Aprilia RSV4R vs. Yamaha YZF-R1 – Liter-Bike Outliers

Different for a reason

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

For their latest liter-class superbikes, Aprilia and Yamaha decided to do things a little differently. Yamaha's Crossplane crankshaft breaks with tradition by positioning the YZF-R1's crankpins at 90-degree intervals, reducing crank-speed fluctuations for more fluid power delivery and improved rear-wheel traction. Aprilia shunned the inline-four arrangement from the beginning, opting to pair the RSV4R's cylinders and splay them at a narrow 65 degrees. Yamaha's improvements to the 2009 R1 earned it our Motorcycle of the Year award and the World Superbike Championship. Aprilia's clean-sheet creation was so strong that it put the Italian manufacturer on the podium nine times after a seven-year hiatus from the world stage. Clearly, being different can be a very good thing.

A cursory comparison of the latest R1 versus its predecessor is disillusioning. Vital details such as horsepower and weight have shifted-but not in the usual direction. Yamaha's flagship superbike swelled to 477 pounds wet and dropped a few ponies during its makeover, but there are tantalizing aspects of the bike that overshadow those transgressions. In addition to the familiar YCC-T ride-by-wire throttle and YCC-I variable-length intake trumpets, the retooled engine gained secondary fuel injectors. Racing technology such as the crankshaft design, the linkage associated with the fully adjustable Soqi shock and the individual damping duties of the fork legs are promising carryovers from Valentino Rossi's YZR-M1 MotoGP bike. The Deltabox twin-spar frame and swingarm were totally redesigned, revising rigidity to complement the characteristics of the "long-bang" powerplant, which churns out 146.2 rear-wheel horsepower at 11,500 rpm.

Aprilia didn't have a MotoGP machine to pattern the RSV4R after, but Honda's RC212V and Ducati's Desmosedici obviously served as proxies. The V4's steep V-angle contributes to a compact engine and leaves plenty of room for the underseat fuel tank, which helps lower the bike's center of gravity and masks the fact that it weighs 473 lbs. with all critical fluids. There's just enough room between those cylinder banks for a quartet of 48mm throttle bodies. Like the R1, the RSV4's throttle plates are operated via electric motors controlled by the ECU, and there are three selectable drive modes.

The base model RSV4R doesn't have the uprated RSV4 Factory's variable-length intake funnels, but the power curve is manipulated by shower-type upper injectors that come into play at 7000 rpm, as well as a backpressure-regulating exhaust valve that opens around the same time. The frame is polished in typical Aprilia style, with a fully adjustable Showa fork up front and a Sachs shock out back. Like weight, geometry and most of the RSV4's other pertinent figures, power output is on par with that of the R1, with 149.0 bhp at 12,250 rpm.

One area where these machines differ significantly is their perceived size. Parked next to the R1, the RSV4 appears positively miniscule. Although the bikes' wheelbases are within a quarter-inch (the Aprilia is actually longer), the RSV4's short muzzle and pointy, abbreviated tail make it look MotoGP-tiny. On the other hand, the R1's broad posterior with its pair of massive mufflers, arched frame spars and sloping nose give it a hefty look. And while Yamaha opted to cloak the R1 in vast sheets of swooping bodywork, Aprilia left most of the RSV4's flanks exposed, revealing the delicious details of the bike's mechanics and minimizing its profile. The Yamaha's styling is aggressive and unique, but compared to the radical and refined Aprilia, it comes across as cumbersome and bland.

Surprisingly, both machines are pretty comfortable. The R1's ergonomics do a fine job of balancing body weight between your butt and wrists, and the rearsets are height-adjustable to help tailor the fit. A soft, dished saddle is a welcome change, although the underseat exhaust turns it into a hotplate in slow-moving traffic. The clip-ons are humanely high but are a little too close together, pinching the shoulders of our taller testers. On the other hand, your elbows are well out of the way of the mirrors, so you have an unobstructed view of your six. Peering into the Aprilia's mirrors is pointless unless you want to check out the stitching on the forearms of your jacket.

The Italian bike's riding position is typical of its origin, with a higher, harder seat, higher pegs and lower clip-ons. The entire rider triangle is rotated forward to better weight the front end, but aggressive tank cutouts let you buttress your upper body with your knees, taking weight off your wrists. According to the specs sheets, the Aprilia is only 4 lbs. lighter than the Yamaha, but from the saddle it feels like 10 times that much! Chalk it up to the RSV4's compactness and the fact that it carries its fuel payload-as much as 27 lbs.-below the rider's butt. No wonder Ben Spies' World Superbike R1 had an underseat fuel tank.

At idle, the Yamaha produces a loping, dulcet growl from its twin triangular cans, while a raspy, pulsating tone emanates from the Aprilia's single pentagonal muffler. Someone at Aprilia must have paid off the EPA sound testers, because the RSV4 roars as loud as any racebike, drawing stares of fascination and fear. Power is explosive on either machine, but as expected the RSV4 packs a bigger bottom-end punch thanks to abundant torque and shorter final gearing. Its ride-by-wire throttle is flawless, offering crisp and immediate throttle response at any rpm. The R1 is equally impressive, with an utterly addictive engine feel, broad power curve, smooth gearbox and searing top-end acceleration that lays waste to freeway speed limits in first gear.

Unfortunately, the R1 has some rough edges that make it a challenge to ride on slower, tighter roads. Abrupt fueling at small throttle openings and touchy brakes require too much attention, and a soft fork sucks the feeling out of the front end, eroding confidence. The Yamaha's weight isn't noticeable during your daily commute, but when a twisting canyon road demands rapid direction changes, it becomes all too apparent. Meanwhile, the RSV4 couples the agility of a 600 with big-bike power. It is instantly familiar and confidence-inspiring; nothing with so much horsepower has ever been so easy to ride. A firmer fork, steeper head angle and the additional leverage afforded by wider clip-ons make direction changes effortless, and a stable chassis and telepathic throttle response let you make last-minute trajectory changes with ease.

Commuting to work and carving up canyons can only reveal so much, so we took these two superbikes to a Fastrack Riders (www.fastrackriders.com) track day at SoCal's Auto Club Speedway, where we could stretch their legs. With so much power on tap, eliminating traction as a limiting factor was essential, so we had Sport Tire Services lever race-spec Dunlop D211GP tires onto both bikes. We also enlisted the aid of the experts at In House Suspension, who helped us set sag and dial-in the suspension between sessions.

The R1 and RSV4 are evenly matched in terms of top speed, with both bikes posting an indicated 165 mph on the banked tri-oval before diving into the Turn 1 chicane. In the infield the Aprilia was able to run away from the slower-turning Yamaha thanks to its lighter handling, telegraphic front-end feel and powerful brakes. The RSV4's Brembo Monobloc calipers are the best in the business, and the braided-steel lines and stout Showa fork leave nothing wanting. The suspension only requires minor tuning before it's race-ready, and the engine, brakes and handling are so good that there's little room for improvement. On the RSV4 you can brake later, harder, deeper and with more confidence than on the R1-and probably any other production superbike. It's easy to see why our testers felt more comfortable on the Italian bike.

Off The Record

Barry Burke
Age: 48 Height: 6'
Weight: 175 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.

The RSV4R was quite a surprise. I've always thought that Aprilias lacked performance, but this bike changes that. The motor, chassis, handling and styling are superb. All we had to do was set the sag, make a few adjustments to the damping and it was ready to rock! The power is excellent and it sounds magnificent. The RSV4 is a pleasure to ride and inspires passion every time you throw a leg over it.

The RSV4 dominates corner entries, but the exits-especially the ultra-fast left/right sweeper that leads onto the banking-are where the R1 regains lost ground. The traction benefits of the Crossplane crank and the stability of the GP-derived bottom-link shock let you get on the gas sooner and harder. You're intimately aware of what's happening at the rear contact patch, and the engine's midrange and top-end tractability make it easy to maintain control of the tire-liquefying process. The R1 doesn't cut as tight a line as the RSV, but using the throttle to finish turns is effortless. Once you've got the Yamaha pointed in the right direction and hooked up, it's bye-bye Aprilia.

The R1's fueling foible isn't as pronounced on the track as it is on the street, but the low-rpm abruptness was still problematic in the infield. Further hurting its cause is vague front-end feel, a product of the grabby and somewhat unpredictable six-piston Sumitomo calipers, sensation-robbing rubber hoses and spongy fork. This forces you to brake earlier and tip-toe into corners.

Yet amazingly, the Yamaha's ability to rocket out of corners was enough to make up for its shortcomings at the track. Tester Barry Burke set the fastest lap of the day at 1:37.2, but the Aprilia was just a tenth of a second behind. Had the R1's front end worked better, that gap almost certainly would have been wider. But despite constant tuning, we were never able to reach the front-end clarity and compliance that was so easily achieved on the RSV4.

Considering the difference in price-the Yamaha goes for $13,290 while the Aprilia sells for $15,999-one could argue that the extra $2700 could be put toward fuel mapping, suspension and brake modifications that would eliminate the R1's performance deficit. But for those who prefer plug-and-play simplicity coupled with exotic looks and the raucous roar of a V4, the RSV4R is the way to go.

Off The Record

James Toohey
Age: 42 Height: 6'
Weight: 210 lbs. Inseam: 32 in.

Riding these two superbikes at an unfamiliar racetrack was a daunting proposition, but they both worked so well that it made learning the track easy. The Yamaha's engine is so strong, I was able to short-shift exiting corners. Even with the tach needle down in the single digits, it pulled like a twin. With the right front-end set-up, the R1 would be quite a weapon-just look at what Ben Spies did with it!

As for the Aprilia ... wow! It feels like a 600 with the power of a 1000 and the torque of a twin. It felt instantly familiar and was completely comfortable. The suspension was firm but not harsh, and I could trail-brake all the way to the apex. Once in the corner it would hold whatever line I wanted, and if I made a mistake and needed to change my line, it did so easily. You could probably race this thing right out of the box and do very well.

2010 Aprilia RSV4R | Price: $15,999

The V4 has a torque curve as flat as any twin's, and the horsepower keeps on building. What the graph doesn't show is the way things liven up around 7000 rpm when the secondary injectors kick in and the exhaust valve opens.

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c 65-deg. V-4
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 999cc
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.3mm
Compression: 13.0:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 43mm Showa fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo Monobloc radial-mount four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 320mm disc
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec
Rake/trail: 24.5°/4.1 in.
Seat height: 33.3 in.
Wheelbase: 55.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 473/449 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 149.0 @ 12,250 rpm
Measured torque : 74.4 lb.-ft. @ 9750 rpm
Corrected 1/4 mile: 10.30 sec. @ 141.0 mph
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph: 3.3 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 27/24/26 mpg
Colors : White, black
Available : Now
Warranty : 24 mo., unlimited mi.

Aprilia USA
140 E. 45th St.
New York, NY 10017

It has the stature of a MotoGP bike, but the RSV4R is miraculously accommodating, even for 6-foot pilots. Low clip-ons, a high seat and even higher-feeling pegs put you in position to attack corners and tuck in behind the tiny windscreen.

2010 Yamaha YZF-R1 | Price: $13,290

The graph shows a substantial depression at 5000 rpm, but it's unnoticeable from the saddle. The Crossplane inline-four gets into the horsepower sooner than the Aprilia's V4, but it doesn't build as high and isn't sustained as long.

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 998cc
Bore x stroke: 78.0 x 52.2mm
Compression: 12.7:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 43mm Soqi fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Soqi shock with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Sumitomo radial-mount six-piston calipers, 310mm discs Rear brake: Nissin one-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D210F
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D210
Rake/trail: 24.0º/4.0 in.
Seat height: 32.9 in.
Wheelbase: 55.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 477/448 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 146.2 bhp @ 11,500 rpm
Measured torque: 72.6 lb.-ft. @ 10,000 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.02 sec. @ 144.23 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.9 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 28/22/25 mpg
Colors: Team Yamaha Blue/White, Raven/Candy Red, Pearl White/Rapid Red, Cadmium Yellow/Raven
Availability: Now
Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.

Yamaha Motor Corp. USA
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630

More legroom, a shorter reach to the bars and a well-padded seat go a long way toward making the R1 the bike of choice for longer rides. But when airflow slows, the underseat exhaust threatens to char-broil your rump roast.

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