Aprilia SL1000 Falco - Road Test

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

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.)

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

Cheers & Jeers
Engine 8 More torque than the Mille
Drivetrain 9 Lubricious gearbox, no slop
Handling 8 Sharp enough unless you're T. Corser
Braking 9 Powerful and sharp
Ride 8 Controlling yet compassionate
Ergonomics 8 Halfway between racy and recumbent
Features 9 Great instrumentation, lap timer
Refinement 9 Tasty components well stuck together
Value 8 Pricey by Japanese standards; cheap by Italian
Fun Factor 9 It's a big Italian V-twin isn't it?
Verdict: A practical and beautiful exotic packing {{{90}}} percent of the Mille's performance--for $2500 less.

Aprilia SL1000

MSRP $11,299
Type liquid-cooled, 60-degree
V- twin
Valve arrangement dohc, 8v
Bore x stroke 97.0 x 67.5mm
Displacement 998cc
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Transmission 6-speed
Final drive #530 chain
Weight 485 lb. (wet)
452 lb. (tank empty)
Fuel capacity 5.5 gal.
Rake/trail 24.5 deg./3.94 in. (100mm)
Wheelbase 55.7 in. (1415mm)
Seat height 31.9 in. (815mm)
Front 43mm cartridge fork
adjustable for spring
preload, compression
and rebound damping
Rear single shock adjustable for spring preload and
ride height
Tire, front 120/70ZR17
Metzeler ME-{{{Z3}}}
Tire, rear 180/55ZR17
Metzeler ME-Z3
Corrected 1/4-mile* 10.99 sec. @ 125.0 mph
0-60 mph 3.33 sec.
0-{{{100}}} mph 7.29 sec.
Top-gear roll-on,
60-{{{80}}} mph 4.56 sec.
Fuel mileage
(low/high/average) 34/42/39
Cruising range
(exc. reserve) 182 miles
*Performance with test-session weather condi- tions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)