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First Ride: 2005 Aprilia Tuono R

Some would say there was nothing wrong with the old Tuono R, so is the new one better?

Aprilia has been having a hard time of it of late. But its new Tuono R 'street fighter' should help the Italian firm get right back on track. The Tuono is a serious entertainer, and a bit of a wild and unforgettable one at that.

After serious financial difficulties Aprilia was recently saved by the Piaggio group, which has pledged over £10m of investment and promised to expand the Aprilia range with many new models. If they're as spunky as the Tuono, then the future looks pretty bright.

It's one of the most invigorating bikes you can ride on the market. And no matter what sort of mood you're in when you first put the key in, you'll always be laughing your face off after just a few minutes after slinging your leg over it. If you're not, then you must be a robot.

The Tuono wasn't really a difficult bike to for Aprilia to make, and is basically a current model RSV Mille R superbike, with the bodywork stripped off. It does have a small fairing to keep the wind off a bit, and the engine has been tweaked slightly to increase midrange power. But bar that, there's not much that's really different between the two bikes. Not much except, the bikes' very different characters.

Aprilia made me laugh a bit when, at the press conference, it said the Tuono is a less serious bike than full-on sportsbikes. After my blast on it round the twisting mountain roads in the Italian Alps, taken as fast as I dared, and with a load of others doing just the same, I'd say Tuono is totally bonkers, and makes sportsbikes seem dull! I know which one I'd rather have.

You need to be careful when you're having fun on it mind you. It's a pretty well balanced bike, and is slightly more refined overall than the old Tuono. But there's something about it which can turn you into a bit of a nutter whenever you're riding it. Wheelies are commonplace, and addictive.

The engine has got to have something to do with it. With 133bhp on tap, the new motor has 8bhp than the old one, and the Aprilia doesn't spend much time on both of its wheels. The broad spread means there's always some pretty serious oomph available whenever you get on the throttle. And though it has slightly more peak power, the delivery is a bit smoother and more sensible than the old bike's motor. That's because the engine has more linear feel to it. It builds bhp more consistently, and very smoothly even during the real meaty build from 7-8 grand upwards.

Because of the more polished punch, the kick from the old V-twin has gone. It can, at times, seem a bit slower than the old bike. But that's not the case, and any quick glance at the speedo nearly always lets know you're getting a serious move on. It's still a fast bike, and one that's great to ride fast.

Picking a swift route through the mountain roads also proved the Tuono's handling is top drawer too, and a bike that's dead easy to manage. It's a light, very flickable bike, and its big wide bars give enough leverage to make the Aprilia feel almost toylike. It certainly takes a lot less effort to throw around than most big sportsbikes. And just as importantly, the Tuono has some good feel when you're going harder.

Some of the roads we tested the bike on were risky to say the least. They had DO NOT CRASH written all over them. With the usual mix of hazards including rock faces, crash barriers and deep ravines, falling off would definitely have resulted in some serious physical bashing. Leg-busters, they were, those roads, but I didn't really mind scratching on them on the Tuono. You can go mad on it, but you always seem to know where you are with it. I like bikes like that.

Slashing speed is just as impressive as gaining it thanks to the half decent brakes. And though the bike's suspension isn't quite as high spec as some, it still deals with all the speed-reducing mayhem quite nicely. There's certainly enough between the Dunlops and the forks to keep things pinned hard and on the edge when your life might depend on it. I was happy to use the brakes hard and repeatedly. And on those sorts of roads, I can't praise them much more than that.

The new Tuono is, as all things Italian tend to be, a bit of an eye-catcher. It looks fantastic and a fair bit neater than the old bike. OK, that model had a raw edged, unfinished look about it, that endeared it to many. It was a 'proper' 'well-ard' streetfighter. That image has been cleaned up a bit, and now the bike has a much more complete and more upmarket style about it.

But there's still an element of hooligan in evidence. Only now the Tuono is a slightly posher hooligan that's had a shave and donned a tie. And though the street fighter has just been smoothed out and refined a bit. And though you can resist going crackers on it. Most of the time you don't want to.

RIVALS

Triumph Speed Triple

One of Triumph's best ever bikes. Much like the Aprilia, the Speed Triple is all about having fun. Goes brilliantly too, with its ace engine and chassis. If you can't wheelie this, give up. Highly recommended.

KTM Superduke

A quality bit of kit that features plenty of top notch components to make it ride superbly. Stompy engine means wheelies are common. And like the others, the Austrian bike is a hoot to ride.

MV Brutale

A slightly more refined package with sharp handling and now, with its new 910cc engine, some go to match. Looks very special with its Italian shapes and curves. Not quite as much as a hooligan as the rest.

STAT BOX

Aprilia Tuono R

Price: £7,648 otr (£7995 in 2006)

Performance: 150mph

Power: 133bhp @ 9,500rpm

Torque: 75ft/lbs @ 8, 750rpm

Engine: 998cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-stroke, four-valves per cylinder, 60-degree V-twin

Seat height: 810mm

Dry weight: 185kg

Bore x Stroke: 97 x 67.5mm

Compression ratio: 11.8:1

Transmission: six-speed

Available: Late October

Performance: 5

Economy: 4

Style: 5

Overall: 5

CONTACT NUMBERS

Aprilia World Service, 0161 475 1800, www.apriliauk.com