2009 Most Important...Aprilia RSV4 Factory

Few bikes have ever come as close to living up to the ‘Factory’ tag as this Noale nut-job. Expensive, hard to ride slowly, unruly on the road but totally in its element on a track – it’s just got to be the best bike of the year

Why’s it so important?

Almost every sports bike brochure boasts some sort of connection to technology derived from MotoGP. But few really live up to such seductive flannel. Most flatter to deceive and some are simply paintjobs pretending.

Unless you were one of the few wealthy enough to become the proud and envied owner of Ducati’s £42,000 Desmosedici RR, then ownership of a pukka race-inspired V4 was unlikely. Or at least it was until February this year when Aprilia launched the RSV4 Factory. Now £15,000 isn’t an insignificant amount of money. But this bike had half the WSB paddock up in arms over its legality in a series conceived and designed specifically for production bike. And this piece of Italian brilliance went on to win a race in its first year and sell as quickly as the Noale factory could make them.

As if that’s not reason enough for the Aprilia to be included in our top five, then the fact it absolutely shattered any doubts (ours included) that the factory could produce such a brilliant V4 motor at their first attempt should convince. With a huge number of V4 believers waiting in vain for years for Honda to reintroduce a V4 sports bike after the success of the now cult RC30 and RC45 homologation specials, the RSV4 Factory arrives and really is something a bit special. The kind of bike that comes along once in a Brit Grand Prix win.

And what’s it like to ride?

Jumping on a bike like this is always a special moment, regardless of how many bikes you’ve ridden before. Just looking down at the machined top yoke gripping those beautiful Öhlins forks, the needle on the centrally-mounted rev-counter enthusiastically sweeping in time with the deep growl from the large, angular exhaust silencer lets you know something special is happening before you’ve even slotted first gear.

The inimitable V4 blend of low down grunt and top-end revs takes a while to get used to, especially for anyone used to the frenetic left foot twitching required to keep a 600 on the boil. And you could be forgiven for that. The Aprilia is physically tiny thanks to that compact 60° V4 engine – as narrow as most twins and no longer than an in-line four.

On paper, torque and power are slightly down on any of the Japanese fours, but then dyno figures don’t always accurately reflect the seat of the pants experience.

Pinning the throttle to the stop in any of the first three gears has the bike driving forward with urgency, the crankshaft spinning up so quickly the front wheel goes skyward. A skilled throttle hand is a must have – the RSV4 Factory is most definitely not a bike for novices.

It’s got proper character, it’ll leave you spewing froth and bluster to your mates down the pub about your last ride; how it shook its head over the bumps; how you thought you were off the back of it over that humpback bridge; it’s a proper man’s bike, an old-school nutcase with a modern twist. There’s no question the RSV4 was designed as a race bike first before any thought was given to making it road legal. During our big exotic bike test back in the August issue, Niall Mackenzie reckoned it felt as close to a 500cc GP as he’d ever experienced on the road. James Whitham reckoned even for him, it was a bit too much of everything on the public highway, but absolutely exquisite once let loose on the racetrack.

He also reckoned that no other mass-produced bike steers and changes direction as well as most race bikes he’d ridden – and that’s quite some compliment. Especially from a man who’s been involved in just about every World Championship except conkers and tiddly-winks since wheels were round.

The problem is we’re not ex-Grand Prix racers and on the road, the Aprilia’s reluctance to work at slower speeds with racebike-stiff suspension and an eager motor make it hard work and ultimately slower than the hugely efficient, designed-for-the-masses, totally user-friendly Japanese machines.

But then to choose user-friendly over the Aprilia would be massively missing the point. As a piece of engineering, a pure adrenaline-milking machine for those seeking a unique buzz on something more than just another competent motorcycle the RSV4 Factory is arguably (cue spilt beer and wagging finger) the most exciting bike of 2009.

You’ve got to admire Aprilia for taking a massive punt in building the RSV4. It could so easily have fallen flat, but they rolled the dice and got a double six, blending an impressive balance of motor, chassis and critical components. Take it to a track and it could be the most capable stock machine ever to inspire undisguised envy.

Rating: 4/5

  • FOR: Oh so fast, astonishing handling and staggeringly beautiful
  • AGAINST: Bit of a handful on the road, bit of a handful on the wallet and way too good for people like us

2009 Aprilia RSV4 Factory Specs

Price: £14,999
Top speed: 172.4mph
Engine: 999.6cc, 16 valves, liquid-cooled, V-four
Bore and stroke: 78mm x 52.3mm
Compression ratio: 12.8:1
Power: 160bhp @ 10,000rpm
Torque: 76ft/lbs @ 8,750rpm
Front suspension: Inverted telescopic forks
Adjustment: Preload, compression and rebound
Rear suspension: Monoshock
Adjustment: Preload, compression and rebound
Front brakes: Four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Twin-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Dry weight: 190kg (419lbs)
Seat height: 179mm
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Colour options: Red/Black