KTM RC16, Ready to MotoGP 2017 Race ?

Austrian firm KTM has been surprisingly open about its plans to return to MotoGP in 2017. After its prototype RC16 had a shakedown at the Red Bull Ring, photos of the first iteration of the new design were revealed. There’s still more than a year before this bike will have a serious shot at racing, though wildcard appearances in 2016 are possible as testing goes on, so the machine that lines up on the grid for the first 2017 round might look quite different. Even at this stage it’s an intriguing bike, mixing tried-and-tested ideas with novel engineering solutions.

Comparison with this year’s MotoGP machines is fruitless – by the time the new KTM starts to race there will be new regulations, including the adoption of a standard ECU, as well as new Michelin tyres on 17-inch wheels instead of the current 16.5-inch Bridgestones. But the KTM, even in its early state, is already revealing some secrets.

As well as being a works MotoGP machine with the financial might of Red Bull backing it, KTM RC16 is set to be the basis of KTM’s much-heralded, track-only "production" superbike offering. Although the firm claims not to be interested in making a road-legal variant, it does have plans to offer a high-priced production racer aimed at either privateer competitors or wealthy trackday enthusiasts.

Test rider Alex Hofmann and KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer were both pleased with the bike’s first run, and a second machine is already being built ahead of another test before the end of the year, when second tester Mika Kallio will get to try it out.

KTM RC16 Engine

We can’t see it in these pictures, but under the fairing there’s a 90º V4 built to the 1000cc limit. To have a chance, the works version will need pneumatic valves and a seamless-shift transmission, but plans for a production bike don’t include either.

It’s not entirely new ground for KTM. The firm created a pneumatic-valve "GP1" 990 V4 for a stillborn MotoGP project in 2003, eventually racing the engine for half a season in 2005 with the Roberts team. Like Aprilia’s RS Cube three-cylinder, the KTM engine struggled due to a lack of rideability – something that would easily be fixed with today’s far more advanced electronic control systems.

KTM RC16 Chassis & Suspension

While a V4 engine is a favoured MotoGP format, the KTM RC16 pictures show an installation similar to Honda’s RC213V, with a side-exhaust and an under-seat pipe. Yet the RC16’s chassis is not like any of its rivals. Instead of an aluminium beam frame, KTM uses its usual steel trellis design.

Steel tubular frames are easy to make and modify in both geometry and rigidity, which will be hugely valuable during the bike’s development. Negatives are the large number of welds involved, which mean that it’s near-impossible to make two frames that are absolutely identical. The welds themselves can also have slightly different flex characteristics.

KTM uses WP suspension on the RC16, no surprise given that it owns the company. It’s another potential double-edged sword for the bike. Developed specifically for the KTM RC16, the WP fork and shock will be tailored precisely to KTM’s requirements, but the firm doesn’t have the huge back catalogue of experience to draw on that rival Öhlins does.

It’s been nearly a decade since any non-Öhlins-suspended bike has won a MotoGP title: Hayden’s Showa-sprung Honda in 2006 was the last, and WP simply doesn’t have the same pool of data that its rival does when it comes to knowing which options to work with.


KTM doesn’t appear to be trying to rewrite the aero book – at this stage the priority will be on creating as few variables as possible so the engine and chassis design can be honed. The overall look isn’t dissimilar to some of Suter’s designs around the nose and tail, while the side panels have been designed for testing. Gill-like air vents in the sides are on separate panels that can be removed or swapped for others to alter engine cooling.

As the rest of the bike is developed and KTM closes in on the final engine and chassis designs, we can expect the bodywork to start to evolve as its aerodynamics and cooling become more refined...