Our friend Michael Neeves from Motorcycle News UK got an early go on the ultra-compact Aprilia RSV4 superbike.
Not even grey skies, rain and a sodden Misano race track can dampen MCN’s excitement for Aprilia’s new £14,999 RSV4 Factory. We’ve waited a long time to ride the Italian firm’s dazzling new V4 superbike, which cost 25 million Euros and three and a half years to develop, but it’s been worth it.
We’ll have to wait a little longer to ride it in anger in the dry, but even in soaking conditions, it’s clear this is shaping up to be one of the best superbikes ever built.
A slightly damp Senior road tester, Michael Neeves, tells us the five reasons why:
V4 Power Delivery
Riding in the wet is something usually to be tolerated rather than enjoyed, but I loved every drenched, visor-steamed moment on the RSV4 Factory in the rain at Misano, which makes slippery Donington look grippy in the wet. When the chequered flag came out to signal the end of each of our riding sessions I could’ve cried.
The Pirelli racing wets had a lot to do with this, as did the softened Ohlins suspension to suit the conditions, and the beautifully responsive chassis. But the main reason I was having so much fun is down to Aprilia’s new 999.6cc 65-degree V4 engine, the jewel in the RSV4’s crown.
Six-foot tall Neeves just manages to squeeze on the tiny RSV4. Smaller riders fit, and look, better.
The V4 Aprilia is as friendly and easy to ride in the conditions as a Suzuki SV650, but with the straight line speed a FireBlade would be proud of.
With the medium of the three engine maps selected, getting on the throttle out of a corner and feeling for grip in the wet is easy. I’m not tensing up, waiting for a big bang of power to come crashing in like with a conventional Inline-Four or big, brutal V-Twin. Everything seems to happen in slow motion, thanks to the RSV4’s linear torque curve and seemingly lazy power delivery.
Off the throttle it’s the same story. Pile into a slippery turn, bang down through the gears and the RSV4’s slipper clutch removes most of the engine braking and prevents rear wheel lock-up on all but the most slippery sections.
Along the straights the Aprilia’s equally impressive. With the throttle pinned to the stop, power just builds and builds. Sophisticated electronics silently monitor everything to perfection: a flutter of exhausts valves, fuel injection squirts, fly-by-wire inputs and variable-length inlet trumpets all work with the magical V4 layout, so there are no big steps in power. What you get is seamless speed, a hardening engine note and increasing pull on your arms, stomach muscles and neck as you hang on under acceleration all the way until the power drops off at 12,500rpm.
Short-shifting is the best way to get a move on in the rain. Using the motor’s deep well of mid-range torque, it’s flexible enough to use a gear higher through the corners or to change up along the straights around 9-10,000rpm instead of the redline. It gives the rear tire an easier time and still lets you turn in serious speed. The gearbox also works better under less load. The changes are quite slow using full throttle and is crying out for a quick-shifter.
The chassis and suspension has so much feel you can open the throttle hard and the Aprilia RSV4 digs in and flies around bends.
There’s lots of low-down grunt, a fat midrange and a storming top end, a fantastic mix of big twin and Inline-Four. Now where have we heard that before lately? Yep, it’s a lot like the new cross plane crank R1 in that it has usable power everywhere. It’s deep, growling engine note is similar, too. But unlike the Yamaha, the engine is far more compact, which allows the RSV4 to be smaller and more agile.
The V4 motor is so linear and smooth. As WSB rider Shinja Nakano told me: “It doesn’t feel fast, but the speed is there.” It is deceptive and it’s only when a corner rushes up and it’s time to brake you realise how damn quick you’re going.
With a claimed 180bhp at the crank, I reckon it’ll make around 150-155bhp at the rear wheel when we get to dyno it. That’s a bit down on the best of the Inline-Four superbikes, but as the new R1 has recently taught us, it’s not how much power you have, but how you use it.
It’s the Complete Package
The RSV4’s motor is powerful and flexible – but it’s physically small, too (around 175mm narrower than an Inline-Four) and that allows the RSV4 to be extremely compact. What’s more, it all works as one, Swiss Watch-like, a tightly-packed, harmonious package between engine and chassis.
Considering the conditions, there’s not much I can tell you about the RSV4’s handling other than there’s lots of feel transmitted through the chassis. The Ohlins forks and rear shock have a superb range of adjustment and today are softened off to give lots of movement in the rain for feel, and they still give the support needed for relatively hard braking and acceleration.
With its MotoGP-style short engine/long swingarm layout, rear tire grip is maximised and it’s the same trick now being used on the new GSX-R1000 K9 and Fireblade.
The riding position is very racy, with low bars and high pegs, but with plenty of room to move back and forth on the seat, there’s little sensation of bulk on the move. It feels short, like a supersport 400 and there’s no lazy weight transfer on and off the throttle like a typically big litre bike. Side to side, the RSV4 is incredibly agile.
The ‘sport’ map allows you to ride the RSV4’s seamless mid-range torque rather than hold onto risky revs in the wet.
Variable Engine Maps
Life wouldn’t have been quite as rosy in the wet if it wasn’t for the RSV4’s choice of three engine maps. I used the ‘sport’ map for most of the riding sessions, as it lops off 25% of the V4’s torque in the first three gears, making it friendlier getting on the gas out of corners. In the high gears you still get full-fat power to play with.
I also tried the ‘road’ map, which gives you around 140bhp and very soft power, enough for it to be possible to hold the throttle wide open for more of the time, although it wasn’t powerful enough to get down the longer straights quick enough. I didn’t try the full-fat ‘track’ map with full power and torque in the first three gears, as there’s more than enough power there already in ‘sport’ mode in the wet. I didn’t want to join the eight or so fellow journos who tasted wet Misano tarmac during the launch, either. One even fell off following the camera car, so dodgy were the conditions. We’ll wait for a dry test to sample full power in the lower gears.
This back straight section allowed Neeves to give the RSV4 full throttle for a few seconds, pushing him right back in his seat and unleashing the roar of the V4.
The roar of a V4 superbike is a rare thing on our roads, but get used to it because the Aprilia is coming and it sounds spectacular. The RSV4’s racket is distinctive Aprilia and is remarkably similar to the RSV twin, but with a howling, dirty metallic MotoGP V4 overtone. God, I want an RSV4!
Ogling the RSV4 in pitlane I wasn’t sure if I’d wet myself or if the rain had finally soaked through my leathers. It is beautiful. It’s not shiny and blinged out like a Ducati.It’s more subtle, like a factory MotoGP bike. The styling is gorgeous, especially the Batmobile tail unit (a pillion seat and pegs are an optional extra, but don’t bother, I’ve seen bigger bird tables); the compactness awe-inspiring; the attention to detail absolute.
According to Aprilia, as it was built as a race bike first and foremost, it’s easy to take apart, too, which makes the guys and girls on the Aprilia production line in Noale happy. To take the engine out there’s just one electrical connector to unclip, despite the host of electronics on-board.