Town & Country Club: Aprilia Tuono V Ducati Monster S4

Want pose without a Harley? Want performance without pain? With the cosmopolitan cool of a night at the opera alongside the open road potential of your average sportsbike, Ducati's Monster S4 and Aprilia's Tuono could be just what you need...

The plan was simple. Gus and myself would leave TWO towers early afternoon with the Duke and Priller, breeze into town dead casual like and hole up at the most expensive swank eatery we could find for a lengthy, late lunch on expenses before cruising the city's inner sanctum to search out suitable locations for mean 'n' moody night time pics.

Despite being a simple plan, it obviously went awry. First, the EC work mountain landed on my desk the day we were supposed to leave, then Gus spent four hours on the M25 when a simple bike collection job became a nightmare of epic proportions after a selection of cars decided to drive into each other at junction 14.

So it was with darkness well and truly fallen and a light drizzle in the air that we finally found ourselves threading through south west London's finest rush hour headed for the bright lights of the west end.

Aboard the Aprilia however I really couldn't have cared because if there's a better traffic buster for the rider keen to make 'good progress', I'd like to know about it. The Aprilia sits you high. Real high, as in crows' nest high so picking a path through the melee of tin boxes, pizza delivery lunatics, choking cyclists and do-or-die pedestrians is an absolute piece of the proverbial.

The only downer to this lofty perch is that those of diminutive stature may find it hard to get a toe down at the lights although lil' old Buster never had any bother.

Atop the Aprilia you'll also find that fondest of road test clichés springing to mind as the controls: "fall easily to hand". Well of course - all controls do, that's what they're there for. But in the case of the Aprilia, the bar/seat/peg set up is so natural you'd swear it had been tailored for you. On the move there's no stress and all you're left to concentrate on is the riding.

Unless you want to look behind you that is, because the mirrors are those ancient stalky affairs that work loose first time you adjust them then spin uselessly in the breeze for the rest of your trip. Oh, and while I'm in a moaning mood I'll have a pop at the indicator switch - it's where the horn should be and vice versa. The result of this topsy-turvy set up is you spend your first few Tuono days merrily hooting around corners, and politely indicating at drivers as they pull out on you.

Still, these are minor gripes and could almost pass as character given the rest of the bike is so damn right in town, which is more than can be said for the Duke.

A point rammed home every time Gus was ahead of me and I was treated to the sight of him clambering about the thing like a baby learning to crawl as he fought to pilot it through the traffic. Not only are the bars a bloody long way from the seat, but they're flat and almost angled forwards to make life harder. Throw in the meagre seat pad and high pegs that throw you onto that part of your groin you don't want to sit on, and at low speeds this bike is an osteopath's dream.

"It's like riding two bikes welded together is that, I feel like I've been on the rack," groaned Gus as we pulled up beneath the Millenium wheel after half an hour's riding.

That'll be Tuono one, Monster nil then.

Styling soon levels the scores though because the Monster's holding all the cool cards. The short of sight, poor of judgement or merely slightly pissed could see beauty in the Aprilia, but the best Gus or I could come up with was that it has a certain purposeful charm. It looks like a Mille with the fairing rripped off (because it is), and, like your gran in the morning, Milles are no pretty sight in the raw. Aprilia have done a good job making the best of it, but still, the Tuono still ain't winning any beauty pageants.