2010 Aprilia RSV4R first ride

The nearest most of us were ever likely to get to living the MotoGP dream (the RSV4 Factory) cost fifteen grand last month. Now there’s a more affordable alternative

Click to read: Aprilia RSV4-R owners reviews, Aprilia RSV4-R specs and see the Aprilia RSV4-R image gallery.

Did anyone really think Aprilia could pull off a four-stroke masterstroke and build a world-beating V-four powered superbike? I know I didn’t.

More than twenty years ago Honda knew the V-four was an untapped power source. The RC30 and RC45 were where it was at: these exclusive, expensive – and ultimately esoteric motorcycles – were objects of desire for rich businessmen and elite racers. In MotoGP, the format in various guises is still hugely popular. And there’s a bloody good reason. It works.

Combining the finer elements of high-revving in-line fours and torquey twins, we were massively impressed by the RSV4 Factory when it was launched. All our misgivings about such a small manufacturer actually managing to get it right with a limited budget for a hugely complex R&D project were swiftly blown away. So were our befuddled minds for a good five minutes after stepping off that Italian work of art dripping with exotic labels. It showed little concern for real world budgets – pure racer on the road, to coin a well-used phrase.

Even at a penny short of fifteen grand, it represented reasonable value when you tallied up the sum of its parts. And now, Aprilia has managed to get that same V-four desirability priced more than tantalisingly close to the latest in-line fours from the land of the rising sun.

Click next to continue

Now that 200 units of the RSV-R Factory have been built and WSB homologation dealt with, a more affordable base model for the masses finds its way into dealers by mid-November. Naturally, the ‘R’ variant loses some of the Factory bling, with the Öhlins forks and shock making way for Showa and Sachs; aluminium replacing magnesium for the engine cases; adjustable frame and swinging arm geometry now pre-set to keep things simple; likewise the variable-length inlet tracts.

The wheels are now cast aluminium instead of forged magnesium and the swathes of carbon fibre are absent. But these relatively minor changes knock a massive £2,550 off the asking price putting the Aprilia almost head-to-head with its Japanese rivals at a competitive £12,449.

Rolling out of pitlane, the mode selector set to full power ‘T’ for track, throttle pinned as I filter onto the tarmac, I try to imagine how different the Factory version would feel. I can’t. The motor feels strong and pulls from nowhere.

A broad spread of power makes putting a decent lap together pretty easy. The combination of lazy torque and an enthusiastic top-end means fewer gear changes are needed than on an in-line four, letting me get on with the finer points of re-learning a circuit I haven’t seen for five years.

Click next to continue

Mugello isn’t an easy track to learn in twenty minutes. But by the second session, I’m getting my head round it as the sun warms the asphalt and grip levels rise. Banging along that kilometre of main straight, the howl from the V-four motor intermittently pausing as I grab yet another ratio from the slick cassette transmission, running onto the painted lines of the pit exit, tucking in as much as possible, folding my head and limbs behind the tiny fairing like human origami, I’m on another planet. Or perhaps just my own personal heaven.

My eyes feel like they could pierce my visor. Like laser beams burning right through, focussed so hard on keeping the throttle pinned and the wheels on track as my concentration is consumed by the desire to see how late I can brake for the first turn. Balanced only by the stony threat of gravel traps and the resultant embarrassment of dropping one of only twenty bikes in existence.

Down four gears, white knuckles squeezing the right lever while gentle fingers delicately release the left. Aiming for the apex expecting a slide, the slipper clutch keeps the bike perfectly in line with both wheels clamped to the ground despite the braking force courtesy of those awesome Brembo stoppers. They may have switched from Öhlins to Showa forks, but only the fastest rider would have a problem with that. The only part of the package struggling for composure under hard braking is the rider. It doesn’t matter how many times you ride Mugello, that first corner truly tests your bollocks even more than your brakes.

Shifting to third and heading up the hill towards the start of Mugello’s fun time through Luco and Poggio Secco, nailing the throttle to the limiter towards Materasi and flick-flacking through Borgo San Lorenzo, the bike’s speedy steering and enthusiasm for swift direction changes makes hitting apexes almost too easy, the early laps being full of mistakes as I run over the insides of the immaculate yellow and red kerbs, fifty-pence-piecing my line to suit the radius.

Click next to continue

Ten minutes into the session I start to push as track knowledge and my faith in the superb Metzeler Racetec Interact tyres increases. Replacing caution on corner exit with aggression results in a few slides. Throttle feel is good – better than I thought ride-by-wire could ever be – and I have no out-of-the-seat moments, nothing to cause the slightest concern, just a beaming smile and a well-drained adrenal gland. But now, with more weight transfer, the rear shock is starting to struggle. A heavy right hand and an even heavier, pasta-laden belly, are a recipe for rear slides and a headshake, that while never really threatening to turn into a full on tankslapper, let’s you know when you’re pressing on a bit.

I’m already thinking what adjustments I’m going to make to keep the back-end in check and keep more weight over the front under the inevitable hard acceleration when we’re informed there will be no more riding sessions due to a mechanical issue that could compromise safety. I’m gutted.

Five of the twenty machines that started the day suffered terminal engine failures caused by a machining defect with the con-rods. Basically, the big-end hole had been machined slightly off centre causing uneven wear, stress points and ultimately failure. After Aprilia’s proud announcement only the previous evening that of all the RSV4 Factorys sold worldwide, none had suffered a mechanical failure, the disappointment and the embarrassment were tangible. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the bloke that runs the con-rod machining operation. Anyway…

Click next to continue

Luckily for Aprilia, this faulty batch of rods was only used in the pre-production bikes and, as yet, no bikes have left the factory to go to dealers, so any suspect bikes can be dealt with before they reach the buyer. Unluckily, it happened on a world press launch and not within the confines of a private test – I do have to wonder how often things like this happen elsewhere, away from prying eyes.

So, after the disappointment of just 40 minutes on the bike and Aprilia’s calamitous con-rod misfortune I have to come to a conclusion. And that conclusion is this – I want one badly.

For me, the V-four configuration is the ultimate and the Aprilia RSV4 is a beautiful way of expressing it. Sublime handling with sharp, precise steering to match a sensational motor, all beautifully wrapped in this, it’s simplest and best value form.


Price: £12,449
Top speed: 175mph
Engine: 999cc, 16-valve, liquid-cooled V-four
Power: 170bhp (est) @ 12,500rpm
Torque: 85lb/ft @ 10,000rpm
Bore & stoke: 78 x 52.3mm
Compression ratio : 13:1
Front suspension: 43mm inverted Showa forks
Adjustment: Compression, rebound & preload
Rear suspension: Sachs monoshock
Adjustment: Compression, rebound & preload
Front brakes: 2 x 320mm discs, four-piston
Brembo calipers
Rear brake: Twinpiston caliper, 220mm disc
Kerb weight: 184kg
Seat height: 845mm
Fuel capacity: 17-litres
Colour options: White, Black

Rating: 4/5