Max Biaggi's Aprilia RSV4 Superbike – To the Max!

Hot laps on Max Biaggi's Aprilia RSV4 Superbike

By Roland Brown, Photography by StudioZac

It's a hell of a thrill: I'm tucked in as tight as possible, blasting down the front straight on Max Biaggi's works Aprilia RSV4, the fastest machine in the World Superbike paddock. Although I fit the stock Factory reasonably well, Max's rearsets are an inch higher and further back, making me feel distinctly big and clumsy on this tiny machine. Even with my knees tucked inside my elbows I can't seem to get my head behind the windscreen. At 6-foot-4, I'm almost a foot taller and nowhere near as aerodynamic as the diminutive Italian, but the RSV4 doesn't seem to care as it accelerates violently, the wind tugging at my neck and the scream from the Akrapovic exhaust assaulting my eardrums. At Monza, Italy, the red-and-black bike clocked a season's best of 202.4 mph, and it's seriously rapid even with an extra-large rider on board here at Portimao, Portugal.

The real size-related problem comes when I get to the end of the straight-or as close to it as I dare, anyway. When I sit up and gently squeeze the front brake lever, the Aprilia slows with brutal efficiency. But with my long legs and the race shift pattern, it's a real struggle to get my left boot under the lever to change down.

On one lap I don't quite manage it, and head into the double-apex right in too high a gear, with only 8000 rpm showing on the analog tach. The highly tuned V4 momentarily burbles in complaint, but still pulls strongly before I hook down a cog, wind back the throttle and send the revs soaring to 14,500 rpm once again.

You don't have to be a pocket-sized Pro to ride the RSV4, but it certainly helps. Aprilia made no secret of the fact that it was developing its new superbike to be a competitive racer as well as a streetbike. That meant making it compact and slippery as well as powerful.

The RSV4 isn't just fast in a straight line: Biaggi won a race in Aprilia's debut season, albeit luckily when Ben Spies was taken out by Ducati's Michel Fabrizio at Brno in the Czech Republic. And he scored nine podiums on his way to finishing fourth in the championship-a hugely impressive effort.

Perhaps it's no wonder that there were rumblings of complaints early in the year, when rivals wondered how close this exotic new V4 was going to be to the inevitable production model, as Superbike regulations demand. Those comments ceased as soon as Aprilia unveiled the RSV4 Factory, with its ultra-compact chassis, adjustable swingarm pivot and other racy touches.

Aprilia's advantage was that the RSV4 was created by engineers from both the R&D and race departments. "It's the opposite of what happens with the Japanese," says team engineer Lele Martinelli. "They build a streetbike and then make a racebike from it. We built a racebike and then made a streetbike."

The RSV4 was rapid from the start, clocking the fastest speed-trap figure of over 195 mph in the season opener at Phillip Island, Australia. Biaggi finished outside the top 10 there, but the team immediately went to work fine-tuning the engine to better suit his riding style. "We changed the engine mapping a lot, taking a little power off the top to make the power delivery smoother," explains Martinelli.

The aluminum twin-spar chassis was also extensively developed throughout the season, including the use of no fewer than four different swingarms. But the RSV4 proved accepting of different riders after Biaggi's teammate Shinya Nakano was injured. "Marco Simoncelli did just one race, we changed just one small thing from our base setting and he was competitive," says Martinelli of Aprilia's 250cc GP rider.

All of which was little comfort as I howled around Portimao as fast and as controllably as I could, savoring the searing acceleration of the rev-happy V4. At least this fully developed, late-season version was mercifully rider-friendly. Running a wet-race engine map, it retained the full output of more than 215 horsepower but gave a softer delivery. Regardless, it still felt outrageously potent.

Handling was wonderfully quick and taut, partly because the suspension was set-up for taller and heavier British Superbike rider Leon Camier rather than Biaggi. As such, the bike combined ultra-quick steering with impressive stability-at least when its front wheel was on the ground rather than jabbing into the air.

That tendency to wheelie was inevitable given the V4's light weight and ferocious engine, and you wouldn't expect anything less from this mean new kid on the World Superbike block. In the coming season Biaggi will be back, fired-up and aboard a further refined RSV4 that could be a serious title contender in just its second season.

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