Track Day With the KTM RC8 and KTM 990 Super Duke
The KTM RC8
Fastrack Riders and KTM teamed up to hold a KTM demo day at Auto Club Speedway where KTM staff were on hand to sign up riders who wanted to ride their impressive line-up of motorcycles. All the goodies were there: The KTM 1190 cc RC8; the 990 Super Duke; the 990 Super Duke R; the 690 Duke and the 690 Supermoto.
My day consisted of three on-track sessions; two on the RC8 and one on the 990 Super Duke. First order of duty would be a ride on the new RC8 as this was a highly anticipated ride for me. Since viewing the first pictures of this bike on the internet I have been foaming at the mouth to get a ride on one.
The distinct styling of the RC8 really sets it apart from other sportbikes on the market and it’s a look that I immediately took a liking to. If the styling of the bike doesn’t float your boat, here are a few things that might; an 1148 cc V-twin cranking out 155 bhp at 10,000 RPM and 120 Nm of torque @ 8,000 rpm.
Suspension is provided by WP Suspension front and rear and they also supply an adjustable steering damper as standard equipment. Front suspension has adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping while the rear has preload, compression (high and low speed) and rebound damping. Wheels are five-spoke alloy Marchesini 3.50 x 17″ and 6.00 x 17″.
The RC8 also comes equipped with premium Brembo components. On the front are 320 mm floating discs with radially bolted, four-piston monoblock calipers while the rear has a 220 mm disc and dual-piston fixed caliper.
Stopping power was never a question but I prefer something with a little less initial bite. The Brembos come on so hard initially it took me some time to get a feel for how much pressure to put on the brake lever. Once deep into the braking they had a more progressive feel with ample bite.
KTM makes the RC8 frame out of chrome molybdenum steel and it weighs less than 16.5 pounds. The swingarm is made of anodized cast and sheet metal and the linkage system in the rear allows for 7 mm of ride height adjustment. The RC8 also has adjustable foot pegs and as a whole the level of adjustability on the RC8 is definitely greater than any current sportbike I have ridden.
The speedo on the RC8 is down right swanky and a wide variety of information can be accessed in either road or racing mode via a menu button on the handlebars. KTM has managed to throw in a clock, trip, digital tach and speedo as well as an on board lap timer plus a few other things too.
The KTM RC8 comes with some very unique and brand-name components and I was curious to see if the bike worked as a package or if it was nothing more than a mediocre motorcycle with some high-priced goodies.
I have heard some good things about the suspension out of the Netherlands but this was my first time riding on WP suspension and I must say I came away impressed. In fact, it was probably the highlight of the RC8.
The WP rear mono shock did a great job of putting the power down. There was no squat from the rear when accelerating out of Auto Club Speedway’s many flat, hard accelerating corners. T here was some rear-wheel spin going on but it was mostly due to the Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa street tires. Even when the rear was spinning it was very controlled thanks to the good feedback and feel; no quick step-outs or surprises here.
Turn-in on the KTM was also top notch as the bike tipped in quickly and without too much effort. Once it was on it’s side it was very confidence inspiring and felt extremely balanced and planted.
There are a few serious cracks in the pavement leading onto the banking at Fontana which can upset the bike while at full lean angle. The RC8 went over the rough patches like they didn’t exist — I couldn’t help but thinking I wish I could get my racebike to feel that good over the rugged pavement I could shave some serious time.
Just as the rear had good feel, the front never had me guessing. Running on street tires, I was pushing the front in some of Fontana’s flat corners. But the excellent feel from the WP front-end meant I was able to ride it to the limit through typically heavy track day traffic without the fear of causing a bowling ball effect while making inside passes on slower riders. The front always felt very planted and it allowed me to charge hard on the brakes with complete confidence.
The RC8 weighs in at a competitive 440 lbs fully wet, feels very slim and light between the legs, and was precise and flickable while making quick transitions coming off the banking through the switchbacks. It was very composed through the bumpy fast chicane leading to the back straight; a critical part of the track for a fast lap time.
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While making passes going into the corners is good fun, nothing beats the feeling of making a horsepower pass down the straightaway. While you won’t be pulling ZX-10’s down the straight, the RC8 has a motor with a tractor like pull all the way to the top.
I was surprised to feel the strong surge of power high up in the revs on the RC8. As the old folks would say, it’s a real kick in the pants. While the impressive power at high revs may have been a pleasant surprise the place the KTM motor really shines is in the long sweeping corner exits where you can just roll on the power.
Unfortunately, for me, Fontana doesn’t have an abundance of these corners. I can imagine, however, the fun to be had laying nasty black marks on corner exits at tracks like Laguna or Miller which have a better flow. The motor was a little reminiscent of when I first rode the Ducati 1098 in the way you could rev it out a little more like an inline four.
The fuel injection and throttle response were a big letdown on the RC8. Mid-corner at around 4,500 RPM the bike would stumble badly and the on/off throttle response was terrible. The jerkiness was bad enough to upset the bike in a few of Fontana’s corners to the point where it could put you on the ground if you weren’t smooth.
Gear selection was very important in the slower corners to try to keep the RC8 running smoothly. Shift action on the transmission was positive and smooth with good engagement and no sign of clunkiness. My only other real complaint of the RC8 would be a healthy dose of vibration at the bars.
In my short time with the new RC8 I came to appreciate what an impressive job KTM has done in creating and bringing their first dedicated sportbike to market. Having ridden KTM’s main competition in the standard Ducati 1098 and Buell 1125R, I would have to say the RC8 falls somewhere right in between. While I felt the motor and handling of the RC8 surpassed the Buell 1125R it is still a bit shy of being a Ducati beater.
Seeing as how this was KTM’s first shot at a hard-core sportbike the RC8 is pretty impressive. Beautiful styling, strong motor, stable chassis and top-notch components make this a sportbike with a big future.
KTM 990 Super Duke
With most of my time being spent on the RC8 I only managed one session on the KTM Super Duke, so here are my initial impressions.
The KTM Super Duke is a total riot on the track. Fun factor is always huge on a bike like this since you are not going to break any track records and that is where this motorcycle comes up huge.
I have to admit I used to watch riders on track with these type of hybrid bikes and wonder why they would choose to ride them on the track instead of a purpose built sportbike.
Well the Super Duke gave me the simple answer . . . because they are a blast!
The Super Duke benefits from a very short feel and I was really able to get over the front of the bike and flick it at will into the corners.
The bike transitioned effortlessly and was beautiful on turn in. Dry weight on the Super Duke is a nice trim 410 pounds and wheelbase is set at 57.1 inches.
The only thing that really felt odd was the bar. While they did give good leverage there was an awkward bend at the bar ends which turns your wrists up and out.
This felt slightly uncomfortable and I found myself having to reposition my hands in the tight corners to get the feel right.
Trying to tuck in on the Super Duke is a also a bit of a challenge with no fairing or windscreen. You are almost totally exposed to the wind so you really have to try to keep the body as tight to the tank and frame as possible.
KTM installed super sticky Dunlop DOT race rubber which was huge in giving me the confidence I needed to ride the KTM hard.
While the Superduke responded well, at an accelerated pace the front fork started to feel slightly soft and mushy. This is to be expected however as the Superduke was never intended to be a hardcore sportbike.
The rear shock stood up to the punishment quite well and I had no complaints from the fully adjustable WP shock.
The tubular chrome-moly chassis stayed composed under hard thrashing. There was no head-shake under hard acceleration or over Fontana’s bumpy patches.
Stability was also good on the brakes and the Brembo 4-piston fixed caliper brakes with 305mm discs up front provided ample stopping power, but like the RC8 could have benefitted from slightly less of an abruptness on initial lever pull to help smooth out the braking.
Shifting of the 6-speed transmission was smooth with an even slightly more positive feel and action than the RC8. Unlike the RC8, vibration at the bars was not an issue and you should not find your hands going numb after a day in the saddle.
The Super Duke features a versatile 999cc liquid-cooled, 75-degree, dual-cam V-twin motor. The motor produces 118BHP and was extremely easy to use. Like most v-twins it produces a pulsating grunty power that gives you a healthy pull out of the corners.
The Super Duke does suffer from spotty fuel injection down low in the RPM’s however. Negotiating through slower corners is a little tougher work as you are having to correct the stumbles the fuel injection is transferring through the bike.
I like both the radical looks of the Super Duke and the ergonomics, which are quite good.
As excited as I was to ride the RC8 I am surprised to say that the Super Duke may have just won me over for the day. No longer will I question why track day junkies all over the country are buying bikes like the KTM Super Duke.
While it may not be the sharpest scalpel on the track, the Super Duke has the field covered in character and the ever so important fun factor.
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