Every couple of years or so a bike manufacturer will come up with a machine that rattles opponent’s cages and gets sportbike fans in a buying – or dreaming of buying – frenzy.
Remember the excitement over the first generation Yamaha R6 and R1? And just this year Yamaha got mouths salivating again with an all-new R1 and its MotoGP-derived cross-plane crank.
With icons such as the 916, the Monster line, and more recently the 1098 and 1198 superbikes, Ducati has a history of generating bike envy amongst enthusiast friends, while at the same time confounding competitors.
BMW has been in the moto media spotlight since announcing the S1000RR way back in April 2008. Kevin “Frequent Flyer Miles” Duke recently rode the new Beemer in Portimao, Portugal, and came away highly impressed with the German literbike. With its Formula 1 technology-inspired valve train, advanced TC, ABS and claimed 193 hp output at the crank, the screamer Beemer certainly must have Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki burning the midnight oil these days.
But BMW and Yamaha aren’t the only two brands causing big ripples in the current literbike pond.
Earlier this year Aprilia unleashed the RSV4 Factory.
The 999cc 65-degree V-4 powering the new Italian superbike is not only significant in that it’s a departure from Aprilia’s use of V-Twins, the compact V-4 was also developed and built entirely in-house at Aprilia. Austrian motor-building giant, Rotax, has supplied the 60-degree liter capacity Twin for the RSV1000 (known as the Mille in early iterations) and Tuono models, seemingly from time immemorial.
The Noale, Italy-based bike maker certainly drew from its deep well of V-Twin experience in the RSV1000, but the company now wanted a more powerful mill. To achieve the lofty goal of a claimed 180hp at 12,500 rpm, and to surpass power produced by competitor’s engines, Aprilia saw no other choice than the V-4.
Claudio Lombardi, chief architect of the Aprilia V-4, stated that extreme compactness of the powerplant was of primary importance.
That the Factory’s heads are 150mm narrower than the typical performance-oriented inline-Four’s 400mm head reveals Lombardi achieved the goal of a skinny engine. The compactness of the engine makes a very oversquare cylinder layout possible. Using large bores and subsequently larger valves helps the engine breathe more freely and achieve higher engine speeds. The Factory’s engine redlines at 14,100 rpm; compression ratio is 13.1.
Key to the engine’s slimness is the layout of the valve train.
A timing chain in each head drives the intake camshaft only, while a gear at the center of each intake camshaft drives a gear on the exhaust camshaft. This design lends to an extremely compact head in the exhaust area. Aprilia states the V-4 is even more compact than the 60-degree Twin in the RSV1000R.
Our world launch report of the RSV4 Factory from roving Viking reporter, Tor Sagen, notes that Lombardi and team went with the wider angle “as only a V65 would ensure the right shape airbox for the power Aprilia was looking for.” This design apparently also allows for a “larger bore in the future.” Oooo! Wonder what they got planned?
A countershaft dampens vibrations (even more than in a 90-degree Vee engine according to Aprilia) and use of a “monolithic” configuration with integrated cylinder liners for the crankcase reportedly creates maximum engine rigidity. The V-4’s big power is transmitted through a cassette-style 6-speed gearbox mated to a slipper clutch.
This new high-horsepower lump isn’t without high-end electronics. The ride-by-wire throttle and two injectors for each cylinder are controlled by a Magneti-Marelli system. One injector is placed downstream of the throttle valve and a "shower" injector is placed in the airbox and starts working at high loads and revs.
The RSV4 also utilizes electronically controlled variable length intake ducts that operate similarly in principle to those first seen on Yamaha’s R1 and R6.
Like its streetbike siblings, the Mana and Shiver, the RSV4 Factory offers rider-selectable fuel mapping. Three modes, (T) Track, (S) Sport and (R) Road are selectable via the starter button approximately 5 seconds after the bike is started.
An all-new twin-spar frame made from cast and pressed aluminium is optimized for rigidity. The swingarm follows suit, both in construction and targeted weight and stiffness characteristics.
The RSV4’s frame differs from most of its competitors in that the swingarm pivot point, headstock (and thusly rake) and two forward engine mount positions can be altered via insert plates of three different sizes. Interestingly, according to Rick Panettieri, Aprilia’s U.S. brand manager, Aprilia determined through racing experience that the standard, or middle, position for the engine mounts was most beneficial for optimal chassis performance.
The reality behind all these chassis adjustments is that they’re on the RSV4 Factory you can find in your local Aprilia dealer largely as a result of WSBK homologation rules. Unless you’re an experienced racer, you’d be ill advised to start fiddling with fundamental steering geometry for everyday street use.
Being a “factory” model, it’s no surprise then the Factory wears a fully adjustable 43mm Öhlins fork, an Öhlins shock (with ride height adjustment) and Öhlins adjustable steering damper.
A quick note on the shock: Accessing the rebound damping and ride height adjusters will bring back memories of playing Hasbro’s board game, Operation. With both adjustments at the bottom of the shock you’ll be fortunate if you don’t scorch your hand on the hot exhaust headers that snake around the left side, or on the extremely warm exhaust heatsheild if reaching in from the right. It’s a tight squeeze down there. BZZZZ! Lose a turn!
It’s a tight squeeze down there. BZZZZ! Lose a turn!
Lightweight, multi-spoke forged-aluminium wheels carry super sticky Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires. Also not a shocker is the use of a set of gloriously powerful Brembo monobloc calipers to bring the RSV4’s claimed dry weight of 395 pounds to a rapid halt.
Svelte, sexy and highly desirable
The home team here at Motorcycle.com didn’t have the pleasure of riding the RSV4 Factory at the world press introduction, so our first chance to saddle up only recently arrived.
A day circulating Buttonwillow Raceway in McKittrick, California, proved a good venue for our first meeting of the stunning package that is the RSV4 Factory. Trackday riders and trackday staff members came from all corners of the Raceway’s facility just to behold the mighty V-4.
Before the first out lap of the day was completed, one thing came immediately to mind: this bike feels strangely familiar. It wasn’t long before I figured out the RSV4’s svelte figure and overall compactness was reminiscent of riding a 600cc supersport. For a big displacement bike the Factory is surprisingly unintimidating. Going fast on it is, dare we say, easy?
It’s narrow-waisted and slim from tip to tail; its 33-inch seat height doesn’t feel as precarious as other models of bikes with a similar seat height.
The RSV carries most of its fuel below the seat to centralize mass. A benefit of this is a small faux fuel tank; a smaller tank means more open area between the saddle and clip-ons, which then makes for a roomy feel on what is otherwise a compact motorcycle. Eccentric adjusters on the shift and brake pedal pegs allow further fine tuning of rider fit.
Thumb the starter button and an exhaust note as saucy and aggressive as the bike’s styling emanates from the trapezoidal can.
It was love at first sound for Kevin:
“If a motorcycle exhaust can sound sexy, this is it. It's like a cross between a GP bike and a V-8 sprint car. I loved carrying first gear to hear its exquisitely textured song, and it's a pleasure to hear a nicely executed rev-matching downshift,” Kev said with hearts in his eyes.
Next on the list of Highs is the well-sorted fuel mapping. Throttle response, regardless of rpm, is spectacularly responsive and yet always smooth. Despite a throttle-by-wire system, I felt as though my right hand was connected directly to the throttle bodies. These qualities are not only desirable in and of themselves, but on a bike with so much horsepower, rider confidence grows with the sensation that he or she is always in control of this Italian stallion.
Power development is rapid, of course, but the V-4 doesn’t have quite the low-end tractor-like grunt of the big Twins found in competing machinery. However, this minor deficiency barely registers. By the time your brain, over-taxed with decisions about the upcoming corner, has had a millisecond to dwell on low and mid-range performance, the RSV4’s tach needle has raced to the upper reaches of the rpm range.
And it’s here where your newfound love for this bike explodes with exuberance as the V-4 rockets away from a steady state throttle, say, at 11K rpm, all the way to redline. The instantaneous throttle response and the top-end rush are nothing short of remarkable.
But a big poke of power like this runs the risk of being unattainable to the rider if the rest of the bike isn’t able to harness the engine’s potential.
As refined as the fuelling is, so is the chassis. Initial steering effort doesn’t require Herculean efforts, even at speed, and once set in the turn the bike responds with telepathic anticipation to minute changes in line, body position… you name it. The front-end does an excellent job of telegraphing levels of grip and nuances about the track or road surface.
Ducati literbikes have a renowned ability to track like a Japanese bullet train through turns but they also require more-than-subtle persuasion to set into the turn. The Aprilia requires neither brute force nor nervous domination by its pilot.
Perhaps Duke summed the RSV4 Factory’s character best with his sole adjective: obedient.
Indeed. Virtually everything about the bike’s race circuit character conjures the image of a deadly accurate assassin whose every response to the master’s commands paints the picture of servant loyal to the death. The Aprilia RSV4 Factory seems on par with the Honda CBR1000RR’s ease-of-use, and its well-bridled power claws arrogantly at the ferocity put forth from Kawasaki’s ZX-10R.
If we’ve glossed over things like braking performance, fit ‘n’ finish or general quality, forgive us if we take for granted those various items as obvious testimonies of excellent craftsmanship on this product of Italian pride valued at $20,999. S’all good, meng!
|“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.” – Samuel Adams, American revolutionary|
We’re a considerable distance at this point in time from determining an outright victor in the 2010 literbike wars.
But BMW’s willingness to sacrifice what we perceive as usually generous profit margins in order to serve a technology-laden crushing blow to the inline-Four class, all while playing by the rules, indicates a major upheaval in the screamer big-bore segment.
And now having ridden the Aprilia RSV4 Factory, a motorcycle named Best Sportbike of the Year this August by Cycle World magazine, we’re inclined to believe another would-be champion of the Liter Wars is ready to successfully challenge not only the superbike old guard, but maybe even the forward-thinking BMW.
Just a year ago, we had the Japanese Big Four literbikes doing battle with the V-Twin Ducati in the superbike wars. Now, with the addition of the RSV4 and the KTM RC8R, the clash of the literbike warriors has gotten a lot deeper and more interesting.
On thing is for certain: the Aprilia RSV4 Factory's distinctiveness and wide performance envelope gives it the capabilities to run with the class of any sportbike field.