2010 Aprilia RSV4R - Take Two

Italy's newest superbike impresses even in base-model trim

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

Estoril's chicane is a challenging place, especially when it's damp. The uphill left-right flick is steep and tricky enough to make even good bikes feel unwieldy-and that's before you add a few wet patches to the surface of the notoriously slippery Portuguese circuit.

It really doesn't trouble the RSV4R, though. The little Aprilia carves into the first left-hander, then flicks right as I wind back the throttle and send the bike accelerating off the second apex with a deep V4 growl. The bike is so stable and sharp that it feels like it could steer itself, and that's despite the fact that this is the cheaper, less extravagantly-fettered version of Aprilia's new superbike.

But it's no surprise that the R-model is this good, considering how much it has in common with the exotic RSV4 Factory with which Aprilia's V4 adventure began less than a year ago. The vital stuff is retained, notably the gorgeous bodywork and the 999cc, 16-valve V4 motor. The only engine-related differences are aluminium cases (instead of magnesium) and the lack of variable-length intake tracts that help prolong the Factory's peak power.

This bike also has conventional plastic bodywork instead of carbon-fiber and the frame isn't adjustable at the steering head, engine mounts and swingarm pivot. Instead of Öhlins components the R uses a Showa fork and Sachs shock, and the wheels are cast rather than forged. In total the R is 11 pounds heavier, at a claimed 407 lbs. dry.

This Portuguese launch wasn't actually the R-model's debut. The event was originally scheduled for Mugello, Italy, six weeks earlier, but was cancelled halfway through the first day after five bikes blew up due to a batch of faulty connecting rods. Aprilia was severely embarrassed, but thankfully the problem happened after six months of trouble-free production that had proved the V4's basic reliability.

Estoril was booked for the relaunch, and the Lisbon area's fickle weather just about obliged. The RSV4R felt wonderfully light and responsive as I headed out onto the track for the first session. Its steering precision and neutral feel made it wonderfully confidence-inspiring through the decreasing-radius first bend, and I was thankful for the steering damper every time the bike wheelied as I swung left and accelerated down the following hill. Much work went into fine-tuning the notably compact and well-balanced chassis, and it's quite evident when riding it. The 1000 handles like a trimmed-down 600, a benefit of careful chassis design which includes extending the fuel tank under the seat for improved weight distribution.

Perhaps the R's stationary intake trumpets meant I was shifting earlier, but if the R-bike was any slower than its Factory sibling, the difference was unnoticeable. It still charged toward its 14,000-rpm limit with haste, and repeatedly put 165 mph on the digital dash. And there's certainly no difference in braking abilities, since the R retains the Factory's Brembo Monobloc calipers and 320mm rotors.

Suspension action was sublime, too, even if the R's fork and shock aren't as refined as the Factory's. Spring rates are unchanged and both ends are fully adjustable, although the range is slightly narrower. Even when the track dried after lunch, the Aprilia handled superbly on showroom settings, and better still after I'd firmed it up with a little extra damping front and rear.

It's certainly an addictively fast and sweet-handling machine, with the same sleek looks, compact size, pure speed and razor-sharp handling that have made the Factory so popular with everyone who has ridden it. My only quibble is that Aprilia hasn't followed Ducati and BMW's lead in offering traction control, which would have been reassuring on the damp surface. But this is the base model, after all.

Aprilia's publicity materials claim the R's personality is significantly different, but I disagree. It handles so well and is so blisteringly fast that the performance on road or racetrack would be almost identical for all but the very fastest riders. The Factory's upgraded components are nice, but with a price $5000 less, I'd pick the base model every time.

Inevitably the R's aggressive character and compact size mean it won't be the most practical or versatile sportbike, any more than the Factory is. Some people have suggested that Aprilia should have attempted to broaden its appeal by softening its power delivery or attempting to make it a bit more comfortable. Thank goodness they resisted any temptation to do that. The Factory is a stunning race-replica that fully justifies its high price; and the RSV4R is a majestic mass-produced superbike that provides similar style, performance and thrills for a lot less money. You really can't go wrong with that.

A less expensive version of the RSV4 Factory that debuted in the 2009 World Superbike Championship.

BMW S1000RR, Ducati 1198, Honda CBR1000RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R, Suzuki GSX-R1000, Yamaha YZF-R1.

Price $15,999
Engine type l-c 65-deg. V-4
Valve train DOHC, 16v
Displacement 999.6cc
Bore x stroke 78.0 x 52.3mm
Compression 13:1
Fuel system Weber-Marelli EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 180 bhp @ 12,500 rpm
Claimed torque 85 lb.-ft. @ 10,000 rpm
Frame Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension 43mm Showa inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload,compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Single 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.
Claimed dry weight 405 lbs.
Colors White, black
Available Now
Warranty 24 mo., unlimited mi.

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

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
Every bit as fast and sexy as the Factory, yet costs $5000 less. What more could you want?

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