Used Bike

Buyer Guide: Aprilia RSV

Aside from a few charging system problems, owner/riders rate Aprilia’s big 1000cc V-twin very highly. A strong engine, planted chassis and tough finish make this a top value Italian

Click to read: Aprilia RSV owners reviews, Aprilia RSV specs and to see the Aprilia RSV image gallery.

Aprilia succeeded where the Japanese ‘big four’ had failed and that alone shows what a special bike the RSV is. Ducati were kicking arse and taking heads in the showroom and on the racetrack with their twin cylinder 916 and its derivatives. Nothing could rival the iconic Italian. Honda’s VTR1000F Firestorm was too soft and slow, Suzuki’s TL1000s flawed. Then in 1998 Aprilia, a firm which mainly produced scooters plus a handful of oddball machines, released the RSV1000. It was physically larger, slightly less focussed, but a much better road bike than the tiny, track orientated 916. It was an instant hit and soon a cult machine.

The bike had been developed over just four years. The engine was a narrow (60 degree) V-twin which was compact and powerful. Vibrations were dealt with by twin balance shafts. To reduce size further they used a dry sump. It had a slipper clutch (of sorts) and used a large volume exhaust rather than a catalytic converter to meet emissions without restricting power. The rest of the bike was pretty much established technology and par for the course at the time. It was served up with a major portion of styling flair. OK, it lacked the museum piece looks of the 916 but the RSV’s flowing frame and swingarm were things of beauty and the insect like triple front headlight made it stand out in an increasingly homogenous sector.

The bike was a success because it rode so well. A decade on it’s been refined and improved but the basic design’s not changed hugely. Unlike many modern new models it didn’t have any major teething problems. It’s not without some vices, but Aprilia got all the key stuff right from day one. Overall an impressive effort and an even better bike.

A staggering 145 owners filled in our online survey, telling us all about life with their exotic Italian bikes. They’ve done one and a half million miles on these bikes among them so you can believe what you read here.

The bike had a significant make-over for 2004. We’ve called up machines up to and including 2003 MK I and later.

What to pay

There’s an RSV for almost every pocket. Starting with the MK I bikes, the base spec Milles can be had for £1500 for a rough ’un and £1800 for something cleaner. The higher spec RSV-R starts at £2500 with the best examples fetching £3500. The SP models are very hard to price as they’re so rare with only 150 made and just 40 brought to the UK. A lot will have had hard track use. You’d be lucky to get one for under £6000 and a really nice example will be over £10,000.

Moving onto the 2004 onwards versions, the base spec RSV-R can be found for about £3000 for something scuffed or high miles while tidy examples start around £3500. The higher spec RSV Factory commands at least £4500 which bags an early (2004) model in good condition. The model’s been discontinued now as Aprilia focusses on its new V4 RSV4 but there are still new RSVs in dealers. We saw one Factory model pre-registered on a 2010 plate for £9790 so you could probably ride it away for £9250.

Check out RSVR.net, RSVZone.com and Apriliaforum.com. They’re crammed with Aprilia-related goodness.

Parts

A big problem with Aprilia. Try a specialist breaker like Time Machine Bikes (07796 774598) as they will probably be cheaper and faster. Sample prices for genuine, new parts (2004 RSV-R). Prices seem to vary dramatically for near identical parts year to year.

  • Left bar end £4.63
  • Left mirror £75.04
  • Rear pads £18.10
  • Clocks £382.09
  • Headlight £371.70
  • Clutch lever £42.92
  • Front left indicator £12.69
  • Front brake discs (pair) £263.76

Known Issues

  • Electrics

Generators and the connections from them going to the regulator/rectifier (a brown block connector) can both fail.

  • Clutch

The seal on the slave cylinder can fail so some rides replace it with an aftermarket unit. Plates can be short lived too.

  • Battery

Must be kept in top-top condition or the ECU won’t let the plugs spark during starting which can also lead to sprag failure. A battery conditioner such as CTEC’s XS3600 is almost essential. A higher output battery is a worthwhile upgrade.

  • Fork seals

Some owners say these are prone to failure, especially on Öhlins equipped bikes. Check carefully.

  • Starting

Must be done with a fully charged battery and without any throttle or the starter sprag clutch can junk itself which is an expensive (£500) repair. The starter relay can fail too but it’s cheaper to replace.

  • Mileage

Clocks on some 2004/’05, and possibly a few later bikes, sometimes re-set their odometer mileage to zero if disconnected or if the battery’s unwell. Double check paperwork to verify true mileage.

  • Rear brake

Can let in air and become nearly useless so some machines need regular bleeding. Re-mounting the master cylinder may help.

  • Swingarm

A recall affected 2004/’05 bikes. The original ones were said to be prone to cracking at the chain guard mounting hole. A replacement swingarm and bracket so the chain guard could be mounted elsewhere was the cure but some bikes still don’t have it fitted.

Owner Case Study: "I've owned three."

Ed Walkear has ridden bikes for years including a spell racing early GSX-Rs in Australia in the 80s. He bought a 2002 Mille new and has since done 30,500 miles and about 50 track days on it

“I did most of those miles in the first two years as I used the bike for everything. If I’d continued it’d have had close to 100,000 on it by now. It’s been pretty trouble-free.  At about 20,000 miles the starter sprag went. I put that down to wear and tear as it’s a common part to fail on these bikes. If your battery isn’t in good condition and you don’t start the bike correctly it can kill them much sooner.

“I had a chain break when I was on a track day. I think it was my fault as it’d done 12,000 miles and I should have replaced it earlier. It had no signs of wear though. It damaged the output shaft the front sprocket mounts on as well as the rear bodywork. I had quotes ranging from £400 plus parts to £2500 all in to mend it. I ended up fitting a race engine which had been built by Southern Cross Motorcycles. They’re the best guys for doing work on Aprilias in my opinion. Along with 57mm throttle bodies, an Evo airbox, a Power Commander III and a Saito end can I’m getting 139bhp and 79ftlb at the rear wheel. It’s worth fitting the link pipe from a 2001 onwards bike to earlier models as it’s much less restrictive too.”

The nuts and bolts

Servicing

Due after 1000km (620 miles) then every 8000km (5000 miles) for MK I bikes and every 10,000km (6000 miles) for the MK II. Services alternate major/minor starting with a the major which includes valve clearances after the first 1000km. Average price paid by UK owners of the MK I model in our survey was £157 for the minor and £328 for the major. For MK II bikes it was £154 and £335. That’s extremely reasonable for a high performance European sports bike. The Ducati 749/999 family of bikes we surveyed recently saw average service prices almost double those.

Tyres

All models take the standard big sports sizes: 120/70-17 front, 190/50-17 rear. Some guides say a 180/55-17 rear is also acceptable and that will make the bike steer slightly faster. A few diehard track fans recommend a 190/55-17 rear for faster turn-in and maximum grip.

Owners fit a huge range of tyres, mainly sporty options. The most popular is Michelin’s Pilot Power 2CT which is an excellent fast road/track day tyre. Second is Bridgestone’s BT-016 with several owners commenting it’s a great fast tyre plus it lasts well and doesn’t square off too badly either. Equal third in our survey were Pirelli’s Diablo Corsa III and The Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa and the Dragon Supercorsa Pro was fifth. A handful of owners opted for sports touring tyres with Michelin’s Pilot Road 2 being the most common choice.

Average tyre life in our survey was 5157 miles from a front and 3831 rear. It varies massively with some killing a set in two track days/750 miles and others eeking 15,000/12,000 from a pair of sports touring tyres.

Fuel consumption

Average for the MK I bikes is 35mpg with a best of 48 and a worst of 26. The MK II has the same average but a worst of 22 and a best of 44. These are pretty poor but not disastrous considering the bikes’ performance. But why buy a sports bike and spend time working on fuel consumption figures? Almost half of all owners don’t know how many miles per gallon their bike does and plenty don’t care either.

What goes wrong?

Nothing too drastic. In terms of numbers 33% of MK I owners had zero problems, 38% had one minor problem, 29% had a few and none had loads. The MK II bikes were better with 47% of owners reporting no problems, 36% having one minor one 16% suffering a few and 1% having loads. Overall considering the age of the machines, that’s OK but neither brilliant nor terrible. Fortunately most of the problems are pretty minor.

The most common issue with the MK I bikes is the starter relay failing. There were a duff batch and Aprilia offer a much more durable replacement so it’s not a big issue although it could leave you stranded at the roadside. The second most frequent problem is the starter clutch failing. Keeping the battery in tip-top condition or fitting an upgraded one plus starting the bike correctly (no throttle when cold) should prevent the starter clutch problem but the damage may be already done on a used machine. Once they start to go the noise makes it very obvious and you’re looking at £500+ to put it right. Premature fork seal failure was a fault  particularly on Öhlins-equipped bikes. Problems with the clutch slave cylinder, typically fluid leaks and air ingress, bothered a few. So did the generator failing or the brown connector blocks overheating and causing grief.

The most common complaint on the MK II bikes was the rear brake requiring regular bleeding. It’s well documented and can be remedied by re-mounting the reservoir. Other problems were mentioned but most were one-offs. None were huge or catastrophic. Overall these are very reliable machines compared to many European bikes but still not quite up to Japanese standards.

Most of the common problems can be anticipated and prevented. There’s a wealth of information on various online owners’ forums and we’d suggest getting to know them if you’re serious about buying an RSV. Check out RSVR.net, RSVZone.com and Apriliaforum.com. If there’s a good official dealer or better still an independent specialist near you that’ll make ownership much easier. Aprilia UK themselves are extremely difficult to deal with whether you own one of their bikes, run a dealer or work for a magazine. Parts can be very slow to arrive. Overall that may sounds like a lot of issues but these are decent, reliable machines.

Owner Case Study: "Mine went wrong but I still love it."

Mark Magenis runs a specialist breaker and parts supplier catering for the RSV models as well as MV Agustas and Ducati 916 and 999s

“Owning any Italian bike needs to be treated like going on an adventure, with magnificent highs and lows to be enjoyed by overcoming them. You need to be a glass half full type of person if you want to get on with them, manic depressives probably best avoid.

“My RSV Mille’s been built from lots of different parts. I bought a bike in from America in Superstock spec including a 1060cc big bore engine. I sold the rest of the parts but didn’t want to sell that engine as I wasn’t comfortable giving it a warranty. I built my bike round it and because I’m a specialist it’s useful to try different parts from different models to see what fits what. My bike has quite a lot of RSV-R parts, 57mm throttle bodies from the later model, air box mods, 916 top yoke and bars (purely as they were all I had at the time which fitted) and I’m fitting an 06 model radiators, oil cooler and oil tank so I can fit the later bodywork too.

“I started the business, Time Machine Bikes (07796 774598) about three years ago just catering for Italian exotica. I don’t buy damaged bikes, just used ones and the odd new one too if I can get it for the right price. It was born out of frustration from not being able to get MV Agusta parts at first.”

Finish

The best of any bike we’ve surveyed by a huge margin. 77% of owners had no complaints about their bike’s finish and many said it was better than other brands, including older Hondas which are thought to be the best ever. Three percent said decals weren’t up to scratch, another three percent said the paint wasn’t good enough and two percent said the fasteners had deteriorated.  Overall that’s a simply brilliant result.

Conclusion

The RSV’s a pretty special bike. Owners love them as they go well and make them feel even better. Servicing costs are much lower than comparable Ducatis. Reliability is pretty good in the main and finish is awesome.

There are some common problems you can anticipate and take steps to prevent them happening. There’s still a moderate number of random issues in our survey  – more than Japanese bikes but fewer than say Buells or Triumphs of similar age which we’ve covered in past Lowdowns. Major (read expensive) problems are rare. Really good dealers are quite thin on the ground and Aprilia UK are hard to deal with. But there’s a great on-line community which can transform ownership.

They’re a little heavy compared to the latest litre missiles and don’t have as much power – but as a character machine they’re hard to beat plus they’ve got the drive and finesse to run with the best on road or track anywhere other than long straights.

Your Reviews

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