Marketing Rule No. 1 for small manufacturers might as well be "Go where the big guys aren't." Aprilia, in the new Shiver 750, has done just that. Intended as an entry-level sportbike- think of a more sophisticated Suzuki SV650 rather than a sleeved-down Tuono-the Shiver stakes out territory largely unsettled by Japanese manufacturers and only sparsely populated by Ducati's long-running Monster line.
In many ways the Shiver follows a difficult mandate to be a capable but docile learner bike and also possess a performance streak that allows bikes like the small SV to appeal to experienced riders as well as newbies. Not an easy task, because some things hard-core sport riders appreciate are simply too much for first-timers.
So the Shiver plays it softer. Give Aprilia credit for understanding this mission's subtleties and doing a remarkable job hitting the target. Let's start with the engine. It's not a Rotax mill, as in the larger twins, but something that started as a Piaggio Group design. It's totally modern, with a 90-degree vee spread and four valves per cylinder motivated by a hybrid cam drive system. For each head a chain extends from the crankshaft -one on each side of the engine-terminating at a sprocket backed by a gear. Each cam in the head is then turned by the gear, which helps reduce the head stack, allowing the front cylinder to be only 15 degrees off the horizontal and not utterly block the front wheel. Unlike the Rotax engines, the Shiver's 749.9cc motor (from a 92mm bore and a 56.4mm stroke) is a wetsump design. Claimed power is 95 horsepower at the crank turning 9000 rpm; a soft rev limiter calls a halt to the fun just 500 rpm later. Word is this engine can go to a full liter easily, and that would be worth lining up for.
While the engine internals are modern, if not groundbreaking, the Shiver's induction system takes a forward view in the form of ride-by-wire. As in other similar systems the rider commands the computer and the computer moves the throttle plates, one per cylinder. A single injector per cylinder delivers the fuel, and what's left unburned is cleaned up downstream by a large catalytic converter in the up-pipe behind the engine just before the wickedly angular underseat exhaust. An oxygen sensor in the system helps fine-tune fuel delivery.
This sweet-sounding and nearly vibration-free engine hangs in a "bitsa" frame, with a bit of this (steel chromoly tube from the steering head to the rear head boss) and a bit of that (cast aluminum surrounding the engine-case-captured swingarm pivot.) A cast-aluminum swingarm works through a single Sachs shock (adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping) without a link. Aprilia says moving the shock outboard to the right makes more room for the rear cylinder's exhaust pipe. Up front is a Showa fork bereft of any adjustments and nondescript, fourpiston, radial-mount calipers pinching 320mm discs. Not quite leading-edge sportbike stuff but, as we'll see, sufficient for the midlevel aim.
Our introduction to the Shiver took place after Aprilia and Moto Guzzi's dealer show in Scottsdale, Arizona-not exactly a hotbed of head-swimming sport roads (in fact it was just hot). We opened the sweltering day with a long freeway ride, which showed the Shiver's ergonomic profile to be spot on. The thick center bar is much like a Tuono's but is shorter and positions the grips notably closer to the rider. (Aprilia's staff had three Shivers for the assembled scribes, but one fell out with a mechanical glitch; a Tuono was substituted and made a marvelous roving benchmark.) The seat is softer than the current Tuono's but not too squishy; it feels closer to the ground than the 31.9 inches on the spec sheet. Long-legged riders will be delighted by the Shiver's generous seat-peg distance, which feels like twice as much as on the Tuono. (It's not, of course.) Even so, the passenger-peg carriers force your heels outward. At highway speeds the 90-degree engine puts out almost no vibration, in marked contrast to the comparatively frenetic 60-degree engine in the Tuono. It feels relaxed and torquey, reasonably quick to rev, though you'll not mistake it for a full 1000cc.
Finally we found some twisty pavement and let the Shiver have its head. Something we noticed around town came into sharp relief on the road out to Tortilla Flat: The throttle-by-wire system is dang curious - screwy, even. The engine feels very soft initially, as though it was carbureted and jetted way too richly. It doesn't bobble or bark but requires a healthy twist of the throttle to dispense some torque.
Not to worry; the Shiver has saved it up. Anytime the engine is above 5500 rpm and your wrist is more than halfway to the stop, the bike surges ahead. The transition from laid-back to strident is sometimes easily predicted, sometimes fairly abrupt. In any case it feels unnatural. Moreover, there's no disguising the Shiver's power deficit to the Tuono. On the same road the Tuono almost never demands full throttle to keep pace; on the Shiver you're at the stop often.
Generally the suspension is well behaved, feeling nothing like downmarket components, and the calibration seems about right for light to midweight riders. Press the bar and the Shiver goes where you want with good haste. It's not as quick-witted as a full-on sportbike, with some of the energy put into changing direction eaten by suspension pitch, but enjoyable nevertheless. Only the brakes disappoint. Despite being radialmounted and firm at the grip, the binders are reluctant to go to work and somewhat wooden. You often know what the front tire is doing, but not always.
Perhaps we're being harsh and biasing our views of the Shiver on the same-day/same-road ride with the more expensive, experts-only Tuono. No question the Shiver is softer, kinder, less aggressive and more agreeable in day-today riding, with little of the Tuono's please- let's-go-faster insistence. That characteristic, allied with the surprisingly modest $8999 price tag, will help the Shiver find a home with juststarting enthusiasts who want and can afford more V-twin sportbike than the SV650.
Oh, and the Guzzi? With the Norge taking sport-touring duty, the Breva could move toward the sporty end of the line. With this in mind the happy lads in Mandello del Lario have bumped the Breva's displacement to 1151cc (from 1064, by way of 3mm more bore and 1.2mm more stroke), fitted a handsome nacelle around the headlight and given the engine a few deepbreathing exercises to help bump power from 86 to 95 horsepower at 7800 rpm. Guzzi also fitted a new handlebar that's shaped so it must be rotated well forward-to keep the switch clusters from banging the tank-in turn making the Breva feel about 17 feet long. It's still a heavy, long motorcycle (505 pounds dry, 58.5-inch wheelbase), and the "Sport" in the name is more gray-templed reservedness than tattooand- piercing exuberance, as in "Greetings, old sport, how was the yacht race?" The well-heeled Guzziphile will doubtlessly sign the $13,590 check for one and not flinch at changing the handlebar to make it comfortable. Jolly good.