Lapping Mugello aboard an exotic Italian superbike has to be one of the biggest thrills you can have on two wheels, especially as the Tuscan track has a long, downhill straight on which the RSV4 1100 Factory recorded an indicated 201mph on its launch. But Aprilia’s latest V4 wouldn’t need a famous MotoGP track to feel mighty fast and exotic.
That RSV4 1100 Factory name reveals this bike’s most important development: its capacity increase from 999 to 1078cc. Exceeding superbike racing’s capacity limit hints at a subtle shift in the Aprilia’s focus. The company is no longer involved in the Superbike World Championship and, like Ducati with its standard V4 Panigale, has increased the engine size of its flagship model.
“Until now, 1000cc has been the psychological limit for the RSV4 because riders have used the bike for racing,” says Aprilia’s product marketing chief Cristian Barelli. “Now we’re moving towards producing a premium product in terms of performance, style and materials. It’s more like the situation with supercars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. They are not race-replica cars, they are luxury cars that can go very fast on a racetrack.”
The basic RSV4 layout of a compact, 65-degree DOHC V4 engine in a highly adjustable, aluminium beam-framed chassis is unchanged. Bore is up from 78 to 81mm, mirroring the Tuono’s increase of two years ago, with pistons reshaped to lift compression ratio to 13.6:1. New intake cams, reprofiled throttle bodies, a remapped Magneti Marelli ECU and a new exhaust system with titanium Akrapovic silencer combine to increase claimed maximum output by 16bhp, to 214bhp at 13,200rpm.
What’s arguably more important is the way that torque output is increased throughout the rev range, and by roughly 10% all the way from 8,000 to 13,000rpm, with the maximum of 122Nm arriving at 11,000rpm. Other engine-related changes include taller fifth and sixth gear ratios, again following the Tuono’s example; and uprated cooling from a higher-flowing oil pump and twin oil jets for each piston.
Standard set-up of the multi-adjustable frame has been fine-tuned with tweaks to the steering head bushes and triple-clamps. There’s no change to the main frame’s mix of cast and extruded aluminium sections (bar the addition of a rubber insert to reduce noise), but the alloy swing-arm is stiffened internally. Specification of the multi-adjustable Öhlins suspension is also changed, to a TTX rear shock and a NIX front fork, whose 125mm of travel represents a 5mm increase.
The RSV4 shape is familiar and classy in its matt-black colour scheme, complemented by carbon front mudguard and sidepanels, and forged wheels anodised to match the titanium Akro can. (Even so, I’d prefer brighter paintwork like that of the limited-edition RSV4 X.) Where this Factory differs is with its new carbon-fibre winglets, as developed on the RS-GP being raced in MotoGP.
Aprilia say the winglets provide 8kg of downforce at 300km/h, and weigh only 142g apiece. The launch bikes were also fitted with optional carbon air-ducts to cool their new Stylema calipers, the latest, lightweight Brembo spec as also fitted to the Panigale V4. Even with the ducts fitted they’re lighter than the old M50s, contributing – along with a smaller lithium-ion battery – to a 5kg reduced dry weight of 177kg, which keeps kerb weight at just under 200kg.
Climbing aboard the bike in the Mugello pit lane, checking out the unchanged TFT dash and heading out onto the track, it’s the RSV4’s traditional lack of size rather than weight that makes the first impression. As before, there are three riding modes (Sport, Track and Race), with subtly different levels of engine braking as well as power delivery. The familiar APRC (Aprilia Performance Ride Control) electronics suite includes pit-lane limiter, cruise control and launch control, as well as the anti-wheelie and traction control that can be fine-tuned on the move.
It all combines with the sweet throttle response to create a bike that in Track mode is as controllable as it’s fast, and which helps me relearn the undulating Tuscan circuit with its numerous crests and blind turns. Less helpful in the first session is the engine’s occasional tendency to find neutral going into a bend, which has me running wide a couple of times, and turns out to be caused by the gearlever being too low. (After it’s raised slightly, the problem doesn’t occur again and the quick-shifter works flawlessly.)
The biggest boost to lapping fast, though, is that sublimely flexible big-bore V4 engine. It takes me a few laps to figure it out. At first I’m using too many revs: second gear for the second chicane, the long Biondetti right-hander, and for a lap or two even the downhill Bucine left that leads back onto the pit straight. But the Aprilia revs so hard and fast that I’m struggling to get my foot under the gearlever before tagging the limiter at 13,600rpm and losing time.
The solution is simple: use the midrange torque. The big V4 motor pulls so strongly and sweetly from 8000rpm or so that it’s much quicker as well as less effort to take those turns in third gear, concentrate on hitting the mostly late apexes and getting the power on smoothly, and let the extra grunt send the bike rocketing onto the following straights with its ultra-dependable traction control helping the sticky rear Pirelli Supercorsa SC1 deliver maximum drive, and the anti-wheelie keeping the front wheel pointing in the right direction.
Occasionally there’s a slight twitch as the bike rips onto the pit straight and I pull myself forward to help keep the front wheel down, but it’s nothing that makes me back off or even bother tweaking the adjustable Öhlins steering damper. The Factory’s composure at super-high speeds further down that long straight is immense. How much that’s due to the winglets I’ve no idea, but if they’re useful anywhere it’s almost certainly at Mugello.
Cornering poise is also outstanding, though given more time I’d have tried raising the rear end a fraction, to help the Aprilia flick through the three chicanes even more quickly and effortlessly. The RSV4’s fine-tuning potential is vast and its base level very high. As ever, the Aprilia can feel cramped for tall riders; I’m 6’4” and struggled to get my feet placed correctly on the pegs at times. Slightly firmer suspension at both ends would have helped too but with time between sessions limited, and a smaller rider sharing my bike, I left it alone.
There’s no doubting the quality of the Öhlins units at each end, or their potential to deliver cutting-edge cornering ability when suitably fine-tuned. Aprilia considered following Ducati by moving to semi-active suspension, but decided against it, essentially because their testers found no lap-time advantage over conventional units.
Braking power is sensational and stability under hard stopping very good, marred slightly by the fact that several of Mugello’s turns are downhill. Into the steep Casanova right-hander, in particular, the rear end lifted and the bike twitched even when I squeezed the lever as gently as possible and sat right back in the seat. On a hot day there was no brake fade with use, despite repeated hard slowing from high speed into San Donato. Who knows whether the carbon scoops made a significant difference, but they look suitably cool and weigh only 42g each – less than the Stylema calipers save over the previous M50s.
A little of the RSV4’s traditional direct link to the racetrack might have been lost with the engine’s increased capacity, and with Aprilia’s withdrawal from World Superbikes. But Noale’s commitment to racing is clear from MotoGP, and the RSV4 1100 remains true to the models’s traditional hardcore, performance-driven ethos. At £21,499 it’s competitively priced (costing less than Ducati’s V4 S but more than the standard V4) and puts Aprilia right back in contention in the battle for open-class superbike domination.
Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled 65-degree V4|
|Valve arrangement||DOHC, 16 valves|
|Bore x stroke||81 x 52.3mm|
|Carburation||Marelli injection, 48mm throttle bodies|
|Clutch||Wet multiplate slipper|
|Transmission||6-speed cassette, chain final|
|Maximum power||214bhp (217PS, 159.6kW) @ 13,200rpm|
|Maximum torque||122Nm @ 11,000rpm|
|Front suspension||43mm Öhlins NIX telescopic fork, 125mm travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Rear suspension||Öhlins TTX monoshock, 120mm wheel travel, adjustments for preload, high- and low-speed compression plus rebound damping|
|Front brake||2, four-piston Brembo Stylema radial monobloc calipers, 330mm discs|
|Rear brake||Twin-piston Brembo caliper, 220mm disc|
|Front wheel||3.50 x 17in; forged aluminium|
|Rear wheel||6.00 x 17in; forged aluminium|
|Front tyre||120/70 x 17in Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC1|
|Rear tyre||200/55 x 17in Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC1|
|Fuel capacity||18.5 litres|
|Weight||177kg dry (no oil or battery), 199kg kerb|
Words: Roland Brown