1998-2003 Aprilia RSV1000 Mille | SMART MONEY

Italy's fast, exotic, affordable alternative to cookie-cutter superbikes.

In the late 1990s, after years of racing two-stoke 125s and 250s, Aprilia decided to mix it up with the big boys and build a liter-size sportbike. A light, narrow V-twin powerplant was just what il dottore ordered, but not with a 90-degree cylinder angle––Ducati had already been there, done that, and fought the packaging issues that came with it. So the call went out to Rotax for a 60-degree, fuel-injected V-twin.

The resulting engine was narrow, shorter front-to-back than a Ducati and, even spinning twin balance shafts to compensate for the vibration-prone cylinder spread, delivered about 115 horsepower to the wheel through a six-speed gearbox. Aprilia shoehorned the engine into a beautiful aluminum frame with axles 55 inches apart, rolled a pair of 17-in. wheels under it, and suspended it from a Showa fork and a Sachs rear shock. The finished product weighed in at a claimed 417 pounds.

The RSV Mille, as it was dubbed, came out in 1998, and reviews justified the risk Aprilia took in building it. The Mille was judged easier to ride and more comfortable than its competitors, and over the course of its five-year production run it was joined by the R, a lighter version of the standard model equipped with Öhlins suspension and monoposto seating, and the SP, which came with a short-stroke engine designed in collaboration with Cosworth. Only 150 SPs were built to homologate the model for World Superbike. Race fans were offered special Replica models in 2002 (Noriyuki Haga) and 2003 (Colin Edwards) that came with circuit kits and rider-specific livery––world-class talent not included.

Check used Milles for rear-brake operation. Some brakes feel wooden, others just don’t work very well. Fixes include different pads, a braided line, a thorough cleaning, and bleeding the system. A dodgy-feeling clutch can be the result of anything from an excess of testosterone to air in the hydraulic line. The Mille’s Rotax-built mill is fairly reliable, but the maintenance schedule should be followed closely. Paperwork demonstrating the previous owner’s devotion to regular service adds value to the bike.

If you’re looking at a model with Öhlins suspension, check the fork for signs of oil leaks. Excessive wheelying takes its toll on the seals, as does road grit build-up on the tubes. Check every rear shock for greased linkage, as well as the R model’s plastic tank for cracks and leaks. Batteries in all models get worked pretty hard, and sometimes fail prematurely.

The Mille’s fairing can hide a multitude of problems. Ask the seller to remove it and check for oil or coolant leaks, improvisational repairs, and evidence of previous crash damage. Inspect the rectifier for cooked wires, as some units have been known to overheat and fail. You’ll be getting new tires often enough if you buy the bike, so make sure the ones on it are fresh, or at least usable for a while. Check the brake pads for wear, too.

Torquey engine, great handling, racy looks. Won’t often see yourself coming the other way.
Fewer dealers than most other brands, maybe a bit too exotic for good parts availability.
Watch For
Wooden rear brakes, dodgy clutches, crash damage, infrequent maintenance.
Fast, exotic, affordable alternative to cookie-cutter superbikes.
1998 | $3025
1999 | $3325
2000 | $3635
2001 | $4030
2002 | $4455
2003 | $4915

Buying Smart

The leading edge of sportbike technology moves fast, so bikes more than a decade behind the curve, like the Mille, tend to sink toward the lower end of the market where they’re snapped up by riders looking less for a keeper and more for a cheap thrill. Here’s a tip: If the seller’s toolbox is full of rusty mismatched tools, odds are the bike didn’t get the best of care. But sparkling Snap-On wrenches on a pegboard wall? Jackpot.

The Mille represents Aprilia’s first foray into World Superbike competition, and still strikes a purposeful pose. This is a proper, soul-stirring Italian sportbike.