Ten years sounds like a long time. But it really seems to have flown by, if you think back to the launch of the first Aprilia RSV4. When the first version debuted it at parent-company Piaggio’s Milan convention in early 2008, there was one goal — to win the World Superbike championship. So even with the obvious styling clues aside, there’s no mistaking that the flagship RSV4 is actually a racebike. You know, a real racebike — aggressive, intimidating and incredibly fast. Adapted for the street, the new 1,100cc engine actually exceeds the maximum 1,000cc size allowed for competitive MotoGP, and while I’m not going to pretend to know everything there is about racing on a track, I decided to find out how this bike does during an early morning commute instead!
At first glance, it’s utterly gorgeous, from every angle. There’s always been something about Italian engineering and this machine doesn’t even try to be subtle about it. The eye catching paint scheme (let’s call it livery) just oozes style and the air-efficient bodywork is closer to a fighter plane than a motorcycle. Even the new winglets on the fairing are a nice touch, and is meant to add bona fide GP aerodynamics. Strange then, that Aprilia only offers the front brake cooling ducts (not fitted to our test model) as a fairly inexpensive optional extra. If I had to nit-pick here I might mention the headlights too, which are both still old-school halogens and not the usual Xenon or LED as expected industry standard nowadays.
Sliding into the seat gives you a clear view of the crisp digital TFT instrument display, and hand controls are well within reach. Essential stats like speed, revs, gear position and temperature on the cluster are easy to spot at a glance, but the smaller status symbols might take some getting used to. Let’s remember this is still an Italian Superbike, so initial riding position is cramped for my 6’ frame. With your legs tucked behind, a lot of bodyweight ends up supported by your arms. Luckily this improves even with moderate speed, as the wind pressure on your chest takes the weight off your wrists and it’s something you get used to on this style of bike rather quickly. Cornering seems precise and predictable, making it very easy to hold or adjust your line mid-bend. It’s not a stretch to say it feels like it’s running on rails.
Braking happens courtesy of huge Brembo’s front and rear using the new ‘Stylema’ calipers, and needed no help in slowing things down. Initial bite is not as hard as expected, but that’s a good thing as brake force is easier to control and feather across the lever. ABS is fitted as standard with a choice of three settings which on my setting ‘1’ intervened only when absolutely necessary. There is in fact a whole smattering of electronic wizardry built into the RSV4, and it’s reassuring to know that with almost 200 horses at the rear wheel, there are a few safety nets in place to help you avoid making rookie mistakes, or launching yourself into outer space. There’s Traction Control, adjustable on the fly (without having to release the throttle) to eight settings thanks to a practical joystick on the left side of the handlebar. Performance behaviour can be tweaked anywhere from Street to Race via the start button on the right and also Launch Control, the assisted starting system for use on the track which offers three settings. I didn’t try this one, but Dubai police would be happy to know there is an electronic Wheelie Control, to help keep the front wheel down — again adjustable to three settings. Lastly, the added benefit of Cruise control helps save your wrists during longer trips.
On the transmission side there is a Quick Shift electronic gearbox for ultra-fast shifting without closing the throttle or using the clutch. I’m sure they had the track in mind for this but also helps on days when your’e just out cruising and feeling lazy.
The soundtrack of the RSV4 is simply stunning. I’m not sure who’s idea it was to fit a titanium Akrapović racing exhaust with electronic ports as standard, but twisting the throttle sure puts a huge grin on your face. One element that has so far escaped any electronic fiddling is the suspension, which remains fully manual adjustable Ohlins units front and rear, the premium stuff. And that suits me just fine! Damping on a race bike is never going to be comfortably plush, but somehow this setup is both reassuringly firm yet very compliant over bigger bumps, even without me spending any time to set it up for my particular weight. It all makes for a very confidence inspiring ride. Speaking of adjustability, this bike follows it’s predecessor in offering the most setup options of any production motorcycle. Engine mountings (for center of gravity tweaks), steering geometry and even swingarm position can all be dialled in to suit a particular rider or track perfectly. For today though, just riding it on the street is an absolute joy. It doesn’t like to sit in traffic however and engine temps will creep up pretty quick when the going gets slow. Luckily Aprilia has avoided putting exhuast headers right under your seat and the side mounted muffler has been acceptable in this regard.
It really is a track bike that feels good on the road. All things considered, if you are a spirited sportbike rider seeking a rare, exotic and exhilarating machine, you may not have to look any further than the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory.