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2004 Aprilia RSV Mille First Ride

Friday, September 17, 2004
2004 Aprilia RSV1000R Mille got along good with Duke.
Midrange power is a bit softer than before, though Aprilia reps tell us there is a dozen ponies to be released midway through the rev band by fitting Aprilia's accessory titanium slip-ons and remapping the ECU.
The RSV1000 is the bike that really put Aprilia on the world's map. Before the Mille (Italian for one-thousand, as in cubic centimeters) emerged in 1998, the largest bike the Noale, Italy-based manufacturer sold displaced just 250cc. In the five years since, 27,000 of the spunky and racy bikes have found loving homes around the globe.

Possessing Italian flare along with a rich history of wins in the 125cc and 250cc Grand Prix classes, Aprilia quickly became a legitimate competitor to its relatively ancient trellis-framed rival up the autostrada in Bologna. Comparisons were inevitable and invariably there wasn't much between them.

When we pitted Ducati's 998 against the Aprilia Mille R in our Italian Twins shootout last year, little did we know that the Italians would have new weapons to brandish in little more than 14 months.

We tested the new Ducati 999 when it first became available late last autumn, and it was impressive for the leap in functionality compared to the old Duc, even if it was lambasted in message boards around the world for its ungraceful style.

After seeing Aprilia's new RSV1000R and RSV1000R Factory in person, it's likely it won't garner as much negativity about its styling direction.

Better than just looking at the exotic new Italian thoroughbreds, however, is getting to throw a leather-ensconced leg over them, as we found out while pounding lap after lap around Spring Mountain Motorsports Park near Pahrump, NV.

Other than suspension components and the basic engine architecture, the 2004 Mille is an all-new machine. The most apparent change is in the RSV's attention-grabbing new clothes. The old Mille looked a bit chunky next to the lithe 998, but this new version plants Aprilia's new contender firmly in the 21st century. A wicked looking nose with a centrally mounted ram-air scoop warns rear view mirrors a new challenger is coming up quickly, while flush-mounted turn signals and LED taillight provides a smooth and flowing visage.

Much effort has been made at reducing the number of parts on the new Twin. Whereas the old bike used to have 25 fairing pieces, the new bike has just 14. And like the 999, a Controller Area Network (CAN) line replaces a rat's nest of wiring with just two wires to control all the electric and electronic routing functions, all managed by a new Siemens ECU. Last year's bulky and boxy gauge package is replaced by a tidy new set (with a white-on-black analog tach and a digital speedo) that is lighter and much easier on the eyes while still retaining all the previous version's features, including the onboard lap timer.

The 2004 Aprilia Mille Factory looks sweet in CF black.
Even after a day being flogged by merciless journalists, the Mille's long peg feelers remained unscathed.
Aprilia wanted to get us up to speed slowly before unleashing us on the new bikes, so they first sent the assembled journos around the twisting desert circuit on Tuonos, the streetfighter version of last year's Mille. The Tuono has proved to be one of the most desirable sportbikes for the street, but an overabundance of input from the high and wide bars make for a fairly nervous ride around a racetrack. And, at an elevation of about 3000 feet above sea level, the Tuono motor feels a bit soft in its restricted form. Down the back straight, the highest-speed section of the track, just 122 mph flashed on the speedo before power needed to be shut down for the next corner.

Aprilia also brought along several of the first-generation Milles, and we spent a 30-minute session reacquainting ourselves with what is still one of the easiest to ride big-bore bikes money can buy. Endowed with a rider-friendly midrange punch, the old Mille feels like an amiable old friend. Plop it down on a knee puck and the stable RSV feels as if it will keep on holding its line even if the rider jumped off. That trust-fund-like stability is a minor liability in Spring Mountain's slow, flip-flop chicanes, where a sprightly 600 would carve quickly through.

Next up was the 2004 RSV1000R, not to be confused with the "R" designation from last year that signified the top-line Mille with Ohlins suspension. The Mille R is now the standard version, while the high-zoot model now gets the "Factory" moniker.

It took less than a lap to realize the new bike is a different animal. Although the 2004 Mille has the identical chassis geometry (rake, trail, wheelbase) as last year, it has somehow been injected with newfound agility. Quick steering transitions are less work than previous while remaining on the safe side of twitchiness. Also helping reduce lap times is the new bike's reduced tendency to stand up in the corners while trailing the brakes, perhaps a byproduct of the Mille's new frame that is claimed to be 5% stiffer.

Even more impressive is the Mille's heavily revised 60-degree V-Twin motor, now rated at 139 horsepower thanks to 57mm throttle bodies (up 6mm) and a completely new cylinder head, the latter now using just one spark plug per cylinder instead of the two igniters in each head used on the less efficient head design of the older bike.

Duke shows off his ass  as usual.
The ass-cheek dyno says to expect a smidge over 120 hp at the 190-series rear Michelin Pilot Sport tire.
Throttle response is nearly flawless, with less abruptness coming back on the gas than the Version 1.0 Mille. And the new bike has an RC51-ish top-end surge once past 7500 rpm that leaves the old bike sniffing fumes, fumes that are cleaned up by catalytic converters in the twin mufflers that replace the huge single cannon used on all previous Milles. Midrange power is a bit softer than before, though Aprilia reps tell us there is a dozen ponies to be released midway through the rev band by fitting Aprilia's accessory titanium slip-ons and remapping the ECU. The stock 2-1-2 stainless-steel exhaust system bellows a smooth tune and the anodized aluminum muffler wraps sparkle with a tasty blue/gray finish in direct sunlight.

The mid-range power deficit of the new bike could be felt in a few slower-speed corners at the track. The '04 has the same close-ratio transmission that was new in 2003, which helps keep the bike in its powerband on a fast and flowing racetrack. But at Spring Mountain, first gear of the new Mille was too low, necessitating a few boggy, second-gear corner exits.

Overall, though, the new "Magnesium" engine (named for its valve covers now being cast from the lightweight metal) is a significant improvement. While the old mill had good grunt, it has a typical Twin's relatively wheezy top end. It was rare to see back-straight speeds top 130 mph on last year's bike on the back straight at Pahrump, but we saw as much as 137 mph from the snug-but-not-rack-like '04 cockpit. Peak power arrives at 9500 rpm, giving a useful 2000-rpm overrev to bore into before the engine spins to its 11,000-rpm redline, up 500 rpm from last year. The ass-cheek dyno says to expect a smidge over 120 hp at the 190-series rear Michelin Pilot Sport tire.

The Mille already had excellent brakes, but the 2004 Mille R is fitted with uprated Brembo brakes, going to a 4-piston, 4-pad setup with a radial-mount master cylinder up front, similar to that used on the Ducati 999. As with the Duc, the binders are strong and easy to modulate, more so than the 4-piston, 2-pad calipers used on the 2003 standard Mille that proved to offer less feedback at racetrack limits.

Even better brakes can be found on the Factory version of the new RSV1000R. The radial-mount Brembo calipers are part of the reason for the $3900-dearer price tag from the standard version's $13,999 MSRP, though it must be said the "lesser-spec" brakes are so good that the difference in braking performance is slight. The $17,899 Factory is also equipped with top-shelf Ohlins suspension and steering damper, carbon fiber fenders and trick forged wheels. The Factory's lighter wheels and bodywork combine with an aluminum steering stem to net a 9-pound reduction in weight. If you can't spot a Factory version by its brakes or blue Ohlins decals, the dead giveaway is the black anodized frame and swingarm; engine tuning is identical.

The RSV1000R cockpit is hi-tech and informative.
The RSV1000R cockpit is hi-tech and informative.
For 2004, Aprilia uses the same 43mm Showa inverted fork and Sachs shock on the less expensive Mille-a decent enough suspension. But even working through a new rear linkage, the Sachs damper proves to be much more harsh than the Factory's Ohlins unit. The Swedish fork is also superb, sucking up small pavement imperfections that caused the R version's tires to patter, slightly upsetting stability. Also, small adjustments on the Ohlins dampers make a large difference, more so than typical standard suspension.

The Factory version is fitted with forged aluminum OZ wheels, said to be 30% lighter than the cast hoops on the standard bike, an advantage last year's R model had over its more pedestrian brother. We noticed a significant difference in steering quickness when comparing the two versions of the 20002 bikes, so we were a bit surprised the '04 Factory didn't steer appreciably lighter. The excellent street versions of Pirelli's Supercorsa tires on the Factory bikes may have contributed to the situation, as tires of different diameters will affect the actual steering geometry.

Even after a day being flogged by merciless journalists, the Mille's long peg feelers remained unscathed. That being the case, the rearset pegs can be repositioned more comfortably if a rider is aching for a roomier riding position. Aprilia's most obvious faux pas on its new bike is a sidestand that drags when hammered around left-hand turns, which is doubly strange considering the old bike had no such clearance issues. Grinding off the sidestand stop will allow the stand to fold up out of the way.

Exploring horizon-tilting angles on a racetrack leaves little opportunity to properly evaluate street-riding comfort, though we can tell you the new Mille has a firm, broad seat that should easily provide enough cushion to painlessly get through a tank-full of fuel. The seat also sits slightly lower this year, nearly enabling 32-inch inseam legs to touch the ground flat-footed. A narrower nose fairing has less expansive protection from the elements this year, though it offers a slightly cleaner aerodynamic presence and still shelters a tucked-in rider almost entirely.

Just 530 Milles will cross the pond in 2004, with R versions slightly outnumbering Factory models. Aprilia reps say they expect the high-line Factory to soon be sold out.

From our first impression of the new bike, we don't expect Aprilia will have any problem getting rid of every one they import. Just how the Priller stands up next to the Ducati 999 still remains to be seen. Anyone else smelling a shootout brewing?
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