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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

KTM RC 8

At last - KTM's superbike is no longer a mouth-watering concept bike, but a real motorcycle that you can actually buy, from 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.

KTM RC8 (image © PA)

The bold design suggests an element of outrageous aggression which was reinforced at the bike's launch by the adrenalin-packed promotional video we were shown before riding the bike at Spain's Ascari race track. 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? The answer is yes. It is, without doubt, a brave, bold move from KTM and one that's destined to be positively received, but the stunning RC8 was definitely not the superbike I was expecting to ride.


KTM RC8 (image © KTM)

Not as mad as it looks

In spite of the looks, in spite of the video, in spite of the hype, it's actually quite an easy machine to ride: mad - definitely, if you want to - but never insane. The 990 engine has been totally overhauled to produce a brand new, 1148cc powerhouse for the (Race Competition) RC8. Consequently, it revs 1000rpm higher and, although the power is linear 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 2000rpm in the first few gears.

KTM RC8 (image © PA)

It's certainly not as obtrusive as the fuelling was on Buell's 1125R, but it is noticeable in slow-speed manoeuvres. 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-your-mouth stuff that I'd braced myself for, the engine's smooth 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.

KTM RC8 (image © PA)

Comfort and practicality

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, albeit one that looks and sounds really, really mean. As long as the road's not too pot-holed or rippled, the bike glides round bends and devours the tarmac as eagerly as I devour chocolate. And the riding position is surprisingly comfortable, especially compared to other models in this class. On road or track, I had ample room to move around the seat or lay flat on the 16.5-litre tank without my six-foot frame feeling even the slightest bit cramped.

KTM RC8 (image © KTM)

The super sharp rear and lack of bungee hooks needn't deter riders intent on touring or carrying pillions either, as KTM thinks of everything and will supply 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 do vibrate if you let the revs build. It's not as fierce as Buell's new 1125R and only the mirrors 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.


KTM RC8 (image © KTM)

Grinding the gears

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 (such is the extent of the range) and the state-of-the-art Zadi instrument dash displays both road and race information separately, yet has only one trip meter and no gear indicator. Where the Brembo brakes are staggeringly good, the gearbox is frustratingly poor. A line of beautiful RC8's flanked Ascari's pit lane ready for the test to begin and as each journalist mounted, turned the key and selected first gear, there was a resounding clonk from each bike.

KTM RC8 (image © KTM)

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 neutral light appearing on the dash and the subsequent and disconcerting free-wheeling of an unintended neutral. But you can manage the gearbox's quirks by adjusting the gear lever so less input is required and by being very firm with each gear selection.

KTM RC8 (image © KTM)

The steel chassis, which is built in-house in Mattighofen, is superb. It's super-light (reportedly as light as a 250GP frame) and 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 is among the best I've experienced and the sportier suspension settings which KTM suggests, stiffen the bike's front and rear and builds confidence faster than Barratt builds homes.

KTM RC8 (image © KTM)

Verdict

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. There's the wonderful 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, 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 alternatives. It doesn't demand you tame it before each ride, so the bad boy image it gained on looks and specification alone has proven unfounded. Whether that will hit its sales or enhance them remains to be seen.

Need to know
Engine
1148cc V-twin
Power
152bhp @ 10,000rpm
Torque

89lb/ft @ 8,000rpm

Top speed
n/a
Transmission
six-speed, chain drive
Weight
188kg
Seat height
805-825mm
Fuel tank capacity
16.5 litres

World Superbikes winner MSMW2012