2010 Aprilia RSV4 Factory - The "Other" Italian Superbike

Better or just different?

There she sits. Blacker than black with a touch of crimson. Silver frame with gold brakes and suspension. Subtle hints of carbon-fiber and magnesium. Pointed nose and tail like a two-wheeled Batmobile. All glistening, shiny and wet.

Wet? Yup. It rained the day the English-speaking press got to ride Aprilia's new RSV4 superbike. At Misano, Italy--one of the most notoriously slippery circuits in the dry, let alone the wet. But no worries, I'd ridden there dozens of times--except they'd reversed the direction to regain a MotoGP round since I'd last been here, so it was effectively an all-new track. Still, short of something with ABS and traction control, it would be hard to imagine a better bike for the conditions.

Aprilia has been absent from MotoGP and World Superbike for a few years now, and thus from most enthusiast's minds. (Yes they take part in 125 and 250cc GP racing, but most Americans don't pay attention to those classes.) A financial downturn brought about by excessive expenditures in racing and a helmet law that effectively halted 50cc scooter sales in its native Italy brought the Noale-based company to the brink of bankruptcy. And it looked like The End until Aprilia (along with its sister company Moto Guzzi) was purchased by Piaggio, famed makers of Vespa scooters.

That acquisition gave Aprilia the money it needed to develop a new superbike, and what a superbike it is! Drawing from their experience building V-twins, and surveying the current MotoGP scene, Aprilia engineers determined that a V-4 was the optimum engine configuration. To create that engine, they enlisted the aid of veteran automotive designer Claudio Lombardi, who's worked for Ferrari and Lancia. For his first-ever bike engine, Lombardi sought to create a 60-degree V, like Aprilia's previous Rotax-built twins. But there just wasn't room for four throttle bodies between the cylinder banks, so he settled on 65 degrees--still a much tighter package than any other maker's V-twin or V-4. How ironic is it that Ducati, Honda and Suzuki all campaign V-4s in MotoGP, and yet Aprilia beat two of the three to the punch? And arguably the third as well, since the Ducati Desmosedici RR is a limited-production model that sells for three to five times what the two RSV4 models will when they go on sale this fall. Though final prices have yet to be set, the goal is to undercut the Ducati 1198 and 1198S, so look for the base-model RSV4 to sell for around $15,000 and the uprated Factory for around $20K.

That ultra-compact engine is the centerpiece of a bike that has "the silhouette of a 250cc Grand Prix racer." Designed by Jose Gonzales (creator of the quirky Derbi Mulhacen) under the direction of Aprilia design chief Miguel Galluzzi (best known for creating the Ducati Monster), the RSV4 is indeed sexy in the inimitably Italian way. Yet ironically, neither designer is from Italy--Gonzales is from Spain and Galluzzi from Argentina, and both attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California! As did Ducati-turned-Guzzi designer Pierre Terblanche, who incidentally hails from South Africa. Are we sensing a pattern here?

Regardless, the Aprilia is a thing of beauty, and it is tiny. But thankfully it accommodates taller riders, due in part to the efforts of MotoGP racer-turned-development tester Alex Hoffmann, who stands about 6 feet tall. I'm a smidge taller than that, and while I did feel big on the bike, I didn't feel cramped.

Pushing the starter button, the RSV4 responds with a throaty growl, sounding like a cross between a twin and a four. Throttle response is instantaneous, the revs zinging to redline in what seems like milliseconds. That reminded me that there are three different engine maps, or "modes," so I selected the slowest one, "Road," and headed out of the pits to learn how to ride Misano backwards. I selected "Sport" mode for my subsequent sessions, but because it rained all day I never did try "Track." That will have to wait for drier conditions, and according to Hoffmann, testers set their quickest lap times in "Sport" mode anyway. "Track" mode is best saved for Superpole.

You notice different things in the wet than you do in the dry, and my first impression was that this is a supremely smooth and tractable engine. Though equipped with variable-length intake tracts and twin injectors (see "Hard Parts," page 40), the transitions are transparent. All you feel is abundant low-end torque becoming high-revving horsepower, peaking at a claimed 177.5 bhp at 12,500 rpm. That's shy of the 13,700-rpm soft limit, or the 14,200-rpm hard limit, which actually isn't hard at all. That gives plenty of overrev to save a shift here or there.

At higher revs the exhaust note is positively soul-stirring; closer to a MotoGP racer than anything save a Desmosedici RR or '09 Yamaha YZF-R1. It's not as raucous as the Desmo, yet far more satisfying than Honda's comparatively pedestrian Interceptor.

Though the wet track slowed our inputs, the Aprilia impressed with solid stability at speed and under braking, plus incredible feedback from both ends. Fitted with Pirelli Diablo rain tires, it clung to the track so tenaciously that I could almost get a knee down. Even in the wet the bike pulled fifth gear down Misano's long back straight, reaching speeds in the 150s before starting the series of four decreasing-radius rights that put braking feel to a true test. The latest radial-mount Brembo Monoblocs work as well here as on any other so-equipped bike, and minimal engine braking coupled with a slipper clutch makes for drama-free corner entries. The Factory's hlins suspension worked perfectly right out of the box. In fact, my only complaint had to do with the gearbox, which while positive-shifting took a fair amount of effort, even after I raised the lever's adjustable toe-piece.

Countless magazine riding impressions have ended with a statement that to truly ascertain a bike's capabilities, the tester needs to get it back on his home turf and ride it back to back with its competition. That sounds like a cop-out, but never has it been truer than with this Aprilia. We can't wait to get one in sunny SoCal and flog it on road and track. And if we can ride it alongside its competition--especially the forthcoming BMW S1000RR--so much the better.

Hard Parts
Are double the cylinders twice as good?

Aprilia was first to employ a fly-by-wire throttle on its ill-fated Cube MotoGP triple, and now joins Yamaha in offering the system to the public. As on the R1 and R6, the RSV4's twistgrip pulls a cable that's linked to an electronic solenoid, which in turn opens the butterflies in the quartet of 48mm throttle bodies. Three selectable modes let the rider tailor throttle response to suit conditions: "Track" mode is full-power; "Sport" cuts torque by 25 percent in first through third gear; and "Road" reduces power 25 percent across the board, peaking at 140 bhp. The Weber-Marelli EFI employs two injectors per cylinder--a conventional one inside the throttle body and another showerhead-type injector high up in the airbox, switching from the former to the latter between 6000 and 7000 rpm. Also like the R1/R6, the RSV4 employs variable-length velocity stacks (on the Factory, but not the base model), a stepper-motor-activated worm gear switching from torque-producing 265mm-long funnels to power-producing 230mm shorter funnels at 10,000 rpm. The Magnetti-Marelli ignition features one spark plug per cylinder with stick-type coils. The ECU also controls a butterfly valve in the Euro 3-compliant 4-2-1 exhaust, the valve opening fully at 6500 rpm. Traction control isn't offered, but is being used on the factory World Superbikes so should be available as part of the inevitable race kit.

Unlike most other Italian sportbikes, the RSV4's pressed-aluminum and cast-sheet twin-spar frame is not a thing of beauty. Purposeful-looking is more like it. It is light though--claimed weight is just over 22 pounds. The swingarm is said to weigh half that much and is asymmetrical to clear the pentagonal-shaped muffler on the right side. According to the press materials, the chassis has "envisaged" adjustments for headstock position, rake, engine and swingarm-pivot height--realized with the aid of race-kit parts, of course. The plastic gas tank sits behind the airbox and extends down below the rider's saddle for optimum weight distribution. Suspension consists of a 43mm hlins inverted fork with TiN-coated stanchions and high/low-speed compression damping, while the hlins shock has but a single compression knob. There's also an hlins adjustable steering damper. (The base model will get downgraded suspension, and likely a fixed steering damper.) Front brakes are the latest radial-mount Brembo Monoblocs with four 34mm pistons each, activated by a radial master cylinder and braided-steel lines. The rear brake uses a two-piston Brembo caliper, actuated by a tiny master cylinder with an integral reservoir as on current dirtbikes. Forged and machined, aluminum-alloy, 10-spoke wheels hold Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP (for Sport Production) tires--essentially a more durable version of the World Supersport-spec Supercorsa SC (Special Compound).

Forget everything you know about the Rotax-built V-twin employed in previous Aprilia sportbikes, this V-4 is all-new. The 65-degree angle between cylinders is wider than the 60 degrees of previous Aprilias, but narrower than the 90 degrees of Ducati V-twins and the Desmosedici RR V-4, or the Honda V-4 Interceptor. While Aprilia engineers admit this engine configuration isn't optimal for peak power--that distinction goes to an inline-four--they claim it is optimal for handling, as evidenced by its use in the Ducati, Honda and Suzuki MotoGP racers. With a single gear-driven counterbalancer in front of the cylinders, the "V" configuration is also smoother than an inline and gives the engine a natural, offbeat, "big-bang" firing order that improves traction. And it allows extremely oversquare cylinder dimensions (78 x 52.3mm--within a decimal point of an '09 Yamaha YZF-R1), which equate to 999.6cc--just shy of the World Superbike displacement limit. Those bores hold forged 13:1 compression pistons, topped by 32mm titanium intake and 28mm Nimonic steel exhaust valves, each with nested springs, set at a very flat 22-degree included angle. Dual chains spin the intake cams, which spin the exhaust cams via idler gears. Valves are opened directly via shim-under-bucket actuation. The wet-sump lubrication system features dual oil pumps housed in a magnesium sump, with temperatures held in check by an oil cooler that complements the coolant radiator. A cassette-style gearbox allows quick ratio changes for racing, while a mechanical slipper clutch replaces the old vacuum-operated diaphragm setup. Claimed output is 177.5 horsepower at 12,500 rpm and 84.8 lb.-ft. of torque at 10,000 rpm.

The RSV4 was designed to be as compact as possible, with the silhouette of a 250cc Grand Prix racer. Really it's closer to the size of a 600, but happily accommodates taller riders. Though sketched by a Spaniard, it's obviously Italian. The sexy look starts at the front with a three-headlight array, and culminates in the rear with the pointy tail, which looks like a Latin take on the Honda RC212V MotoGP racer. Both the nose and tail are finned, and unlike any other sportbike. The bodywork was said to be tested extensively in Piaggio's own wind tunnel to ensure that it's as aerodynamically efficient as possible.

Tech Spec

New from the ground up, built entirely in-house by Aprilia under the auspices of parent company Piaggio.

All of its World Superbike competition: BMW S1000RR, Ducati 1198, Honda CBR1000RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R, Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Yamaha YZF-R1.

Price na
Engine type l-c 65-deg. V-4
Valve train DOHC, 16v
Displacement 999.6cc
Bore x stroke 78.0 x 52.3mm
Compression 13.0:1
Fuel system Weber-Marelli EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed, cassette-type
Claimed horsepower 177.5 bhp @ 12,500 rpm
Claimed torque 84.8 lb.-ft. @ 10,000 rpm
Frame Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension Ohlins 43mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high/low-speed compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Single Ohlins shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Single Brembo two-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli {{{Diablo}}} Supercorsa SP
Rear tire 190/55-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail 24.5 deg./4.1 in.
Seat height 33.3 in.
Wheelbase 55.9 in.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal.
Claimed dry weight 394 lbs.
Colors Black/red
Available Fall
Warranty 24 mo., unlimited mi.

Aprilia USA
140 E. 45th St. 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10017

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
A truly revolutionary superbike that's kicking ass and taking names in its first season.

They say: "The new benchmark in the street-legal superbike sector."
We say: "Perhaps, but it's hard to tell in the rain."
The RSV4 features variable-length intake funnels. At 10,000 rpm the upper 35mm snaps up out of the way, changing from a torque-producing 265mm length to a power-producing 230mm in .1-second.
V-4 engine is ultra-compact, which allows the entire bike to be 250cc GP-sized. Six-speed gearbox is cassette-type, expediting internal gear-ratio changes for racing.
A decade later, Italian Max Biaggi is back on an Aprilia, working with some of the same crew members and reportedly happy to be back. The team's debut World Superbike season has started superbly, with front-row starts and podium finishes.
The RSV4 Factory we tested comes with a solo seat, but the forthcoming base model will come with the tiny passenger pillion shown here. Only Italian supermodels need apply--which just might be the point!
Rider's-eye view shows the beefy triple clamps and telltale gold tops of the hlins fork. Businesslike instrumentation includes an analog tach, shift light and digital displays for speed, gear and engine mode.