Though its better known as the producer of kick-ass off road motorcycles, KTM has had superbike fans waiting anxiously for the release of its newest land rocket, the 2008 RC8.
One of the most hotly anticipated sportbikes on the planet for 2008 comes from a primarily dirt bike oriented company in Austria. KTM is testing the literbike waters with the 2008 RC8 which it recently unveiled at Spain’s Ascari racetrack. Our overseas correspondents from MCN were on hand for the big news and sent this report in an airtight bottle across the Atlantic.
Finally. KTM’s superbike is no longer a mouth-watering concept bike, but a real motorcycle that you can actually buy come April for a competitive £10,695.
Thankfully, despite waiting five long years since the concept model was first revealed, this 1148cc twin cylinder superbike has retained its original razor sharp styling. The unique, bold design suggests an element of outrageous aggression which was over exaggerated by the adrenalin packed promotional video we were shown at Spain’s Ascari racetrack. With all the endless hype and KTM’s reputation for producing focused, road-going, quality motorcycles like the Super Duke 990, the RC8 already had massive expectations to live up to. Could it truly catapult KTM into a new superbike dimension? Or would it merely prove to be a very impressive first attempt for the Austrian manufacturer.
The answer is yes. Twice. Yes, it’s a brave, bold move for KTM and one that’s destined to be positively received. But the stunning RC8 was definitely not the superbike I was expecting to ride.
The second generation 990 twin-cylinder engine has been totally overhauled to produce a brand new 1148cc powerhouse for the (Race Competition) RC8. Consequently, the RC8 revs 1000 rpm higher than the 990 engine, and although the linear power is useable and completely unintimidating, it doesn’t feel as aggressive or as fast as the styling and hype had suggested. There’s also a slight abruptness in the power delivery at around 2000 rpm in the first few gears. It’s certainly not as obtrusive as Buell’s first attempt with its 1125R twin-cylinder sportbike, but it is noticeable during slow speed maneuvers.
Thankfully, as the day progressed, so did my understanding and appreciation of the bike. The engine’s actually a very tractable lump. Despite the lairy video and lack of the heart-in-the-back-of-your-mouth stuff that I’d braced myself for, the engine’s flat torque curve offers a steady, controllable power that’s harnessed in a very comfortable and manageable bike. It’s as welcome as a friendly smile and just as easy to live with. The RC8 may have gained the early and unfounded reputation of being a wild animal, but in reality, it’s an obedient, house-trained pet. It’s just one that looks and sounds like it will rip your leg off.
The second generation of KTM’s 990 twin-cylinder engine has been overhauled to produce an updated 1148cc powerhouse with a fairly linear powerband.
As long as the road’s not too pitted, the bike glides round bends and devours the tarmac as eagerly as I devour chocolate. And the riding position’s surprisingly comfortable, especially considering the bike’s genre and competition (Ducati’s 1098 for example) On road or track, I had ample room to move around the 805-825mm (31.7-32.4 in.) seat or lay flat on the 16.5 litre (4.35 gal.) tank without my six foot frame feeling even the slightest bit cramped. The super sharp rear and lack of bungee hooks needn’t deter riders intent on touring or carrying pillions either, as KTM has thought of everything and supplies enough after-market parts to enable you to use the bike exactly as you wish.
Although it’s far more suited to the road than we’d been led to believe, the adjustable handlebars and footpegs vibrate if you let the revs build. It’s not as fierce as Buell’s new 1125R and only the mirrors (which compare with the Ducati1098’s in pointy-pointlessness) vibrate to the point of being amusing. They shudder uncontrollably when steaming along at motorway speeds, and unfortunately also graze your knuckles when trying tight U-turns.
The RC8 is inconsistently sophisticated. You can adjust the ergonomics to suit both your riding style and your demands, (As long as you know what you’re tweaking and why you’re tweaking it) and the state of the art Zadi instrument dash displays both road and race information separately, but it only has one trip meter and no gear indicator.
While the Brembo brakes are staggeringly good, the gearbox is frustratingly poor. A line of beautiful RC8’s flanked Ascari’s pit lane, and as each journalist mounted, turned the key and selected first gear, there was a resounding clunk from each bike. Moreover, I managed to find an unwanted neutral on more than one occasion both on road and track, and usually between first and second gear. I took to taking Ascari’s hairpins in second to avoid the snatchy fuelling, risk of the green light appearing on the dash and the subsequent and disconcerting free-wheeling of an unavoidable false-neutral. But you can manage the gearbox’s quirks by adjusting the gear lever so less input’s required from your left foot and by being very firm with each gear selection.
However, the steel chassis, which is built in-house in Mattighofen, is superb. It’s super-light and is reportedly as light as a 250GP frame. Together with the adjustable WP suspension, the bike behaves as though it’s an extension of you, rather than you having to fight a machine with a mind (and direction) of its own. In that respect, the handling’s amongst the best I’ve experienced and the sportier suspension settings, which KTM suggests, stiffens the bike’s front and rear and builds confidence faster than Barratts builds homes.
Okay, we know that KTM’s RC8 won’t hit American soil until this fall, but here’s some first ride impressions from our friends overseas to whet your appetite until you can get your hands on the real deal.
I had wanted the RC8 to be a perfect superbike, a KTM that dreams are made of and that piggy banks are broken for. And it is – in a way. There’s the wonderful gnarling rumble from the hidden underslung exhaust, the faultless handling, superior braking, stunning styling and quality finish. But there’s also the raw gearbox, vibey buzz, subtle snatchy fuelling and a hard-to-reach side stand.
The RC8 will probably prove to be more useable, more rider-friendly and far more comfortable than the Italian (or American) alternatives. And its styling’s enough to entice customers to the showroom on looks alone, especially in its white trim. Plus you’ll save a fair few pennies on the purchase price over a Ducati 1098. But if you’re really after adrenalin kicks and a bike that demands you tame it before it spanks your butt red raw… well, that’s another discussion entirely.
Model KTM RC8 £10,695
Engine 1,148cc 2-cylinder, 4 stroke, V 75-degree
Power 152.49 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
Torque 88.56 lb.ft @ 8,000 rpm
Transmission Six speed
Ready to Race Weight 188kg (414.5 lbs without fuel)
Seat Height 805-825mm
Fuel capacity 16.5 litres
Contact www.ktm.co.uk or call KTM UK 01280 709500
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