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First Ride: 2002-03 Aprilia RSV-R Mille

What on earth could Aprilia do to improve their already-ace Mille-R? Not an enormous amount as I discovered at the launch of the 2003 bike in Italy.




When items like a redesigned front mudguard, lighter heel guards and a more aerodynamic seat unit are brought into the presentation spiel of a new model within the first few minutes, you know straight away you ain't dealing with a radically redesigned model.

Granted, said spiel was delivered in a manner that suggested these minor alterations were in fact earth-shattering developments capable of slashing seconds, perhaps even minutes from rider's lap times, and possibly securing world peace into the bargain, but behind the dry ice and bright lights we all knew the bike in front of us was a gentle evolution of the species and no more.

For the 2003 Mille-R there will be no new geometry or frame alterations, no clever motor gizmos, no vast new gobs of power or torque (the engine is in fact the same as the current model), and to sit on it you'd think you were on this year's bike.

But then this isn't a bad thing because the 2002 Mille-R was, and still is for that matter, one of the best sportsbikes on the market, combining sublime track handling and class-leading brakes with bags of big twin punch, smooth fuel injection and plenty of Italian exclusivity. So why change it?

Because Aprilia had to. The top line sportsbike market is a fashion-led and fickle one where bikes need regular updating so they're still perceived as cutting edge. On this basis Aprilia's tack with the Mille-R is laudable.

They've added next year's essential fashion touches in the black frame and swinging arm - black is the new black for 2003 - along with the radially-mounted calipers which all the best bikes are sporting for next season if the forthcoming ZX-6R, CBR600 (check) and GSX-R1000 are anything to go by. True, these are also a technical improvement over conventional calipers as they offer a more stable platform for the anchors to operate from, but they're also an instantly-recognisable piece of one-upmanship for any owner to clearly demonstrate their ownership of the new model.

Other technical tweaks are lighter wheels (a kilo less than last year's) which can only be a good thing, and new ratios in the gearbox. First, second and third gear are taller to calm the motor's punch slightly - not such a bad thing as full throttle out of slower corners in first or second would have the current R on the back wheel sharpish which is all very cool but makes getting the power down a harder job than it could be - and shorter ratios in the top two gears to help real high speed stuff.

Oh, the fork internals have been tweaked too, while the compression adjuster up front is relocated to the front of the fork which is a damned sight easier to get to than the old one in the base of the leg which required the manual dexterity of a Thai ladyboy to get an allen key into.

But would these subtle tweaks translate into any tangible differences from the riding seat?

As far as the first couple of sessions of the day were concerned then the answer to this has to be 'no' because these stints were taken up with learning the track, sussing braking markers and gears, and generally getting into the swing of things.

All I could say was that the bike felt more softly-sprung than the 2002 R I'd raced at Oulton Park the weekend before but then as we'd spent a full day beforehand setting that one up while the launch bike was pretty much on standard settings this wasn't exactly a surprise and I wasn't going fast enough for it to be an issue.

What I could say at this point was Aprilia's choice of circuit for the launch showed an ambitious confidence in their bike because Vallelunga is a twisty, tricky, technical bugger of a track. There's a good mix of fast and slow turns but a major lack of straights so no chance for a breather anywhere and the cambers vary massively with at least half of the corners off-camber at some point. In a nutshell, if a bike didn't have a well-sorted front end and didn't change direction impeccably, it would soon be shown up, and most likely in a gravel trap.

After perhaps the best lunch I've yet been treated to on a launch, it was back to the grindstone on the track to try and turn the wick up a little.

And now, with the pace up, the bike felt slightly more reluctant to turn into the faster corners than it perhaps could while the front end was becoming unnerving as it was pushed through Vallelunga's really tight hairpins. Time for a couple of changes.

Some extra ride height at the back put more weight onto the front, while a couple of extra clicks of rebound damping at the front were dialled in to hopefully hold the front down more once into the corners off the brakes. These were only small changes, but Mille suspension is quality gear where big differences are easily made.

Back on the track, these adjustments let me ride the bike as hard as I was ever going to manage in the short time we had and restored my confidence in the front end. Job done. The main point is that this is a serious superbike with a massive range of adjustment on offer. There's no right or wrong set up, but if you know what you want you can reap substantial rewards from a spot of tinkering.

In fact, the combination of the bike's chassis and the Pirelli Supercorsa tyres meant no moments all day. No matter what I did, both wheels were resolutely stuck to the tarmac despite some very daft lean angles thanks to ground clearance as remarkable as ever.

The new gear ratios showed their use out of the track's tightest hairpin too which could now be safely tackled in first gear without any worries of a painful trip over the highside getting the power down on the way out. Try doing this on the current bike and the power kick could be that bit too severe, not to mention that you'd also be likely to run into the rev limiter sooner than you wanted.

And what of those oh-so-trick radially-mounted calipers? Erm, to be honest all I noticed was that the brakes were still excellent but whether these are actually better than the current ones will take a back-to-back test or a better rider than me to discern. They sure do look purty though...

Otherwise it's business as usual with the Mille. The horn's still where you expect the indicator switch to be, the clocks still have a mind-boggling array of buttons and lights, and it's still a very good-looking superbike package to satisfy discerning track addicts around the world. As to whether it's better than the new 999 or not, roll on the group test...

SPECS

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - N/A

ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc

POWER - N/A

TORQUE - N/A

WEIGHT - 182kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 18L

TOP SPEED - 165mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

Granted, said spiel was delivered in a manner that suggested these minor alterations were in fact earth-shattering developments capable of slashing seconds, perhaps even minutes from rider's lap times, and possibly securing world peace into the bargain, but behind the dry ice and bright lights we all knew the bike in front of us was a gentle evolution of the species and no more.

For the 2003 Mille-R there will be no new geometry or frame alterations, no clever motor gizmos, no vast new gobs of power or torque (the engine is in fact the same as the current model), and to sit on it you'd think you were on this year's bike.

But then this isn't a bad thing because the 2002 Mille-R was, and still is for that matter, one of the best sportsbikes on the market, combining sublime track handling and class-leading brakes with bags of big twin punch, smooth fuel injection and plenty of Italian exclusivity. So why change it?

Because Aprilia had to. The top line sportsbike market is a fashion-led and fickle one where bikes need regular updating so they're still perceived as cutting edge. On this basis Aprilia's tack with the Mille-R is laudable.

They've added next year's essential fashion touches in the black frame and swinging arm - black is the new black for 2003 - along with the radially-mounted calipers which all the best bikes are sporting for next season if the forthcoming ZX-6R, CBR600 (check) and GSX-R1000 are anything to go by. True, these are also a technical improvement over conventional calipers as they offer a more stable platform for the anchors to operate from, but they're also an instantly-recognisable piece of one-upmanship for any owner to clearly demonstrate their ownership of the new model.

Other technical tweaks are lighter wheels (a kilo less than last year's) which can only be a good thing, and new ratios in the gearbox. First, second and third gear are taller to calm the motor's punch slightly - not such a bad thing as full throttle out of slower corners in first or second would have the current R on the back wheel sharpish which is all very cool but makes getting the power down a harder job than it could be - and shorter ratios in the top two gears to help real high speed stuff.

Oh, the fork internals have been tweaked too, while the compression adjuster up front is relocated to the front of the fork which is a damned sight easier to get to than the old one in the base of the leg which required the manual dexterity of a Thai ladyboy to get an allen key into.

But would these subtle tweaks translate into any tangible differences from the riding seat?

As far as the first couple of sessions of the day were concerned then the answer to this has to be 'no' because these stints were taken up with learning the track, sussing braking markers and gears, and generally getting into the swing of things.

All I could say was that the bike felt more softly-sprung than the 2002 R I'd raced at Oulton Park the weekend before but then as we'd spent a full day beforehand setting that one up while the launch bike was pretty much on standard settings this wasn't exactly a surprise and I wasn't going fast enough for it to be an issue.

What I could say at this point was Aprilia's choice of circuit for the launch showed an ambitious confidence in their bike because Vallelunga is a twisty, tricky, technical bugger of a track. There's a good mix of fast and slow turns but a major lack of straights so no chance for a breather anywhere and the cambers vary massively with at least half of the corners off-camber at some point. In a nutshell, if a bike didn't have a well-sorted front end and didn't change direction impeccably, it would soon be shown up, and most likely in a gravel trap.

After perhaps the best lunch I've yet been treated to on a launch, it was back to the grindstone on the track to try and turn the wick up a little.

And now, with the pace up, the bike felt slightly more reluctant to turn into the faster corners than it perhaps could while the front end was becoming unnerving as it was pushed through Vallelunga's really tight hairpins. Time for a couple of changes.

Some extra ride height at the back put more weight onto the front, while a couple of extra clicks of rebound damping at the front were dialled in to hopefully hold the front down more once into the corners off the brakes. These were only small changes, but Mille suspension is quality gear where big differences are easily made.

Back on the track, these adjustments let me ride the bike as hard as I was ever going to manage in the short time we had and restored my confidence in the front end. Job done. The main point is that this is a serious superbike with a massive range of adjustment on offer. There's no right or wrong set up, but if you know what you want you can reap substantial rewards from a spot of tinkering.

In fact, the combination of the bike's chassis and the Pirelli Supercorsa tyres meant no moments all day. No matter what I did, both wheels were resolutely stuck to the tarmac despite some very daft lean angles thanks to ground clearance as remarkable as ever.

The new gear ratios showed their use out of the track's tightest hairpin too which could now be safely tackled in first gear without any worries of a painful trip over the highside getting the power down on the way out. Try doing this on the current bike and the power kick could be that bit too severe, not to mention that you'd also be likely to run into the rev limiter sooner than you wanted.

And what of those oh-so-trick radially-mounted calipers? Erm, to be honest all I noticed was that the brakes were still excellent but whether these are actually better than the current ones will take a back-to-back test or a better rider than me to discern. They sure do look purty though...

Otherwise it's business as usual with the Mille. The horn's still where you expect the indicator switch to be, the clocks still have a mind-boggling array of buttons and lights, and it's still a very good-looking superbike package to satisfy discerning track addicts around the world. As to whether it's better than the new 999 or not, roll on the group test...

2002-03 Aprilia RSV-R Mille

APRILIA SPECS
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2002
PRICE NEW - N/A
ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc
POWER - N/A
TORQUE - N/A   
WEIGHT - 182kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 18L   
TOP SPEED - 165mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A