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What It’s Like To Ride the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory at Mugello

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Imagine you have been given the opportunity to ride the iconic grand prix track at Mugello, and that you are going to do it on a superbike with well over 200hp at the crank. It has the latest technology, both in terms of electronic rider aids and physical aerodynamics. And oh, the Tuscan sun will be shining on you the whole day.

This is a sport rider’s dream. This is fat check mark on any two-wheeled enthusiast’s motorcycling bucket list. When the folks at Noale invited us to come ride the new Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory at the famed Italian race track in the Tuscany region, our affirmative reply didn’t take long to send.

I won’t lie and and try and pretend that the prospect of riding at Mugello hasn’t been high on my list of things to do before I die, but bucket-lists aside, I wanted to see where Aprilia was standing, now 10 years after the original debut of its RSV4 superbike.

What was really “new” about the decade-old machine? How did it compare to the new offerings in the industry? And, is all the hype about winglets really grounded in reality?

Well..I came back from Mugello overwhelmed, impressed, and befuddled. Let me explain.

Going Big, An 1100 Story

How do you improve on perfection? The highlight for me on the RSV4 has always been its 999cc 65° V4 engine. It is sublime.

I honestly don’t know how Aprilia’s engineers have managed to pull it off, because not only has the RSV4 traditionally pulled some of the biggest numbers on the dyno, it also sports one of the biggest, flattest torque curves in the segment.

This isn’t a peaky engine chasing horsepower at the cost of a narrow powerband. This is a bike that lets you pick any gear you want, and promises to pull you to the horizon when you crack the throttle.

For this reason alone, the previous model RSV4 was our pick from the heap. It was the king. And now, well Aprilia has gone and taken things to the next level.

The new 1,078cc displacement may seem like an obvious number, which the RSV4 1100 Factory shares with the Tuono V4 1100 Factory, but the similarities really reside in name only.

Both bikes benefit from a larger 81mm bore size to get the extra 79cc in displacement. Beyond that though, this is an all-new engine from Aprilia, and virtually none of the internal engine components from the new RSV4 could be swapped into the Tuono.

You could in theory bolt the RSV4 1100 Factory motor into a Tuono chassis, as the outer cases are the same, but if tuners were looking for easy part swaps, the engineers at Noale have bad news for you.

All of of this gets your 214 hp (159.6 kW) claimed at the crank, with 90 lbs•ft (122 Nm) of peak torque. Aprilia says that this is a 16hp improvement over the previous top-of-the line RSV4, with 5 lbs•ft of extra torque and 11 lbs less mass.

The Magneti Marelli 7SM ECU and throttle system does a good job of keeping that power in check, giving a very direct feel from the throttle to the butt dyno. The Magneti Marelli setup is aided by several other processing units through the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory’s body, namely in the IMU, ABS, and most interestingly in the dash as well.

Aprilia works closely with its dash supplier (the same one used by electric superbike-maker Energica), and found that the boutique technical supplier was better equipped to make one-off solutions for the Italian brand than what Magneti Marelli could provide out of the box.

As such, some of the RSV4’s most interesting features and calculations are powered by the innards of the color TFT dash unit…a fact that the Italian brand was reticent on disclosing.

Moving down to the gearbox, one will find a wider gear ratio, primarily because there is more torque coming from the engine, along with a higher top speed potential from the extra horsepower.

Helping things breathe is new intake setup to the motor, as well as a homologated Akrapovic exhaust, finished in carbon fiber. Aprilia says that they were able to cut 1.9 kg (4.2 lbs) with the exhaust system, along with another 2.4 kg (5.3 lbs) from using a lithium-ion battery from Bosch. 

You almost have to feel bad for Aprilia’s engineers though, because all of these changes have led to a massive power boost that is almost imperceptible to the rider. This isn’t because Aprilia’s peak power is all smoke and mirrors though, it is because the Noale factory has done an amazing job of making the power delivery steady and strong from the V4 engine.

There are no holes in the mapping. There is no surge of power from a lull in delivery. There is no vagueness at the throttle. The Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory just hauls, and asks for more once you are done.

In a way, Aprilia could have benefitted from having a peaky power delivery, because then the hit of 200+ rear-wheel horsepower would really be noticeable down the front straight of Mugello. Instead, it is the speedometer that tells the story of the tape, with 300 km/h (186 mph) an easily attainable figure…and more, if you dare.

The highlight of the RSV4 has always been its engine, and now Aprilia has just followed up that opus with another stout iteration of the design. We imagine there are only a couple more years left in this powerplant’s lifetime, but this culmination of 10 years of design and engineering is truly the best yet from Aprilia.

I will make a prediction now that the 65° V4 engine will find its place in motorcycle lore as time passes on. It is simply fabulous.

Zen and the Art of Winglets

We can’t talk about the massive horsepower gains made by Aprilia’s new 1,078cc engine without also talking about how the Italians are taming this beast.

Electronics play a huge role, of course, but Aprilia is also doing this with aerodynamic winglets, which are all the rage now in the MotoGP Championship, and have just begun cropping up in the production-based WorldSBK series.

We have to remember, Aprilia was the first motorcycle brand to debut winglets for superbikes, with the 2018 Aprilia RSV4 RF LE sporting carbon fiber wings for the lucky few who could own it.

Now, we are seeing other companies follow Aprilia’s lead…yes, I am talking about Ducati and their homologation racing machine, the Ducati Panigale V4 R. The Italians are the first to this new game, and we doubt it will take very long for the other brands to follow.

So, the question that is on everyone’s mind is whether or not these fairing protrusions actually do anything. That’s a tough one to answer without a side-by-side comparison, but we do have some insights. First though, a primer on what the winglets on the RSV4 1100 Factory are actually designed to do on the race track.

Aprilia’s engineers tell us that at 300 km/h, the winglets on the RSV4 produce 8kg of downforce onto the the chassis (through the bike’s fairings, we might add). In freedom numbers, that is 17.6 lbs of downforce, which is nothing to scoff at, but it also isn’t a huge number either.

Crunching the numbers we can apply this knowledge further, since we know from physics that downforce is based on a square of velocity. That is to say, halving that speed dramatically decreases the downforce effect, to the tune of one-quarter the original amount.

To put things in practical terms, at 150 km/h (~90 mph), the winglets are producing only about two pounds of downforce, which isn’t a lot. At 75 km/h (~45 mph), that figure is half a pound – basically nothing.

This means that Aprilia’s winglet design has less to do with anti-wheelie out of the corner (though there is a theoretical gain here), and instead has more to do with high-speed stability and braking. 

This is where testing at Mugello becomes a great choice of tracks for our press launch, as the Italian track boasts a very fast front straight that isn’t without its own wobbles and challenges…all of which culminate in the rider grabbing the front brake as hard as they dare, hoping that they did the mental calculations correctly on their brake markers.

In our hands, the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory was surprisingly stable as we rocketed down Mugello. The downforce doesn’t overcome the bump near start-finish, which sends the front wheel off the ground and your life before your eyes, but it does return the wheel promptly with little fuss.

I think the real value though is when you then ask the calipers to bring your ~190 mph adventure to a more reasonable rate, because there is a noticeable decrease in fork dive when you pull the front brake lever.

This is because those 8 kilos of downforce are already helping to compress the front forks for you when you grab the lever, which means that the braking force gets applied to the chassis quicker, as there is less fork to compress first. It is a marginal gain, but it is a clever one.

In talking downforce, we must talk about downsides, because one of the biggest questions we kept hearing before this launch was about how these winglets work when a bike is leaned over. Again, we come back to the math.

At Bucine (the final turn on the track), which is roughly a 90 mph turn (sorry, didn’t data log this one) the winglets are only producing around 4 lbs of downforce, and because of the lean angle, only some of that force is affecting the handling of the motorcycle.

At 45° of lean angle for example, this means that 2 lbs of force is pulling the bike into the lean, while 2 lbs of force is pulling the bike laterally along the ground, away from the apex. That is not a terrible amount of force in either direction, and it is important to understand that this is at one of the quickest turns on the Mugello race track.

Maybe at the MotoGP level – where finding a tenth of a second is the entire game – this makes a difference in cornering stability and thus the outright lap time, but for the vast majority of riders, we are dealing with trivial numbers. From our experience in the saddle, there isn’t too much to notice about Aprilia’s winglet design when going through a turn.

Maybe a back-to-back ride would show some subtle changes in the RSV4 turning characteristics, but there is nothing obvious to report back here at this time. I think most riders would be hard-pressed to notice the aerodynamic aids in a turn, though the high-speed gains are certainly there.

The Old Bits

With all the focus on the new V4 engine, and the winglets protruding from the side of the motorcycle, it is easy to overlook the other parts of the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory.

For 2019, we see Brembo Stylema brake calipers being used. The primary advantage of these units over the venerable Brembo M50 caliper is the reduction in weight that they bring: 65 grams per caliper. They also flow air better for cooling, which is good because Aprilia is still using big 330mm x 5mm discs, with BRM10H pads, on the front wheel.

Helping ensure things stay cool, you can add optional (read: cost extra) brake scoops made from carbon fiber to the package. Aprilia says that these scoops help lower the brake temperatures by up to 20° C (68° F), and help reduce brake lever fade.

Aprilia recommends the air scoops primarily because of the narrow distance between the two fork tubes (205mm), which is quite narrow in comparison to other brands. The tubes are close together to help handling, but this comes at cost of being able to get the calipers and discs more in the wind. As such, the air scoops help balance that performance-based decision.

In reality, the brakes on the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory feel more or less the same to us, though it should be noted that brake fade was certainly not an issue during out four stints on the bike, despite our warm weather and the big braking zone heading into the San Donato (Turn 1) at Mugello, where you mash down from sixth all the way to second gear…mostly out of self-preservation.

Braking is augmented by the Bosch 9.1MP ABS with its cornering ABS feature. This means that there are three levels of ABS intervention, along with rear-wheel lift mitigation. For our time, we stayed in the “ABS 1” mode, which is race-level ABS on the front, and no ABS on the rear. I have always enjoyed this setup on the Aprilia, and at Mugello the feel was no different.

You do lose some of the sensitivity at the lever because of the ABS unit, but having the safety net on the front brakes for a lowside crash is a worthy benefit for track day enthusiasts when we start talking trade-offs.

Moving up the bike, we see that Aprilia has once again tapped Öhlins for its suspension duties on its top-end model. As such, Öhlins NIX forks and a TTX shock complete the package. There is more travel in the Öhlins forks now (+5mm), but Aprilia has not changed the ride height on the RSV4.

The steering head angle can now be adjusted, and from the factory it has 0.5° of less rake, again in a bid to improve the handling of the RSV4.

In the end though, the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory is about as fickle to transition from side-to-side as its predecessor, a subject of some discussion amongst myself and my colleagues. The solution isn’t obvious for the Italian brand, though dialing some more rebound on the rear (and generally stiffening up the forks and shock) greatly improved the package’s feel.

Out of the box, the RSV4 1100 Factory is a bit soft from the factory, and taking one look at Aprilia’s test riders, you can see why. Of course, making changes to the Öhlins suspension is a simple task, and the butt dyno was greatly rewarded by a few turns of the screw driver.

I still lament for some more wind protection from the RSV4 though, and nowhere has it been more noticeable than on the Mugello front straight. Considerably taller and broader than Aprilia’s testing squad, the front straight at Mugello was perhaps more of a workout for me than its turns.

A taller screen would certainly go a long way for the superbike, but a wider fairing wouldn’t hurt as well, thanks in part to the “on the bike” type of riding position that Aprilia uses for the RSV4 series. The Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory left me feeling very much “in the wind” though the cockpit was easy enough to operate for my 6’2″ frame…smaller riders will have an easier time than I though.

The TFT dash is now 25% brighter than before, with 1000 candles of light behind them. The layout of information remains the same, and Aprilia does a pretty good job of displaying the important bits to the rider, which regular A&R readers will know is a particular sensitivity of mine.

The switchgear on the 1100 remains basically the same to the previous edition, and is fairly intuitive. I am a big fan of Aprilia’s dedicated index and thumb toggles, though in reality I didn’t touch them too much once the wheels were spinning on the track.

One last item of note is that the Aprilia RSV4 1100 comes with forged aluminum wheels, with rubber by Pirelli. The Italian brands continue to shod the RSV4 in 200/55 ZR17 rubber at the rear though, rather than the new hotness that is the 200/60 ZR17 rear tire size.

It is an interesting choice from the Noale factory, and unfortunately wasn’t a topic of discussion that I thought of until after leaving the Tuscany region.

For our test, we were on the Diablo Supercorsa SC1 DOT race tires, which gripped incredibly well, but had a very short lifespan in our hands. Aprilia clearly wanted to highlight the power of the RSV4 in choosing such a soft compound for our track sessions.

Yeah, But Would You Buy It?

Ah, the $24,500 question…would I put my hard-earned blogging dollars where my mouth is? For that, we need to ponder several situations.

First, we have to ask the question about how the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory feels just objectively on its own. To that, anyone that swings a leg over this machine has to give it a Fonzi two thumbs up after they come back to the pits, otherwise I am supremely worried about their mental health, metaphysical outlook on life, and general well-being. In the parlance of our time, this bike is rad.

Looking for flaws in the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory is a hard task, but it also isn’t difficult. While Aprilia has lightened the new 1,078cc superbike considerably, the endemic problems from the RSV4 platform continue: the bike is great leaned over on its side, but it does so at the detriment of being difficult to transition from side-to-side.

This has been my sole complaint on the RSV4 platform since the first time I rode one, and for all the progress made on the chassis and overall mass of the RSV4 1100 Factory, I feel that Aprilia has made only minor headway on the RSV4’s biggest (and perhaps only) flaw.

Flicking through the Luco / Poggio Secco and Materassi / Borgo San Lorenzo chicanes at Mugello (Turns 2/3 and 4/5 on the track), poses a challenge on any bike, but more so on the RSV4 1100 Factory. Picking your lines here is critical, as the corner exits narrow, and one has to be precise on their line choice. With the RSV4, this challenge is even higher, though once you are in position, the bike grinds the apex with ease.

Understand too that this is an issue of compromises, because with the slow roll rate that the RSV4 exhibits there comes also a bike that loves to be leaned over on its side, and feels extremely planted when railing through a turn with your knee (and maybe elbow) on the deck.

Other highlights? The motor is fantastic, and it is tabletop-linear in its torque curve and power delivery. Revving this bike is like rolling naked in silk sheets. Divine. Yes, you read that right.

Similarly, Aprilia continues to impress with its APRC electronics package, which is powerful, potent, and easy to use. The company has been slow to get on the electronic suspension bandwagon, which is the only big electronics package missing from the platform. Your mileage may vary though on whether you will actually miss it though.

Frankly, there is a joy that comes with riding the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory. For that reason alone, it is an easy recommendation to someone who is looking for a new track weapon.

But…oh you knew there was a but coming…I am not sure that Aprilia has made a big enough step from the last year’s edition (or the 2017 edition) of the motorcycle, and that brings us to our second buying scenario: the upgrade.

I suppose if you need to have the latest and greatest, upgrading from the 2018 model to the 2019 machine is a logical choice. You do get more – of everything – from the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory, but if that is your outlook on life, you don’t need me to tell you what to buy. But for the more discerning consumer, I’m not so sure about the 1,078cc machine.

In the category, I still think the RSV4 RR is the sweet spot on the dollars-to-grins ratio, and there is nothing about the RSV4 1100 Factory that leaves me wanting to urge 2018 owners to trade in their bikes for the new model.

I am intrigued by the winglets and do believe aerodynamic aids are the new hot thing in the superbike space, but Aprilia has wisely made this feature available to previous generation owners, through the company’s Factory Works program. The penny-pincher in me says simply buy the wings from them if you want to look the part.

As for the 214hp on tap? I could take it or leave it. That sounds crazy to say, even to my own ears, but the diminishing return on horsepower has reached the superbike segment. There is only so much fun that can be had on a superbike if the traction and wheelie control are constantly blinking at you.

The superbikes that sport quoted 200hp figures already loft the front and slide the rear at will, and with another 15hp or so on tap, that fact is only underlined more. What do I really want from this sector? What is really going to make my lap times drop further? About 50 lbs less of two-wheeled mass.

As Kate Moss famously said, nothing tastes as good as how skinny feels. Maybe it is time for some heroin-chic in the two-wheeled space.

As carbon fiber becomes more of a mainstay in the space, and an area for development (look at the BMW HP4 Race and Ducati 1299 Superleggera), I think my hope will come true. Until then, the horsepower wars seem to continue.

Moving on to our third buying-scenario, we get into the mind of the comparison shopper. This is what you really wanted to know, right? We have had all winter to bench race these spec sheets, and now it is time to find out who is the king of the hill, and here I am going to disappoint you, because…I don’t know.

This is because for the Ducati Panigale V4 S (the closest competitor in the group) press launch, we rode at Valencia, which couldn’t be more different of a race track when compared to Mugello.

I would love to see how the Panigale V4 S handles the long straight of Mugello, and whether the Bologna bullet is up to physical task that Mugello challenges to those who leave its pit lane.

Similarly, I would love to find out how the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory handles the tight, but flowing, lines of the Spanish circuit.

Throw in the other new superbike for 2019, the all-new BMW S1000RR, which saw a very rainy debut for our testing time, and you have three machines that vie for the honors of best in show.

But, we have too many variables to account for and balance here to make an honest recommendation. There just doesn’t exist yet a good enough apples-to-apples comparisons to say with certainty who is at the top of the heap.

On price, it might be the BMW; on features, it might be the Ducati; on refinement, it might be the Aprilia. I just don’t know, but I want to find out. Stay tuned.

To sum up for our readers that made it this far (I’m looking at you, millennials), here is the TL;DR version of the review: If you want a rad bike, you should buy this bike. If you already have a rad bike, maybe you don’t need this rad bike too. And, the jury is still out on whether this is the raddest bike on the market, but it certainly might be.

As the man says: Be good. Wear gear. Make wheelies.

Photos: Milagro

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.

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