the confidence from the front end inspires you to lean over more and more. Get on the gas too soon and the Ducati Traction Control chimes in and keeps things in check. All the years that Ducati spent perfecting the V-twin superbike shone through when riding the 1198S. All the testers were easily in agreement here: for the ultimate V-twin track weapon, the Ducati is the way to go.
In all of our tests we have to pick a winner, and yet each bike won an individual category. If you're like most people and ride mainly on the street, then the KTM might be the bike for you. If you don't mind a little punishment in order to enjoy the twisty bits, then the Ducati is the way to go. Make no mistake, we were thoroughly impressed with KTM's first serious effort in the superbike V-twin category, but in the end the scoresheet doesn't lie; after adding up the subjective scores the Ducati 1198S gets our pick, if only just.
Racepak G2X Data Analysis
While we did use Buttonwillow Raceway Park for the track portion of our test, it was a completely new track for our testers as we utilized the full course, and in reverse direction. That makes comparing this data with previous tests difficult, but there are plenty of comparisons to be made between the Ducati and KTM. With just .3 second separating the two bikes over a two-minute-plus lap time, the 1198S pulls out a tiny overall advantage, but over the course of each bike's fastest lap there is more difference than that.
Over the first three segments of the lap-leading up to Lost Hills-the KTM in fact pulls out a significant gap over the Ducati. Almost .5 second separates the two on the run up the hill, but the Ducati has negated that advantage by the time they are over the hill and into the Riverside turn. Through Riverside (segment 6) and the Bus Stop chicane (segment 7) the two bikes post almost identical segment times. The Grapevine (segment 8) is where the 1198S pulls out a small advantage, but from there the lap time difference is minimal.
With almost identical lap times and many of the segment times coming out equal, where does each bike have its advantage? In general, under acceleration the KTM gains time, while under deceleration the Ducati gains time. While the 1198S makes more torque and has a broader spread of power than the RC8R, the KTM makes more peak horsepower; on the racetrack, the Ducati's wide powerband is not much of a benefit for lap times. The RC8R also cards the highest maximum speed of 133.1 mph along the fastest straightaway, compared with 132.2 mph for the 1198S.
Under braking, and especially trail braking when the bike is leaned over, the 1198S shows a definite advantage compared with the RC8R, consistently pulling more braking G-force and more combined lateral and braking G-forces. Because Buttonwillow's full course is a flowing circuit with many trail-braking areas, the track plays to the Ducati's strengths in this case.
The long Sweeper turn (segment 3) generally gives a picture of a motorcycle's outright cornering capability, as the bike is leaned over on the edge of the tire for an extended period of time. Here, the KTM posted an 11.777-second segment time compared with the Ducati's 11.848-second time. And in the turn that we consider an overall judge of a motorcycle's handling-Sunset (section 1 on diagram)-the Ducati has a slightly quicker segment time, 6.437 seconds compared with 6.530 seconds for the KTM. In the objective terms of the Racepak G2X, there's not much between these two bikes at Buttonwillow.
|DUCATI 1198S||KTM RC8R|
|Type||Liquid-cooled, 90-degree 4-stroke, DOHC L-twin||Liquid-cooled, 75-degree 4-stroke, DOHC V-twin|
|Bore x stroke||106.0 x 67.9mm||105.0 x 69.0mm|
|Induction||Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 63.9mm dia. Single injector/cyl.||Keihin EFI, single-valve, 52mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.|
|Front suspension||43mm inverted Öhlins cartridge fork, fully adjustable, 4.7 in. travel||43mm inverted WP cartridge fork, fully adjustable, 4.7 in. travel|
|Rear suspension||Single Öhlins shock absorber, fully adjustable, 5.0 in. travel||Single WP shock absorber, fully adjustable, 4.7 in. travel|
|Front tire||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP|
|Rear tire||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP|
|Rake/trail||24.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)||23.3 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)|
|Wheelbase||56.3 in. (1430mm)||56.1 in. (1425mm)|
|Weight||433 lbs (196 kg) wet||439lbs (199 kg) wet|
|408.4 lbs (185 kg) dry||412.9 lbs (187 kg) dry|
|Fuel consumption||29 to 33 mpg, 31 mpg avg.||33 to 40 mpg, 35 mpg avg.|
|Ducati 1198S||10.02 sec. @ 145.32 mph|
|KTM RC8R||10.06 sec. @ 143.36 mph|
Roll-Ons Ducati 1198S 60-80 mph/2.68 sec.; 80-100 mph/3.28 sec. KTM RC8R 60-80 mph/2.61 sec.; 80-100 mph/2.77 sec.
|Ducati 1198S||179.1 mph|
|KTM RC8R||174.6 mph|
After spending a day at the track with both of these bikes, the more I ride them the more of a convert I become. They both share the characteristics of riding a twin; user-friendly power, great steering, and predictable traction. However, make no bones about it-these are seriously fast bikes.
Given that both bikes on one level share similar characteristics, digging a little deeper really details the unique nuances between the 1198S and RC8R. The RC8R likes its revs kept high to utilize its peak power, while the Ducati's torque pulls it out of any situation. The tall-riding RC8R transitioned well and it had very light steering. Couple this with a slightly out of phase suspension and the RC8R was a bit unstable on the entry to dynamic corners. The 1198S took a little more work, but was as steady as a rock once in the corner.
While I really, really liked both bikes, to me this test came down to refinement. As amazing as the RC8R is, the refinement and sorted package of the 1198S gives it a slight nod.
Riding this class of two-wheeled machinery is a literal stirring of the soul... and wallet.
I will always be a fan of the V-twin configuration, and I'm blown away at KTM's youthful jab at the almighty Italian icon. But as much as I enjoyed the KTM's rev-hungry motor, it's clear that future refinement is still going to be needed. The RC8R has what it takes for most of its customers needs, but at mach-plus, the KTM is clearly a step below the Ducati.
Although the Ducati is left staggered-but still standing-by the comfort and prowess of the Austrian upstart, the Desmo's world-class racing development speaks for itself. The 1198 series has shown what Ducati can bring to the street, and the S model displays this performance heritage with its Öhlins suspension that makes all the difference in putting that performance to the ground. Riding the Ducati hard is practically intuitive, with front-end feedback that inspires supreme confidence-an attribute that is truly the golden key to any rider of high performance motorcycles. This alone gives "The Big Red One" an overall edge.
Sure the title of this story and its contents have nothing to do with the book, but I titled it that way for a reason. These two bikes have many similar traits on paper, but they go about their business in a completely different manner. Whereas the Ducati likes to hum right along and pull a gear as long as possible, the KTM is constantly pinging off the rev-limiter (figuratively speaking). As much as I like riding on the track, any time I rode somewhere on the street I grabbed the KTM keys.
It was a different story on the track though. The KTM never inspired the same kind of confidence in me as it did on the street. In contrast, the Ducati's refinement in comparison to its Austrian counterpart was just staggering. But I can't help but feel that with a little more time I could make the RC8R work for me. Plus-call me crazy-but I kinda like the way the KTM looks. So despite the score sheets and the advice from my colleagues, if I were to pick one I think I'd keep the RC8R in my garage.
I'm fairly impressed with the KTM. The R model definitely shores up the main weakness of the standard version (not enough power), and with its superb agility and less aggressive ergos, the KTM is a more enjoyable ride on the street. The Ducati's tall gearing and committed riding position can get annoying after a while on public pavement. The KTM's quicker-revving engine is a little more fun to play with on the street, and doesn't force you to constantly maintain high corner speed.
That said, the roles were completely reversed on the track. The RC8R's lack of torque compared to the Ducati (which incidentally had WAY more torque than our previous 1198 standard model-perhaps a result of the newer Marelli ECU and more accurate mapping?) really showed on the fast and flowing pavement of a racing circuit, forcing you to keep the KTM's throttle pinned. Meanwhile, the Ducati's combination of strong motor and excellent chassis let it go much quicker with far less effort.
Even though you're forking out a little more coin, I'd go with the 1198S.