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2002 Aprilia Mille R Comparison

Monday, November 11, 2002
2002 Ducati 998 vs. Aprilia Mille R
Ground clearance was never an issue on either bike. The Mille's gargantuan muffler is suitably tucked in, and if you touch down the 998's exhaust, you've just crashed.
Experience in World Superbike competition has resulted in revisions to the Mille's chassis geometry. Its rake gets kicked out half a degree to 25.0 degrees, and the swingarm pivot is 3mm higher for a theoretical increase in rear-wheel traction by increasing the swingarm's downslope. In addition, the engine is raised 5mm in the frame: Quicker steering results by bringing the center of mass more in line with the bike's roll axis. Several changes to the engine's internals are designed to add durability and reduce noise. This makes for interesting reading if you're a mechanical engineer, but as there is no power gain claimed, we'll skip the details. The 60-degree V-Twin retains its 97 x 67.5mm bore/stroke ratio and 997.6cc displacement.

The Mille sold in Europe received a new cylinder head with revised cams and and larger intake valves in 2001, but it wasn't until 2002 that the American version received those same updates. Changes to the airbox and muffler give the Mille competitive power without resorting to the quasi-legal mods (pulling an airbox plug, drilling out a muffler restrictor, and clipping a wire on the ECU) the previous version needed to get full power.

While the standard Mille ($13,495) is exotic enough for most, at MotorcycleUSA we're a little bit greedier. That's why we decided to opt for the R-version, which includes more carbon fiber (fenders, intake ducts, dashboard cover) and trick forged-aluminum wheels. A trio of high-spec Ohlins products helps set the $17,295 R apart from the $3800-cheaper standard Mille. An Ohlins Racing fork with titanium-nitride coating for reduced stiction goes on in place of the regular version's Showa unit, and a Swedish-made shock replaces a Sachs damper. An Ohlins steering damper mounted just above the lower triple clamp raises the R's trick factor. The combined result is a bike that is nine pounds lighter according to Aprilia.

The Aprilia also has a a wide range of adjustments on its Ohlins suspenders, and it can be set up almost Gold Wing-plush for those straight-line drones. The Ducati is sprung stiffer, and it remained less compliant even after backing off damping and preload.

2002 Ducati 998 vs. Aprilia Mille R
A trio of high-spec Ohlins products helps set the $17,295 R apart from the $3800-cheaper standard Mille.
Slowish steering combined with greater mass than four-cylinder machines and the racer-style ergos makes both bikes feel a bit cumbersome in the city, but that changes once in a canyon playground. The ass-up riding position that is awkward at low speeds makes sense in the twisties. Both bikes offer excellent communication from the front tire with near-unflappable stability. The Mille exhibited a slight reluctance on turn-in that I hadn't experienced during other tests, probably due to the shagged Pirelli Dragon Super Corsa that came on our bike. The 0.5-degree of extra rake might've been blamed if not for experience on other tires later in the test.

If you're looking for a modicum of freeway comfort, then you should be looking in the direction of the Mille. Its taller bars and much higher windscreen work in conjunction with what is likely the most protective fairing in sportbikedom to offer a tidy aerodynamic bubble for the rider. The Mille remains unaffected in crosswinds, and a rider can stay mostly dry in the rain by tucking in. Even hands and feet are mostly out of the airflow.

2002 Aprilia RSV Milie R Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Exotic Italian styling is timeless
  • The sound of these machines will make your blood boil
  • They will make you feel like a Superbike racer.
Lows
  • A bit pricey
  • We don't own either one and probably never will, sniff
  • They will make you feel like a Superbike racer.
Even though there are few hard braking points at the Streets circuit, the Mille's new four-pad Brembo calipers stood out as clearly superior to the traditional two-pad Brembo calipers of the 998. In an effort to reduce reciprocating mass, the 320mm-diameter front rotors on both bikes are 0.5mm thinner this year. The Aprilia goes one better by using one less button to secure the rotors to the wheels for a drop of a few more grams. The 998's brakes are quite good, if a bit mushy, but the Mille's newer caliper design offers an unparalleled level of feedback and sensitivity for streetbike brakes.
The Mille, with its titanium-nitrided Ohlins fork, also leads the class is suspension quality. The high-spec fork handily sucks up bumps that would tie lesser bikes up in knots. The 998's Showa fork (also with TiN-coating on its fork sliders) works well, but it doesn't offer the range of adjustment nor the suppleness of the Ohlins legs.

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