First Ride: Aprilia Mille R

No mistake: These upstart Italians and their thoroughly modern Milles are in a hurry to bring the fight to the Japanese

Has it only been a year since we wrung out our first RSV Mille? Why, yes, we fawned and toadied all over it in our April 2000 issue. Be pleasantly surprised, then, because the second-generation Mille is already here--and recently sampled by yours truly at Homestead Motorsports Complex in southern Florida. There's much more going on here than cosmetic changes. For one thing, an entirely new frame raises the engine 5mm for better mass centralization and turnability, and the swingarm pivot's up 3mm. Those changes, according to Ing. Giorgio Del Ton, come straight from World Superbike ace Troy Corser. Elsewhere, more than 200 parts are modified.

Inside the Mille's delicious counterbalanced 60-degree V-twin, camshafts with greater lift and duration bump 2mm-bigger intake valves open. Pistons and entire intake tracts have been enlarged and modified to suit, and the bike's injection mapping has been carefully overhauled, particular attention having been paid to smooth delivery low in the powerband. Exhaling through a new 2-into-1 exhaust, the new engine's said to produce two horsepower more--130 at the crankshaft--which should equal about 116 Dynojet ponies if last year's test bike is any indication. The torque's the thing, though. Although it uses the same attachment points as the previous plastic, the new bike is covered in all-new bodywork claimed to be more aerodynamic and with greater engine-cooling capacity. The top of the fuel tank is lower, allowing the rider to tuck in more, and the tank itself is now made of a nylon-resin material that allows it to assume a much more rider-friendly shape than before--shorter and narrower between the thighs.

Assume the position and fire the thing up, then. Thank God bike manufacturers have discovered making the rider comfortable is the best performance bargain: It's still a ways to the Mille's below-the-clamp clip-ons, but the shorter fuel tank makes grabbing them much easier, as does the narrowness of the tank. Yes, it's fast, with a flat powerband that feels like it gets out of bed even earlier than last year's bike. Twisting the throttle to the stop gives instantaneous full rut, and has the little shift light blinking in no time. Anybody here ever accuse the old bike of not being able to change headings quickly enough? Don't think so. In fact, we praised the Mille's ability to turn quicker than the typical 90-degree twin. Aprilia's decision to alter frame geometry in an effort to speed things up even more seems mostly unnecessary, really, but who are we to argue with Corser? Suspension damping and the rear linkage ratio, naturally, have been revised to complement the new layout, and yes, the Mille does seem to segue into corners more like a YZF-R1 Yamaha than a 996 Ducati. More so than last year? Too close to call.

No waffling necessary concerning the bike's new brakes. Four-piston Gold Series Brembos--each piston with its own little sintered pad--give huge power and feel, while the bike's patented pneumatic clutch makes it easier not to get all spastic bouncing the back tire. Overall, the Mille is quite a mouthful of exotic Italian for $13,899.

A few dollars more, again in '01, gets you the desirable "R" Mille: $16,799 begets Ohlins suspension, carbon fiber all over the place, and hip OZ wheels that Aprilia says are 25 percent lighter than the next lightest aluminum wheel available. Feels like it, too; the R seems to pick up revs faster even with an identical engine. Throw on the titanium race exhaust and there's enough torque in there, as a matter of fact, to rip the rear tire loose from Homestead halfway through third gear even with the bike almost upright. Don't ask me how I know.