10 minutes with... Claudio Pellizzon

With 37 years of service at Aprilia under his belt, Claudio Pellizzon has seen the company grow from a small-volume, dirt bike and scooter firm to a big player in sportsbikes. He tells TWO of the highs and lows of bike testing

With 37 years of service at Aprilia under his belt, Claudio Pellizzon has seen the company grow from a small-volume, dirt bike and scooter firm to a big player in sportsbikes. He tells TWO of the highs and lows of bike testing

So Claudio, how many years have you worked as a test rider?
I started work as a test rider in 1974 at Aprilia, but I've been employed there since 1968.

How did you get the job?
Aprilia was a small firm in those days and in 1970 started building dirt bikes as well as scooters. I worked on Aprilia's production line and I was also a motocross rider, so one day the director asked me to help develop one of their motocrossers because the test riders couldn't find the solutions he needed.

What skills does a test rider require?
You need to be very sensitive and have good technical knowledge. It's not about riding as fast as possible - you must feel what the bike is doing and analyse it. If you just get on and ride hard, you override the problems and kill certain aspects of the ride. It's best to build up to a fast pace to understand how a bike behaves in all situations.

How do you get the skills to become a good development rider?
With many, many miles, loads of experience and some talent. But crucially, you need to be able to communicate with the engineer and discuss with him how the bike feels so you can work together to find out why it behaves the way it does and find solutions. The more you do it, the more experienced and knowledgeable you become.

What route do you use to test ride the bikes?
We use all kinds of roads, from city streets to mountain passes, and for the sportier models we also use the racetrack. We use various locations with different types of corners, cambers and surfaces to avoid building a bike specific to a particular track or stretch of road.

Ever sent a bike back to the drawing board?
Oh yes, plenty. When the engineers design a bike they don't always get the basics right straight away. Many times we've had to make substantial changes, for instance overhaul the chassis and the engine's location in the frame. It's about finding the right compromise to achieve the characteristics we want.

Can you give us an example of a bike you sent back for changes?
The Caponord is one. The engineer insisted the engine sit very low in the frame, but it didn't feel right, especially compared to the opposition. We keep a tight watch on the opposition; we test other manufacturers' bikes and use the best as benchmarks.

So which is the most impressive bike you've ever ridden?
Honda's RC45. It's an exceptional motorcycle and it's still my favourite today.

And the worst?
There's more than one. But I'd rather not say!

What is the bike you're most proud of?
In 1996 we decided to build a big capacity V-twin sportsbike with a road focus, so we began test riding all the sportsbikes of the day. Halfway through the project Aprilia decided to give the RSV1000 more of a track focus. When the bike was ready to test we took it to a racetrack we'd never been to before, so we didn't know what a good lap time was there. Halfway through the test, the circuit's caretaker told us that only riders who won races there matched the times I was putting in on the RSV!

Are you involved in testing GP bikes?
I've never ridden Aprilia's MotoGP bike, butI rode the GP125 several times around 1994, when Kazuto Sakata won the series.

What was it like?
It was very different from any bike I'd ridden before, but I still wanted to change things. It's become instinctive, I can't ride anythingwithout picking holes in it! Whenever I'm on a bike I think: "Well yes, it goes well, but if I changed this or that it could go even better..."

Have you ever come home from winter testing and think: "Sod this, I want to do something else for a living"?
More than once! Fifteen years ago I had to ride a 125 all the way to Austria for engine developments with Rotax. In those days motorcycle clothing wasn't as protective as it is now and 125cc bikes were seriously slow! The weather was good when I left the Aprilia factory near Venice for the 600km journey, but as soon as I hit the mountain passes across the border all hell broke loose - snow, fog, freezing rain... I just thought, I can't go on! Luckily we reached a sheltered valley so we recovered a bit, but at one stage all I could think of was: "What am I doing this job for?"

So why didn't you quit?
When the day is over you forget about the bad times. It's not always fun and straightforward being a test rider, there are many times when you're so cold and tired that you have to grit your teeth and get on with it. But there are great satisfactions.

What was your best moment?
The launch of the RSV1000. It was Aprilia's first big capacity bike and it was like sitting an exam. So it was very satisfying when the journalists got off the bike and said: "Mamma mia, what a bike!" It was big and bulky to look at, but everyone raved about how well it handled. Of course, I'd have been in trouble if it were rubbish to ride!

Do the engineers make all the changes?
No! With every satisfaction comes a bitter moment - bad tasting mouthfuls, as we say in Italy, and this is one of them. Sometimes when I return from a day's test riding and tell the engineers what needs changing, the project leader says no, we can't do that because it costs too much or there isn't enough time. That's when the arguments start and I frequently beat my fists on the table. But it's part of the job and I've learned to accept it.