Italian Exotica - Aprilia RSV-R Mille, Benelli Tornado & Ducati 999

When it comes to style few can match the Italians. But is Ducati's 999, Benelli's Tornado and Aprilia's RSV-R's beauty only skin deep?

How many times have you heard the expression 'beauty is only skin deep'? It usually happens just after your missus catches you ogling one of the brolly dollies in their spray-on lycra suits who wander around the NEC show. Alright, it may very well be true, beauty could only be skin deep, but let's be truthful here - a trophy girlfriend is still a great thing to have. Even if after a while you find yourself wishing you had the old faithful back.

And that's what these Italian bikes are like. They aren't the fastest bikes around and the current crop of Japanese superbikes are a match for them when it comes to handling, but these three Italians have something that very few Jap bikes can muster. And that's a huge dollop of style, raw beauty and pure exotica.

Parking them in the pit lane of Albacete Circuit in Spain, they instantly draw a crowd in the way that few other bikes can. If Niall, Daryll and myself had rolled up on any of the new Japanese bikes no one would have given us a second glance, although Niall does have the habit of drawing a crowd on his own, usually from people he has scrounged a drink from in the past then cleared off when it was his turn at the bar. But when you pull up on a Ducati 999, Benelli Tornado and Aprilia RSV-R you instantly draw an audience.

Which isn't that surprising because seeing one of these, let alone all three together, at your local bike meet is about as likely as bumping into the Pope flicking through the blue movies in the local Blockbuster.

Ducati's 999 may be a bit of an old hand now but it still gets attention. It's one of those bikes that everyone has an opinion on when it comes to the styling. After the initial shock when it was launched it seems as though bikers are getting more used to its look. It has probably been helped by Neil Hodgson winning the WSB title this year as now instead of being a strange looking replacement to the stunning 916 silhouette the 999 is now a proven winner. The old comments still stick, most of them involving the rear end and the front lights, but it seems (like the Hayabusa before it) as though the 999 is becoming more accepted.

Unlike Ducati the Benelli and Aprilia don't really have the racing pedigree to back up their looks. Let's be truthful here, the Tornado was a flop when it came to WSB. It snuck into the top 10 a few times but that's about it. You get the feeling that the whole WSB effort was more of a huge, and very costly, publicity stunt to show people that the Benelli name was back after a few years in the wilderness.

But that doesn't really matter much, the Tornado really is nothing short of stunning to look at. It's amazing to think that the Tornado was first shown over four years ago, and it still doesn't look dated.

But surprisingly it was the Aprilia that was creating the most attention. The new designed RSV-R looks fantastic, even in matt black and against this kind of company. As well as the Starship Enterprise-style back end and SP-2ish front, the RSV-R has a new fairing, chassis, swingarm and just about everything else.

So I found myself following Niall on the Benelli and Daryll on the Aprilia down the pit lane and onto Albecete circuit.

Having not ridden the circuit before both Daryll and myself took the first session nice and steady. Niall, being Niall, had raced there before and did his usual trick of clearing off.