Aprilia 2004 RSV



Some motorcycle aficionados have trouble working up a devotional fervor to Aprilia in the same way they get all weepy about the pure blooded Italian Ducati. They cite the use of subcontractors and sourced motors to say that Aprilia is not really an Italian marque. They are, to some degree, correct but a little historical perspective is in order.

Although the Italian peninsula has been civilized for over 2,500 years, Italy itself is a young country. The Roman empire expanded, contracted and ultimately split with the center of power moving from Rome to Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey) in 330 AD. The loss of centralized power in Rome, and the periodic waves of German invaders, lead to the rise of city states in Italy. Milan, Genoa, Florence, Pisa and Venice all grew to become powerful political entities with their own foreign policy, trade and aspirations.

One thousand years ago the Venetians built a city on pilings out in a large lagoon off the sea. Its aquatic setting was easily defendable from horse mounted Germanic raiders and it made for easy access to the sea and the lucrative shipbuilding and, more importantly, trade routes from Western Europe with North Africa and the east. They built trade ties with countries around the globe and their architecture and design was a blend of the all the world as they knew it.

The Venetians did extremely well for themselves and even went so far as to indenture a group of crusaders to sack Constantinople in 1206AD. Spoils from that raid are still on display in Venice to this day. The Venetians, at the very north of Italy, have had a long-standing relationship with the Austrians which alternated between trade and war.

In the1860s Victor Emmanuel and Giuseppe Garibaldi embarked on a series of wars inside Italy to unite all of the city-states and smaller political entities into a single country, although a few still remain like San Marino and the Vatican City. Venice was one of the last to fall and it became part of modern Italy in 1866.

Italy’s northern border was still in flux and they seized most of their Alpine territory (the Dolomites) from Austria at the end of World War I.

So what the hell does this have to do with motorcycles?

Aprilia is a Venetian motorcycle company.

In that context Aprilia’s use of the Austrian company Rotax as an engine building sub-contractor makes perfect sense, as does the multi-national engineering and design staff. Parts are sourced from all across the globe and are brought to Scorze, Venezia for assembly into some of the finest motorcycles built today. Scandinavian suspension, Scottish engineers, Italian frames and brakes, Austrian engines, wheels that are designed in Italy but forged in Japan. This is a bike built from the best the world has to offer and the process is choreographed by Venetians.

Aprilia is owned by a man named Ivano Beggio. It is probably the largest privately held motorcycle company in the world. This also makes it the smallest motorcycle manufacture that is playing on the global stage. Aprilia’s production model (Aprilia was the name of a model of Lancia automobile of which Ivano’s father was fond) is at the forefront of motor vehicle companies. According to The Economist there is currently a global glut of automobile production capacity which must be reduced. The capacity reduction may follow what happened with the bicycle industry. Most bicycles in the world are made in a couple of factories to each brand’s specified design and construction. The Economist put forth the idea that we may see automobile companies begin to act more as engineering, design and branding companies and less as manufacturers. In other words, we would have one car plant that built cars to whatever specifications they received from Ford, Chevy or Toyota.

Aprilia is one step away from that. Aprilia designs, assembles and markets their vehicles (street and race) but most of the component construction is subcontracted to other entities. This gives Aprilia maximum design flexibility and allows Aprilia to capture the expertise of other companies without having to develop the resource internally. For instance, there is no reason for Aprilia to invest in expensive aluminum frame fabrication machinery and personnel when Benelli can produce the frames for them. This allows Aprilia to free capital that would be tied up in machinery, foundries, welding equipment. Capital that can be used for paying Colin Edwards and racing MotoGP bikes. This strategy would not work if Aprilia’s subcontractors dropped the ball on quality. Aprilia is, therefore, fanatical about quality control. Anecdotally one of the American press reps told me that he had not heard of an RSV that has needed to have a shim changed in the valve train…ever.

That brings us to the new RSVs.

Only Aprilia can get away with painting a
$17,500 motorcycle matte black.

For 2004 we get two RSVs, the RSV R and the RSV “Factory”. This nomenclature is a change from the past when we had an RSV and the RSV R (then there was the SP but that was a completely different animal entirely. That had a Cosworth twin in it that was a homologation special for use in WSBK; now that Aprilia has pulled out of WSBK for the time being the SP has been relegated to the annals of history). Aprilia felt that even the basic RSV model was of a higher spec than that which is offered by the Japanese and Ducati and that it deserved an R while their top shelf got the “Factory” designation.

Keeping matte black paint looking sharp is actually harder than it looks. The trick is to use windex or other mild degreaser and to never ever use wax.

Roadracing World was invited to sample Aprilia’s latest incarnation of their venerable twin sport bike at Mugello in Italy on July 31st, 2003. Due to weather problems we were only able to ride the bike for two twenty-minute sessions and we were only able to ride the “Factory” version so the “R” was only there for display purposes.

Not once did I hear anyone say “I didn’t like it in 2D but I think it
looks okay in 3D”. This bike looks good anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

In brief the R and the Factory look about the same but the Factory gets a few lighter pieces, Ohlins front and back, radial Brembos up front and OZ forged aluminum wheels. If you have the disposable income, the extra $4,000 or so for Ohlins forks, shock, steering damper, radial Brembos and a set of OZ rims is a screaming deal.

Real carbon front fender and an aero-dramatic intake. What more could you ask for?

Aprilia’s success with lightweight 250GP machines has translated to the RSV. The RSV is a lithe motorcycle with light handling that rewards high entrance speeds. On paper the RSV looks a little heavy with conservative steering numbers. On the track the bike feels narrow (in a good way), compact with responsive handling coupled with predictable, albeit flat, power delivery. The brakes are stunning.

A physically small motorcycle.

Mugello is one of the top five best tracks in the world. Climbing and descending through a rolling Tuscan bowl, the track throws all sort of combinations at the rider coupled with a long and fast front “straight” that leads over a hill and into a second gear uphill right.

The rain ruined the afternoon riding but offered a great chance to take pictures of the bike on the Mugello hot pit with the Tuscan hills in the background.

That long straight lets the 60 degree twin show what its got. Twins always feel a little flat compared to fours. This one is no exception. With a claimed 137 bhp (crank) this bike is probably at around 110-115 at the rear wheel. Typical power for a modern 1000 twin which is impressive since this motor has been around for quite a while now. The fuel injection is very good with linear delivery of power to the rear wheel. As you would expect with a big twin, the strength of the motor is not down long straights but between tight or uphill turns when immediate torque accelerates the bike to shave tenths off the stop watch. The dual counterbalanced v60 is very smooth throughout the rev range for a big twin.

My first session I made the mistake of riding the bike around the big twin engine. I was trying to square off the turns to get the bike up onto the meat of the street Pirelli to use the torque of the motor to get me to the next turn. However, the motor’s delivery of power is so flat and the rear shock is so good that there was really no reason to ride this bike in a point and shoot manner.

Offset rear shock leaves room for exhaust pipe.
Note how the top subframe bolts thread vertically
instead of horizontally. This allows for extra tool
room to service the rear head, which it will
probably never need.

In the second session I tried to ride it like a lightweight and dropped about six seconds a lap (the RSV has an integral lap timer). Aprilia’s experience with 250 GP bikes shines through the big twin. Tapping into the stable but light handling offered by the stiff frame and compact weight, not to mention the excellent Ohlins forks, I began entering the corners fast and used the taut chassis to hold lines. Even with the vague feeling street tires this approach worked very well. Only with egregiously late turn in points would the bike ever threaten to run wide at an exit. The suspension is just about perfect in its stock configuration and, since it is all Ohlins, you could economically revalve and respring to your heart’s content.

Carves corners like a lightweight.

The problem with high entrance speeds is it is sometimes difficult to get the bike turned and, therefore, get the throttle back on. With the RSV the limiting factor was just the front tire. The bike would willingly follow any apex I threw at it until the front tire started moving around. The flat power delivery encouraged getting back on the gas even with the bike cranked over on its side.

The radial mounted Brembos are excellent. The brakes are so powerful that they can be modulated with a light touch. There does not seem to be any regard for the “we don’t want to intimidate the riders with powerful brakes” school of thought. The stainless lines and rigid calipers will allow you lift the rear wheel at 145 mph and the Ohlins forks will allow you to carry it a few inches off the ground until it is time to set it down for the turn in.

If you are dropping four gears simultaneously and not blipping the throttle and you accidentally set the rear wheel down a little out of line with the front the vacuum controlled slipper clutch saves the day. The slipper clutch gives you sufficient rear wheel drag to retain a feel for the rear wheel but it completely eliminates downshift induced rear wheel chatter.

The ergonomics of the bike are typical sportbike but with exceptional coverage behind the windscreen bubble. The pegs are still a little slippery for a sportbike but they have more grip than the old ones which were positively polished. All of the controls are adjustable but the hydraulic clutch ran out of adjustment before I could get it where I wanted it. I like to use two fingers on the clutch so I can keep the other two holding onto the bar. For this to work the clutch needs to engage and disengage at the end of the throw. On the Aprilia the clutch disengaged too close to the bar to be able to use anything but a full hand.

Improved but still too slippery foot pegs, eccentric adjustable
rear brake lever actuates a front mounted master cylinder.
Magnesium clutch cover peeks into the frame.

The fit and finish of the motorcycle is excellent and the new styling is more evocative than the older RSV.


This is a beautiful and competent sporting motorcycle but it is a bike that is released into a motorcycling limbo. World Superbike created the modern sporting twin by giving Ducati a displacement advantage against four cylinder 750s. Eventually four twins were built to fit this loose paradigm. Now that World Superbike is increasingly irrelevant for the OEM marketing agenda and AMA Superbike has allowed 1000cc fours to race unfettered against twins we may be witnessing the end of the twin era.

With an equal rider this Aprilia would turn faster laps than the RC51, the TL/SVs or probably even the comparable Ducati. However, we are never going to see that happen except at track days since heavyweight twins classes tend to be pretty lightly populated across the country and, where they are popular, few people are going to campaign an $18,000 motorcycle with no contingency money. Given the specification of the components the RSV Factory is a bargain but ultimately the RSV is a beautiful motorcycle to own for Sunday rides (road or track) not for outright racing. The writing on the wall says that the next generation of sport bikes will be taking their styling and performance cues from MotoGP. We are about to enter the era of four-cylinder sixteen-valve street going Ducatis and V5 Hondas.

They used to think that 500cc singles were the epitome
of motorcycle racing engineering.

This RSV took Aprilia three years to bring from paper to Mugello. Aprilia officials informed me that inline triples are less expensive to manufacture, lighter and more powerful, and that Aprilia has already software modeled a road going triple engine (they have not modeled a road going 600cc engine), here’s hoping that in 2007 these pages will be documenting the 180 bhp cube replica. In the meantime these RSVs will delight their owners with their beautiful craftsmanship and stunning handling and brakes.

The integral front turn signals in the mirrors is a very nice touch.

Under the matte black paint.

The packaging on this bike is extraordinarily clean.

The new RSV is physically smaller and lighter than the original with improved power and running gear. Both versions of the RSV have magnesium valve and clutch covers, new single plug heads (old ones were dual plugged), a front running air inlet, close ratio gear box, new fuel injection with 57mm throttle bodies, a 16bit ECU, a new two into two stainless exhaust with three way catalytic converters and Lambda sensor, the new frame (Factory is black, R is polished aluminum) the double gull wing swingarm and a new suspension linkage.

New heads yield better power on same bottom end.

The dry sump, four valve, dual overhead camshaft motor is extensively counterbalanced with shafts in both the cases and the heads. The engine retains Aprilia’s pneumatic power clutch which adjusts the clutch tension depending on load (either static, accelerating or decelerating). It lightens the clutch pull at idle and provides slip to reduce rear wheel chatter induced by rapid deceleration. The new cylinder heads have redesigned ports and valve angles to improve the burn and reduce the number of spark plugs from two to one while more efficiently distributing coolant through the head. The intake port is redesigned to perfectly match the single injector 57mm throttle body while the exhaust port is now oval. The new cams and valve springs boost the redline of the dual counterbalanced motor up to 11,000 rpm.

Looking down the throat of the 57mm throttle
bodies. Since we can’t see the heads of the intake
valves there is still some room for improvement
on these ports. This is one very narrow motorcycle.

The exhaust vents for the radiator are fully shrouded with carbon
fiber all the way up to the radiator. This is very comprehensive
ducting to get the head out of the radiator. It seems to work
well because the bike ran cool and it doesn’t really have a
very large radiator.

The fuel injection is matched to a 10.3 liter airbox which, in turn, is fed through an air runner which routes around the frame headstock (ala ZX-6 and RC51). The runner supports the instruments, the fairing and the headlights. It is also equipped with a flapper, which officially keeps the air velocity high at low speeds and, unofficially, keeps the intake noise down for regulatory compliance. The ram air is claimed to boost top end bhp by 3% at top speed.

The stock pipe is stainless steel (they had a gorgeous Ti system sitting in the garages, it should have come stock on the bike) with catalyzed mufflers for emissions compliance. The black mufflers suffered from discoloration from specs of tire rubber burning onto their surface.

The electronics on the bike have been simplified with the adoption of a controlled area network. This is car technology which we first saw on a motorcycle with the Ducati 999. All sensors feed data into a network which the ECU and gauges and access and process. This system reduces wires and complexity. The RSV uses 15 sensors: air and coolant temperature; oil, airbox, and atmospheric pressure; exhaust gases with a lambda sensor; rear wheel, driveshaft, camshaft, and throttle position/rotation sensors; sidestand and clutch switches; and battery voltage. Siemens worked with Aprilia to create the electrical system. Aside from the usual gauges and idiot lights the instrument panel has a diagnostic center for the onboard electronics and an integral lap timer which comes in very handy on press launches.

Carbon inner fairings and nicely laid out cockpit could prove
distracting since it is almost too much to resist looking down
instead of ahead. The Ohlins steering damper can just be made
out under the triple tree.

LED and integral turn signals. The big holes in the mufflers
indicated these are the track only ‘silencers’ which require
switching the maps in the ECU.

The new frame uses a welded together mixture of cast aluminum-silicon and die cast Peraluman 450 parts. The frame is 5% stiffer and 600 grams lighter than the previous RSV. The headstock is positioned lower and the swing arm pivot is moved forward .5mm. The engine has been shifted 4mm to the right to match the new mufflers and perfectly centralize weight distribution. The GP inspired gull wing swingarm is 400 grams lighter than its predecessor.

Blue anodized OZ wheels with a diminutive Brembo
caliper on a gull wing swingarm.

The R model has 43mm Showa fully adjustable forks with a Sachs adjustable rear shock (including ride height). The R features Brembo four pad, four 34mm piston calipers which are triple bridged to reduce caliper flex and, when coupled with the stainless steel brake lines and the radial master cylinder, give a solid feel at the lever. The calipers squeeze 320mm front rotors.

The caliper won’t fall out when you are changing
the rear wheel. Black sender is monitoring rear
wheel speed by counting how fast the rear rotor
bolts come by.

The Factory model (which is really the one to get) has got radial mounted bridged Brembos, Ohlins forks, Ohlins rear shock, Ohlins steering damper, gorgeous forged aluminum OZ wheels, a nonslip seat, the matte black frame and carbon fiber front fender, rear fender, fairing extractors, windscreen deflectors, upper fairing cover and side fairings. That is a hell of a deal for the extra $4,000 or so.

Eccentric shift lever adjustment (the GP shift rear set is an option)
the Ohlins shock, the beautiful polished Aprilia branded swingarm,
the carbon inner fender. What’s not to like?

Ohlins, Brembo triple bridged four pad radial calipers,
OZ wheel and a carbon front fender. Be still my beating heart.

The RSV-R is available in Aprilia Black/Diablo Black and Red/Lead Grey the RSV-Factory is available in Lead Grey/Magnet Grey and Aprilia Black/Diablo Black. Prices are not confirmed but expect something like $13,500 for the R and $17,500 for the Factory.