2003 Aprilia Tuono R | Classic Test

Almost too much motor for us mortals

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

In the decade of the oughts, motorcycling saw some pretty stellar performers. In 2000, Suzuki radically updated the GSX-R750 and the next year unleashed the GSX-R1000, a bike that finally delivered on the promise of literbike-plus performance in a midsize package. In this decade, we got the uncommonly styled Ducati 999 as well as the Bologna firm’s “apology” in the form of the 1098/1198.

But few bikes surprised us like the Tuono. In fact, putting Aprilia's naked bike on the January 2003 cover almost didn’t happen. The original test bike, a Euro-spec example brought over by Aprilia USA to help judge its viability on our shores was already fitted with a factory-accessory exhaust. It was dropped off for a very short-term visit with an exhortation from the press guy to put fewer than 500 miles on the beast. It was the only one in the country and all the magazines would have to play nice and share. (As if.) Our original plan was to run a First Ride in the front of the magazine and wait to see if Aprilia would actually bring the naked-ified Mille R to our land. For us, it was a conservative, rational approach.

That plan went out the window after the first ride. Tim Carrithers and I escaped our Wilshire Boulevard offices for the day and jetted up the coast to Malibu. The Tuono, despite weighing 453 pounds and packing “only” 118 horsepower, was the King of Latigo Canyon, a difficult, technical, often dirty sprite of a road that demands a lot from a bike and rider, specifically the ability to make path corrections at any point in a corner. The Tuono’s tall, wide bar, broad spread of power, killer brakes, and top-spec suspension combined to make it an almost religious experience upon that untamed belt of asphalt.

We returned to the office and handed the keys to then-editor Mitch Boehm, who remained unconvinced. He rode it home that night. The next morning, his eyes wide and voice half an octave above normal, he admitted the mistake we almost made. We cooked up a reason to run it on the cover... and here we are.

Aprilia brought just 50 of the Tuono Rs to the U.S. in 2003 but many more of the standard Tuonos—with Showa/Sachs suspension in place of the R’s Öhlins kit—for $11,999. It would be overstating the case to say the Tuono put Aprilia on the map, but it opened the door to customers who thought the Mille was too committed, the Falco not quite sporty enough, and the Futura, well, just funny looking. We’re still waiting for another manufacturer to do what Aprilia did—take its top-line supersport and make it naked without cutting power or dumbing down the chassis. (Ducati's Streetfighter and Aprilia's new Tuono V4R are technically detuned.) It was a shock in 2003, and likely will be again the next time a company other than Aprilia attempts it.

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