Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be riding a new 200-horsepower sport bike at a world-class track just days after my heroes competed there.
I watched in awe on Sunday as Marc Márquez battled Dani Pedrosa for half the race before putting the hammer down and winning his fifth in a row at Circuit of the Americas. I was at turn 19 when Maverick Viñales lost the front, skidded across turn 18, and dejectedly mounted a scooter heading back to the pits.
Now, it was time for me to attack the bumpy track my idols had trouble with all weekend. I studied the pros’ lines feverishly and watched onboard video before bed. Every night, I would have a dream of losing the front on one of the track’s many bumps. Somehow, come ride day, I wasn't nervous, because I was riding an old friend with new improvements.
2017 Aprilia RSV4: Refined, not redesigned
Both the RR and RF models of the 2017 Aprilia RSV4 haven't been completely redesigned as much as they have been refined with upgrades to the electronics and a few other components.
The biggest upgrade, besides the new electronics suite (more on that shortly), would be the braking components on both models. The front steel discs have been thickened to 5 mm and are now 330 mm in diameter. The Brembo calipers have now been upgraded to the top-of-the-line M50 monoblocs instead of the slightly downgraded M430 monoblocs of 2016. All the braking upgrades are directly aimed at improvements on the race track.
Along with the RSV4 models, Aprilia also let me ride the 2017 Tuono V4 1100 RR and V4 1100 Factory. Both Tuono models also get a radial front brake master cylinder and the same M50s (and 330 mm discs) as the RSV4s, where the 2016 model didn't even have a monobloc caliper.
Related to the upgraded electronics is the Bosch cornering ABS that is now implemented on all models to keep up with the competition. It monitors lean angle and other parameters to adjust the anti-lock braking. ABS can be set at three levels of intervention or turned off.
The two main differences between the RSV4 models are the suspension and wheels. The RF gets the premium Öhlins suspension package. The fork now has the latest Nix unit and the shock is kitted with the latest TTX with a new progressive linkage to address pump issues on previous models. The RR gets a Sachs suspension. The RF rolls on forged aluminum alloy wheels while the RR wears cast aluminum alloy wheels.
Though the engine and exhaust now meet Euro4 emissions regulations, Aprilia has assured that performance and power have not been compromised. Power and torque numbers are reported at 201 horsepower at 13,000 rpm at the crank and 85 foot-pounds at 10,500 rpm, respectively. The new ECU now allows redline 300 rpm higher.
The new TFT display is very easy on the eyes. Throttle percentage, brake pressures and roll (read: lean angle) are displayed on both the street and race screen formats. Perfect for reviewing your onboard footage from a day at the track or in the canyons.
Probably the main change, however, is the fourth generation of Aprilia’s APRC (Aprilia Performance Ride Control) electronics suite. This includes quite capable traction control and, as with the previous years, TC is adjustable on the fly.
In addition to the cornering ABS mentioned above, new for 2017 are clutchless downshifts (in addition to upshifts) and on-the-fly wheelie control adjustment. There’s also rear-wheel-lift mitigation, launch control with three settings and a pit lane speed limiter. Not everything is about performance, though. Aprilia also now includes cruise control. A joystick has been added to the left controls to make navigation of all these features on the TFT display a walk in the park.
Aprilia has set MSRP in the United States at $16,999 for the RR and $22,999 for the RF.
Testing the RSV4
One of the stories at this year’s MotoGP Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas was the new bumpiness of the track, caused by the car racing that takes place at COTA. I’m thankful I started the day at COTA testing the RSV4 RR before I mounted the RF because it gave me a better idea of where those bumps were hiding. The RR’s Sachs suspension is very good, but it couldn’t hide the bumps like the Öhlins kit on the RF, which felt so much smoother.
Our day was scheduled into 15-minute track sessions and 15-minute rest breaks and I only had three sessions on the RR. Fortunately, the familiar geometry from the 2016 models made it easier for me to learn the circuit and allowed me to flick the bike from side to side through the snaking section of turns three through 10 with minimal effort, compared to other superbikes. Then it was time to time to mount the RF.
We were allowed to start feeling out the different levels of traction control, wheelie control, and power maps. I started the day with TC at level four, the middle setting. I ended up keeping TC at level one, the least intervention of the eight levels, while riding the RF. I can report that the electronic intervention is very smooth.
Though not new, it’s worth mentioning that the RSV4 comes with three power maps: Sport, Track and Race. On the track, I tried the latter two. Full power is delivered to the rear coming out of corners in Race mode. This, in turn, wears your tires much faster. I would recommend using Track mode if you are just having fun at a track day, and/or have a limited budget for tires, like most of us. On the other hand, I appreciated the minimal engine braking in Race mode, which allowed me to flow much more smoothly through the tricky turn two through 10 section.
The three-quarter-mile back straight of COTA was a perfect section to test the smoothness of the clutchless shifting APRC feature. Quick shifting through all six gears as I hit 173 mph along the surprisingly bumpy (read: battering) straight induced ear-to-ear grins every lap as the V4 screamed until I popped out of the bubble for my brake marker. Meanwhile, the clutchless downshift ability receives top marks, as I never had an issue getting into each gear.
The Brembo braking system felt a bit softer at the lever than the kit I am used to on my BMW S 1000 RR. But don’t read that as a bad thing. The M50 calipers and thicker 330 mm rotors got me stopped in a hurry as I slammed down the gearbox to first gear for the turn 12 kink. I actually felt a little more feedback at the front with the softer lever feel.
I remember riding my superbike in 2012 and wondering how long it would take for development in electronics to make them unnoticeable at the throttle or lever. I would say we are nearly there, except for ABS. Lever pushback used to be a real thing a few years ago, even at a minimal intervention level. I honestly, however, can't remember feeling any pulsating at the lever except for deep trail braking, when the Bosch cornering ABS was keeping me safe from tucking the front. I was very happy with ABS at level one (the least intervention). Paired with the rear wheel lift mitigation, the bike stayed straight despite my efforts to back her in.
We happened to be riding on the track on a Wednesday, and if you know anything about me, you know I love photogs and #wheeliewednesday. As soon as I found where the cameras were, I utilized the on-the-fly wheelie control. Turning the feature off allowed me to show off how powerful that 65-degree V4 was out of the corners by getting the front heading north as much as I wanted. I did such a good job of keeping the front in the air, Miguel Galluzzi (designer of the RSV4 and Tuono) decided to post a video on his Instagram.
Reduced exhaust sound is supposed to be part of the Euro4 regulations. I'm not sure if Aprilia made a deal with the devil, but I really didn't notice any silencing factor! I have some advice if you are able to demo or buy a model: Squish your earbuds in, get the bike on the track or highway, rip open the throttle, and enjoy what I can only describe as the most barbaric sounding grunt as you are blasted into triple digits in mere seconds (better roll off at 65 if on public roads).
So much to test, so little track time
There are so many features on the Aprilia’s superbikes that I could not test everything thoroughly. I tried the pit lane speed limiter feature. You can easily set the speed limit via the menu, but I have to report a jolting action from the bike as it lunged forward and then cut throttle to maintain speed. I didn't get to try, but I'm hoping that was only a characteristic in first gear and second gear would be smoother.
The condensed track format didn't leave us with much time except to catch our breath and hydrate. I would really love to take the RSV4 to the track and try the V4-MP multimedia platform, which is standard on the RF and an option on the RR. The feature allows you to pair your smartphone with the ECU to give you a myriad of functions. Select a track and you can choose turn-by-turn settings for TC, engine mapping, etc. You can review your telemetry and even see a video-game-style playback of your lap. This enthralling technology may make you give up your smartphone games.
While I also had the chance to ride the Tuono VR 1100 RR (MSRP: $14,999) and VR 1100 Factory ($17,499), I focused on the RSV4 that we haven’t covered here before. If you’re thinking about the Tuono, my advice is to fork over the extra $2,500 to get the full Öhlins suspension, tidier looking tail section, and much sexier livery. The one-piece seat of the Tuono RR, for both rider and passenger, felt much softer. I found myself having to lift my body higher than usual to transition from side to side. That’s good for commuting, not so much for shredding through consecutive turns. As with the previous generations, the Factory comes with both a tiny passenger seat or a cowl if you want the solo-seat look. Aprilia also provides some plugs to keep the tail section look looking flush if you remove the pillion pegs.
In regards to the RSV4, I'd keep it simple with an expression from Wall Street: Buy now!
It doesn't matter if you're considering either model. Both are amazing machines built for a specific purpose. No, they’re not going to be comfy for the freeway ride to the canyons or track. But once you're getting your lean on, there's really no better high-performance street-legal package you can buy straight from the dealership.