What do you say about the Aprilia RSV4? The past 13 years have seen a number of changes come to the RSV4 (and seen a number of letters come and go, as well), as Aprilia has been consistent in its effort to keep the RSV4 at the pointy end of the liter-bike spectrum.

The 65° V4 engine has grown from 999cc from its debut in 2009, now to 1,099cc in 2021. Similarly, the electronics package has gotten smarter and faster. And of course, the design has (debatably) improved with the latest trend of aerodynamic aids.

This constant unyielding iteration is unseen elsewhere in the motorcycle industry, which instead prefers to succumb to the ebbs and flows of more clearly defined model generations.

This unique approach has allowed Aprilia to constantly keep the RSV4 at the pointy end of the liter-bike segment, but has it paid off for the 2021 model year RSV4 and RSV4 Factory machines, though? That is the topic of today’s story.

To find the answer to whether the Aprilia RSV4 has gotten better with age, and remains at the top of the superbike pile, we took this motorcycle to one of the most iconic tracks in the United States: Laguna Seca. 

We were not disappointed in the result. Let me explain.

Evolution Over Revolution

I have talked before about the unique position Aprilia has created with its approach to the RSV4 design, but it is worth repeating once again, especially now with the Italian brand’s latest offering of the superbike.

In a segment marked with constant predictable “all new” models and mid-cycle updates, Aprilia has taken a different tack: updates are constantly coming to the RSV4 lineup, sometimes within a single model year.

As such, this 13-year-old motorcycle looks nothings like the machine that debuted 13 years ago, though traces of the 2009 superbike abound in many places.

So then, perhaps the most intriguing thing you notice when you get up-close to the Aprilia RSV4 is where this bike hasn’t changed over more than a decade’s worth of time.

Some of that is owed to the fact that Aprilia got so many things right with their first version of the RSV4 superbike, but there is an element here of philosophy.

Instead of scrapping old for new every few years, Aprilia has allowed the RSV4 to mature and grow into its own. Constant, incessant, and calculated updates have been behind the superbike’s staying power in the rankings.

This strategy is the epitome of evolution over revolution, and while it won’t be the most talked about subject in the reviews your read about the 2021 Aprilia RSV4, it is nevertheless one of the most important elements that make this bike a benchmark in the superbike category.

Another Year, Another Update

As you can probably surmise by now, if we are talking about it, the 2021 model year sees the venerable Aprilia RSV4 getting another one of these updates to its 13-year-old platform.

While the differences between the model years of the RSV4 can be subtle at times, the 2021 model sees a revamp of the superbike’s aesthetic, especially in terms of how it handles aerodynamics, which is obvious right away.

Taking a page from its smaller sibling, the Aprilia RS 660, the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 uses a hidden winglet design between its dual-layer fairing.

This allows Aprilia to continue to innovate with aerodynamic aids, especially in terms of putting downforce on the front tire, while also streamlining the motorcycle.

The effect is also visual narrowing of the RSV4 from its previous iteration, which had a boxier winglet design on either side of the fairing, while keeping the downforce figures in line from the 2019/2020 models.

Aprilia says that the new front fairings is also good for an 11% reduction in air pressure on the rider’s body, thanks in part to a wider windshield. Conversely, pressure into the airbox has been increased by 7%.

Looking at side-to-side transitions as well, Aprilia has moved how far the front fairing extends to the front wheel (see the photo above, with a wireframe of the previous-gen bike overlaid), with the hopes of creating less resistance during rolling movements.

On the electronics front, there is a new Magneti Marelli 11MP ECU along with a new six-axis IMU, which means a faster and smarter package for the electronics system. 

The engineers in Noale can talk at length about how this new electronics package is superior over the previous model’s iteration, with its greater number of pins (from 80 to 144), faster clock frequency (from 50 MHz to 200 MHz), and bigger flash memory storage (from 1 MB to 4 MB), but the take-home benefit for riders is more computing power under the hood of the RSV4, which means more precise electronic interventions.

One easier item to notice from the new Maneti Marelli system is that it allows for multi-level engine brake control, as well as six riding modes (three track and three street) and a refined quickshifter strategy.

The suspension is handled by the Öhlins SMART EC 2.0 suspension pieces, which we have seen on a few superbike models now, and is a big step over its predecessor.

In addition to a new damping algorithm, this version of Öhlins semi-active electronic setup includes an interface that is much more intuitive to regular riders, which makes it easier to get the desired result from the suspension pieces’ performance.

All-in-all, this is the most tailorable version of the RSV4 to date, and the updated electronics ensure that Aprilia is on par with the most advanced superbikes on the market, in terms of adjustability and capability.

Mechanically, there are few items of note as well. There is a new aluminum swingarm on the superbike, which is an underbraced design and lighter than before. Of course, you can still adjust the pivot point.

The swingarm is made of 3 main parts that are welded together, whereas the previous design consisted of 7 pieces. This helps not only in production costs, but also accounts for some of the stiffness gained from the new swingarm design and its fewer welds.

In total, the swingarm is 30% stiffer in torsional rigidity, and offers a 600 grams (1.3 lbs) of weight savings. The overall mass of the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 has increased by 6 lbs though, for a figure of 445 lbs in wet weight.

That bloat is surely courtesy of the Euro5 homologation, which affects primarily the engine design. Unsurprisingly, Aprilia has increased displacement from 1,077cc to 1,099cc, mainly to help maintain the performance figures lost from the new homologation.

As such, power is quoted to remain the same, at 214hp (159.5 kW), though one would imagine that the potential of an extra 22cc could bode well in a competent tuner’s hands.

The larger engine displacement does make a little bit more torque, rated now at 92 lbs•ft (125 Nm), with gains made primarily in the midrange and high-end of the power band.

The 2021 Aprilia RSV4 makes 80% of its max torque at just 6,800 rpm – the midpoint of its rpm range – which bodes well for those who take this thoroughbred on city streets.

To get to the 1,099cc displacement, Aprilia kept the 81mm bore intact, and instead opted to stroke the cylinder to 53.32mm. A new lighter crankshaft is also part of the equation.

As before, the four-cylinder engine is the highlight of this motorcycle, as it continues to offer tractable power through the rev range, which can be deceiving at times because of its smooth delivery.

A Better Superbike?

Of course, the burning question is whether all these updates make for a better superbike…and they most certainly do, though the differences are subtle.

The one downside to Aprilia’s iterative approach to the RSV4 is that it becomes very difficult to go beyond drawbacks that are fundamental to the bike’s design.

A great case in point to this is perhaps my biggest (and maybe only) complaint about the RSV4 family: the bike’s are slow to turn – in terms of their roll rate. 

The Aprilia RSV4 is very stable when it is leaned over and on the side of the tire, but getting the bike there is a chore when compared to the offerings of other superbike manufacturers.

Some of this has to do with the fact that the RSV4 has always been on the heavier side of the superbike equation, but it also comes down to how the engineers at Noale designed the bike’s chassis and motor.

The forged wheels on the Factory models help lessen this symptom, as does lightening the mass of the RSV4, and for the 2021 model year, Aprilia has taken the added step of trimming the profile of the fairing, in hopes of offering less aerodynamic resistance in side-to-side transitions.

Do all these changes help the roll rate problem? Certainly. But do they fix it? Certainly not. A fix presumably comes from a substantial redesign of the RSV4 motorcycle, which has yet to happen.

These are the limits of evolutionary design, but it is a trade-off that has served Aprilia well nonetheless.

This is because the Aprilia RSV4 has always been strong in the other categories of comparison. For instance, the motor is powerful and tractable in its application of torque – deceivingly so, at times.

In fact, it is V4 engine that has caused so many journalists and RSV4 owners to fall in love with this superbike, developing a mild cult following the process.

The motor is brutally powerful, but instead of the punch that one would expect with 214hp on tap, the powerplant is easy to handle and offers seamless power throughout the rev range.

Twisting the grip to full-open on the exit of turns, I will admit to a modest exclamation of appreciation for Aprilia’s work on this engine. I will leave you to guess on the exact phrasing, however.

Coupled to Aprilia’s ride-by-wire throttle system – did you know Aprilia was the first to off RbW on a production motorcycle? – the power is linear in application and smooth in delivery.

It is this direct connection to the power delivery that shines from Aprilia RSV4 family, and the 2021 model year is no different.

It can be easy to ruin a good thing with more power and design changes, but Aprilia has managed to make its 65° V4 just as good as it has ever been.

And so, as you power wheelie on the climb to the backside of the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, it is hard not think that the 1,099cc motor is the pinnacle of Noale’s four-cylinder design.

To manage the beast beneath, the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 continues to have a robust electronics package suite called Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC), which was the first superbike electronics system to utilize an inertial measurement unit (IMU).

Unsurprisingly then, the latest iteration of the APRC electronics suite continues to be the benchmark in the industry.

The 2021 edition sees the addition of engine braking control to the package, though in application it is hard to tell meaningful differences between the two extremes of preferences available, and I would prefer to see Aprilia to continue to iterate on this rider aid with some wider difference between the three levels of EBC available.

More noticeable is the traction control and wheelie control configurations, though I found myself relying less on the latter than I would have expected this time onboard the RSV4, as the superbike seemed less prone to power wheelie on level surface.

This might be due to Aprilia’s new underbraced swingarm design, which seemed hook up the tire better on corner exit, and help drive the bike forward instead of up.

Or maybe the redesigned aerodynamic fairings help here as well, but I am slower to thank the advanced movement of air particles in this regard.

The best example comes at Laguna Seca’s wheelie-prone Turn 11, which is a bus stop of a corner, and certainly too slow of a turn to see meaningful aerodynamic forces at play.

Under normal forceful accelerations at Turn 11, a power wheelie is an almost certainty, but I found the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 less willing to do so here, which was curious.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the front tire of the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 seemed to touch asphalt much more often at the Californian track than I remember at previous opportunities, and that means more acceleration, which means better lap times, which means happier racers and track day enthusiasts.

What goes fast, must slow down…just by the basic laws of thermodynamics. Beyond that though, the RSV4 has always featured top-shelf Brembo bits and the 2021 model year sees dual 330mm discs mated to Stylema calipers getting the job done.

Cast wheels are the norm on the base model RSV4, though the extra coin for the Aprilia RSV4 Factory will get you a pair of forged aluminum hoops.

While I have already said a bit about the Öhlins electronics suspension pieces found on the RSV4 Factory, it was the Sachs forks and rear shock that impressed me the most on the base model package.

These all-mechanical pieces are more than adequate on the race track, providing good feedback and adjustability, so long as you don’t mind fiddling with knobs and wrenches, like our forefathers used to do.

The rest of the controls are pretty standard Aprilia pieces, which means they are straight-forward and easy to use, and the switchgear has the right look and fell for the premium superbike category.

The 5″ TFT dash has a new layout as well, and while it can be a bit cluttered at times with its portrayal of information, it generally passes my picky standards in this regard, which is slowly becoming my gift/legacy to the motorcycle industry.

The menus are easy to navigate, and having a dedicated track/race layout is always a nice touch.

Yeah, But Would You Buy It?

Getting down to brass tacks, would I buy the Aprilia RSV4? It is hard to say no…so I won’t.

The 2021 Aprilia RSV4 continues a long tradition for this superbike to be on the top of the pile in the segment, and it does so at a cheaper price point than many of its would-be usurpers. How can you argue with that?

Noale’s offering doesn’t strike me visually like its Italian counterpart, the Ducati Panigale V4, but it is every bit as potent, if not more so with this latest update.

With $4,000 between the two Italian base models, the RSV4 looks downright to be the value-buyer’s option, though things get a little closer on the price sheet between the up-spec options from both brands, which might give myself and others some pause.

Looking beyond the Italian rivalry, the Aprilia favors strongly for the simple fact that the Noale brand has been able to bring a Euro5-compliant superbike to US soil without ruining the machine. I am looking at you Honda…and you BMW.

Both of these inline-four machines come alive once you have voided your warranty and reflashed their ECUs, but that should be seen as an unfair expectation for consumers who are plunking down $20,000 and up for a superbike.

Having ridden the BMW S1000RR in European-spec, my money still goes to the cheaper RSV4 offering, though an unfettered Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP might make me think twice about putting an RSV4 Factory in my garage if price was no object.

We will have to test this idea further, for science…

The fact that the RSV4 remains at the pointy end of the conversation though is astounding, 13 years after its debut.

The bones of this bike continue to impress, and Aprilia’s smart updates to the lineup not only keep the RSV4 relevant in the most competitive category of motorcycle offerings, but they set a mark that the other brands are constantly having to chase.

Spending my hard-earned blogging dollars, the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 is the superbike I would put in my garage. Full stop.

For those who took Bitcoin to the moon and back though, the premium end of the superbike landscape gets a bit more complicated when it comes to purchasing recommendations.

The Aprilia RSV4 Factory is strong candidate for Best in Show as well, but it doesn’t shine as quite as obviously as the base model does at the lower end of the price spectrum, and I think that is partially due to price-to-performance analysis.

Base Model or Factory?

When it comes to the Aprilia RSV4, I am a base model guy through and through.

That instinct doesn’t change with the 2021 model, as the $18,999 price tag for the base model is certainly preferable to the $25,999 MSRP that Aprilia wants for the RSV4 Factory.

Is there really $7,000 of value in the RSV4 Factory? That is a question I get a lot, and to this rider’s taste, I don’t think there is.

The Aprilia RSV4 is tremendously, tremendously good, and the only real change I would make to the cheaper model is the addition of some lightweight wheels.

A couple grand gets you a nice pair of forged aluminum hoops, and then you are set to go…with an extra $5k to spend on tires and track days.

The added cost comes partially from the exclusivity of the “Factory” name, and partially from the added Öhlins SMART EC 2.0 semi-active suspension (and the wheels too, of course).

On track-focused motorcycles, I am not as bullish about electronic suspension – I find the technology better suited for the road, where the riding conditions are more variable. It should be on every road-biased ADV bike, in my opinion.

On the race track though, the added weight, and the toolbox in my pit area seem to override the perceived need for electronic adjusters and an algorithm that is trying to guess my riding style.

I will say though, spending a day on the track with the Aprilia RSV4 Factory, with changing track conditions (thank you California coastal fog, mist, and rain), I do have at least an asterisk now to place on this opinion.

Motorcycle press launches usually mean that we only have a few sessions to get comfortable on a motorcycle, get up to speed on it, and dial-in any changes we want made to the chassis and electronics.

Frankly, it’s a lot to juggle all while trying to evaluate the motorcycle in question and look good for the camera.

Having the electronic suspension on the Aprilia RSV4 Factory (and the straight-forward settings that come from the second-iteration of the EC electronic suspension package) was a boon to our journalistic process.

It took only half a session to fiddle the settings on the Aprilia RSV4 Factory to bring it from a setup suitable for a tiny Italian test rider to something more acceptable to my American-sized blogger frame.

In the real world, there is time saved by semi-active suspension (especially in the way Öhlins implements it) and this would be handy in situations where a rider is at a new track, or looking to make quick setting tests from hot pit.

Is that worth the extra $7,000 in price? I’m not there yet, but I bet for a few readers the added cost is worth the simplicity for quick suspension changes, and after being on the receiving end of that notion, I can’t argue too loudly with the logic involved. Chewy.

Photos of the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 & RSV4 Factory:

Photos: © 2021 Larry Chen – All Rights Reserved