Aprilia RSV4 R (2010 onwards)
The Aprilia RSV4 Factory is the kind of bike you dream of owning, and for many of us, its high price tag is just as fantastical.
Luckily, Aprilia is keeping our dreams alive with a new, cheaper version for 2010 - and it's just as desirable.
After living with a Yamaha R1 more most of this year, I'm intrigued as to how the RSV4 will compare to a bike I really love. Yet silhouetted against the backdrop of Mugello's mythical circuit, I'm already feeling the guilty pleasure of being unfaithful to my Yamaha.
I know the triple headlight design has split biker fans worldwide, but to me, the RSV 4 looks like sex on wheels. With its uncomplicated black or white colour scheme, it's even more handsome than the twin-toned black and red Factory version.
One look at those handlebar ends and it's obvious that this thoroughbred, albeit a cheaper version, has just the same exquisite attention to detail as the pricier model and its size is also as remarkable. It may be hardly bigger than an average 600cc supersports bike, but it's no middleweight. The stylish V4 pumps out 180bhp and 115nm of torque from an engine that's almost identical to the Factory version, apart from a few subtle changes.
The high-end Factory model is clearly aimed at the dedicated racers, leaving this less expensive version targeting experienced track-day riders. And after my initial few laps of Mugello, even if you know the track by heart from endless Playstation epics, nothing will ever prepare you for the actual sensation of riding an RSV4 R.
This thing is fast! Accelerating in sweet bursts between the track's numerous chicanes, the front wheel butterfly-kisses the ground. Based on my year with the R1, I really don't think it can equal this feeling. The Aprilia's throttle response is extremely direct. The V4 reacts immediately from the slightest movement of your right hand, even a tiny reaction to cresting a small bump is immediately translated into instant acceleration.
Luckily, the plush suspension smoothes such ripples effortlessly. The track focused Metzeler tyres make the bike tip in instantly as you push on the widespread bars and it feels more focused and direct than the roomy R1. The RSV4 may be compact but it's surprisingly more comfortable to ride on track than it first appears.
More images of the Aprilia RSV4 R from Bing
Despite this I'm exhausted. Firstly, Mugello's many chicanes make it a pretty physical track and secondly, the straight offers no respite. My eyes are glued to the rev counter. I'm gambling for the right moment to throw in another gear, climbing towards sixth while my head shakes violently from behind the small screen, my brain struggling to compute the blistering speed. A blast over the fast right left kink at the end of the straight and I'm instantly scanning the track for a suitable brake marker. And this is all accompanied by a soundtrack that I can only describe as an RC30 on steroids.
The V4 symphony is quite literally mesmeric. Luckily, the brakes are also exquisite, they require the bare minimum of force to shed a whole heap of speed, and shifting back to second gear through an utterly faultless gearbox feels so good. The same goes for the slipper clutch. I often use the rear brake on track, but on the Aprilia, I only use it for long enough to know that it works, and that I don't actually need it.
Even when squeezing the front brake lever like an overripe lemon, the bike remained composed. I'm speechless. I'm wondering if my admiration is properly justified when I notice that TT racer Guy Martin is also impressed. I'm reassured. It's just not due to my limited riding skills.
Moments later, my enthusiasm is tempered when he experiences a blown engine. And in the next session, three other RSV4 Rs produce a worryingly mechanical sound, followed by a locked rear wheel and finally expiring in a whole heap of smoke as a finale. The next session I hatch a two-fingers-on-the-clutch escape route, although luckily my fear is fortunately unfounded.
I've also switched from the T (track) mode to the bike's S mapping (sport.) It still reacts perfectly to throttle movement, but with far less violence and aggression. I instantly feel more relaxed and my pace actually improves as a result. Could this get any better? Guy Martin seems equally impressed, remarking that he wouldn't mind riding an RSV4 R in the TT next year, surely one of the most flattering compliments you could get.
Unfortunately, another engine blows up, confirming my suspicions. This cannot be a coincidence, something isn't quite right. The Aprilia staff decide to unfortunately, but understandably, call it a day. The broken engines are rushed immediately to Aprilia's factory in Noale to discover the cause of the malfunction and two hours later, we're told that the problems are due to faulty conrods, which were made by an external supplier.
Some of these pre production engines somehow had their big ends drilled off centre and with those affected engines, the conrod breaks just above the big end between 200 and 250 miles, with spectacular consequences.
It's a rather painful and embarrassing situation for Aprilia in full view of the world's press but it could also be a blessing. Now the external supplier can be informed and the problem resolved before the production bikes arrive at local dealers. It's also worth noting that the RSV4 Factory has exactly the same conrods and they have never had this kind of problem, so it's likely to be confined to only one batch, which can all be replaced.
Does all this put me off wanting an RSV4 R? Absolutely not! First of all, I am convinced that Aprilia will do all everything necessary to resolve this issue before any potential customers will ever be affected. And secondly, riding the RSV4 R at Mugello has given me some of the most unforgettable laps of my life.
|Need to know|
|Model||Aprilia RSV4 R, £12,449|
|Engine||liquid-cooled V4 of 1,000kg, producing |
180hp at 12,500rpm and 156 lb ft at
|Transmission||chain drive through |
|Fuel capacity||17 litres|
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- Queue jumping
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- Middle lane hogging
- Forgetting to indicate
- Flashing headlights