Aprilia SL1000 Falco - Road Test

More Fun Than The Mille? Or Is It Time To Saw Ourselves Open And Count The Rings?

Photography by Kevin Wing, Dean Groover

We've got a few test roads that qualify as semi-Euro; the SL tears them up. Although it's sprung more softly than the Mille, the SL's more upright posture gives you more confidence to throw the bike around, and again, its greater midrange power (and maybe the lower gearing) lets you put the hurt on the corner exits. The Sachs shock out back has no damping adjustments and does fade when the bike's ridden hard, but we think we like that; gunning the SL out of slower corners lets it sink enough in the back to spin the tire. On the track that would cost time. On the street it's stupid fun, and those doing lots of track days will want the Mille anyway.

The inverted Showa fork up front (the VTR sports a standard unit) maintains its composure through all sorts of horseplay, and come to think of it, both ends cope well with crusty, bumpy, fast back roads in spite of the relatively soft springing. Higher-end suspension bits will do that.

Like the Mille motor, this one gives you the option to lope along at 5000 or 6000 rpm, or spin the engine higher, depending on your mood. It's tough to say which way is quicker, really, and either mode provides a truly stimulating soundtrack. That 10 percent shorter gearing than the Mille means you get to use the excellent gearbox a little more.

You'll be going way too fast on the street before you reach that point where other magazine tests inform you that, "truly sporting riders, of course, will indeed prefer the Mille...."

Can't imagine why, on the street anyway-unless of course your streets allow you to motor along all day above 100 mph. Instead of having to clamber all over the Mille, on the SL you can wedge your pot belly against the rear of the tank, assume a comfortable Greco-Roman wrestling stance, and just steer. Did we mention the brakes are fantastic? The Freudenberge brake lines feel like braided steel units.

The SL and Mille have the same wheelbase and nearly the same geometry; the SL's 3mm more trail slows its steering just a smidge, while giving it that sort of juggernaut stability endemic to good traveling twins. A pair of suitcases on this bike wouldn't be out of place (and in fact Aprilia offers a soft/hard hybrid bag option for the Falco). Or you can make do with all the good bungee attachment points and the nice, solid passenger grab handle.

If the cockpit is a little cheesy looking to some eyes it is at least comprehensive, with LCDs that let you see the tripmeter and the clock at the same time; you don't have to push little buttons all the time to swap back and forth. You also get the on-board lap timer, and a complement of three 55-watt H7 halogen headlights that sets underbrush afire on high beam. Add to that a 5.5-gallon fuel tank and you've got a reasonably comfortable, highly sporty twin with 200-mile range. Let's go someplace this weekend, dear. No, wait, I'll go someplace this weekend.

Is it better than our beloved Super Hawk, which recently led the pack in our "Peep Show" comparison test (June '00) of half-faired bikes? More like different; the Aprilia belongs in a slightly different niche. If the Honda is a big friendly Labrador retriever of a playbike, the SL's a pedigreed Weimaraner that's been to obedience school. It's more refined, smoother running, smoother riding. You can take the Aprilia places without worrying it will pee on the rug or chew up somebody's shoe. The question is, do you like a good tongue bath or a dog that knows how to heel? Are we blathering here? We'll stop. The SL's a very good motorcycle, one of those you appreciate more as the miles accumulate. Aprilia is not fooling around.

Off The Record
Aprilia SL1000 Falco

Age: 30
Height: 6 ft.
Weight: 205 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
If I were a pasta, I'd be: ravioli
Those who know that I own a mid-80's BMW boxer (an '84 R100CS) won't be surprised that I consider the Falco-like Honda's VFR or Triumph's Sprint ST-to be My Kind Of Bike. Call it the latest salvo in the gentlemen's express wars: here's a sport-tourer that practically begs you to get up early, pack your bags, hit the road, follow the twisty blue lines on the map (or even the long straight lines in between), find a campsite or cheap motel, sleep...and then do it all over again. And again. (Repeat until end of vacation.) In top gear, the SL's Euro-bred big twin seems like it's barely clearing its throat at 90 mph; that and the largish windscreen/ comfy riding position mean you won't be heading for the hot tub and Ibuprofen at the end of a 500-mile day. Great brakes, great tires, sexy looks... so why would I hesitate to buy one? Our bike's sidestand switch started malfunctioning-a very small item, yes, but it makes me wonder about long-term reliability. And if I did break down, would the (for now) lack of a comprehensive dealer network mean that I'd be stranded out in the middle of nowhere? Ach, now I'm being paranoid. Must be that German blood in me... -Greg McQuide

Age: 39
Height: 5 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 135 lb.
Inseam: 30 in.
If I were a pasta, I 'd be: vermicelli
It's really easy to initially dismiss a bike like the Falco as just another half-hearted attempt by a manufacturer to generate more motorcycle sales from a proven platform. But the Aprilia SL1000 is far more than a regurgitated Mille with some bodywork taken off. The new chassis carries the 60-degree V-twin's bulk low, and the suspension-while a tad softly sprung-soaks up most pavement irregularities without complaint. The retuned Mille motor roosts off the corners, the ergos are good enough for extended sport-touring jaunts, and the wind protection is probably the best in its class. This bike can be seriously good fun to flog on a daily basis.

There are a couple of flies in the minestrone, however. The carburetion is a bit rough at slow cruising speeds, and some may not agree with the Falco's styling, especially the Buck Rogers dashboard (which is now starting to look a little tacky to me). Plus, the Aprilia's $11K-plus price tag is a little steep in relation to the competition.

But if you're like me, those issues don't tarnish the SL1000's performance, and Italian exclusivity has its price. Shredding twisty pavement is what it's all about anyway. Andiamo! -Kent Kunitsugu

Age: 38
Height: 6 ft.
Weight: 225 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
If I were a pasta, I'd be: tortellini
The SL1000 is a lot better than I figured it'd be, and I don't mean to slight Aprilia by saying so. It's just that instilling so much all-around competence into what's practically an all-new machine is a tough task-especially for a company relatively new to the big-bike big leagues. Yeah, the riding position is a step more severe than the ergonomically perfect Super Hawk's, the instrument panel is confusing to the uninitiated, and styling-to my eye, at least-is trying too hard. But the rest of the package is sublime-and the thing's an absolute hoot to ride. Well-placed priorities are a good thing, no?-Mitch Boehm

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