We loved Aprilia's RSV Mille very much when we finally got the chance to have one around for a while (April '00). In the curvies it was a hoot, on the track it was even better, but on the ride home it was a bit of a pain in the butt. Not the butt so much as the wrists, really.
You see a bike like the Mille in the magazines, you have a year to maybe rationalize funding one, your friendly Aprilia dealer gets one in, you sit on it and think, "Yeah, this is not so bad, I can do this...." And for the first few days you can, because your brain's pleasure center has the upper hand over its pain receptors. (That's medical jargon.) It's all well and good until you decide to take off for a couple of days on the bike, or until you get stuck lane-splitting on it for an hour down the 405 after the new has worn off. Then, the Mille, frankly, sucks. We're not getting any younger.
Aprilia is nobody's fool. In fact, this is a pretty damn sharp bunch. After launching the flashy flagship Mille, it wasted very little time bringing out a bike that's way more functional on the street-and we wouldn't be surprised if the thing isn't faster on real roads to boot.
It's the age-old retune-for-torque formula that does it, and in this case does it very well. Aprilia took some compression out of its luscious, Rotax-built 60-degree twin, threw in a "major revision" of injection and ignition timing, and came up with a motor that trades a little top end for more whomp down low and in the middle.
It's a bit deceiving at first because the SL seems to lack a bit of the target Honda VTR1000F's off-idle wheeliability. You just need to open the throttle more: the SL's outfitted with all that rate-of-throttle-opening/throttle-position sensor stuff, and once it informs the SL's motor that you are indeed giving the old loud handle a healthy thwack the SL's twin responds in kind. Have we used the descriptor "bull moose in rut" lately? There's a teensy stumble just off idle, and then hold on. The SL's final-drive gearing is about 10 percent shorter than the Mille's, which gets you to the meaty part of the powerband quicker, and the SL's gearbox might be one of the best in the biz: up, down, clutch or no, the gearbox encourages you to flog the motor. Around town the front wheel spends half its time going on and off plane like a crazed speedboat.
And after you've swallowed that cake you get to keep on having it, because the Falco keeps spinning out good power all the way up past 10,000 rpm, just like the Mille, and in fact the two use the same camshafts. Where our beloved Honda VTR1000F Super Hawk peaks at about 101 horses and 8250 rpm, the Aprilia keeps on ripping up to 110.5 at 9500. (Just as with our Mille tester, those power figures are in "closed-course, off-road" mode. Clipping a wire from the black box gives you the good mapping, and removing a little restrictor from the airbox lets in a lot more air. Unlike the Mille, there's no restriction in the SL's exhaust.)
It's the bike/rider interface, though, that makes the SL our favorite street-going Aprilia. The clip-ons mount to risers that raise them an inch-and-a-half compared with the Mille's, and the seat's half-an-inch lower. Those measurements make all the difference. Around town and in traffic there's less weight on the hands than aboard the Mille, and the crucial waist bend is less severe, aiding digestion and overall humor. Seat's good, too.
Still, the SL's ergo setup isn't quite as upright as the Super Hawk's, and in fact splits the difference between that bike and the Mille-a good compromise between racy and comfortable. Crank the Falco up to about 70 mph and all is sweetness. Once rolling, you definitely begin to sense the SL's European origins. This bike wants to run at 80-120 mph across four or five countries at a time, stopping only for gas and coffee, maybe one of those crullers.
Speaking of 120, up where a Super Hawk is beginning to feel a tad breathless and buzzy, the SL is still producing big power, and its dual counterbalancers serve it up smoothly. The VTR's vibes can put your hands to sleep after an hour of high-speed running; the Aprilia doesn't.
The bike's windscreen rises maybe a little higher than the Mille's, and gives full-body protection if you hunker down just a bit, which you do when you're going that fast. (Sitting up at more American speeds, she's blustery.)