The first time I rode Aprilia’s RSV4 1100 Factory, the circumstances were quite good. I was at the Mugello Circuit, in Tuscany, with perfect weather, and I burned around the mostly empty MotoGP track with my best childhood riding buddy. I even got to chase Max Biaggi for a few laps when he mistook me for an Italian TV announcer.
It was a day that could have been a dream, and I will cling to the memory as exactly that. My RevZilla colleague and aforementioned childhood friend, Ari Henning, documented that first experience on the RSV4 1100 in a first ride review article right here on Common Tread. For 2020, Aprilia has updated the RSV4 with an electronically adjustable fork and shock that utilizes semi-active damping technology, making the high-spec Ohlins suspenders more versatile. Aside from that it’s largely the same beast from last year — an angry halogen-triclops face, a TFT dash, oodles of rider aids, and perhaps the sweetest soundtrack in all of motorcycling via two banks of parallel-twin cylinders spread at 65 degrees.
So, if you want to know what it’s like to fire down the Mugello front straight at full chat on a 217-horsepower superbike, you’ll want to read Ari’s story. My task for this piece was less glorious, but arguably just as important: What’s it like to live with? To put a finer point on it: What if you got a little cocky driving your wife’s car in the parking garage underneath a Oaxacan restaurant trying to pick up a special Cinco de Mayo dinner and clapped the sideview mirror against a concrete post? Could you use it to do errands, while feeling a little sheepish? This is all hypothetical, obviously.
Riding to a junkyard
I found a “Pick-Your-Part” lot with a mirror in stock and pointed my Google Maps toward the wide and pale surface streets of Anaheim, California. Stoplight to stoplight, the RSV4 is actually pretty fun. Each and every time I accelerated away from an intersection I was ensconced in the velvety baritone of a World Superbike exiting pit lane. It’s a great sound, in part because there’s so much purpose behind it. The quickshifter helped, too, up or down, to make me feel like a WSBK racer. And to change gears, I suppose. Leaving from a stop is the worst part, because the RSV4 is geared for around 200 mph and the ratios in the transmission are fairly close — typical for high-performance motorcycles — which means first gear feels tall. The most satisfying sound and feeling in first gear is about 30 mph, so there’s usually a bit of clutch slippage and noisemaking. There’s plenty of torque to lug it, but, y’know, the noise. Even being one of the finest noises there is, I’ll admit to feeling a little silly from time to time.
Speaking of feeling silly, you know that awkward walking pace in an airport or crowded place when you get stuck behind someone moving slowly? If you’ve missed that sensation during this isolated, pandemic year then I suggest riding an Aprilia RSV4 1100 on a freeway. The RSV4 lopes along at between 4,000 and 5,000 rpm like a greyhound on a leash just wishing it could sprint. Aside from the melancholy in its exhaust note it works just fine. The TFT dash is starting to feel a little small and dated, and the joystick that controls the menus is a little fiddly for use with gloves or 200 horsepower or both. There’s cruise control, though, and once you learn the secret handshake it's a nice feature to have, especially when a sneeze or a twitch of the wrist could mean accidentally doing the ton.
Should you catch a wild hair and want to punch it on purpose, the world will go a little blurry and everything will stretch backward like a Star Wars jump to hyperspace. A good way to experience the acceleration of an RSV4 if you can’t ride an RSV4 would be to ride a regular motorcycle and coordinate all of the cars on the highway pulling their emergency brakes at the same time. It’s exciting, in other words, but not really recommended.
If I was a little out of place in the junkyard parking lot, nobody made me feel awkward except myself. I couldn’t find the entrance and ended up doing a few U-turns, normally a mortal enemy of a superbike. The RSV4’s steering lock is limited, and it’s hard to see where you need to go on account of the clip-ons and seat being approximately the same height. But, at least all of my upper body weight was on my wrists, where it belongs. It was the precision of the machine that saved me here. Despite having to slip the clutch, fighting the ergonomics, and getting wafted with heat from a radiator the size of Rhode Island at low tide, my U-turns were drama-free. The fueling is clean and predictable, the clutch is communicative, and the chassis is balanced — it’s objectively terrible for riding in a parking lot, and yet it’s still fairly easy to use.
As it happened I subsequently rode through two more junkyard parking lots in search of what is apparently an increasingly rare piece of a Toyota. I pondered the obvious allegory of needing a mirror to repair a potential marital chagrin, and saddled up for my ride home across the section of Long Beach, California adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles. More than 340,000 containers of auto parts arrived at the Port of LA in 2019, according to the internet. Not enough sideview mirrors, as far as I’m concerned, but the point is the roads are awful. Smeared with byproducts, rutted and potholed from truck traffic that flows on a scale difficult to comprehend. It seemed like an opportune time to switch from the stiffer of three dynamic suspension modes to the softest, labeled “A3” on the bike’s dash.
That’s A for “automatic,” meaning the Ohlins suspension’s damping settings adjust as you ride, similar to systems on other superbikes and ADVs. There are three auto settings and three “manual” settings, where you can use the dash to adjust the suspension and it will remain in that static setting while rolling. Auto seemed like the ticket for the choppiest asphalt I could find, and it did loosen up the RSV4’s taut chassis a little. The settings don’t adjust spring preload, and being a nearly 500-pound machine tuned for a racetrack means the bike is going to be stiff no matter how the damping is tuned. It does not, in my opinion, have the same sweeping effect that I noticed on the Ducati Streetfighter V4 or (especially) Honda Africa Twin 1100. And that makes sense, since those bikes are meant to be a little more versatile.
Then again, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more day-to-day engineering in the RSV4. Cruise control is a great step, and I say there might as well be more of that. For example, the three throttle maps are designated Sport, Track, and Race. I basically interpret that as Fast, Faster, and Fastest which, again, makes sense considering what the bike was made to do. I’m just saying, if I found a use for a super relaxed throttle and suspension mode maybe others would, too. Aprilia could call it “Pit Lane.” That’s on brand, and would keep the cool factor high even if you weren’t in the mood to tear a hole in time and space. There’s already a Pit-Lane limiter button, though, which can be held down to keep the bike’s speed at a constant of whatever velocity you choose in the menu. I guess I need a new name for my lazy mode. Maybe motorcycle design is harder than I thought.
Mirror mirror, on the wall
When I bought my very first street bike I had a plan: get a 450 cc dual-sport with lights and then buy 17-inch supermoto rims, so that I would have a dirt bike for riding in rural Vermont trails and a street bike for rural Vermont roads. What could be better than two bikes in one? “Well,” said the guy selling me his used KTM 450 EXC, “riding this thing in the woods is gonna be like killing an ant with a sledgehammer.” I don’t remember his name but I think about that guy, and his turn of phrase, pretty often in the world of motorcycling — especially when it comes to 600-pound adventure-touring bikes or 200-horsepower track machines.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: None of us need an RSV4. Or any other fire-breathing track weapon. Hardly anyone is good enough to use its potential on the track, and on the street it’s pretty much just the wrong tool for the job. More effort and power than you need to kill the metaphorical ant. Realistically, you'll be lucky to find an on ramp long enough to hear it sing for a fleeting moment before you simply have to screw your head on straight. But man, that fleeting moment is glorious. Just about enough harmonic thunder to make you forget you’re returning home, mirrorless, and dream that you’re chasing Massimiliano out of Arrabbiata 2, bathed in afternoon sun.