Aprilia RSV4 Factory

RSV-4_21

By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Milagro




There’s always an extra sense of excitement when a manufacturer introduces a completely new bike into a sector it’s not been in before. And when that bike is a full-on, high performance superbike, the anticipation is as powerful as it can ever be. Is the new bike going to feel different? Can it possibly be up to the mark? Do they really understand what’s needed?

 RSV_4_14Click on image for galleryAprilia has history of course in doing this, unleashing the RSV Mille into the twin-cylinder superbike sector against the towering prowess of Ducati while Honda and Suzuki were both attempting the same, and if the Noale machine didn’t quite cut it on the track, as a road bike it was right on the pace from the start, an awesome achievement in retrospect as it was the company’s first big capacity motorcycle of any description.

Yet the new V-four RSV4 already had form on the track before the press launch of the production road bike version: the previous week Max Biaggi had put it on the Qatar podium on both races, promising if anything even more than the RSV twin had managed a decade ago.

There’s certainly no lack of ambition: 25 million euros have been poured into the development of the RSV4 with the aim of creating the number one superbike. Yup, the very best, in this of all classes. The design team started with a clean sheet and no preconceptions of what an Aprilia superbike needed to be, with both the chassis and engine. But they did want it to be the most compact superbike with highly centralised mass, and their computer-simulated track performance calculations showed unequivocally that a four-cylinder bike would be quicker than a twin or a triple, taking everything into account. This led them to the V-four layout, as the narrowest design and the most helpful with regard to the layout of other components. The engine designers though wanted a 90 degree V-four so they could eliminate the need for a balance shaft, while the chassis designers wanted something shorter to fit the longest swingarm they could into a short wheelbase. A compromise was reached, the 65 degree V-four with one balance shaft: very short and narrow(225mm wide compared with typically 400mm for a four), less vibration than an inline four with twin balance shafts but more expensive to make. At first a 60 degree V was tried, but this meant the inlet tracts had to be angled too sharply and performance was compromised, making it more difficult to achieve the 180PS, 115Nm figures Aprilia set itself.

The full technical low down will be on here shortly, but the bottom line is, Aprilia achieved its target power and torque figures, at 12,500rpm and 10,000rpm respectively, from the 999.6cc motor.

While the chassis too started as a blank sheet of paper, almost inevitably it was going to involve a twin-spar, aluminium frame as Aprilia was drawing on the experience of its enormously successful race division, which has won 40 world championship titles over the years. The design concentrated on minimising weight, so the frame has ended up being only 4 per cent heavier than the RSV Mille’s despite having to cope with much more power and being almost 40 per cent stiffer torsionally. This is also despite having more adjustability than any other road bike, with a variable steering head angle, fork angle (which can differ from the steering angle), swingarm position and even engine position. And with Öhlins suspension fitted, all the usual high spec spring and damping adjustment options are available too.

Overall a weight of 179kg is quoted, although it’s unclear exactly what this includes as it’s defined as kerb weight (which would make the bike well ahead of the competition) but also states that it’s without battery or fluids, not how you’d like to find it at the kerb... If it’s dry weight, that makes the RSV4 a little heavier than some of its rivals on paper, but generally these numbers are unreliable or meaningless anyway.

Much of this applies to the Factory version of the RSV4, a lower spec version will become available probably in September, although its final specification hasn’t yet been decided on.

The whole machine is neatly packaged in styling by Miguel Galluzzi, head of Aprilia’s design and also known as the man who shaped the seminal Ducati Monster as well as many other machines including the Cagiva Raptor. The look as unmistakably Aprilia, with a triple headlamp arrangement that has the outer lights floating above the pressurised air intakes. The bike has lost some of the excessive angularity of previous Aprilias, and instead with its minimalist tail section looks compact, muscular and aggressive.

Up to scratch in style and on the spec sheet then, but what really matters is how the bike rides, sounds and feels. Our test was at the Misano circuit, home of the San Marino round of both SBK and MotoGP championships, where, to our disappointment, it was raining for most of the day. Still, if anything is a test of a superbike’s finesse, feedback and control it’s a wet circuit made even more slippery by the rubber laid down during a recent car race...

Despite the RSV4’s compact dimensions it accepts riders as tall as my 1.92m without having to fold limbs unnaturally, although you do feel perched up on top the bike, more so than the GSX-R1000 for example but still more integrated with the machine than on a Ninja. Fire it up and the motor responds rapidly, with a deep, almost V-twin-like note, surprisingly loud and snarlingly angry. Sends tingles up your spine before you’ve even pulled the clutch in.

Out into the rain... This is when you need real delicacy in throttle response: with 1000bhp per tonne, a wet track and a contact patch the size of your palm, too much power when you haven’t asked for it and they’ll need to enlist the Hubble telescope to find you. And remember, this is a fly-by-wire throttle, early versions of which felt oddly disconnected. Well, the RSV’s is accurate, faithful and you’d really not tell it’s a chain of electrons between you and the butterflies – it does what you want, when you want and by how much you want. And when you want much more, boy does it deliver...

Corners might be a feast of high concentration and tiptoeing, but get the bike out and upright on the straight and this is more missile than motorcycle. It is searingly quick, even by superbike standards, and notwithstanding the difficulty of comparing one bike on a wet track in Italy with another on a dry one in Spain, I’ll stick my neck out and say the RSV4 will annihilate a GSX-R1000 in a straight line. Is it up to manic Ninja levels? I can’t tell, not yet, but it’s in the same game. And it’s doing that with levels of low and mid-range thrust that give it a V-twin feel, which means, if anything, it’s even quicker than the seat of your pants is letting on. In the wet I was circulating quickest by short-shifting way before the 14,200rpm red line, but that would be the case in the dry on many circuits, so hard does it pull in the lower reaches.

The engine is deliciously smooth too, and not in an antiseptic, electric motor kind of way, but creamy and strong with just enough vibration to let you know it’s busy. And those vibes that do get through are chunkier than an inline four’s – the performance is there, and so is the tactility and sound, adding a tier of riding satisfaction that might not matter on a race bike but which is an important facet of the buying/owning/riding-on-the-roads experience. In short, it feels great, like a rev happy V-twin with a Jurassic sound track.

You have additional control, as with a GSX-R, through a mapping switch that offers either track-oriented hard-edged response, normal road use or softer wet weather use that cuts power by 25 per cent. The gentle option even in our wet conditions wasn’t necessary as the throttle control is good enough in the normal setting. The track option though is very aggressive, so much so that even Aprilia superbike rider Shinya Nakano thought it was too much – it scared the crap out of me... In fact I suspect even in the dry many riders will go better and be more comfortable on the track with the road setting.

Keeping the revs down a degree does help with the gearchanging. Most of the time the cogs swop without fuss, but howl the motor to its ceiling and the selection becomes clunky and lurching, at odds with the general finesse of the bike. Change down early as you brake for a bend and, despite the slipper clutch and additional help from the engine management opening the butterflies on the overrun to reduce pumping losses, the engine braking is strong enough on occasion (such as at low-friction Misano) to have the back end snaking and losing traction without even touching the rear brake. You can feel through the lever the clutch basket twitching on its ramps as this is happening, like the transmission is talking to you. It’s all quite a contrast to the low engine braking of the Yamaha R1, so if you happen to swop between the two you’ll probably need to re-adapt to the point of taking different lines into bends. But learning a bike is half the satisfaction, and when it responds as well as the RSV4 you’re not going to want to stop.

There’s little that’s more intimidating on a bike with a sopping wet track ahead than a pair of gold-coloured Brembo Monoblocs penetrated by dinner plate 320mm discs up front. These are immense stoppers, more suited to slowing a fully loaded 747 than a featherweight motorcycle, yet with a couple of wary fingers they worked absolutely beautifully, teasing the tyre to the edge of its grip then holding it steady right there, on the edge, and finally releasing progressively as the bike’s peeled in to the turn. I never bothered with the rear, partly because like so many you couldn’t tell what it was doing, partly because the engine braking was as much as the rubber would take anyway, but also because the front brakes inspired so much confidence you didn’t feel the need for a support act.

This would be an astonishingly accomplished motorcycle as a development of a long line of superbikes, which exactly describes all of its opposition until the BMW S 1000 RR joins the battle. But as a rookie upstart, blank sheet first attempt, this is going to cause some serious upsets. I’m perfectly prepared to be wrong about it sitting up there with its rivals in performance terms as the conditions were as far from ideal as they could be, but I have the feeling that if I am wrong, it’s because I’m holding back and the RSV4 is actually even better.

Now pass me the next one and a sunny day please...

Paulvt1
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Joined: 07/03/2009

Looks like Aprilia have knocked it out of the park with this one. I hope the engine finds it's way into a Sport / Touring package.

kevash
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Joined: 05/10/2008

It was hard to judge in the wet but that fact the engine still shone through even in those conditions I think is very significant. I'm riding it at Silverstone later this month where hopefully it'll be dry, and I'll report back here after that. I'd be very surprised if the motor doesn't find more homes, the engine is the most costly part of any bike to develop and the more use they get out of it the more sense the economics make. Almost certainly there'll be a naked version, and a touring/sport touring V4 is pretty likely too.

andreamarco
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Joined: 23/11/2008

thank you Kevin, so far you provide again the most accurate inside on a new bike. Greetings from Switzerland!

shuggiemac
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Joined: 23/11/2008

Nothing like setting your sights high and publically stating you want to make the number one Superbike. This is definitely laying everything out in view. 25 million Euros is also one hell of a lot of money to sink into one machine that will have to succeed. They run the risk that if it does not at least come close to achieving its aims that the engine, when put into other models, will always be referred to as the one from the slightly flawed RSV4. However it looks like that will not be the case and I for one hope that they live up to their ambitions.
Personally I am glad that they have ditched some of the very angular lines of previous machines. One of my few predictions in life has I believe come true in that the Aprilias of only a few years ago look aged and dated very quickly. A bit like all these people getting fashionably tattood now - no matter what they do in the future you are always going to be able to age them by the sanscript image of their kids name up their arm, or tribal image above the bum crack. The same can be said of a Falco, original RSV Mille etc. In my humble opinion that is.
I applaud Aprilia for this stance and congratulate them on what appears to be a good job done - at least so far and from only reading about it.
Kev, if it is aiming to be the top superbike then it is begging the question how do you think it is going to stack up against the 1198? You have already said that you think the Ducati may well be the bike of the year, until the SM-T came along !? Do we have contender number three for the accolade?
It seems like in these tough economic times that we have never had it so good in many ways.

Paulvt1
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It would be somewhat ironic, if after waiting an age for a new VFR, Aprilia beat Honda to the punch.
Like Shuggiemac says, we have never had it so good.
One thing i have noticed though, all the most interesting bikes are from European manufacturers. Shame Japan inc has dropped the ball.

shuggiemac
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Yes you are correct it is just from Europe, never twigged that until you mentioned it. When will we see the BMW? If that also sets similar standards then our friends from Japan will be a long way behind. Do you know of anything in the pipeline from any of the big four?

kevash
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The BMW should be arriving during the summer - I think I'll be riding it in June or July. I know what you mean with the interesting bikes but I don't completely agree, I think the BMW is only interesting because it's BMW's first superbike, the spec itself looks pretty standard inline four really and the looks are generic superbike. Meanwhile Yamaha's come up with something innovative with the R1, so it's not all one way. No doubts with the RSV4 though, and Ducati manages to be different and competitive at the same time, which is a good trick, and the traction control is a first too.
It'd be good if Triumph really was working on a three-cylinder superbike too...
The new VFR is going to be an all-rounder though, so it'll still only be inline fours from Japan in the superbike class. But they do do them well...

shuggiemac
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To be honest I have seen so little about the BMW that I was maybe just sumising that it may be special. Interesting that they are getting into that market and so many others are trying to get into 'their GS style' domain.

Navy Boy
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Joined: 12/02/2009

BMW have openly stated that they want to shift more units, full stop. To do that they've got to go racing and to do that they have to go down the same technical avenues as the Japanese - In the Superbikes arena at least.

In some ways it's a shame but if it means more sales and therefore more R+D money for new and better BMW models then I await the outcome with interest.

I do like that new Aprilia though!

Paulvt1
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I found a comment by the engine designer interesting. They have the option of a bigger bore. Makes me think Aprilia might have a 1100cc St planned..

kevash
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Yes, he did say that, pointing out that it's easier to increase the bore size on a V-four than it is on an inline four. I'd think bigger still, probably a 1200cc option. There might even be something to show at this year's bike show in Milan, which is November I think.

ciganin
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Joined: 06/01/2009

So Kevin, as you have now ridden both this and the 1198S....which is the better system, the 1198S traction control or the Factory ECU settings?
Or are they both good in different ways?.....more than 1 way to skin a cat and all....

kevash
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Oh the Ducati is way, way ahead in that respect. Well, the 1198 S has traction control, the Aprilia doesn't, so the two things aren't really comparable. On the 1198 S you can just crack open the throttle to the stop if you want, on full lean, whatever the conditions, and the DTC will hold the tyre at the edge of its grip and drive you out of the corner faster than anything else. You can even dial in eight different levels of wheel slippage, from cutting in too early right up to full-on snaking and slithering and laying big black lines out of corners. And the electronics do it all for you.

You can change the maps on the RSV4 (as you can on the R1 and GSX-R) but it's not traction control, it just makes the rider's job of controlling grip a bit easier. I've since ridden the RSV4 in the dry at Silverstone and while the fuelling is generally good it's a little stuttery at low rpm from throttle closed to open. The 'road' map is a little too soft in the lower gears too for the track. I'll write more about that here soon (I'll write more about lots of things here soon, been very busy with other stuff recently but the website will start to get updated again asap!).

ciganin
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Joined: 06/01/2009

Hey Kevin,
How did the dry test at Silverstone go?
Happier than at Misano?

Am picking mine up on Monday....decided Aprilia over Ducati....what can I say.....close run thing with the RC8R though....that was my first ride on a V twin....totally different....very confidence inspiring !!

kevash
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Sorry about the delay in getting back to you, been very busy recently and as I've mentioned in another comment, a close friend was killed in a light aircraft accident recently, which has interrupted things a bit.
The Silverstone test went really well in fact, though being able to fling the bike around much harder did emphasise just how bloody tiny it is! I'm 6'3" and really it's just too small for me - I managed but I'd find it hard to live with day to day. But it's a very wild and exciting bike, a bit of a handful on bumpy corner exits and very, very fast, and it sounds fabulous too, which I think is more important than is given credit for.
I'll write a fuller report soon, I'n now catching up on all sorts and should be bringing this site right up to date again soon.
Kevin