First Ride: 2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF

Be A Racer - Aprilia's 2016 sportbike is an exceptionally exciting and easy-to-ride track weapon.

They say: Unmistakable in its design lucidity. We say: Unmistakable in its accelerative authority.

Imagine Aprilia's RSV4 as one of Big Daddy Ed Roth's exaggerated Rat Fink cartoon caricatures—rear tire hazing smoke, front tire pawing at the sky, flames shooting from the exhaust, bug-eyed rat pilot clinging to the handlebars for dear life. That's pretty much exactly what it feels like to pull the trigger on this now-201-horsepower (claimed, crankshaft) Italian superbike, a tiny, overpowered, endlessly thrilling machine that delivers one of the most viscerally rousing riding experiences in all of motorcycling.

Forget for a moment the many structural advantages of the RSV4’s compact, 65-degree V-4 engine configuration over a conventional inline four—packaging benefits, improved mass-centralization, lighter weight and reduced inertial effect from the shorter crank, etc.—what really connects with combustion freaks is engine character, something this bike offers by the bag full. With its enticing NASCAR rumble at idle, real-animal roar when you twist the throttle, and brick-strong power at every rpm, this bike feels grid-ready right out of the box—substantiating Aprilia’s #BEARACER claim.

Even though it still turned the fastest laps in our latest liter-bike shootout (see "Class of 2013," from MC, September 2013 here)—and won seven combined World Superbike rider and manufacturer titles in the past six years—it was past time for a comprehensive overhaul of the RSV4 platform that was essentially unchanged since its 2009 debut. Though it looks superficially similar, the engine, chassis, electronics, ergonomics, and aerodynamics have all been reworked to keep the RSV4 relevant and running at the front of the class.

Though the basic architecture is unchanged, the 1,000cc V-4 engine has had every aspect scrutinized to enhance efficiencies. A new airbox improves and increases airflow, above variable-length intake stacks reconfigured with an even shorter fixed length for more high-rpm power. Intake and exhaust paths have both been reconfigured, and combustion chambers are now machine-finished for more precision. All valves are titanium, the intakes enlarged to 33mm, while the cams are 600g lighter and new rods save 100g each. The results of this relentless revising are impressive—a whopping 16-horsepower increase over last year, to 201 hp at 13,000 rpm (and a max of nearly 85 pound-feet of torque at 10,500 rpm). This puts the RSV4 right on the mark with rivals like BMW’s S1000RR, Ducati’s 1299 Panigale, and Yamaha’s R1.

The chassis has been optimized at the same time, mostly in an attempt to prevent that copious horsepower from landing you one your lid. The swingarm has been lengthened 4mm and the engine lowered slightly in the frame, to drop the center of gravity and shift it forward slightly in an attempt to keep the bike off the rear wheel (fork offset has been increased from 30mm to 32mm to reduce trail and counteract any loss of steering agility). As before, engine position, head angle, swingarm pivot position, and rear end height can all be altered, just like a real racebike.

The comprehensive Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC) electronic system, combining traction control, wheelie control, launch control, and race-grade ABS, has likewise been revised. The Road ride mode that softened power and ramped up electronic interventions—a mode “no one used,” Aprilia engineers said—has been jettisoned in favor of a new Race profile that slots between the preexisting Sport and Track modes, with the aggressive power delivery of Track mode paired with electronic interventions that minimize rider fatigue and tire wear. “Track mode is for your Superpole lap; Race mode will go the distance,” engineers explained. All three maps have been specifically revised to lessen engine-braking intrusion, to good effect.

Recently repaved Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, was the perfect showcase for the latest RSV4. Mirror-smooth, grippier than a diamond file, and with multiple long, fast, and occasionally double-apex corners, perhaps more than any other track Misano demands a bike that works well on the edge of the tire. And there is perhaps no other sportbike more comfortable at extreme lean angles than this one. Bend it over until the exhaust drags—it will—and toe sliders are buried and the RSV4 still remains stone-stable and dead neutral, even in the T11-12 “Curvone” you careen through knee-down at 150 mph. This platform is even more trustworthy and predictable at half that speed.

Our test was on the limited-production RSV4 RF (formerly the Factory) edition, upgraded with Öhlins suspension (the standard RR model is Sachs equipped), forged wheels, and special “Superpole” graphics. Even though it lacks an electronic suspension option—something available on every other European superbike—the RF’s TiN-coated 43mm fork and TTX shock perform faultlessly at least in consistent confines of the racetrack. Especially the fork—the assembled international press corps almost universally raved about precise steering and high-resolution front-end feedback, with none of the at-speed skittishness of Ducati’s Panigale or occasional numbness of BMW’s S1000RR. Braking stability is another strong suit—a good thing since Brembo M430 Monobloc calipers backed up by three-level-switchable Bosch 9MP race ABS generate face-flattening braking force. Even under deep, assertive trail braking the RSV4 remains neutral and on-line. Once again, this is an exceptionally confidence-inspiring track bike.

If composed and confident are the watchwords while leaned over, on-the-gas antics are another story entirely. This is where things get Rat Finked. With so much power and ride-by-wire delivering everything you ask for instantly, you’re into the APRC all the time. Even in the lowest settings, the intervention edges feel slightly ragged, lacking the android precision of, say, BMW’s system that finds a limit then parks you there. Wheelie control (three levels, plus off) cuts and restores power coarsely enough that you can feel the bike just slightly bouncing off its limit. The same with eight-level TC—sometimes there’s enough slip-and-grip to inspire the slightest headshake, just enough so you appreciate the Öhlins steering damper. This isn’t so bad that it ever slows you down—and in many ways this “active feedback” is what makes the RSV4 so damn much fun to ride—but it contrasts with the competition.

Telemetry and data acquisition, on the other hand, is one electronic realm where Aprilia crushes its competitors. An optional V4MP (multimedia platform) system allows a simple smartphone app to communicate with the motorcycle via Bluetooth not only to gather throttle position, lean angle, rate of acceleration, and much more data to compare after each session, but it also leverages the phone’s GPS capability to read the bike’s position on the racetrack then automatically alter the APRC settings corner-by-corner, just like a MotoGP bike. (Track data, cribbed from Aprilia’s MotoGP/WSBK racing programs, was available at press time for five international circuits (including Misano), with more to be added soon. No word on when such garden spots as Buttonwillow or Grattan will be uploaded…). But wait, there’s more! The “adaptive race assistant” feature will even compare laps and advise you on how to go faster, acting as a real-time digital riding coach.

Aprilia claims the new RSV4 is 6 pounds lighter than the old bike, which should put it around 460 pounds based on the last Factory version we weighed—not particularly light at all, but thanks to compact overall dimensions and savvy mass centralization, it never feels porky. The restyled upper faring is enlarged so it’s easier to tuck behind, something that was challenging on the old bike. This taller fairing makes room for higher, flatter, more comfortable handlebars, too. The cockpit beneath has not been updated and the LCD dash and switchgear both look and feel dated compared to more-modern rivals—but the oversized thumb and forefinger paddles that let you trim traction control on-the-fly remain uniquely effective and appreciated.

That singular, snarling V-4 engine gives Aprilia’s RSV4 a personality unlike any other, but broadband power, predictable handling, and confident control responses make this caricature of danger deceptively easy to ride very fast. Ducati’s purebred Panigale is the only other bike that approaches the visceral riding thrill of the RSV4, but the Aprilia feels more solid, more planted, and more relatable on ragged edge. Even front-wheel-up and wagging its tail, this Rat Fink is always more fun than fearsome.

tech SPEC

Aprilia’s liter-class superbike gets its first refresh since its introduction in 2009, with more power, stability enhancing chassis changes, and electronic updates.
[BMW S1000RR][], [Ducati 1299 Panigale][] , [Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R][], MV Agusta F4 RR, [Yamaha YZF-R1][]
PRICE $21,999
ENGINE 999.6cc, liquid-cooled 65° V-4
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 201 hp @ 13,000 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 84.8 lb-ft @ 10.500 rpm
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION Öhlins 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Öhlins shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo one-piston caliper, 220mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°4.1 in.
WHEELBASE 56.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.0 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 396 lb. dry
An exceptionally exciting—and easy to ride—track weapon, with tons of personality. Lack of electronic suspension and other technology might hurt in the marketplace.