Aprilia Tuono V4R | First Ride

Thunderstruck!

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

I've just pulled into the Valencia pit lane after my first session on the Tuono V4R, and handed the bike to the waiting mechanic. I muttered a brief "grazie" and floated into the garage on a wave of adrenaline, barely capable of coherent speech after 20 minutes aboard one of the fastest, most outrageously exciting bikes I've ever ridden.

Aprilia's new generation Tuono was always going to be a weapon. After all, stripping the fairing off the machine that ran away with last year's World Superbike Championship was bound to create a seriously capable naked bike.

The key to the Tuono's brilliance is the way Aprilia's engineers undertook the project with the same dedication and willingness to invest that they brought to the RSV4 project a few years ago. This time they already had the engine, of course. The 998cc, 16-valve V4 has been returned for low-end power, with extra torque below 8000 rpm and a 13-horse reduction at the top for a claimed 167 bhp arriving at 11,500 rpm-1000 rpm earlier than the RSV4R's peak.

The sophisticated APRC (Aprilia Performance Ride Control) system introduced on the RSV4 Special Edition is available as an option on the Tuono. As before it incorporates a quick-shifter plus traction control, which is recalibrated to give a couple of softer levels for use on slippery roads. There's also adjustable launch and wheelie control.

Even at a standstill the Aprilia felt special, and blipping the throttle made the bike live up to its name (Thunder in Italian) as it revved urgently with a loud, gruff bark from the single silencer.

But none of that prepared me for the addictive violence with which the Tuono took off around the twisty circuit. With even more midrange grunt than the RSV4, it's no surprise that the Tuono charged out of bends at a mind-blowing rate. Despite its fierce acceleration, one thing the Tuono didn't do was waste time wheelying uncontrollably. Aprilia's AWC anti-wheelie control was set on level two of three at the start, and worked so seamlessly that I simply left it there and got on with riding the bike. When I wanted to pull wheelies later, disabling the AWC took seconds and could be done on the fly.

With the optional traction control set in the second least-intrusive setting, I could occasionally feel the system kick in to warn I was approaching the limit of the rear Pirelli's grip. Valencia's traditional slot as the season-ending Grand Prix circuit means I've ridden some serious machinery here, including MotoGP bikes and World Superbikes. Yet I doubt I lapped much quicker on them than on this stunningly fast yet forgiving roadster.

Braking was ferocious thanks to the Brembo four-pot front system that combined massive stopping power with fine control, but must be marked down for lacking ABS, even as an option. The Aprilia folks say they're working with Bosch and various tire firms to come up with an anti-lock system that matches the ability of their APRC electronics. I can't decide whether that's stubbornness or an admirable refusal to compromise. Either way, hopefully a system will be revealed soon.

Handling and behavior on the road were also exemplary, although keeping the beast within the limits of the law was an exercise in self-control. The Tuono's light steering and lack of overall weight made it effortlessly maneuverable when carving through a set of hairpins in the Sierra Calderona. The fairly tall seat and limited steering lock would make the Aprilia less than ideal in town, especially for shorter riders, but I can think of plenty worse.

Comfort and practicality aren't Tuono strengths, although I finished the 90-mile ride with only a very slight ache in my knees caused by footpegs that are sportbike-high. Passengers get a reasonably wide seat and a couple of sturdy handholds beneath it. The tiny windscreen wouldn't prevent wind pressure becoming a pain in bad weather or on a long trip, but on a hot afternoon I was glad of the breeze.

Mind you, the Tuono's feeble range would ensure frequent stops anyway. With fairly hard riding, the comprehensive instrument panel said the V4R was slurping fuel at not much above 25 mpg. More gentle use would improve on that, but this bike wasn't meant to be ridden gently.

And hey, if you're worrying about the price of fuel, then the V4 Thunderbike isn't for you. This is a snorting, stripped-down superbike that burned up its sticky and expensive rear tire in less than an hour on the track. It's not an ordinary standard for the daily commute; it's a state-of-the-art, street-legal missile for weekends, holidays, track days or any other time an explosion of high-barred, high-octane action is required.

As such, its price-the APRC-equipped Tuono costs almost 20 percent less than the equivalent RSV4R in Europe, with the basic V4R a further 10 percent cheaper-seems very reasonable. So it's a shame that homologation requirements mean it's unlikely to be seen in U.S. showrooms for several more months.

Back in 2002, the original V-twin Tuono burst on the scene to create a new class of stripped-down sportbike with unprecedented power and performance. Nine years later, the Tuono V4R has followed it to raise that "super-naked" bar to a new level. If you're an adrenaline junkie who's thinking of buying a new bike soon, don't sign up for anything else until you've ridden one!

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