One Track Mind: Aprilia RSV-R Factory vs Ducati 999 vs MV Agusta F41000R

Sometimes you've just got to kick back and let rip. Niall Mackenzie blows away the cobwebs at Oulton Park with a fiery threesome of desirable Italian exotica; Aprilia RSV-R Factory, Ducati 999, MV Agusta F4 1000R


Niall Mackenzie is a legend round these parts. He's a legend because of what he achieved in the 80s and 90s, at home and abroad, in GP and superbike racing. And we like to think he's still got his hand in today, thrashing about testing bikes for us here at TWO.

But flick back through the last year's worth or so of magazines and you'll find Niall has been starved of track time. The old trout has been off on the odd circuit-based launch, but race track group tests have fallen out of favour of late so Niall's not been put to best use. What's the point of having the likes of him on the payroll if we don't let him do the likes of this every now and then?

So this is Niall doing what he does best: thrashing three of the finest sports motorcycles available around an achingly beautiful race track. Three gorgeous, stylish, delectable Italian thoroughbreds, fresh from the crate and dripping in multi-adjustable appendages. And to make sure he gets the most out of 'em he's even brought along his own pit crew. Over to you, Niall...

Who's this? It's Colin Davies, once Niall's chief technician in the Marlboro Yamaha 500cc GP squad, now fettling forks and shocks across the land under the name of Shockwave Suspension. Colin has also worked with the legendary Kevin Schwantz, plus Nori Haga, John Hopkins and James Whitham.Today he helps out the Vivaldi BSB team. He'll do the same for you if you like, and sort out your bike's suspension just dandy. Call him on 07966 180283.

Aprilia RSV-R Factory

Aprilia's RSV/RSV-R seems to have been around forever in some guise or other. Next to the relentless Japanese two-year sports bike cycle the RSV-R may appear long in the tooth, but I was impressed when our spanking, sparkling, latest-spec RSV-R Factory received the most compliments and admiring looks in our pit garage. Even snapper Jason reckoned its gold frame and black paint made it the best looker from his trackside standpoint.

It may also be a case of 'why fix it if it ain't broken?' as I found the Aprilia to be by far the best handling bike on out-of-the box settings. I was also pleased to see the RSV was shod with Pirelli Dragon Corsas - not the stickiest track day tyre but always safe and consistent. Where the MV and the Ducati were to have their quirks but work effectively once sorted, the RSV is a bike anyone could ride fast and safely straight away. During my first session I had to push hard before I could find obvious room for improvement whereas, with the other two, a few laps were more than enough to know what I wanted changing. One thing I would have liked to adjust was the footpeg position. The height was fine but they're simply too far forward for me, and because of their location near the exhausts moving them back would be tricky. For track days and short rides they're okay but all day riding would present problems - as it did on a thrash to the Alps earlier in the year riding the basic RSV-R. That said, of the three bikes here the Factory was physically the easiest to ride.The 60-degree V-twin motor revs to 11,000rpm, which is 500rpm more than the Ducati. Oddly though it feels less powerful, which in turn probably helped the rear suspension. There wasn't a huge amount of movement from the rear but it squatted on corner exits making the front end light, so Colin, my chief technician for the day, added some preload plus compression and rebound damping to the rear .Ôhlins unit. He also reckoned the standard settings were quite soft, even for a light rider riding on the road.

Another 20-minute blast confirmed just how well balanced this bike is, as I could easily keep it nailed over Clay Hill and while cresting all the humps between Druids and Lodge corner. The only negative effect was the front end became more nervous, but this was quickly cured with three clicks more on the steering damper. As the Aprilia was the only bike with a back torque limiter it also meant I could push a bit harder on the brakes into the slower corners. My final change of the day was therefore additional compression damping on the front to help through the Shell Oils hairpin and the Foulstons Chicane.

I haven't ridden an RSV-R on track for some time, but I was impressed how it's still right there with the opposition.

THE SET-UP

"Setting up three bikes is time consuming and a job that actually never quite ends. Once you reach a certain level you push to the next. We made big strides from standard settings but the next step would involve a stopwatch and a clear track. On the day I guess I was riding at about 60 per cent. That's fast enough to get the bikes to a certain level and leave myself a safety margin - it was a busy public track day and I didn't want to get tangled up with anyone."

APRILIA RSV-R FACTORY: THE SETTINGS WE SETTLED ON

FRONT Sag: 27mm Preload: 8 turns in from fully out Comp: 9 clicks out from full inRebound: 12 clicks out REAR Sag: 10mm Preload: +1mm Comp: 10 clicks out Rebound: 16 clicks out Steering damper: position 7

Colin says: "The Aprilia comes with decent .Ôhlins kit front and rear and responds well to adjustments. It's not racing quality suspension but it's still very good - .Ôhlins won't send any old kit out to manufacturers to fit to road bikes, it's good stuff."

MV Agusta F4 1000R

Easily the most powerful of our three bikes and, apart from a snatchy response from a closed throttle, has arguably the best four-cylinder engine in its class. Get her rolling and she accelerates like no other up to the 13,000rpm limiter, reminding you why this bike is one of the best packages in European Superstock racing this season.

Everything about the F4 1000R exudes class and quality, so I don't understand why it has a Sachs shock and Marzocchi forks fitted instead of finishing it off with the best .Ôhlins kit. The other strange combination is the brakes. Like the other two bikes here the F4 has radially mounted Brembo calipers, but instead of a Brembo master cylinder it uses a Nissin unit. Oddities apart we made steady progress through the day turning what was, relatively speaking, a lardy, numb feeling bike into something responsive and very enjoyable.Unfortunately our bike had a loose headstock, but once Colin had assured me the forks wouldn't fall out as I wheelied over Deer's Leap I tried to ignore this minor niggle and concentrate on the job in hand. My first impression was that the MV has its weight very front biased, making it hard to turn into corners and more physically demanding than the other two. The riding position is good if a bit cramped but, unlike the Ducati, there's little room to move around. On top of that the pillion peg hangers limit foot movement, although they are easily removed.

On standard settings there was very little stability accelerating out of corners. Being a factory rider again for a day, my handling expert diagnosed that the rear was way too soft, so we increased both high- and low-speed compression damping. Multi-adjustable shocks are fine but it's easy to get confused, so grab an expert or write down your settings before you start so you can at least go back to your starting point. With the rear sorted the front still felt heavy. As well as not wanting to lean into corners it wanted to stand up on the brakes, almost like the front tyre was too soft. Colin's suggestion to reduce front preload but increase rebound and compression to hold the front down mid-corner and provide better support was right. Things were better, but not perfect. The initial heavy feeling was still there but at least now the MV dropped in and tracked round corners properly - providing I could anticipate the tricky throttle at low revs. We made good progress but Colin said to completely eliminate the heavy feeling we needed to fit softer fork springs to enable us to work in a different damping range.

Even if it wasn't the most agile of our trio, the MV made up for it in other departments. The awesome power and sound of the engine and the stunning looks mean there will never be a boring moment in the company of an F4 1000R.

MV AGUSTA F4 1000R: THE SETTINGS WE SETTLED ON

FRONT Sag 23mm Preload: 4 turns in from fully out Comp: 3 clicks out from full in Rebound: 6 clicks out REAR Sag: 25mm High-speed comp: 6 clicks out Low-speed comp: 12 clicks out Steering damper: position 6 Colin says: "It needs a bit of work. The rear isn't too bad but the forks could do with different springs and more oil in them, and possibly revalving. I think you could make big improvements there and get it working really well."

Ducati 999S

It's taken a while but over the last four years Ducati's 999 has grown on me. The problem was the impact the 916 had when I first saw it at the NEC in 1993. This instant attraction didn't happen when its descendant and replacement appeared but I can't ignore how successful it's been in racing or how satisfying it is to ride - especially on track.

Sitting on its stand in the pits the Ducati looked low, long and stable, and that's generally how they feel on track. Joining the Oulton circuit from the pit lane exit the first corner you come to is Cascades. It's a third gear, downhill left opening onto a fourth gear straight. Even though I was on an out lap and on cold tyres I knew straight away the forks' settings were a mile out. Instant dive when closing the throttle and going for the brakes meant big forward weight transfer and minimal control on corner entry. Mid-corner feel wasn't too bad and although the rear felt low it coped okay with Oulton's cambers, undulations and elevation changes. Although light steering and easy to change direction, the 999S is not at its happiest in hairpins and slow corners, but show it a faster turn, such as Oulton's Island Bend or Clay Hill, and few bikes will inspire more confidence. The roomy riding position means you can use your body weight efficiently on track and the smooth, tractable engine hits its limiter at 10,500rpm, but a positive gearbox means extra shifts present no problems.

After a de-brief with Colin, we decided a front suspension change was needed. Four clicks of compression damping and 3mm more preload was prescribed. On my return to the track the front initially felt a tad harsh, but once I got going and started to work the front tyre and suspension it was near perfect. With my extra momentum I was working the rear harder and found the rear tyre losing traction and pogoing on corner exits - fixed with increased rebound damping. As mentioned, chicanes and slow corners aren't the 999's strong points so for my last run Colin raised the ride height by 5mm to help steering and turn-in. The benefits were two-fold, as the higher riding position gave more front feel and the steering became more responsive. The bike actually felt more nervous, but in a good way as high speed stability wasn't compromised.

All in all improving the Ducati was quite a straightforward process, and every change we made was easy to feel. The standard Michelin Pilot Powers were reaching their limit so a set of stickier Race versions would have to be the answer next time.

DUCATI 999S: THE SETTINGS WE SETTLED ON

FRONT Sag: 25mm Preload: 10 turns in from fully out Comp: 16 clicks out from full in Rebound: 12 clicks out REAR Sag: 15mm Ride height: +5mm Preload: +1mm Comp: 10 clicks out Rebound: 12 clicks out Steering damper: pos. 8 Colin says: "The Ducati's a bit of a special case really because of position of the engine in the frame and the way the linkages work, but as standard it's good. Once again, same story as the Aprilia, with quality .Ôhlins front and rear."

AND IN CONCLUSION

I liked all the bikes for different reasons - the Ducati for its pedigree, the RSV-R for all-round user friendliness and the MV for its outrageousness. If I were to choose one it would have to be the MV, but not because it would give the best lap time. That honour would go to the Ducati or Aprilia. Oulton is a technical track with ups and downs and camber changes, and you need a stable bike with a docile engine - that's why the twins excelled.

The F4 is expensive but it's very, very fast and looks and feels like no other bike on the road. In the past MVs have promised much but been a disappointment to ride, then they got my attention when they started beating the best Japanese kit on track this year in European Superstock racing. Now I know why.

Niall Mackenzie is a legend round these parts. He's a legend because of what he achieved n the 80s and 90s, at home and abroad, in GP and superbike racing. And we like to think he's still got his hand in today, thrashing about testing bikes for us here at Visordown.

But flick back through the last year's worth or so of magazines and you'll find Niall has been starved of track time. The old trout has been off on the odd circuit-based launch, but race track group tests have fallen out of favour of late so Niall's not been put to best use. What's the point of having the likes of him on the payroll if we don't let him do the likes of this every now and then?

So this is Niall doing what he does best: thrashing three of the finest sports motorcycles available around an achingly beautiful race track. Three gorgeous, stylish, delectable Italian thoroughbreds, fresh from the crate and dripping in multi-adjustable appendages. And to make sure he gets the most out of 'em he's even brought along his own pit crew. Over to you, Niall...

Who's this? It's Colin Davies, once Niall's chief technician in the Marlboro Yamaha 500cc GP squad, now fettling forks and shocks across the land under the name of Shockwave Suspension. Colin has also worked with the legendary Kevin Schwantz, plus Nori Haga, John Hopkins and James Whitham. Today he helps out the Vivaldi BSB team. He'll do the same for you if you like, and sort out your bike's suspension just dandy. Call him on 07966 180283.

Aprilia RSV-R Factory

Aprilia's RSV/RSV-R seems to have been around forever in some guise or other. Next to the relentless Japanese two-year sports bike cycle the RSV-R may appear long in the tooth, but I was impressed when our spanking, sparkling, latest-spec RSV-R Factory received the most compliments and admiring looks in our pit garage. Even snapper Jason reckoned its gold frame and black paint made it the best looker from his trackside standpoint.

It may also be a case of 'why fix it if it ain't broken?' as I found the Aprilia to be by far the best handling bike on out-of-the box settings. I was also pleased to see the RSV was shod with Pirelli Dragon Corsas - not the stickiest track day tyre but always safe and consistent. Where the MV and the Ducati were to have their quirks but work effectively once sorted, the RSV is a bike anyone could ride fast and safely straight away. During my first session I had to push hard before I could find obvious room for improvement whereas, with the other two, a few laps were more than enough to know what I wanted changing.

One thing I would have liked to adjust was the footpeg position. The height was fine but they're simply too far forward for me, and because of their location near the exhausts moving them back would be tricky. For track days and short rides they're okay but all day riding would present problems - as it did on a thrash to the Alps earlier in the year riding the basic RSV-R. That said, of the three bikes here the Factory was physically the easiest to ride.

The 60-degree V-twin motor revs to 11,000rpm, which is 500rpm more than the Ducati. Oddly though it feels less powerful, which in turn probably helped the rear suspension. There wasn't a huge amount of movement from the rear but it squatted on corner exits making the front end light, so Colin, my chief technician for the day, added some preload plus compression and rebound damping to the rear …hlins unit. He also reckoned the standard settings were quite soft, even for a light rider riding on the road.

Another 20-minute blast confirmed just how well balanced this bike is, as I could easily keep it nailed over Clay Hill and while cresting all the humps between Druids and Lodge corner. The only negative effect was the front end became more nervous, but this was quickly cured with three clicks more on the steering damper. As the Aprilia was the only bike with a back torque limiter it also meant I could push a bit harder on the brakes into the slower corners. My final change of the day was therefore additional compression damping on the front to help through the Shell Oils hairpin and the Foulstons Chicane.

I haven't ridden an RSV-R on track for some time, but I was impressed how it's still right there with the opposition.

THE SET-UP

"Setting up three bikes is time consuming and a job that actually never quite ends. Once you reach a certain level you push to the next. We made big strides from standard settings but the next step would involve a stopwatch and a clear track. On the day I guess I was riding at about 60 per cent. That's fast enough to get the bikes to a certain level and leave myself a safety margin - it was a busy public track day and I didn't want to get tangled up with anyone."

APRILIA RSV-R FACTORY: THE SETTINGS WE SETTLED ON

FRONT Sag: 27mm  Preload: 8 turns in from fully out  Comp: 9 clicks out from full in
Rebound: 12 clicks out  REAR Sag: 10mm Preload: +1mm Comp: 10 clicks out
Rebound: 16 clicks out Steering damper: position 7

Colin says: "The Aprilia comes with decent …hlins kit front and rear and responds well to adjustments. It's not racing quality suspension but it's still very good - Ohlins won't send any old kit out to manufacturers to fit to road bikes, it's good stuff."

Aprilia RSV-R Factory Specs

SPECS - APRILIA
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2006
PRICE NEW - £10,499
ENGINE CAPACITY - 997cc
POWER - 122.1bhp@9900rpm
TORQUE - 67lb.ft@8300rpm   
WEIGHT - 215kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 17L   
TOP SPEED - 164mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

MV Agusta F4 1000R

MV Agusta F4 1000R

Easily the most powerful of our three bikes and, apart from a snatchy response from a closed throttle, has arguably the best four-cylinder engine in its class. Get her rolling and she accelerates like no other up to the 13,000rpm limiter, reminding you why this bike is one of the best packages in European Superstock racing this season.

Everything about the F4 1000R exudes class and quality, so I don't understand why it has a Sachs shock and Marzocchi forks fitted instead of finishing it off with the best …hlins kit. The other strange combination is the brakes. Like the other two bikes here the F4 has radially mounted Brembo calipers, but instead of a Brembo master cylinder it uses a Nissin unit. Oddities apart we made steady progress through the day turning what was, relatively speaking, a lardy, numb feeling bike into something responsive and very enjoyable.

Unfortunately our bike had a loose headstock, but once Colin had assured me the forks wouldn't fall out as I wheelied over Deer's Leap I tried to ignore this minor niggle and concentrate on the job in hand. My first impression was that the MV has its weight very front biased, making it hard to turn into corners and more physically demanding than the other two. The riding position is good if a bit cramped but, unlike the Ducati, there's little room to move around. On top of that the pillion peg hangers limit foot movement, although they are easily removed.

On standard settings there was very little stability accelerating out of corners. Being a factory rider again for a day, my handling expert diagnosed that the rear was way too soft, so we increased both high- and low-speed compression damping. Multi-adjustable shocks are fine but it's easy to get confused, so grab an expert or write down your settings before you start so you can at least go back to your starting point.

With the rear sorted the front still felt heavy. As well as not wanting to lean into corners it wanted to stand up on the brakes, almost like the front tyre was too soft. Colin's suggestion to reduce front preload but increase rebound and compression to hold the front down mid-corner and provide better support was right. Things were better, but not perfect. The initial heavy feeling was still there but at least now the MV dropped in and tracked round corners properly - providing I could anticipate the tricky throttle at low revs. We made good progress but Colin said to completely eliminate the heavy feeling we needed to fit softer fork springs to enable us to work in a different damping range.

Even if it wasn't the most agile of our trio, the MV made up for it in other departments. The awesome power and sound of the engine and the stunning looks mean there will never be a boring moment in the company of an F4 1000R.

MV AGUSTA F4 1000R: THE SETTINGS WE SETTLED ON

FRONT  Sag 23mm  Preload: 4 turns in from fully out  Comp: 3 clicks out from full in Rebound: 6 clicks out  REAR Sag: 25mm  High-speed comp: 6 clicks out  Low-speed comp: 12 clicks out  Steering damper: position 6

Colin says: "It needs a bit of work. The rear isn't too bad but the forks could do with different springs and more oil in them, and possibly revalving. I think you could make big improvements there and get it working really well."

MV Agusta F4 1000R specs

SPECS - MV AGUSTA
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2006
PRICE NEW - £14,250
ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc
POWER - 153.4bhp@10,700rpm
TORQUE - 76lb.ft@9800rpm   
WEIGHT - 223kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 810mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 21L   
TOP SPEED - 176.6mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

Ducati 999S

Ducati 999S

It's taken a while but over the last four years Ducati's 999 has grown on me. The problem was the impact the 916 had when I first saw it at the NEC in 1993. This instant attraction didn't happen when its descendant and replacement appeared but I can't ignore how successful it's been in racing or how satisfying it is to ride - especially on track.

Sitting on its stand in the pits the Ducati looked low, long and stable, and that's generally how they feel on track. Joining the Oulton circuit from the pit lane exit the first corner you come to is Cascades. It's a third gear, downhill left opening onto a fourth gear straight. Even though I was on an out lap and on cold tyres I knew straight away the forks' settings were a mile out. Instant dive when closing the throttle and going for the brakes meant big forward weight transfer and minimal control on corner entry. Mid-corner feel wasn't too bad and although the rear felt low it coped okay with Oulton's cambers, undulations and elevation changes. Although light steering and easy to change direction, the 999S is not at its happiest in hairpins and slow corners, but show it a faster turn, such as Oulton's Island Bend or Clay Hill, and few bikes will inspire more confidence.

The roomy riding position means you can use your body weight efficiently on track and the smooth, tractable engine hits its limiter at 10,500rpm, but a positive gearbox means extra shifts present no problems.

After a de-brief with Colin, we decided a front suspension change was needed. Four clicks of compression damping and 3mm more preload was prescribed. On my return to the track the front initially felt a tad harsh, but once I got going and started to work the front tyre and suspension it was near perfect. With my extra momentum I was working the rear harder and found the rear tyre losing traction and pogoing on corner exits - fixed with increased rebound damping.

As mentioned, chicanes and slow corners aren't the 999's strong points so for my last run Colin raised the ride height by 5mm to help steering and turn-in. The benefits were two-fold, as the higher riding position gave more front feel and the steering became more responsive. The bike actually felt more nervous, but in a good way as high speed stability wasn't compromised.

All in all improving the Ducati was quite a straightforward process, and every change we made was easy to feel. The standard Michelin Pilot Powers were reaching their limit so a set of stickier Race versions would have to be the answer next time.

DUCATI 999S: THE SETTINGS WE SETTLED ON

FRONT Sag: 25mm  Preload: 10 turns in from fully out  Comp: 16 clicks out from full in Rebound: 12 clicks out  REAR Sag: 15mm  Ride height: +5mm Preload: +1mm  Comp: 10 clicks out  Rebound: 12 clicks out  Steering damper: pos. 8

Colin says: "The Ducati's a bit of a special case really because of position of the engine in the frame and the way the linkages work, but as standard it's good. Once again, same story as the Aprilia, with quality Ohlins front and rear."

AND IN CONCLUSION

I liked all the bikes for different reasons - the Ducati for its pedigree, the RSV-R for all-round user friendliness and the MV for its outrageousness. If I were to choose one it would have to be the MV, but not because it would give the best lap time. That honour would go to the Ducati or Aprilia. Oulton is a technical track with ups and downs and camber changes, and you need a stable bike with a docile engine - that's why the twins excelled.

The F4 is expensive but it's very, very fast and looks and feels like no other bike on the road. In the past MVs have promised much but been a disappointment to ride, then they got my attention when they started beating the best Japanese kit on track this year in European Superstock racing. Now I know why.

Ducati 999S Specs

SPECS - DUCATI
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS
PRODUCTION DATE - 2006
PRICE NEW - £13,995
ENGINE CAPACITY - 998cc
POWER - 127.6bhp@9800rpm
TORQUE - 73lb.ft@7900rpm   
WEIGHT - 213kg (WET)
SEAT HEIGHT - 780mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 15.5L   
TOP SPEED - 164mph   
0-60     - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A