“Attention paddock! Will all competitors for the 125 novice race please go to the assembly area immediately, thank you.”
Those words will strike a chord with many a 125cc two stroke racer and the chances are that many of `em will be campaigning an Aprilia RS125 as their first bike, in a desperate bid to be the next Carl Fogarty.
But the RS125 of 2000 has a forerunner from back home in native Italy, the aptly named Futura 125, which was one of the most successful machines the Aprilia factory made a decade ago.
Like many 1980s Italian 125s, the Futura was a pocket boy racer machine featuring some very trick technology for its time. A twin spar alloy frame, beefy 38mm front forks, single sided swingarm at the rear and eye-popping brakes all shouted the Futuras racetrack intentions. With a 34bhp two stroke, single cylinder engine, sourced from Austrian motorheads Rotax, this gorgeous little screamer could top 100mph.
For mile after mile I’d been charging. Tearing down the straights and scratching through the bends as fast as I could go: head behind the bubble, throttle hard against its stop, ears ringing with the sound of straining two-stroke engine, brakes left late for the bends, knee stuck out as I swept through the corners with a nudge on the low-set bars.
And now I was lost.
Reaching a fork in the road far ahead of photographer Goldman, who was following with our maps of north- eastern Italy in the car, I realised that I hadn´t a clue which way to go. There was no alternative but to park the gorgeous red-white-and-purple Aprilia, sit in the sun and hope that eventually he´d catch up.
It was lucky that I looked up when I did moments later, for otherwise I would not have noticed as our Fiat rentawreck rattled past, barely a couple of minutes behind and showing no signs of being in a hurry. And then it dawned on me. The new Futura might look a million dollars (and cost six million lire), it might be big and brash and beautiful and unbearably well-equipped. But it is, after all, still a 125.
Despite all my efforts, despite the fact that this tuned and fully-faired missile was one of the raciest and most high-tech streetbikes I´d ever sat on, I probably hadn´t managed to persuade it to push my un-aerodynamically large body above 100mph all day. For all its upside-down forks and its single-sided swing arm and its butch alloy frame, the Aprilia Futura´s most significant feature is nevertheless its engine´s capacity of about half the average-sized shampoo bottle.
In many ways it is the curse of bikes like this, the latest race-replica to explode onto the Italian teenage market, that for all its design flair and expensive chassis brilliance the Futura is still just a 125. That means that its state-of-the-art two-stroke motor puts out 34 horsepower when the rest of the machine looks and feels as though it would be happy harnessing twice that power.
Not that the Futura is slow, you understand. It has a genuine top speed of just over a ton, and if you keep the tacho needle jabbing at the 11-grand redline it has acceleration to match. But by sports bike standards it is obviously short on ultimate performance – which, sometimes, is also its biggest attraction. The delight of small-bore screamers like this is that even speed-freaks used to much bigger tackle can enjoy twisting the neck off a 125 without putting life or licence at too much risk.
That ride across country back to Aprilia´s base near Venice was memorable by any standards, despite the lack of out-and-out speed, and travelling half as fast again on the straights would not necessarily have improved the ride much at all. Lucky is the young Luigi whose rich padre presents him with one of these on his birthday. What I´d have made of being plonked on this motorcycle at the age of 17 I can´t begin to imagine, and I suspect that it´s probably just as well I didn´t have the chance to find out.
British novices won´t find out immediately either, of course, because they´ll be restricted to a 12bhp version of the Futura that after riding the full-power version must feel as though it´s still parked on the centre stand (not that any AF1 is weighed-down by any such encumbrance, of course).
All the more reason for passing your test, after which time, on being shown a photocopy of the owner´s full licence, the new Aprilia importers will forward free-of-charge the exhaust power-valve that restores the missing ponies.
Aprilia Moto UK won´t be providing anything at all for the Futura for several months, it must be said, because they can´t get stocks of the new bike yet and will initially concentrate on selling the established AF1 Replica model.
When the Futura does arrive it is likely to prove boss of the strada in the 125 class just as it has in Italy, where it´s apparently outselling all competition.
The Futura is basically the latest version of the AF1 series. It effectively brings together the Replica and the AF1 Sport — the very similar but slightly more powerful production-race version of the twin-headlamp screamer — to produce one new machine that is even slicker, even trickier and even more obviously suited to the racetrack than its predecessors.
It seems almost unnecessary to say that the Futura will eventually be the only AF1 model. Short of selling the bike with its bolts already lockwired, or perhaps with a roll of duct-tape and a couple of spare fairings, it´s hard to imagine how Aprilia could come out with a ‘sport production´ version of this. (No doubt they could if they tried, though, and perhaps they will if their baby starts getting whipped on the track.)
The main difference between the Replica and Sport models is the carburettor, which is a Dellorto that grows from 28mm in size to 34mm for the competition bike. The Futura gets a slightly modified version of the bigger fuel-bucket, natch, which helps push claimed output up one whole donkey from the Replica´s 32.8 to 33.8bhp precisely, at 11,000rpm.
Compression ratio is actually reduced slightly, from 15:1 to 13.6:1, but the rest of the motor stays virtually unchanged.
It´s a watercooled two-stroke single, built by Rotax to Aprilia´s spec. It has almost square bore and stroke dimensions of 54 x 54.5mm, a balancer-shaft to damp out vibration, and an electronically operated exhaust valve that is appropriately named RAVE, and really gets the party swinging after eight (thousand rpm, not pm).
The exhaust itself is a similar specimen that bulges out below the motor before heading up to a neat tailpipe on the left of the bike.
On the other side of the engine the Sport´s side-mounted airbox is replaced by a more central chamber that sits between the top tubes of the bolt-on rear subframe, and is shrouded by plastic and fed by two long plastic ducts running back from the nose of the fairing.
The main frame is a modified version of Aprilia´s aluminium alloy twin-spar job, and is so neat and sturdy-looking a piece of kit that it wouldn´t disgrace something from down the coast at Bimota, let alone a puny mass-produced 125. The main extrusions now bulge out a little on their route from steering head to swing arm pivot, and an alloy plate has been added on each side of the subframe, presumably for reinforcement. But the most obvious difference is that the satiny main spars have been left on view instead of covered by bodywork as they were before.
Being an Aprilia, the only way that this 125cc motorcycle would not have featured upside-down forks and a single-sided swing arm is if the Noale firm´s designers had found a way of equipping it with hub-centre steering, a single-sided front fork, a hubless rear wheel or something even more weird and over-the-top. (Unfortunately, Aprilia wouldn´t reveal what tablets their creative crew are fed on.)
The suspension set-up at each end looks seriously serious, and the Futura´s forks and shock combine with the hugely rigid frame to give handling that matches the spec. One surprise is that the suspension is non-adjustable. It´s firm but I felt no desire to change things, and for novices the lack of fiddling potential is probably a good idea. Second surprise is that the steering is not ultra-quick, at least by small-bike standards. The Replica´s rake and trail have been kicked out half a degree and 3mm to give 26 degrees and 95mm, which is not radical by current standards.
What that means is that the little bike that looks like Yamaha´s OW01 actually feels a little reminiscent of the super- solid 750 too, ludicrous as that may sound. (Part of the reason is that the Futura is not little at all. It is a leading example of the trend that has seen small-capacity bikes getting physically bigger while big bikes get smaller; presumably they will one day cross in the middle.)
The similarities start early. From the pilot´s perch on the skimpy seat, far more thinly-padded even than the Replica´s, it´s a fair reach to the low clip-ons across a fuel tank whose flush-filler is labelled with the words ‘specially developed for racing´, in case you were in doubt. The wickedly curving screen comes up to meet your wild-eyed stare. Below it, the cockpit houses a typical array of partially foam-mounted dials, and is bordered by a pair of surprisingly useful mirrors.
Feet are held predictably high but the Futura feels so long and generally roomy that it´s hard to believe this really is just a 125. (Unless you try riding pillion, which requires membership of the National Union of Contortionists.) Press the button, hear the tinny two-stroke rattle and, well, perhaps it is a 125 after all. Then you pull away – or rather this flash- leather-suited professional test rider attempted to pull away, failed to give the gutless motor enough revs, and stalled right outside the factory´s front door. Thank God for dark visors.
Get That Knee Down
There´s very little power below about 4000rpm but once you get used to keeping the single singing that is really no great problem. Acceleration from there until about 7500rpm is pretty limp, but then the power-valve chops in, the exhaust note changes dramatically from a flat drone to a high-pitched shriek and – in the lower gears, at least — the Futura hurtles towards the 11-grand redline with great aplomb (and with a slight-but-not-troublesome tingling through the handlebars and seat).
If a corner should intervene before the Futura has had a chance to stretch its legs in sixth gear, then so much the better. A squeeze on the big single disc, which is progressive but not as brain-rotatingly potent as I´d expected from a bike weighing only 250lb, brings the speed down in moments. Then you shuffle across the seat, flick the Futura into the bend and attack the throttle again after making sure to Get That Knee Down if at all possible. You owe it to the people who designed this bike, after all.
Naturally, it´s in the bends that the Aprilia exudes the classy feel of a serious track-ready motorcycle. There´s none of the nervous, underdamped feel that comes with many small sportsters. You need a little effort on the bars to move the front wheel off-line, after which point the Futura tracks with absolute precision and holds its line with wondrous stability even in ripply corners.
Both wheels are five-spoke 17-inchers instead of the previous seven/nine spoke design, and they wear radial Dunlops whose generous widths and soft compound allow the Futura to be whistled through corners as fast as just about anything on two wheels. Then you´re back on the power, the single-pot motor is revving hard, your left boot is flicking frantically and your head is back behind the screen as you flog the guts out of those thirty something horses…
For a 125 it´s a brilliantly enjoyable scratcher; for a motorcycle costing more than three grand it is still a brilliantly enjoyable scratcher, but… Aprilia Moto UK, the new British importers, hope to receive stocks of the Futura early next year. They plan to sell it for a little more than the AF1 Replica costs now, which is £3134.
That´s much closer to the price of Suzuki´s RG250, for example, than the RG125.
If you´re a 17-year-old learner with that sort of money to burn, then by now you probably don’t need directions to the nearest Aprilia showroom. Anyone else would have to be pretty sure that they really wanted to get their two-wheeled kicks from head-down, no-nonsense mindless boogie on a bike with the cornering power and charisma of a Ferrari but the out-and-out speed of a Fiat Panda.
Adrenalin junkies with dirty licences, this is the bike for you.
Get Aprilia bike insurance for the aprilia the futura 125.
|ENGINE||Watercooled single-cylinder two-stroke|
|CLAIMED POWER (BHP)||33.8bhp @ 11,000rpm|
|TYRES||Front: 100/80 x 17in Dunlop radials. Rear: 130/70 x 17in Dunlop radials|
|BRAKES||Front: 320mm (12.6in) disc. Rear: 240mm (9.5in) disc|
|SUSPENSION||Front: 38mm upside-down telescopic forks. Rear: APS monoshock; single-sided swing arm|
|DRY WEIGHT||113.5kg (250lb)|
|FUEL CAPACITY||14.5 litres (3.2gal)|
|CURRENT PRICE||Approx £3100|