How could this possibly be fair? As we found out, the Ducati 999S is good, but the Aprilia and $11,599 Honda aren’t conceding much. And this is a street test: prison rules, if you will. Honda and Aprilia have a few tricks up their sleeve. Might this be the upset of the century? If Aprilia and Honda have anything to say about it, this street portion of the test will not be pretty. It is a street fight after all, anything goes.
This threesome is aesthetically and characteristically as different as Twins could possibly be. The Aprilia emerges from the shadows cloaked in a dark black shroud with flashes of bright orange and cool blue wheels. The once rotund-looking Mille has slimmed down in ’04. The Mille Factory a step up from the $13,999 standard Mille R with upgraded O–hlins suspension is the epitome of Italian exclusivity and, with its chiseled graceful angular lines, it offers quite an attitude.
Beneath the stealthy bad-ass looks lies a 998cc liquid-cooled 60-degree V-Twin engine with a bore and stroke of 97mm x 67.5mm and an 11.8:1 compression ratio; all of which are the same as the ’03 version. However new performance goodies on the 2004 model are plentiful, including new cams, valve springs, and 57mm throttle bodies (which are 6mm larger than last year’s version). Inside the engine the cylinder heads have been revamped for better efficiency and now utilize just one plug per cylinder instead of the dual-plug arrangement of the past.
Aprilia’s PR machine also lists a virtual library of changes to the air intake system which would require a factory mechanic to translate. Suffice to say, Aprilia made dramatic improvements on the Mille for ’04 and it all translates into an ultra-aggressive powerplant.
Throwing a leg over the Mille and taking it for a jaunt through sinuous roads is like trying to walk the Tazmanian Devil on a leash. Twist the throttle and the Twin leaps into action chewing up pavement at a stunning rate. It has a strong hit of the bottom, but it falls a bit flat from lean “jetting” during a 1000-rpm stretch from 5000-6000 rpm.
Creative Director, Brian Chamberlain, couldn’t keep the Mille’s front end down when we went testing on the street. Despite our pleas to keep it under control he feigned ignorance with claims that the front tire was filled with helium.
The ample torque offered by the Mille Factory is further brought forward because of its slightly abrupt throttle response. However, we weren’t put off by the on/off nature of the throttle, instead embracing the aggressive disposition of the Mille as an endearing quality of a bike that is designed to be a demon on the track.
- Excellent pull from bottom to top
- Best mid-corner stability
- Extremely hot
- Slow turn-in capabilities
The Mille’s low-end power was in stark contrast to that of the RC51. The 90-degree, 999cc V-Twin uses a larger bore of 100.0mm with a 63.6mm stroke and fires its intake charge with a 10.8:1 compression ratio. That larger bore and shorter stroke allow the Honda to stretch its legs at upper rpm ranges. Technologically speaking, the RC51 didn’t undergo any significant changes for 2004. What’s new are a set of Nicky Hayden championship graphics and a four-liter increase in fuel capacity.
Off idle, the RC51 feels rather mild, but as the revs climb so does the horsepower. Subsequently the Fiddy-One feels a little more docile while cruising within shouting distance of the mandated speed limit. Harley-like revs aren’t going to overwhelm an RC51 rider, but the fuse is lit once past 7000 rpm, and that’s when it gets nasty.