Heavy Breather: A KTM RC8 with the mother of all filters

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
A lot goes down
at EICMA every year. For father and son Dino and Marios Nikolaidis, it’s a chance to travel from Greece to Italy and represent their booming family business, DNA Filters. Then last year, they noticed the growing modern custom scene, and decided to build a bike themselves.

They don’t do things by halves. Dino’s a mechanical engineer, Marios is a motorsport engineer, and both are well versed in CAD/CAM design. And the DNA factory in Athens is loaded with everything you need to build a killer custom—including state-of-the-art CNC machines.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
It took Dino and Marios two weeks to nail down the design of this KTM RC8. “We wanted to mimic the style of the 70s and 80s,” explains Dino. “DCR-017 was to be just a frame, engine and wheels, with an analogue clock—no plastic covers and no carbon fiber.”

“We wanted a 2017-spec superbike beast. But undercover—a sleeper.”

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
Since DNA is in the business of making filters, it made sense to make a filter the focal point of the build—just like on an old American muscle car. Back in 2012, DNA won a coveted Red Dot Design Award for an airbox replacement kit for the KTM 990 Super Duke, so that’s the setup they picked.

The air filter was designed for the KTM LC8 990 V-twin, but the guys wanted more torque and power. So they chose the LC8 1190, as used in the KTM RC8 Superbike. And the standard version of the KTM RC8 was not enough, so they went for the R version.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
“We needed a tubular trellis frame and when we saw the RC8 naked we were blown away by the minimal, beautiful steel frame,” says Dino. “That was a jackpot—just what we needed.”

A suitable donor was torn down, and the design began in CAD. Dino tackled the front, focusing on the tank, air filter, clocks and oil cooler, while Marios handled the back, including the seat, under-seat section and subframe.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
It took two months of designing, arguing and fighting. But the result was worth it.

From the beginning, the guys knew they wanted to CNC-machine as many parts as possible—especially larger items like the tank and seat. It was partly because they had all the tools to do this in-house, but also because they genuinely like the visual effect of the tool paths that a CNC mill leaves behind. So nothing has been painted, polished or ground down—just clear coated to protect against oxidation.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
The three biggest parts—the tank, seat, and under-seat section—were each machined from a solid block of 5083 H112 grade aluminum. It’s a special alloy that is annealed and stress relieved, so it can be machined down to as little as 2mm thick, with minimal distortion. The tank’s block alone weighed in at 146 kg, with the other two coming in at 60 kg and 24 kg.

Making the tank from a single block proved to be almost impossible. It was stressful too, since Dino and Marios only had one (expensive) block to work with. First, they milled out the inside of the tank from the bottom. Then they flipped it over, set it in a special jig and did the outside.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
A bottom plate and fuel pump housing were then machined, before everything was TIG welded together. The final product ended up 2mm thick and weighing in at just 3.6 kg, with an 11 liter capacity and a channel through the middle to accommodate the new filter housing.

The guys also went through four different tool path patterns before settling on a signature ‘fingerprint’ that would be used throughout the RC8. Total machining time: 400 hours.

To cap it off, DNA also designed a small aluminum fuel cap, with the ‘D’ from their logo engraved into the top. Then they milled a D-shaped ‘key’ from Delrin to open it—and to switch on the bike using NFC technology.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
Out back, the team built a minimal, two-piece tubular subframe, designed to combine with the new under-seat section and use it as a stressed member. The seat unit follows a classic cafe racer style, and clips into the under-seat unit without any visible bolts. Hiding inside the rear hump are the RC8’s battery, fuse box, relays and part of the wiring harness.

There’s a staggering amount of CNC parts, right down to items like the fenders and switchgear. Everything was cut from aluminum, steel or Delrin. The rear-set controls are custom too, and are fully adjustable with double-sealed bearings.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
The headlight is another one-off, equipped with a LED internals. (A tilt sensor adjusts the beam when the bike’s leaned over.) The speedo’s a simple analog and digital combo, set in a custom housing.

Even though the KTM RC8 makes plenty of power, Dino and Marios saw to some engine upgrades too—starting with the DNA MK3 Stage 3 filter. It looks killer, and it provides a significant boost. With the help of a SBK-spec tune using a KTM Power Parts race kit, this RC8 now puts 186 hp to the rear wheel. (It also now only weighs 162 kg—let that sink in).

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
“As it is very near to the body and heart of the rider, you feel it the engine,” says Dino. “You feel the pulse, you hear the roar…you feel a sensation like never before. The beast produces massive torque and power.”

There’s also a quick-shifter, an anti-hopping clutch, a steering damper on custom mounts, and serious brake upgrades. Then there’s the exhaust—a custom titanium setup from Akrapovič combining their Evolution 4 headers with a Moto GP end can.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
Finishes are simple—a clear coat on the aluminum bits, some orange anodizing here and there, and grey for the engine. The frame and subframe went off for coating too, and now sport a textured black finish.

The biggest nightmare turned out to be the wiring. Father and son slogged through 25 pages of schematics and infinite meters of cables and sensors over a three-week period to get it all working.

KTM RC8 cafe racer by DNA Filters
But finally it did, and RC8 roared into life for its first shakedown, which quickly earned it the nickname ‘The Brain Eraser.’

“Just forget what you knew until today,” explains Dino. “You are entering a new dimension: the Brain Eraser is here.”

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With support from: Akrapovič, Hyperpro, Michelin, Track-Day.gr, Halaris Bikes Center.

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