The kid on the 600 cc sport bike circled me like a fly over a pile of manure.
Undoubtedly, it was his first sighting of an Aprilia RSV4 Factory in the wild and he was clearly excited by it – possibly even more excited than I was to ride it. Having my fill of being stalked, I took advantage of a hole in the traffic, dropped a gear and left my unwanted riding companion behind for good.
This unabashed show of enthusiasm was understandable. The RSV4 Factory is the homologated version of the superbike that had already won the 2010 Superbike World Championship in only its second year of competition. It has been an auspicious start for the machine that replaced the long in the tooth RSV1000R and carried Aprilia’s hopes of re-establishing the company as a player in the highly competitive sport bike market.
The RSV4 is not a street bike that has been reverse-engineered for racing. Aprilia started with a clean page and drew upon their extensive racing experience and the deep pockets of their new parent company, Piaggio Group, to get the RSV4 almost perfect the first time around. Every aspect of the new superbike, including its engine, was developed in-house through a collaboration of Aprilia’s R&D and Race divisions. A glance at the bike’s specs reveals just how serious Aprilia was at developing an overachiever; with much of its design investing in race biased technologies, it’s not surprising that Aprilia considers the RSV4 Factory to be the street bike that comes closest to those used in Superbike racing.
After admiring its bold lines, I was struck by the Factory’s size; if sport bikes become any more compact, their manufacturers will have to start including a Shriner’s fez with every purchase. After folding my six foot one body into paper sharp creases, I managed an hour long street ride on the Factory before desperately needing a break. My aching neck, back and wrists were testimony to Aprilia’s claim that the Factory is more compact than any inline-four-powered sport bike. However, there is little point in complaining about the bike’s ergonomics. As I found out later, the RSV4’s riding position might be hell on the street, but it’s absolutely sublime on the track.
At the heart of the Factory is a 999.6 cc, 65 degree V-four, the most powerful engine Aprilia has ever fitted to a production motorcycle. The project to build a replacement for the RSV1000R’s V-twin drew on the experience of automotive engineer Claudio Lombardi, who is known for his work at Ferrari and had never designed a motorcycle engine before Aprilia’s V-four. The philosophy behind using a V-4 configuration conceded the peak power potential of an in-line four in favour of greater mid-range performance. Of equal importance according to Aprilia’s engineers, the layout also provides better mass centralization, resulting in better chassis balance and superior handling. Aprilia isn’t alone in this belief. Three of the four manufacturers in MotoGP currently use prototype V-4 engines, leaving only Yamaha to contest the series with an in-line four engine.
In practice, the V-4 combined the best of all worlds. Its flexible power plant accelerated with a linear rush of power and continued to push hard right up to its rev limiter. Throttle response was lively and free of any fuelling issues as the engine quickly built revs from down low where it already had a substantial amount of thrust. It would be ridiculous to claim that the sound emanating from the Factory’s exhaust was worth the price of the bike alone, but it would be true. Unlike anything else that can be heard on the street or track, the baritone rumble from the exhaust literally raised the hair on my arm, and that’s just while it was idling.
The Factory uses the latest Marelli ECU to interpret a rider’s demands via a ride-by-wire system. Without a direct connection between the rider and the throttle, manufacturers are free to introduce a variety of engine controls to the mix. One of those is selectable power modes, which on the Factory are controlled from the handlebar and allow the engine’s characteristics to be tailored to varying riding conditions. Tamest of the three modes is Road (or Rain as I prefer to describe it), which reduces peak power to 140 hp, roughly a 25 percent decrease across the entire rev range. Sport mode allows full power but softens its delivery while in first to third gears. For those ready and able for the full wallop, Track mode lets it all hang out. Switching between the modes had an appreciable effect on the bike’s performance and worked as advertised; however, because the V-4 is so tractable, even with the bike in Track mode while on a cold track with fresh tires, it was extremely manageable.
Similar to the Yamaha R1, Aprilia uses variable-length velocity stacks on the Factory. Ranging between 230 and 265 mm in length, the stacks directly influenced the engine’s power characteristics. At low revs the stacks were at their maximum length to smooth power delivery and generate more torque. As revs increased the upper half of the stacks lifted away and generated more peak power from the engine. Their operation was transparent and didn’t cause any discernable transition point in the power delivery.
Of direct benefit for serious track day riders and racers alike is the cassette-type gearbox that allows for the quick changes of gear ratios. The six-speeds that come with the bike are well suited for both street and track riding and have a light action with positive engagements in every riding situation. Another nod toward performance enthusiasts is the mechanical slipper clutch that prevents rear wheel lock-ups during aggressive down gearing.
The chassis is one of the highlights of the Factory’s design, not only in its function, but because of its almost infinite range of adjustability. Rider’s have the option of changing the bike’s geometry by altering the inclination of the headstock and rake, the height of the swingarm pivot point, the height of the rear end and even the positioning of the engine in the frame. Claimed to be the most adjustable production motorcycle available, inexperienced and aspiring tuners should be cautious; haphazard changes to a bike’s geometry can quickly transform superb handling into an uncontrollable machine.
The light 10 kilogram aluminum frame is said to be stiffer than the RSV1000R’s and its torsional stiffness has been tuned to handle the increase in power while improving feel. Pushed hard on the track the chassis was wonderfully dynamic and appeared to coil in anticipation of the corner exit where the built-up energy released and helped to launch the bike out of the turn.
Similar to the myriad options available to tune the chassis, it would take a lot more than a single day at the track to discover the full potential of the Aprilia’s suspension. One of the distinguishing differences between the Factory and the available base RSV4 is the use of Öhlins suspension components. The fully adjustable 43 mm inverted fork uses a titanium nitride coating to reduce friction. At the rear a nitrogen-filled shock incorporates a piggy-back reservoir and also allows full adjustment, including its length, which is how the rear height is altered. Complementing the Öhlins package is an adjustable steering damper that kept the often lightened front wheel from wagging back and forth.
The quality of the suspension was made evident when I overshot my braking marker and fired into a turn far too fast, my cheeks clenched in anticipation of the worst. While still trying to scrub off speed and leaning ever further, I then managed to hit a bump mid-turn that I had been avoiding all morning. It should have been game over. Incredibly the front end didn’t tuck; not only did the suspension handle the potentially catastrophic moment with aplomb, but the Aprilia continued tracking through the turn unfazed by my blunder.
Had I hit my braking marker, the Factory’s ferocious brakes would have easily slowed the bike. Braking duties are handled at the front by high-end Brembo monobloc radial callipers powered by a radial pump that provides exemplary feel at the lever. The rear brake, also a Brembo, is a two-piston unit controlled by a race-type pump with an integrated oil reservoir. Combined, their performance required all my leg strength compressing the tank to keep me in the seat, and despite the tight course I was using with its numerous closely-spaced braking zones, the brakes didn’t show any sign of fade.
Missing from the braking package is a sport ABS system. It’s a small complaint, but the technology now offered by several other manufacturers is a proven bonus on the track for both weekend warrior and ham-fisted journalist alike.
Instrumentation on a performance motorcycle, more than any other, has to be easy to read at a glance. The Factory uses a combination of an analogue tachometer with a large LCD and a number of warning lamps that include a programmable shift light. The LCD is legible once you’ve had time to familiarize yourself with the location of everything it can display; along with all the usual functions of a motorcycle, there is also a gear indicator, the selected power mode, and a lap timer with a built-in memory. Scrolling through the LCD’s various functions is easily performed by its respective toggle switch on the left handlebar.
Naturally this engineering goodness comes at a price. Not for the faint of heart or weak of wallet, the RSV4 Factory in Racing Black has an MSRP of $25,495. The good news for prospective buyers is that there are some healthy sales incentives in place for remaining 2010 models including the Factory. For 2011, the Factory is superseded by the Factory Special Edition. Although it costs an additional $1,000, it features Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC), improved engine lubrication, closer ratio gearing, a lighter exhaust system and new dual-compound Pirelli tires. The APRC package includes: Aprilia Traction Control (ATC), Aprilia Wheelie Control (AWC), Aprilia Launch Control (ALC), and Aprilia Quick Shift (AQS).
I had a hard time identifying weaknesses with the Factory. The few shortcomings it does have when compared to the competition have already been addressed by Aprilia with the 2011 Factory Special Edition. One thing is certain: unless you plan on becoming intimate with this motorcycle on a closed race course, there would be little point in buying one. Anyone who limits this motorcycle to the street would be robbing themselves of discovering its true potential.
While other sport bikes are coldly efficient in the way they achieve high levels of performance, the Aprilia does so with an abundance of passion. The Factory is an emotionally involving ride that appeals to a rider’s primal instincts, hardly a surprise given that it’s a product of the Latin temperament. However, how Aprilia managed to build a superbike that is easy to ride yet snarls and snaps like a rabid animal as you lap the track, remains a mystery to me. As reigning SBK Champions they certainly don’t need to make any excuses for its behaviour; after all, this really is a race bike with headlights, turn signals and a licence plate holder.
2010 Aprilia RSV4 Factory - Specs
|Engine Type||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, 65 degree V4|
|Power (manufacturer)||132.4 kW (178 hp) at 12,500 rpm|
|Torque (manufacturer)||115 Nm (84.8 lb-ft) at 10,000 rpm|
|Bore and Stroke||78 x 52.3 mm|
|Fuel Delivery||Fuel injection with 48 mm throttle bodies|
|Final Drive Type||Chain|
|Front Suspension||43 mm inverted Öhlins fork with adjustable preload, and compression and rebound damping|
|Rear Suspension||Single Öhlins shock with adjustable preload, wheelbase, and compression and rebound damping|
|Wheel Travel||120 mm front; 130 mm rear|
|Brakes||Front: Two 320 mm floating discs with Brembo monobloc radial four-piston calipers Rear: One 220 mm disc with Brembo two-piston caliper|
|Wheelbase||1,420 mm (55.9 in.)|
|Rake and Trail||24.5 degrees/105 mm|
|Tires||120/70 – 17 front; 190/55 – 17 rear|
|Weight (dry)||179 kg (395 lb)|
|Seat Height||845 mm (33.2 in.)|
|Fuel Capacity||17 L|