2011 KTM RC8R

Austria’s big motorcycle company, KTM, has been trying to break into the literbike class for a couple of years now with the RC8, a bike that’s a bit of a departure for a company mainly known for its off-road products. Sadly, though, the KTM, with its unusually geometric styling, has been a hard sell.  Not for the styling so much–although it takes a bit of getting used to–but for the rather iffy performance of the bike itself.

2011 KTM RC8R
2011 KTM RC8R

On paper, it looks like an equal contender to the V-Twin Aprilias and Ducatis. On the track, though, it’s been a bit disappointing.  Iffy and snatchy throttling, and overly stiff suspension have amounted to a bike that one wants to love as a top-flight literbike…but can’t. Especially for the rather premium price that comes with the KTM logo.

For 2011, KTM says they’ve made a host of minor changes that completely transform the character of the bike.  Is that true? Well, Motorcycle-USA’s Adam Waheed and Steve Atlas took one of the new RC8s to the track to see.

Their judgement is that a new crankshaft and flywheel, remapped throttling, dual spark plugs, new slipper clutch, and a suspension overhaul have radically improved the RC8.

What remains to be seen–and hopefully we’ll see it soon–is a head-to-head comparo of the RC8 with its superbike brethren.

One thing to note about the RC* is the placement of the exhaust, which is slung directly under the bike at the centerline, the same as the BMW S1000RR. Or as practically every Buell motorcycle, where that configuration appeared first.

I’m just saying.

Big Bagger Showdown II

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom

Once again, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide shows up in a 2011 bagger showdown, this time being pitted against the Kawasaki Vaquero by Motorcycle.Com.  They compared the two bikes head to head and found out a couple of interesting things.

First up, is the issue of power.  If you shell out a cool two grand extra for the 103ci Harley PowerPak mill, then  the power and torque curves of the two bukes are practically identical. That tells us two things: That the PowerPak package from Harley-Davidson gives you competitive engine performance, while the standard 96ci engine is underpowered relative to other bikes in the class. Of course, we’re talking about heavy touring cruisers here, so power may not be your priority when it comes to purchasing.  And if it is, that $1995 premium for the PwerPak seems a bit…steep.

The other thing we learned is that Harley-Davidson’s new chassis and geometry for the baggers has really improved their handling quite a bit. The Road Glide has always been the best handling of the big Harleys anyway, so this improvement must be particularly noticeable. Having said that, the Road Glide’s suspension seems to still be a bit “meh”.

The big difference between these two bike is the price.  With equivalent engines and accessories, the Vaquero comes in at a miserly $16,499 compared to the lofty $22,149 sticker price of the Road Glide. That means for almost the price of the Road Glide, you could by a Vaquero for touring…and a Versys for commuting.