First Ride: 2006 Aprilia RSV-R

A re-jig to pass tough emissions tests or significant go-faster modifications? Urry tests the new RSV-R and RSV-R Factory






"TOO MUCH PASSION brought Aprilia off track, but now we have Piaggio's backing we have been brought back on track again." For the usual marketing waffle in a press presentation of a new bike, this comment by Aprilia is remarkably frank and honest.

Last year Aprilia was in a lot of trouble: no money, production lines stopping and workers sent home... Then Piaggio waded in, bought the company and invested in making the Aprilia brand strong again.

So where did all the money go? A doomed MotoGP effort, fewer scooter sales and some models failing to set the world on fire are the likely causes. Piaggio is keen not to repeat those mistakes, and there are a few treats in the pipeline too (refer to the Preload section for details).

Anyway, about that new RSV-R. For 2006 the bike now comes with …hlins forks, Brembo radial calipers and subtle bodywork changes to improve aerodynamics. Although most of the engine is unchanged, the exhaust valves are up in diameter from 31 to 33mm, the exhaust is now stuffed full of catalysers and the fuel injection map is modified to suit. Why the changes? Those pesky Euro3 emissions laws. But it's not all bad news; the engine has gained 4bhp and now makes a claimed 143bhp.

The Factory version gets all of the above, but also an …hlins shock, …hlins steering damper, carbon mudguards, air vents, fairing cover and cockpit spoilers, and lightweight forged aluminium wheels in gold. Oh yes, the frame is now gold-coloured too. How could I forget that?

Fairly high specifications as standard, then. So what's the cost? The RSV-R is £8999 on the road and Factory £10,349. Sounds good value to me, especially when, for the price of a stamp, you can get a four-year warranty. When you buy a new Aprilia the company will send you a letter; simply reply and your warranty is extended by an extra two years.Top stuff.

Now, value for money is all very well and good but, as anyone who has ever tried the Tesco value baked beans will know, sometimes value for money doesn't necessarily make the tastiest product. It can mean a lot of juice and no substance.

Luckily enough this isn't the case with the RSV-R. While neither version of the new bike is that far removed from the current model, subtle changes have combined to make a significant difference.

Sitting on the standard RSV-R ready for my first session around the Losail circuit in Qatar I feel like the bike's identical to the old model. The cockpit is unchanged and, apart from the blue fork tops and the slightly larger bubble in the screen, you would be hard pushed to tell the two apart.

Pull the (heavy) clutch and clunk into first and I'm off down the pit lane. It's been a while since I rode an RSV-R and the first few laps are spent getting comfortable on the bike and trying to remember where the circuit goes. In the past, RSV-Rs have always felt quite ungainly to ride. The combination of a high centre of gravity and twin pipes that always seem to catch my heels made getting comfortable and moving around on the bike tricky. For '06 Aprilia has slimmed the bike slightly and altered the tank and seat unit, which improves comfort and allows easier movement on the bike. And I don't feel like my heels are going to catch. It's a small but significant improvement.

And it's the same with the engine. Although the modifications are minimal the 60-degree motor is considerably smoother than before thanks to a new fuel injection map and the modified head and pipes. Where the old bike would stutter and lurch forward at low revs, the new engine is far happier in the lower reaches of the rev counter. A benefit of larger exhaust valves is a beefed-up torque curve at the low end of the scale, and this certainly seems to be the case with the RSV-R. Although there's a claimed 4bhp extra at the top end, it isn't really that noticeable; it's the low range boost that impresses. Another nice touch is Aprilia's inclusion of two fuel maps with the RSV-R and Factory. Dealers can simply flick a switch to go between the standard map and one designed specifically for a bike with race cans on. Value for money again. And those familiar with RSV-Rs will be glad to hear that Aprilia claim to have fixed the clutch problems that made selecting neutral such a pain on the old bike. Apparently a new seal on the clutch system has stopped air bleeding into the line, which was the cause of the problem. Time will tell.

Up at the front end, both models come with identical, nitride-coated …hlins forks and Brembo brakes, a major step up for the standard RSV-R which previously came with Showa forks. On both bikes the front end feeling and grip is superb and, combined with the awesome Brembo brakes, makes for one of the best front ends around. The Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro tyres are excellent, although being in the middle of a desert does wonders for track temperature and grip, which no doubt exaggerated the feeling. Even so, both models' front ends were hugely impressive.

Ridden back-to-back there was little to split the Factory and the stock bike. When the track pace ups the Factory's …hlins rear shock does make a difference, and the lightweight wheels help the suspension work better, but in most circumstances it's tricky to spot the difference. I found that increasing the rear spring preload on the RSV-R had it feeling as good as the Factory, although the Factory's …hlins steering damper did come into play over a crest on the track. For road use I can't see the stock bike getting out of shape, and the rear shock will be perfectly adequate.

So is it worth updating an old RSV-R to a new one? We're used to the Japanese manufacturers updating their sports bikes every two years with small tweaks, and this is exactly what Aprilia has done. The mods to both bikes are small but significant enough to improve them both. On the road, the difference between the Factory and stock RSV-R will be hard to spot, apart from the 'Elizabeth Duke at Argos' gold frame on the Factory, and for the cost difference it would be cheaper to simply buy an over-the-counter …hlins shock for the RSV-R.

Overall both the RSV-R and Factory offer tremendous value for money, especially given their spec and the four-year warranty. As a refreshing change from the run-of-the-mill Japanese in-line fours, either bike is certainly worth considering.

VERDICT - 4/5


Small but significant changes and real value for money make this a winner. A good alternative to the common Jap in-line four

EVOLUTION


1998: The first RSV Mille is launched at the Milan bike show. It makes a claimed 128bhp, weighs 189kg and has red brake calipers


2000: The red calipers are replaced by gold ones on the stock RSV and an …hlins-shod 'R' is introduced. Also150 RSV Mille SPs are made for World Superbike homologation


2002: The limited-edition Haga rep is launched. Only 200 are made and each one comes with twin race pipes and a blue top yoke


2004: The RSV-R is completely redesigned and comes with a new engine, chassis and funky looks with a spaceship-style back end

RIVALS


Ducati 999: £11,250 Pricier, but the new look, with colour matched fairing and more powerful engine, make this the best 999 yet


Honda VTR1000 SP-2: £9349 They still make these? Honda takes on Italy at its own V-twin game. Not a bad bike, but lacks the character of the Italian machines

SPECS


TYPE - SUPERSPORTS


PRODUCTION DATE - 2006


PRICE NEW - £8999


ENGINE CAPACITY - 997cc


POWER - 143bhp@10,000rpm


TORQUE - 74.5lb.ft@8000rpm


WEIGHT - 189kg


SEAT HEIGHT - 810mm


FUEL CAPACITY - 18L


TOP SPEED - 160mph


0-60 - n/a


TANK RANGE - N/A

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

"TOO MUCH PASSION brought Aprilia off track, but now we have Piaggio's backing we have been brought back on track again." For the usual marketing waffle in a press presentation of a new bike, this comment by Aprilia is remarkably frank and honest.

Last year Aprilia was in a lot of trouble: no money, production lines stopping and workers sent home... Then Piaggio waded in, bought the company and invested in making the Aprilia brand strong again.

So where did all the money go? A doomed MotoGP effort, fewer scooter sales and some models failing to set the world on fire are the likely causes. Piaggio is keen not to repeat those mistakes, and there are a few treats in the pipeline too (refer to the Preload section for details).

Anyway, about that new RSV-R. For 2006 the bike now comes with Öhlins forks, Brembo radial calipers and subtle bodywork changes to improve aerodynamics. Although most of the engine is unchanged, the exhaust valves are up in diameter from 31 to 33mm, the exhaust is now stuffed full of catalysers and the fuel injection map is modified to suit. Why the changes? Those pesky Euro3 emissions laws. But it's not all bad news; the engine has gained 4bhp and now makes a claimed 143bhp.

The Factory version gets all of the above, but also an Öhlins shock, Öhlins steering damper, carbon mudguards, air vents, fairing cover and cockpit spoilers, and lightweight forged aluminium wheels in gold. Oh yes, the frame is now gold-coloured too. How could I forget that?

Fairly high specifications as standard, then. So what's the cost? The RSV-R is £8999 on the road and Factory £10,349. Sounds good value to me, especially when, for the price of a stamp, you can get a four-year warranty. When you buy a new Aprilia the company will send you a letter; simply reply and your warranty is extended by an extra two years.Top stuff.