Aprilia SL1000 Falco R

A semiserious hottie no longer done by half (-faired) measures

Here's something else we don't understand: Why are half-faired sportbikes--with the possible exception of the Yamaha FZ1--perennial sales-sheet backmarkers, dusty chicanes that hot-selling superbikes must pass en route to the feverish hands and open checkbooks of Yankee riders? After all, this is a terrific subclass of sportbike, with, typically, more moderate ergonomics and other features that make bikes in this category easy to live with yet remarkably uncompromised.

Nobody seems to care but us. Honda's VTR1000F Super Hawk, Suzuki's TL1000S and Aprilia's Falco have failed to make a sales dent, while hard-core models succeed wildly. How many more 916/996/998 superbikes do you see than, say, 900SSs? And how many more Sprint STs do you think Triumph sells than the elementally similar, half-faired RS? Plenty. Buell's new Firebolt fits into this segment, but you don't really think they'll move a whole mess of 'em, do you?

|| |---| APRILIA SL1000 FALCO R|PRICE MSRP $10,999| |ENGINE Type: l/c 60-deg. V-twin Valve arrangement: dohc, 8v Bore x stroke: 97.0mm x 67.5mm Displacement: 998cc Compression ratio: 11.4:1 Transmission: 6-speed Final drive: #525 chain | |CHASSIS Weight: 495 lb. (wet)/465 lb. (fuel tank empty) Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. Rake/trail: 25.0 deg./3.82 in. (97mm) Wheelbase: 56.1 in. (1425mm) Seat height: 32.0 in. (820mm) | |SUSPENSION Front: 43mm inverted cartridge fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping Rear: single shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping| |PERFORMANCE Horsepower: 87.5 ft.-lb. @ 8750 rpm Torque: 60.4 ft.-lb. @ 7000 rpm Corrected 1/4-mile*: 11.18 sec. @ 120.41 mph 0-60 mph: 3.41 sec. 0-100 mph: 7.94 sec. Top-gear roll-on, 50-70 mph: 4.44 sec. Fuel mileage (low/high/average): 38/45/41 | |*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)|

Aprilia is investing in the category while the others have either left or are turning out moribund product. Check out the Falco R, mechanically identical to last year's Falco, but oh so much more handsome and serious. We've always loved the Falco, mainly because it stands out among the pre-Firebolt half-faireds by packing top-line components, make-no-excuses (OK, some excuses) thrust and undeniable Italian style. For a healthy $2500 savings vs. a Mille, the Falco gives you a lot of performance in a less hard-edged package.

|||| |---|---|---| CHEERS AND JEERS|Engine|9|Aprilia's V-twin is a sweetie, if slightly more frantic than a Duck's| |Drivetrain|8|Fab gearbox (even if fitted with LSR gears) and slick clutch| |Handling|8|Smooth, relaxed and predictable; cornering clearance is the only issue| |Braking|7|The four-pot front Brembos work well, but aren't leading-edge| |Ride|7|Slightly choppy on rough pavement, but rarely harsh; almost soft| |Ergonomics|6|Does the long reach to the bars make our butts look big?| |Features|8|Playstation dash actually packs a lot of info| |Refinement|8|Aprilia raises its game again. The paint and detailing are impressive| Value7Pricey only against the (nearly defunct) Japanese competition|Fun Factor|9|In a word: huge. Impress your friends with off-the-throttle wheelies| verdict: Revised graphic treatment solidifies the Falco's bad-boy intentions but one ride reveals a pleasant, performance-packed softie.

While the previous Falco--with simple painted bodywork, a silver frame, and the odd exposed bits and pieces in a Crayola 64-box of different hues--seemed a mishmash, the new Falco R appears remarkably more sleek and cohesive. Credit the anthracite paint on the frame, the tasteful matte-black finish on the tank and tailsection, and the more careful color-coordination of the oily bits. There's no mistaking the bike's lineage thanks to the Mille-esque fairing (packing three headlights) and a flat-topped plastic fuel tank, but this year the Falco cuts a color profile all its own.

And so concludes the list of things new for 2002. Underneath the fresh coat of black lies the same Falco we've always appreciated. Aprilia's 60-degree, 998cc V-twin is a peach. It's powerful, torquey and blessed with excellent fuel injection and a fabulous, six-speed gearbox. In the Falco R, the engine is slightly less powerful than in the pre-'02 Mille, entirely on the shoulders of a different injection and ignition chip and exhaust system. As you know, the '02 Mille got a host of internal engine changes, but the Falco R retains the previous RSV's engine spec.

We couldn't care less. In bone-stock form the Falco R's powerplant throws down almost 88 rear-wheel horsepower and has a delectably plump torque curve. All U.S.-bound Aprilias live with restrictors to help them meet noise regulations; the Falco gets a plug in the airbox that makes this engine breathe through a 24mm tube. Yank that pup, clip a wire, and you get a full 109.6 horsepower. Low-rpm power is boosted slightly, but the big gains come above 5000 rpm. We rode the bike both ways and preferred the more powerful iteration (duh!) but ran the performance tests in restricted, from-the-showroom form. In fact, our dragstrip dude says the restricted bike is slightly easier to launch.

In the Falco, this heavy-breathing engine is cinched down in a lovely semitrellis aluminum frame that provides a 10mm-longer wheelbase and slightly different steering geometry than the Mille--it's got the same 25.0-degree steering-head angle but packs 2mm less trail at 97mm. Managing the wheels at either end are suspension components similar to but not quite as nice as the Mille's. A 43mm Showa inverted fork uses softer springs and lower damping rates than the RSV's similar component, while the Sachs shock attached to the aluminum swingarm is adjustable for preload and rebound damping only.

For approximately 90 percent of the ownership experience, the Falco R makes tearing off a pay stub every month almost painless. The engine is smooth, thanks to dual counterbalancers, and is geared so tall the bike truly loafs at supra-legal velocities. The ergonomic package is generally good, though some of our testers complained of the long reach to the bars. By the measuring tape, the Falco is the double of the Mille--29.6 inches to the bar and 17.5 inches from the comfy seat to the bare aluminum pegs--but it has twice the effective handlebar rise, at 3.2 inches. This puts the Falco among the more serious 600 super-sports, but with more daylight between crotch and steering head. Subjectively, the bike feels more rakish and serious than, say, a Honda Super Hawk, and considerably longer.

That classic Italian V-twin stretch-out stance combines with the impression of impeccable stability (at the expense, naturally, of turn-on-a-lira responsiveness) to provide curiously high-tech yet old-school sensations. On the Metzeler ME-Z3s that came on our bike, the Falco R steered precisely if a tad lethargically when compared with the latest batch of yeasty literbike pop tarts. The fork is properly damped and adequately sprung for heavier riders, so it resists the temptations of the fine four-pot Brembo brakes, and the chassis benevolently allows for turning-in on the binders.

We do have complaints with the Falco R's rear suspension--also fitted to the regular Falco we tested a while back--in that the Sachs shock is sprung too softly and can fade badly when worked hard. Particularly for heavier riders, the poorly sorted back end makes the bike tend to run wide when exiting corners and allows the back end to sag sufficiently that grounding the sidestand foot is commonplace even during less-than-attack-mode riding. It's not the end of the world--and there is a fix, see above--but we'd hoped Aprilia, while refilling the paint guns with that tasty gunmetal gray, would have phoned over to Oehlins or Showa for a better shock.

In a way it's comforting to find one thing wrong with the Falco R, because in every other respect it presents itself as a modern, good-looking and thoroughly reliable mount. Did we infer halfway practical, too? Indeed. With a five-gallon tank, range is good. The seat is just fine, and there's sufficient weather protection to make a ride in the rain tolerable. And while the mirrors kind of suck they don't suck as much as a Mille's, and they're no worse than those on most sportbikes. Would most of us prefer to actually, like, own a Falco over a Mille? Beyond the habitually fanatical Carrithers, that's affirmative. If the R's tweaks don't jump-start Falco sales, then we'll just have to admit we don't get it.

Honestly, the instrument panel is not stolen out of some 1970s sedan. You do get lots of information including a lap timer.
The humpy tailsection doesn't hold a lot--an emissions canister is inside--but ain't she pretty?