Highway to Heaven: Six bikes, six roads, six twats, six stories. Ben Bardon captures Mark Forsyth struggling to get to grips with roads he’s known for a lifetime (and more).
Click to read: Aprilia RSV4 Factory owners reviews, Aprilia RSV4 Factory specs and to see the Aprilia RSV4 Factory image gallery.
Eight am, a midweek July and there’s an ambient temperature of just thirteen degrees C – the added bonus of a thousand foot altitude and moisture-rich grey clouds.
Perfect. Not too hot, not too cold and no glaring early morning sun to cast apex-distracting shadows. The big Priller’s up to operating temp by the time we reach the de-restriction signs on the outskirts of Kendal. We’re pointing north towards the distant Shap fells and eventually Penrith on the Northern reaches of Cumbria at the foothills of the Pennine chain. Earplugs firmly wedged in, clean visor, on a mission.
If you don’t know the A6, you need to. You also need to treat it with the respect it deserves. I’ve lost lots of mates over the years to the A6 – cars and bikes. Like any road there’s a lot of kerbside furniture to punish mistakes but unlike most other roads, the speeds can be TT quick as this is a road that only requires the upper three gears for ten, twenty, thirty mile stretches. Lose control here and it’ll look like an aircrash. This high speed, flowing ribbon of tarmacadam is used extensively by advanced cop drivers as part of their high speed driver training – and it’s chosen by them for very good reason. It really does reward perfect positioning and accuracy.
The bark of the Aprilia V4’s inlet trumpets (part of the reason I chose this bike for this trip) fill my Arai with music as the revs in second gear reach the redline. To me the noise a bike makes is as important as how it behaves dynamically. The first series of serious curves demand my full attention. It’s not safe to use both sides of the road, but there’s already an embarrassment of grip from the now hot-to-the-touch Pirelli Dragon Supercorsas. Searching out a tighter line doesn’t faze bike or tyres. Back two and just a touch of shoulder input and the RSV flicks left/right through a complicated uphill series of sweepers. It steers quickly, accurately and as long as you don’t hold the bars in a death-grip it’s stable at speed, too.The Aprilia responds to input through your feet as much as it does through the throttle. This is MotoGP for the road.
But it’s the way the microscopically small Aprilia can hold one gear through massive section of Shap road’s twists, straights and turns that make it so handy and so fast along this stretch of road. Into a turn in third, the scuff of slider, power on, roll it off scuff of opposite slider, power on, tuck in for the straight. It just means there’s less to think about other than placing the bike where you want – perfect for this road that saps all your forward-planning capabilities.
The climb over Shap’s 1300 foot summit saps the RSV’s forward momentum. The throttle bodies are wide open, head behind the tiny screen and the strained engine moaning under the load. It’s a brilliant soundtrack, though. This and the barren, desolate moorland scenery make this ride an almost spiritual blast to remember.
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