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2003 Aprilia RST1000 Futura

Sunday, December 1, 2002
The RST1000 Futura is fitted with a competent front end that includes decent Brembo brakes and a responsive 43mm inverted fork. Standard touring amenities include color-matched saddlebags and a centerstand.
The RST1000 Futura is fitted with a competent front end that includes decent Brembo brakes and a responsive 43mm inverted fork. Standard touring amenities include color-matched saddlebags and a centerstand.
The way a multi-cylinder bike like a Yamaha R6 screams for redline is spine-tinglingly visceral. One second at 15,500 rpm sees the lightweight crankshaft spinning an astonishing 250 times!

A Twin, on the other crank, makes its power at lower engine speeds, usually with the ability to provide plenty of grunt from the instance of first twist of the throttle. Twins make so much sense in so many ways that every major motorcycle manufacturer produces them.

Ducati is the contemporary pioneer in making a Twin racy enough for a sportbike, and it ST4/ST4S models provide a sport-touring base in which to transplant its Superbike series engine. Now rival Italian upstart, Aprilia, throws in the RST1000 Futura in the sportbike-with-bags category.

The Futura uses a tuned-for-torque version of the successful RSV Mille's engine, a rumbling 60-degree V-Twin that is nearly the equal of Ducati's mighty Twin. A few changes were made to the engine for S-T duty, such as a revised ignition and injection mapping, but it still cranks out a claimed 112 horsepower at 9250 rpm.

As much as we at MCUSA like to talk engines, it's the styling of the Futura that garners the most comments. Its overall design statement polarizes opinions. Just like Lamborghini is to Ferrari, so is Aprilia to Ducati: the Futura's design is all angles and busy. It's cool and garish at the same time, garish especially in the burnt orange metallic color of our test bike. (The RST is also available in flat-black, making its angular bodywork look as if inspired by the F-117 Stealth Fighter). The sharp-edged design motif is at once futuristic and dated, as are the squarish analog instruments that look like they came from a 1980s Guigiaro auto design. The RST is certainly an impressive looking machine, it's just that the term "beautiful" doesn't come up too often.

This Computer Aided Design model demonstrates the Futura s beefy aluminum frame and the large exhaust collector under the engine that leads to the undertail muffler exit.
This Computer Aided Design model demonstrates the Futura's beefy aluminum frame and the large exhaust collector under the engine that leads to the undertail muffler exit.
While your RSV Mille R will easily outrun the RST in the canyons, it won't provide luggage capacity and a comfy place for your significant other. To put this theory to the test, my wife, Carolyn, and I stuffed the Futura's color-matched bags full, strapped on a tank bag, and set off from Orange County, CA up Highway 1 to Monterey.

Those of you who have traveled on a motorcycle with a female already know that the term "essential items" carries a different definition for females, so I was glad to have the extra capacity of the saddlebags. Unlike the System bags on a BMW, the Futura's matched bags need a key separate from the ignition's, which is a minor nuisance. Making them even more fiddlesome are the two extra rubber clips that secure them at the rear, but a rider gets used to the system. Straps inside each bag hold the lids from opening too far and dumping your kit on the road, but by the end of the test one of them had broken. Perhaps the worst part of the convenient and capacious bags is that the right-side pod partially obscures the gorgeous rear wheel that is on display thanks to the single-sided swingarm.

Fired up and ready to roll, the Futura exhibits the grunty power we've come to expect from the Rotax-built engine. There is strong thrust from 5000 rpm, and arm-stretching power is pumped out once past 7000 rpm. Absolute acceleration is blunted a bit by the RST's claimed 462 pounds, but this bagger will surprise many by the way it quickly blurs the scenery.

The Futura s long and sloping windscreen provides good protection for a sport-tourer. Mirrors handily incorporate turnsignals  but more effort went into appearance than functionality.
The Futura's long and sloping windscreen provides good protection for a sport-tourer. Mirrors handily incorporate turnsignals, but more effort went into appearance than functionality.
Setting off onto roads warmed by SoCal sunshine, the Futura makes its cargo happy. A comfortable perch is provided for the pilot, with a multi-function instrument panel providing time, ambient temperature, coolant temp and a fuel gauge supplying the necessary information. At night, the RST instruments glow a sexy blue with the option of three levels of intensity. The speedometer, although large enough in size, would be easier to read with a digital display like on the Mille.

A sport-tourer usually sees plenty of steady-state cruising on the way to the twisties, and this gives the Futura rider time to notice its racing roots. Even with Aprilia's patented AVDC (Anti Vibration Double Countershaft) system, the two counterbalancers can't keep the 60-degree V-Twin from throwing off some vibration. While that's acceptable on the Mille, and indeed more visceral, it's unwelcome on a bike designed for long-distance running. Vibration seeps thru from the engine into the pegs and the bars, the latter having grips with too hard of a rubber compound for long days in the saddle.

Sport-tourers are designed to rack up the miles, so it's a little disappointing to see just a single tripmeter on the Futura. While we send the Aprilia R&D guys to make that change, we have a couple other suggestions. Those mirrors sure do look funky, but they don't offer much of a view behind: Please supersize. Also, cruise control would be a worthy addition to a machine that eats up the miles like the Futura, and you might as well throw on some heated grips, 'cause unless your riding in Central America or somewhere similarly equatorial, there's always a good time of the year for heated grips.

The Futura s distinctive styling tends to polarize opinions. Some applaud it for its unique profile while others perceive it as blocky and overdrawn.
The Futura's distinctive styling tends to polarize opinions. Some applaud it for its unique profile while others perceive it as blocky and overdrawn.
A serious sport-touring machine is expected to be able to offer camel-like endurance, with long distances between fuel stops. Aprilia claims its tank holds 5.5 gallons, considerably less than the 6.6 of the Yamaha FJR1300 or the 7.7 of the Honda ST1300. And, after riding on reserve for about 10 miles, the tank accepted just 4.3 gallons (the most during our test), showing that the tank may not be at large in reality as it is on the spec chart. Assuming a 5.0-gallon capacity, the RST has a range of about 200 miles at the 39-mpg rate we averaged, not enough for riders with ferrous posteriors.

There are plenty of good S-T pieces on the Futura. Adjustable levers help the bike fit the rider (what you won't find, though, are the Mille's nifty adjustable pegs and foot controls that rotate on eccentrics). Protection from the elements is provided by a long, sloping windshield that swoops toward the rider, providing a clean flow of fairly quiet air that hits the top of shoulders. The bulky looking side fairings do a decent job of diverting wind around legs.

One of the Futura's best S-T attributes is its broad, supportive seat, and that not only applies to the pilot's saddle but the pillion's as well. Riding "bitch" can be a bit boring - depending on the rider and the road - so to keep the better half happy there'd better be a comfy place to sit for hours at a time. Although the padding isn't very thick, it is nicely supportive, and a well-integrated grab rail provides security when the wick is lit.

Right-side view shows the good and the bad. The single-sided swingarm simplifies wheel changes and shows off a cool wheel; chunky bodywork looks a bit ungainly.
Right-side view shows the good and the bad. The single-sided swingarm simplifies wheel changes and shows off a cool wheel; chunky bodywork looks a bit ungainly.
Long-haul riders without shafts (drives, that is,  get your mind out of the sump) moan and whine when an S-T doesn't come with a centerstand to make chain-oiling and tire-changing easier. Well, they won't have to gripe about the Futura. But I will.

You see, the RST has such a fun engine and willing chassis that acute lean angles are encouraged. The problem, however, is that the centerstand touches down surprisingly early and on both sides. The stand has a large rubber bumper to keep it from bouncing against the frame and that keeps the spring-loaded contraption from retracting further up.

Adding three extra turns of preload helped to keep the centerstand from dragging so early, but it still scrapes pretty easy. And the additional preload opens another can of worms by overwhelming the shock's adjustable rebound damping circuit, resulting in an unsettling pogo effect over bumps. The Sachs shock either has not enough damping from the factory or, with 4000 miles on the clock, it was worn out.

The shock woes are especially disappointing because the Futura has the inherent capability to run with nearly anything else on the road. The inverted 43mm fork is adjustable for preload and rebound, and it provides well-damped control while exhibiting decent ride quality.

Sexy Italian items such as the lovely and exposed rear wheel and underseat exhaust is offset by an underdamped rear shock that limits the bike s cornering prowess.
Sexy Italian items such as the lovely and exposed rear wheel and underseat exhaust is offset by an underdamped rear shock that limits the bike's cornering prowess.
As expected from a race-oriented company like Aprilia, the RST handles wonderfully on a smooth road. Fairly conservative chassis geometry numbers (26.0-degree rake; 4.01 inches (104mm) trail; 56.5-inch wheelbase) and the stiff twin-spar aluminum frame offer 401K-like stability. Turn-in is smooth and neutral, if not quick, and you can feel the front end deftly cut into the pavement apex.

Entering corners, there's a considerable amount of compression braking as the EPA-friendly fuel-injection system totally shuts off fuel to keep exhaust emissions low. Brembo 4-piston, differential-bore calipers biting on 300mm rotors offer good power and control in this application, aided by a beefy 255mm disc and two-pot floating caliper at the rear. The Futura does stand up slightly under braking but it's a doddle to counter.

The RST's engine is amazingly flexible, offering a wide torque band, but it does labor a bit in top gear when Kirk is demanding Scotty for more power. Sixth gear, at 0.852:1, is massively overdriven. The tall gearing makes sense when droning on the freeway, as the Twin is barely turning 5000 rpm at 80 mph, which is good for keeping vibration subdued. And speaking of gears, the tranny in our test bike wasn't as slick as we'd like. Smooth, passenger-pleasing shifts were sometimes difficult to execute, although we encountered no missed shifts.

Aprilia s Futura lives up to its name with its multi-faceted angles and blazing paint color.
Aprilia's Futura lives up to its name with its multi-faceted angles and blazing paint color.
Aprilia, being a relatively small company, is more of a bike assembler than a pure manufacturer. It sources much of its bike components from outside vendors, which usually provides top-notch quality parts as evidenced on its Italian-flaired sportbikes. That's why we were surprised to see some fit-and-finish foibles on our Futura. For example, the satin finish of the body panel that runs from the tank along under the pilot's saddle doesn't match the metallic finish of the rest of the pieces. Also, the right-side mirror stalk was lighter in color than the mirror housing.

The Aprilia Futura reinforces the stereotype that Italian machines have earned through the years, offering high style with a few flaws. The Mille-sourced engine is a pleasingly willing powerplant and the RST's chassis is not far removed from the racetrack. There are but a small handful of sport-tourers that would make a good track-day bike. But slide a Penske or Ohlins damper in the swingarm, unbolt the centerstand, and quick-release the saddlebags, and the Futura will cut some fairly serious laps. Dig out the bags and invite your honey on back, and you can take a comfy but brisk run at chasing horizons with your romantic Italian threesome.

Aprilia s RST1000 Futura is a worthy player in the Italian sport-tourer equation  with comfortable ergos  capable road manners and distinctive styling.
Aprilia's RST1000 Futura is a worthy player in the Italian sport-tourer equation, with comfortable ergos, capable road manners and distinctive styling.
If your idea of sport-touring is multi-position seats, cruise control and electrically-adjustable windshields, you're probably not Italian and you don't deserve a Futura.

But if your Haga-replica Mille just ain't cutting it during your annual pilgrimage to Laguna or Daytona, the Futura provides most of its sporting potential while pampering its rider with much improved comfort and amenities.

Bottom line: If you like Italian V-Twins, perusing maps for interesting places to ride, and the Futura's styling appeals to you, this Aprilia is a strong pick for a sporting sport-tourer.

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Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Mille-like power
  • Comfy cockpit
  • Stable sportbike-type handling
Lows
  • Ground clearance
  • Spotty fit-and-finish
  • Hardcore sportbike DNA

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