A Quartet of Electronically Enhanced Superbikes | MC Comparison

Class of 2011: Divine Intervention

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing, Matt Samples, Joe Neric

Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE
Best Lap: 1:52.5

Aprilia’s RSV4 superbike is the defending champion in World Superbike competition and our “Class of” comparison. The rowdy, V4-powered rocket was the runaway winner in last year’s shootout, despite lacking traction control or any other rider aids. This year it returns with the Aprilia Perform-ance Ride Control (APRC) package, a full suite of electronic assistance lifted directly from Max Biaggi’s championship-winning racebike, making the 2011 model even more potent—and accessible—than before.

“We expected wheelie control to be a buzzkill, but we were having so much fun hanging the back out that we didn’t miss wheelying ...

APRC is the most comprehensive and intuitive electronics package we’ve sampled on a streetbike, equaling anything we’ve experienced on actual racing machines. Driven by a sophisticated “inertial platform” using two gyros and two accelerometers operating in conjunction with the ride-by-wire throttle, it alters power delivery instantly and almost undetectably in response to wheelspin. Aprilia Launch Control (ALC) enables full-power race launches, while three-level-adjustable Aprilia Wheelie Control (AWC) keeps the front wheel grounded without harsh power cuts. And if that isn’t enough, three selectable drive modes allow you to adjust power output to suit changing conditions.

Each system can be independently adjusted, so you can dial-in more traction control or less wheelie intervention as desired. Eight-level, adjustable-on-the-fly “dynamic” TC is especially impressive in the lowest settings—stay in the throttle and the rear tire continues spinning, cutting power enough to maintain control but still allowing the rider to steer with the rear. This is the least intrusive system here, and more of a performance feature than safety override—chop the throttle and you could still launch over the high side.

We expected wheelie control to be a buzzkill, but it worked so well that we left it in the most aggressive mode all the time. Aprilia’s anti-wheelie programming is gentler than BMW’s and more consistent than Kawasaki’s, intervening before the wheel even leaves the ground. This really helps to keep the front end planted and pointed in the right direction, contributing to the RSV4’s impressive corner speeds. Besides, we were having so much fun hanging the back out that we didn’t miss wheelying at all!

Electronics aside, the Factory is essentially unchanged from last year. It’s still heavier and less powerful than it feels from the saddle, weighing 453 lbs. ready to ride and making “just” 152.6 horsepower—2.8 bhp less than last year. Blame the exhaust valve, remapped to smooth the power curve and improve the formerly abysmal fuel economy. The engine still feels soft under 6500 rpm and sputters out soon after the 12,500-rpm power peak, but midrange torque is impressively flat, hitting 60 lb.-ft. at 6200 rpm and building to a peak 73.4 lb.-ft. at just 9700 rpm. It’s not an especially wide powerband, but a revised shift linkage, tighter ratios in the bottom three gears and the Aprilia Quick Shifter (AQS) make it easy to stay in the happy place.

The Aprilia’s biggest advantage is its chassis. The V4 configuration and committed mass centralization combine the agility of a skinny twin with the mid-corner stability of an inline-four. With the shock eccentric in the raised (+15mm) position, the RSV4 snapped into corners better than anything else, and was the easiest bike to take from edge to edge in chicanes. The super-compliant 43mm Öhlins fork inspired confidence during even the deepest trail-braking, and the short front-center distance put the rider right over the front axle for excellent control.

On either side of the apex the RSV4 felt rock-solid in a way you’d never expect from such a reflexive bike, completing Chuckwalla’s long corners with appreciably greater speed than any other bike. And no news is good news regarding the Brembo brakes: Plenty of predictable strength means you don’t even notice them at speed, which is as it should be. It’s no surprise that all four of our testers turned their quickest lap times on this three-eyed monster, most with a full second separating this from their second-quickest bike.

Big riders still criticized the cramped, stinkbug ergonomics that get tiresome on the highway, where a high-frequency handlebar vibration around 6000 rpm is equally annoying. The combination of stiff suspension and a light throttle-return spring can fool you into thinking there’s a fuel-injection surge on the street. This, combined with tall overall gearing, can make an in-town commute less than pleasurable.

Brutish in both appearance and attitude, the RSV4 is not the most civilized superbike—but it might be the most thrilling. It has the nastiest exhaust note this side of a Desmosedici V4 and more charm than any other bike here, proving Ducati isn’t the only Italian manufacturer building bikes with character. That all this power and attitude is even more accessible now thanks to the peerless APRC makes the race-ready RSV4 even more desirable. Max Biaggi is certainly a talented racer, but his replica is world-class, too!

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