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.

The Monster on the other hand just looks right. The lattice frame threading around that living beating engine has been oft copied but never equalled while the bulbous teardrop tank and dinky arse end set it all off perfectly. Only the weeny headlight bikini spoils the party.

If we needed a clearer demonstration of the fashion gulf between the two, while in town no fewer than three separate tourists wanted their photos taken on the Duke while the Aprilia sat, unloved, just inches away.

One all, next round.

After a spot of dinner it was off to the sticks for some serious countryside thrashing the next day. Reluctantly I took the Monster keys from Gus as he sniggered and wheelied triumphantly into the night astride the Aprilia.

I'd like to go on about how uncomfortable the Monster was at this stage but won't labour the point. After all I must be able to come up with something more constructive.

And I can because as urban chaos and streetlights turned to cool inky blackness and open roads the Monster really became quite fun. Why? Because that motor is surprisingly fast once you've breathed some life into it. Where at low speeds it's all on/off throttle snatch, heavy clutch and clumsy gearchanges, above 60mph it becomes creamier, gutsier and a very pleasantly raw experience.

It's fast too. As midrange gives way to top end you'll find 120mph staring back at you from the end of the speedo needle before you know it. The fact such speed can creep up unnoticed is also testament to the effectiveness of that little nose cone, although it doesn't make it look any better...

Hold any ton-plus speed for more than a few minutes on the Monster however and you'll be reminded it's no cross-continental hyper-blaster as your thighs give way under the wind blast doing its best to hurl you into legs-akimbo porn starlet mode. Still, it's refreshing to find a roadster with poke as opposed to the many other 'detuned' (read 'gutless') sportsbike-derived alternatives out there.

The question is though, does the S4 have the legs to trounce the Tuono?

And the answer - in a word - is... no.

The Aprilia is simply packing too much firepower for the Duke to compete. A glance at the dyno curves shows the Tuono holding a clear 19bhp advantage and although the difference never feels as pronounced on the road as the biggest differences are felt above 100mph rather than below, you're never in any doubt which bike is packing more horses.

All I can say is lawd bless Aprilia for having the front to bring out the Tuono with full Mille power, give or take a bhp or two from the revised fuel mapping (only change between this motor and a stock Mille). What this gives you is instant, gutsy, fun-loving punch right off the bottom of the tacho. This strong bottom end flows smoothly into a stronger, smoother midrange, and then gives way to a very pleasant top end which makes visiting the far side of 130mph something you could happily do on your way to the shops.

Erm, if you lived somewhere with no speed limits and some very quiet roads that is...

As with the Monster there are windblast considerations to be taken into account as the speed goes up, but up to 100mph all is well and you've the added bonus of being able to get there bloody fast should you so wish.

But the Tuono motor ain't perfect. First up the gearbox is very stiff and your chances of finding neutral at a standstill are lower than they are of winning the lottery. On top of this you'll struggle to find a comfortable ratio between 20 and 30mph. If you're on the power this isn't a worry, but holding a constant throttle it's next to impossible to avoid either using loads of revs or suffering some nasty transmission clatter. Neither of these glitches are enough to stop the Tuono taking the motor honours however.

Out in the middle of nowhere the next day, and Gus and I set about demolishing as many quiet backroads as we could lay our hands on in a bid to sort this pair in terms of handling and fun factor. We could have gone to a track as both bikes are running high enough spec running gear to hold their own trackside, but we reckoned as the road is where most will spend their time that's where we tested.

And on the pure fun count, the Tuono's in the lead once again.

Those big flat bars, that high and aggressive riding position and that stompy old motor mean big wheelies are just a flick of the throttle away while the Mille-spec anchors mean seriously smooth rolling stoppies are but a lever's squeeze away whenever the front wheel's still talking to the tarmac.

But be warned, anywhere above medium height wheelies on the Aprilia can become rather fraught as the front end quickly becomes very light and the motor's instant fuel-injected punch threatens to overturn both you and the bike in an embarrassing heap.

On the Monster the strained riding position means you're less in the mood for tomfoolery from the word go, and the bike's lower nature means it feels longer so wheelies require more effort, although they are easier to balance. On the brakes, pinning the front end into the floor for stoppies or hard braking needs more care as the Monster takes longer to transfer its weight onto that front contact patch.

In terms of handling, the Monster is capable enough to let you get fairly daft in comfort, but you never feel as happy to push like you can on the Tuono because the Monster has less weight - and therefore confidence - over the front end. The Monster's ponderous turning in as you struggle with the narrow bars to make it go where you want although once settled into a corner it does at least hold a line nicely. On the way out life becomes simpler as you wind the gas back on thanks to the quality rear shock, but all in all the Monster chassis is really beginning to feel its age now.

On the Aprilia its another story altogether with the bike diving for apexes with indecent haste, inspiring bundles of confidence and generally letting you get away with all sorts of misbehaviour with nothing but a huge grin across your mush.

This jolly riding cocktail is part riding position, part punchy motor and part tight, sharp Mille chassis and geometry but all you really need to know is it works a treat.

And with the handling round out of the way it's three one to the Aprilia and it's all over bar the shouting because all we've left to concern ourselves with are the practicalities.

Hmm, well apart from clear clocks and a fuel light, the Duke has none. The sidestand's  a bugger to get at, the pillion seat would be more suited to a clown's bicycle, and I've seen better toolkits in school toyboxes. Oh, and you need a screwdriver to get at the toolkit too... The Tuono isn't exactly blessed with practicality but does at least come with a usable pillion seat, minimal underseat storage, and a basic toolkit although the sidestand is strangely vertical leaving the bike precarious on anything other than a dead flat surface. At least those (ugly) crash bungs save costly damage should you drop the bike at 0mph. And how would we know that? Erm, we just do, okay?

So in the final analysis the Aprilia wins by the kind of margin better suited to an England/Italy rugby international. In comparison the Monster now feels out-of-date and awkward where the Tuono is neither. It just depends if you're brave enough to go with the Aprilia's looks. Well? Are you feeling lucky, punk?