Aprilia’s WSB bike with a tax disc takes on all 2009 test winners to find the UK’s ultimate sports machine By Adam Child
Our UK introduction to the RSV4 Factory is typically British: rain, wind and cold. With 320km up the A1 and M62 to Heysham for the ferry ahead of us, I’m chomping at the bit to get on the new Aprilia despite having already ridden 90 miles to the office on my R1.
The immediate impression is of its supermodel looks, closely followed by its physical dimensions – the RSV4 Factory is tiny, almost 600-like. Even for me, at 5’7”, it feels small.
On board, the pegs are high, the seat firm and there’s very little suspension travel; however, after 130km of the A1 I’m not complaining – it’s not that bad.
Yeah, the screen is low and taller riders may have a problem but it is, after all, a sports bike and not a Goldwing. Even the mirrors are just about acceptable, while the multi-functional clocks are the best in their class – like most Aprilias there’s a mode button on the left-hand bar which lets you scroll through them.
In fact, nobody really complains about its comfort – the small tank range of just over 160km being the only real criticism. That said, over long distance all the others are better, even the 675.
By comparison the RC8R is a sofa – its pegs are low, the screen is acceptable, its mirrors are good and even the seat is plush for a sports bike; as fellow tester Kev Smith put it: ‘I could ride this all day’. Shame the clocks are poor and it’s a little vibey compared to the rest.
By the M62, with the Steam Packet ferry not too far away, I’m back on the R1. Having done 4800km in the last month, I know how good it is for covering distance. The fairing is wide at the front and offers good wind protection, the mirrors are fine and the engine is hardly working at 160km/h and 7000rpm.
KTM is the cool, comfort king
To my surprise I’m wishing I was on the 675. During MCN’s 600 group test earlier this year it was the bike everyone fought to ride for long journeys, and even in this company it excels – only the RC8R gets more comfort votes.
OK, so the 675’s motor is revving higher, but there is little or no vibration – unlike the RC8R. Later on I do a 320km stint on the Triumph two-up with a tankbag fitted and it’s fine. The 675 could well be the dark horse here.
Despite the cold weather, we’re like excitable children hopped up on Ribena as we ride onto the famous ferry, and even more excitable riding off. This is it: the toughest road test environment in the world – and it doesn’t start well for the KTM.
We head up to the top of Bray Hill for a gentle lap to let the Isle of Man virgins savour their first Mountain experience and the RC8R stalls twice at the lights at the top near the petrol station. The fuelling at low revs is far from perfect – it’s really snatchy, and every one of us stalls it at some stage. As such, Ramsey Hairpin and Parliament Square is a pain on the RC8 in the busy traffic.
RC8R is best on smoother sections
Respect to the King of the Mountain
For all you TT visitors, be warned – speed camera and CCTV live here
Yet again it’s the Triumph which surprises – I’d forgotten just what a great bike it is. Perfect fuelling, easy and light around town and simple to ride, yet with such proven sporting potential. The next day our brave pillion Frankie – who had never ridden anything bigger than a 400 – takes the Triumph for a spin and can’t believe how smooth and easy it is to ride.
Though she draws the line at trying the R1, she would have had no problem. Considering how much bhp there is available to your right wrist, it’s a pussycat around town. At low speeds the riding position forces a lot of weight on your wrists and when the ambient air temperatute is high the frame and engine give off tremendous heat. But those are our only real complaints.
RSV4 lacks the R1’s reactions
In previous tests we’ve had fuelling issues with RSV4 Factorys at low speeds, but this bike was fine. The fuelling isn’t as slick as the Triumph’s or R1’s but it feels far better than the KTM.
However, when we take it over the Mountain part of the circuit later on we discover there’s a noticeable glitch in the power curve higher up in the rev range. At 6500rpm it seems hesitant, then it takes off and at 10,000rpm it goes beserk – it makes the Aprilia feel aggressive and hard to ride compared to the others. There also appears to be a slight hesitation when you wind on full throttle, as if the fly-by-wire system takes too long to react to the throttle position (Aprilia is investigating). But once you unleash the V4, boy does it want to party.
ISLE OF MAN
If you’ve never been to the Isle of Man you are missing one of the greatest motorcycling experiences anywhere on the planet.
The island is a motorcycling paradise, both on and off road, at any time of year with the only unrestricted roads in the UK. But during TT fortnight it’s much more. Not only do the road racing gods take over, there’s also masses of activity and entertainment – from stunt shows to classic jamborees – to suit every taste. There’s nothing else like it for any motorcycle racing fan and there’s even still time to get there to make your pilgrimage this year… Go to www.iomtt.com
Flying over the Mountain, tucked into the bike like I’m on a 250, it gives me one of those moments I’ll remember forever – the V4 singing its intoxicating tune, 240km/h on the clocks, fenceposts passing sideways in a blur and the TT course unwinding ahead of me.
The R1 and KTM aren’t far behind – in fact in terms of outright speed there’s very little in it – but the Aprilia feels the quickest. Its aggression, tiny dimensions and firm set-up give it a phenomenal sensation of speed. The Ohlins multi-adjustable steering damper controlling the odd shake from the bars over bumps just adds to the pure racing feel. As we found out later the RSV4 Factory is actually significantly quicker than its rivals, clocking a mind-bending 303km/h – 10km/h faster than the R1 and nearly 50km/h more than the 675!
This is where the 675 suffers
When the going gets this fast, the Triumph obviously suffers. It’s quick, but on the run up to Hailwoods Rise after the tram lines the poor 675 just can’t keep up with the brutally fast litre bikes. I thrash it mercilessly, and its blue change-up gear indicator lights seem to flash constantly, but there’s no hope: the others just pull away up the hill.
But it’s not all about outright speed. On the fast run down from Kate’s Cottage to Creg-Ny-Baa you need some serious brakes and a quality suspension set-up to get around the lovely right-hander quickly. The Triumph’s lightness is its advantage here, easily matching the bigger bikes for cornering speed.
All the bikes here are good on the brakes, but the Brembo radial set-up on the Aprilia is simply outstanding. These are race bike quality brakes. The KTM’s Brembos are powerful too, but the combination of grippy Diablo Supercorsa tyres and
factory-feeling Ohlins forks mean the Aprilia gives the most confidence under hard braking.
TT RACER’S ROAD VERDICT
TRIUMPH 675 DAYTONA
APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
CONNOR’S VERDICT – IF HE HAD TO RACE ONE AT THE TT:
1ST Yamaha R1
2nd Aprilia RSV4 Factory
3rd Triumph 675 Daytona
“The Yamaha is easier to ride than the Aprilia, a little quicker, stable and would save its tyres. The Triumph would be so much fun around the TT course however. The KTM is still a great bike, it’s just that the others are that bit more fun.”
CONNOR’S VERDICT – IF HE HAD TO BUY ONE:
“I’d still fork out that little extra and buy the Yamaha, but not the Aprilia. It’s too expensive, even though it is really good. The Triumph is a bargain.”
The RSV4 Factory also scores highly on the turn-in to corners. Again, it’s like a race bike in the way it flicks aggressively onto its side. The testers who haven’t raced lately take a while to get used to it, and the Aprilia makes the 675’s steering feel beautifully natural – it also makes the KTM feel long and lazy. The Yamaha turns fast, but after the twitchy Italian it feels planted.
As our confidence rises and speeds pick up, limits are approached – mostly ours, but also those of the Yamaha’s tyres. Why did Yamaha choose only average rubber for its flagship sports bike? The standard Dunlops aren’t as good as the Pirelli Supercorsas fitted to the other three bikes and if you push hard it’s noticeable – both Kev and I have front- end slides at the Gooseneck. The Dunlops are fine once warm – and 95% of the time you won’t have a problem – but such an amazing bike deserves equally amazing tyres. Grumble over.
Yamaha’s ideal road-focus
The R1 is set-up slightly softer than the Aprilia out of the dealership and this is a good thing – it was far more comfortable and easier to ride most of the time, and fine in the wet. But when we really pushed, the rear would squat under power and would give a little wallow. With time you can tweak this out to make the R1 a formidable track tool, but out of the crate the R1 is significantly more road-focused than the Aprilia.
At the end of the day there’s excited chatter about the outrageous performance of the litre-bikes. On the Isle of Man’s unrestricted roads they are truly astonishing, and it’s humbling to think how hard TT racers ride them. We went fast, but still felt as though we had only scraped the surface of the bikes’ potential.
The surprise is that instead of feeling short-changed by the Triumph because of its lower power and more ‘ordinary’ performance, we all end up raving about it. Its ease of use and screaming engine make it a joy to thrash, and it’s far less intimidating than the others. Howling across the mountain I feel like I’m really riding the 675, bouncing the gutsy triple off the rev limiter in fourth and fifth. The others are all so ‘oh-my-god’ quick that, frankly, I’m slightly scared by them.
When we get to the ferry for the return trip, the arguments are still raging. By this stage no-one is fighting the RC8’s corner – in isolation it’s a great bike, but it’s out-gunned in this company. The RSV4 Factory has won over our hearts and minds with its race-focussed aggression, and the R1 is possibly the most phenomenally-competent sports bike yet devised, but to everyone’s surprise the 675 is still there – a middleweight slugging it out with heavyweights.
We roll off the ferry and head home still undecided. Plenty of motorway time to ponder this one…
TRIUMPH DAYTONA 675
APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
AND TESTER SAYS…
“The Aprilia wasn’t half bad, but its vicious power delivery makes it very flighty. It might be painful for the pillion but a light pillion doesn’t really affect the R1. It’s a similar situation with the KTM, but that is a nightmare for the pillion, bordering on dangerous at high speeds.
‘IT’S THE RSV4 WE WANT MOST, YET IT DOESN’T WIN THE DAY…’
This is difficult, so let’s start with the easiest bit. The KTM is outclassed here, despite having the most powerful V-twin engine ever bolted into a road-going bike and being absurdly comfy for something so competent on track.
Yes, it’s dripping with quality components from the likes of Brembo, WP, and Marchesini but at Rs 11.7 lakh it’s seriously pricey, too. So if you want a V-twin that’s comfortable, easy to ride (apart from that fuelling glitch) and live with, but can still cut it on track, you’re not going to be disappointed with the RC8. If you want the best sports bike full stop, read on.
In many ways the Aprilia is the one we want most. For me, it’s head and shoulders above the others on looks, and the multi-adjustable chassis and engine just add to its exotic allure. If you were lucky enough to have one of these in your shed there’s a good chance you’d spend more time in there than in the house.
Then there’s the distinctive, howling V4 engine itself which goes berserk at 10,000rpm. If the looks fail to get your heart racing, that certainly will. The fact that it handles like a race bike on the road is a less clear advantage. It adds excitement, but does become wearing. And how much?! At Rs 11.7 lakh you have to look at it as a cheap Ducati Desmosedici rather than a competitor to standard sports bikes.
When pushed, none of our testers could say they’d actually spend their own money on an RSV4 Factory.
And so to the R1. Its standard tyres and looks are a disappointment, but those are the only negatives. Though nowhere near as exotic as the Aprilia, its mixture of astonishing performance and ability as everyday transport makes it incredibly appealing to those of us who can only justify owning one bike. The R1 came so, so close to winning this test.
But it didn’t. While the litre bikes were bludgeoning our brains out with their ludicrous amounts of power, the Triumph Daytona 675 charmed us with its mix of real-world ability, brilliant chassis, characterful engine and slick looks. It’s reasonably comfortable – you can tour with luggage two-up if needed – and it’s easy to ride. Yet at the same time it’s fun, exciting and can easily cut it on track. It only lagged behind the others when speeds passed the 210 km/h mark, but in reality how many times does this happen in your average month?
You could argue there’s not the pride of ownership you’d get from the KTM or Aprilia, and you certainly won’t have flocks of people around it like seagulls on spilled chips. But the Triumph is just over half the price of the RSV4 Factory, and was the bike that our testers would actually buy. In that regard it’s a deserving victor and so takes the title of MCN sports bike of the year.