Aprilia MY16 RSV4RF and MY16 Tuono V4
Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli
April(ia) 15, 2015 

 by Sam Q. Fleming

 My knee hit the ground by the fifth turn and I knew the bike was good.  Anything with 200bhp deserves respect but the V4 power delivery, tempered ever so slightly with electronic aids, made the speed deceptively easy.  It was only when I lifted my head above the bubble to find my old line through Misano's fifth gear Curvone and my Arai was immediately crushed flat against my mouth that I realized just how much speed we'd picked up in the previous five seconds.  It might have been the jet lag, it might have been the late night contemplative stroll down the Adriatic coast the night before, it might have just been the exuberance of a sun drenched Italian racetrack but, whatever the reason, my braking for my first entrance into turn one was late. 

I dropped two gears and hoped the electronics would allow the rear wheel to catch up to my mistake as I dumped the clutch and went hard for the front brake.  The bike remained composed and still pointed straight but, with the brake still firmly applied, I was running out of racetrack, so I turned in trail braking, hard, for a second gear apex with a whole 1:58 seconds of experience on a new motorcycle.  My knee hit and my calf slider grounded, followed by what sounded like expensive stylish fairing being used as a track marker.  And then, nothing.  The bike made the turn.  Surprised that I was still on top of the bike, I released the brake, picked it up, and threw it left for the 90 degree turn two.  There was only a slight oscillation from the front end as the bike responded instantly to my indecisive inputs before eagerly dropping to full lean.

By the time I had finished my second lap I knew, this is the best production track bike I have ever ridden.

It would be a great halo bike, if Aprilia had a range that needed a halo. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Aprilia was founded in the ruins of Northern Italy just after World War II.   Although started as a bicycle production facility, the founder's son, Ivano Beggio, took over in '68 and quickly started producing small motorbikes including street and motocross bikes.  In the early 1990s, Aprilia started building scooters.  If you traveled to Italy in the late 1990s it was astounding, the sheer quantity and diversity of Aprilia scooters that filtered to the front of the traffic at each red light and lined the streets of each city.  There were trellis-framed ones, sleek ones, retro ones, color coordinated ones, two-stroke and four-stroke.  They were everywhere.

My first time on an Aprilia was in 1998 on the their new-at-the-time flagship RSV Mille twin.  Six short years later Beggio sold Aprilia (as well as Laverda and Moto Guzzi) to the Piaggio group, which roughly coincided with the American sale of Ducati back to Italian ownership.  When Piaggio bought out Beggio they created a massive motorcycle group with the capacity to produce over 600,000 motorcycles and scooters a year.  That put them in the company of the largest motorcycle producers in the world.

And the Aprilia engineers are very clever.  On August 15, 2010, Aprilia surpassed MV Agusta as the winningest manufacturer in GP history when they won their 276th GP.  They have now won seven World Superbike Championships, including in 2014, and are currently running in second place with Leon Haslam.  They have a total of 54 world titles. 

Despite the brilliance of their engineers, their stylist may need to look beyond the "Let's put the brand name
in big letters on the side of the bike" and just paint the thing a pretty color.  You can see where the money
goes because these types of frames combining castings and sheet are not cheap to make. (Photo by AOD
Ministry of Information)

But despite winning more GP races than MV Agusta and winning more world championships than Ducati while operating for similar periods of time, Aprilia's branding is overshadowed by both of those marques, at least in the USA.  Whereas Ducati had the advantage of the best retro vintage brand engineering that New York advertisers could create, Aprilia has struggled to establish a real brand identity.

That all said, the MY16 (Model Year 2016) (I couldn’t understand what you meant. If you want to clarify I’ll take another look at it.) RSV4 RF is an incredible motorcycle.  Aprilia, in keeping with companies offering models in different trim levels, is selling four versions of the RSV worldwide but only two in the US.  The first is the MY16 RSV4 RR for $15,649.  This one has what would have been top of the line suspension a couple years ago, and light wheels.  If I was buying one for the street (which I probably wouldn't) I would be very tempted by the relatively modest price for this model.  Then there is the MY16 RSV4 RF (the F is an abbreviation of their previous use of Factory) for $21,999.  The extra scratch goes for the excellent Ohlins forks, Ohlins shock, and light weight forged wheels.  Priced individually, the Ohlins suspension and a set of light wheels costs a bit more than $6,350 so if you are going to track this thing, get the F and save all the hassles of upgrading components later.

2009 RSV4 Factory was 180hp @ 12,500
2009 SBK was 230hp @ 15,500rpm
MY16 RSV4RF is 201hp @ 13,500rpm
That means that the current streetbike is putting out the same horsepower per RPM as their full world 
superbike was five years ago. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

There are two other models which are not being imported into the US.  These are the MM and APX versions.  The MM version is a race only version sharing the same ECU with the rest of the models.  The APX version comes with a fancier ECU which allows for more sophisticated programming.  Neither of these models are street legal, and they would have to be purchased from the factory in Italy and imported separately.  The APX version is under $23,000 and comes without a fairing or the ability to title it, unless you live in a freedom loving southern state where you can pretty much title anything you like.

The bike I rode was the RF version with the supple, supportive and communicative Ohlins suspension and wonderfully responsive light forged wheels.  Belying its liter displacement, the compact v4 engine makes for a very narrow and comfortable platform. The bike is easy to move around on and the tank has enough body lines to grip with the outside knee, but nothing interferes with elbows, knees or wrists when piloting the machine

Superbike spec sports rotors that are 50% thicker.  
Just keep that in the back of your mind if you are 
purchasing this bike with an aspiration to out brake 
someone into turn seven at VIR on the seventh lap 
of a hard fought race. (Photo by AOD Ministry of 

And the RSV4 is stunningly easy to ride.  The narrow engine (remember, that v-4 architechture makes for an engine that is narrower, that means a narrower crankshaft with reduced gyroscopes hanging out past the frame rails) allows for concentrated mass so the compact design concentrates the weight in a balanced and neutral fashion.  The light wheels and nimble geometry make the steering light for a 1,000.  It feels almost like a 600 mid-turn.  The Ohlins forks compliment the rest of the design.  They are linear, smooth and supportive.  Trail braking and mid-corner corrections are drama free and the bike is perfectly composed all the way until the fairing is grinding on the ground.  In fact, the bike is so responsive that I needed to calm my own inputs to the bike.  Muscling the bike from side to side caused slight oversteer which would confuse the bike a little as it waited for me to make up my mind about which line I was going to take.  Once I became more decisive in my riding, the bike calmed immediately.


Of course, the appeal of a liter bike is not supposed to be its perfectly balanced chassis.  It is supposed to be the intimidating power and rush of acceleration.  This bike is 200bhp fast with a tremendous top end.  However, the 60-degree v4 naturally delivers staggered engine pulses which allow the tire micro seconds in which to recover grip.  The throttle feels directly connected to the engine power but there is no apprehensive anticipation of the top end rush, it just arrives like a steadily building wave.  The speed is omnipresent but the smooth engine and exhaust drone encourage confidence.

The USB port is just for charging but the bike has Bluetooth for synchronous communication of the phone's 
GPS positioning and the RSV's ECU status.  There is also a full track-spec Ohlins damper up under there.
(Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

The mechanical arrangement of the bike (v4, long swingarm, low center of gravity, 200 series rear tire, a race track ready Pirelli SC2 for this test) was already conducive to grip and acceleration. However, to facilitate getting the throttle open early the bike also has an array of rider's aids built in.   The wheelie control has four setting. We rode on setting one, which is one step up from off and probably a little conservative, but it was very smooth and kept the front hovering just slightly off the pavement.  The traction control is a ten step affair.  I rode with it set to one (the minimum).   This is not because I am a luddite that doesn't appreciate the guidance of our microprocessor overlords but because even with it set at one I was able to get the throttle open hard without any undue slipping and sliding.  

The engine has three power modes.  Refreshingly, they are all FULL POWER and simply adjust the delivery of the power and the amount of engine braking that the ECU-controlled throttle bodies provide.  The bike has done away with a mechanical slipper clutch (now obsolete) and instead bleeds air with the throttles to reduce engine braking.  I rode in the R (Race) mode which is supposed to be the fastest.

Phone mount for optional lap timing and dynamic TC and WC settings.  The app is available for both 
Android and iOS.  It defaults to the bike's setting (note the shiny plus sign thumb actuator on the left 
control to change TC settings on the fly) if there is a communication issue with your phone.  Aprilia also 
put a sticker on the tank to remind you of their 54 world titles.  It is unclear if they will keep that 
updated for the future. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

I loved the electronics.   The only glitch I felt was that sometimes there was something that felt like a flat spot at the exit of two turns.  I couldn't figure out if it was the wheelie control or the TC backing out power but it didn't feel exactly correct.  That said, it was a very small intrusion by an otherwise seamless set of electronics.

Aprilia has also executed a very sensible leverage of their electronics technology with a very clean integration to smart phones.  While many vehicle manufactures have struggled to make practical use of the capacities available in smart phones, Aprilia has done something that is elegant and useful, if a little still in the beta phase.

The Magnetti Marelli fly-by-wire throttle bodies are fed from a massive airbox with two fuel injectors per
cylinder (one shower, one in the body) with variable length velocity stacks (short for top end, long for
mid-range).  The slotted cam gear allows for alternate timing of camshafts.  The chain drive is from
the crankshaft, the other cam is rotated via gears. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Using a tasteful mount and a convenient USB charger (for power only), both Android and iOS phones can establish a bluetooth connection to the information network on the bike.  This allows for a variety of functions and data logging capacities, but the most promising (although not quite ready for prime time) is the ability to select Misano from their track directory.  Once done, the phone's GPS would send modification signals to the bike to increment (up or down) both the wheelie control and traction control, by corner, from whatever baseline I selected with the switch controls.  So, if I had it set to "1" the phone would increment it to "2" coming out of the tight turns but back to "1" on the faster turns.  Yup, turn to turn TC and WC just like the big boys.  It would also collect all sorts of useful telemetry data as well as lap times. 

The parts of it that I thought were a little "beta" was that the data was only really available for analysis on the phone.  I like to leverage laptops and PCs for real data work.  Also, there is not currently a way to add tracks to the system or modify their coding.  That seems like such a massive flaw that I would assume that they will have to update it to allow you to record new tracks and add your own programming.  With Samsung S3s for sale on eBay for under $100 I would just dedicate a phone to the bike.  It does not require a SIM card to function so you don't have to risk your collection of cat videos and sexts by putting your personal phone on your racebike.  The added advantage of using a SIM-less phone is the knowledge that no one at the NSA is going to be making fun of your lap times or throttle position decisions.

This cutaway clearly shows that you would never ever ever want to strip the threads on a spark plug on
this engine to the point where it would need a heli-coil.  Other details show a very aggressive intake cam,
massive titanium vales, a shallow included valves angle, CNC machining on the crucial port area around the
valve seats, a very expensive looking piston, and valve springs that are supposed to keep those followers
in contact with those skate ramp cam profiles at 13,500 rpm. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

The Brembo brakes are stout and powerful.  Apparently the bike has ABS but I've never locked a race bike tire on dry pavement so I never noticed the ABS module and plumbing.  All the lines are already stainless steel.  The rotors are wafer thin.  Suzuki ran into problems with thin rotors at one point with their GSXRs.  I think I might have overheated the rotors once or twice, and Misano doesn’t have any huge 6th to 2nd braking scenarios.  I think if you are super serious about track riding or racing at places like VIR or Summit Point then maybe budget a set of the thicker rotors and put the thin ones on your rain rims.  The superbike prepped RSV on display had rotors which were 50% thicker than the ones on the stock bike.

The transmission was great, with light and positive shifting.  I ran the bike in street shift and the only issue I had was with remembering to keep my boot out from under the shift lever to prevent accidentally killing the motor with the stock quick shifter.

CNC combustion chamber and valve seat to port blending.  Note that the most attention is paid to the
ceiling of the intake port because that is where most of the intake charge will flow.  The low side is
shrouded by the cylinder wall, piston pocket and the sharp corner the gas has to make.  The Pankl rods
allow more squish (and a higher compression ratio) without running into the age old “coincidence of
unfavorable tolerances” problem. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

I've considered purchasing Aprilias in the past just as an exercise in Italian loyalty and iconoclastic pretension, but this is the first one that I find myself idly day dreaming about with its incredible horsepower, middleweight-style handling, serious torque, and premium suspension.       

Under the Fairing:

Aprilia lowered the center of gravity a little to keep the wheelie control from kicking in too much.  They also lengthened the swingarm.  In stock trim the wheel base is not dramatically different but the new swingarm allows you to slide the axle back further if, for example, you stick a front sprocket on with, say, one less tooth.  They also took out a little trail and put in higher friction front brake pads.

Aprilia retained their expensive, attractive and competent construction techniques for the frame and swingarm.  Whereas many manufactures have gravitated to cast frames and swingarms, Aprilia is going the hard route and the resulting chassis is worth it.   All those shiny extrusions painstaking welded to casting make for beautiful construction as well as ideal rigidity.

The wheel speed ring (TC,WC, ABS) peeks out behind a meticulously fabricated swingarm.  The Brembo 
rear caliper is another touch of "no expense" spared but the light weight forged wheels steal the scene. 
The 200 series Diablo SC2 worked well at Misano but, even with TC, the 200hp ensured that the best of
the tire was gone in 16 laps. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

Since BMW re-launched the HP war a couple years ago, everyone's expectations have increased in a remarkably short period of time.  Aprilia knew they needed to play the game and released an engine with a claimed 201bhp at the crank.  This wasn't too difficult for them since their Superbike engines still make a lot more than that.  However, to keep it together they have machined each combustion chamber, installed Pankl connecting rods, big cams (which are now forged, not cast) and a new air box while reducing parasitic losses inside the engine from oil pressure, by employing RPM-related check valves to dump pressure when the engine doesn't need it; windage (pressure in the crank case); and bearing related frictional losses. 

They increased the spec of the exhaust valves from steel to titanium and increased the exhaust pipe diameter from 33mm to 36mm to let all that hot gas out faster.  They have dual lambda sensors to help keep the Air Fuel Ratio optimized, and street legal. The net effect is that they provided over 10% more power for the top end of the curve with an extra 500rpm while leaving the massive mid-range largely untouched.

Say what you will about global wealth inequality; at least the bifurcation of motorcycle consumers has
brought us production motorcycles with this as the front end.  Forged lightweight rim (with 90 degree
tire valve) bolted to wafer thin (4mm!) front floating rotors gripped by ABS-controlled Brembo calipers
all held in place by a perfectly tuned Ohlins fork.  Aprilia didn't just order premium parts, they worked
to tune the springs and valve stacks to perfection. (Photo by AOD Ministry of Information)

These bikes are only going to be available in limited quantities—they are initially only making 500 of the RFs worldwide which are individually numbered (I mean, of course with VIN numbers, all bikes are individually numbered but these have an extra number on the top triple tree)—and they may be importing fewer than 700 RSVs and Tuonos to the US.  The MY RSV4 RR won't be delivered in the US until September while the RF will be available for delivery in June. 

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