**Well it's about time. **
So it's about time that Aprilia joined the ranks of motorcycle manufacturers that offer a softened-up, more hospitable machine based upon one of their current hard-core sportbikes? Yeah, we'd agree with you there. But that's not what we're talking about.
We're saying it's about time that a manufacturer offered up a naked bike with performance characteristics that fulfill the role that the adspeak related to these motorcycles implies. Specifically, an engine that offers gobs of instantaneous low and midrange acceleration that will squirt you out of a tight mountain corner, or out of a tight (and hazardous) traffic situation in the city. All wrapped in a comfy, yet taut, chassis that can cover all the duties a bike like this will call for.
Aprilia's Tuono may be a somewhat conventional Italian naked bike, in that it uses the V-twin powerplant from the company's top-shelf sportbike, the RSV Mille, just as Ducati's S4 Monster uses the same basic engine from its 996 sportbike. But any conventional aspects of the Aprilia Tuono end there.
The Tuono R we rode on these pages was one of just 200 units built for worldwide consumption by Aprilia last year. Built as a sort of gauge to see how the public would accept a stripped-down Mille R (the Tuono uses all of the R's race-spec running gear), the complete production run immediately sold out despite its over-$16,000 price tag. Buoyed by the enthusiastic response, Aprilia introduced a less expensive, volume production version of the Tuono at September's Intermot show (designated the Tuono Fighter in Europe), which should be available by December 2002 in the U.S. The production version of the Tuono will feature lower-cost suspension (Showa fork, Boge rear shock and non-adjustable steering damper replacing the hlins pieces), wheels (standard cast aluminum instead of the OZ forged aluminum rims), and plastic replacing the carbon fiber and Kevlar bits. Suggested retail price of the Tuono in the States will be $11,999, which puts it right in line with the Ducati S4 Monster.
But this definitely ain't no Monster, a fact that becomes apparent the moment you sling a leg over the Aprilia. The wide, motocross-style tapered handlebar (the bar's diameter tapers from 70mm at the clamps to 22mm at the grips, for just enough flex to help absorb the nasty hits a motocross course can dish out) is mounted in a 170mm riser bolted to the top triple clamp. This puts your torso in a fairly upright position, which combines with the well-padded seat to foster all-day comfort. Taller folk, however, may wish for a bit more legroom, as the pegs are in the identical position to the Mille, with a rather high and rearward setup for a bike of this nature.
This bike is basically a stripped-down Mille R, so the engine and rolling chassis are the same. The gorgeous aluminum twin-spar frame and swingarm, however, have been painted a bronze/magnesium hue, which strikes a nice contrast to the increasingly popular graphite-black paint used for the tank and major bodywork pieces. With the Mille's fairing gone, nice Kevlar and carbon fiber bits are used in various trim areas to either smooth the engine's harsh mechanical lines, or serve a functional purpose, like the chin fairing which channels air flow through the oil cooler. Many fasteners and hardware on the Tuono R are made from titanium, befitting the bike's limited production status. As on the Mille R, fully adjustable hlins suspension is used front and rear, along with the lightweight forged aluminum OZ wheels and four-pad Brembo brakes.
Gearing is also identical to the Mille, which means very tall; despite the motor's excellent torque and throttle response (more on that later), sixth gear is pretty much useless for accelerating strongly anywhere under 80 mph. The Tuono R's small quarter fairing does a decent job of keeping the wind blast off your chest at highway cruising speeds, but even with a taller windscreen than the sportier Mille, some buffeting can be felt on the top of the rider's helmet and shoulders. Although the Tuono R's midsection appears bulbous with the rather wide gas tank (the same 4.8 gallon unit on the Mille), the cutouts in the tank's rear section allow the rider's knees to tuck in, reminding him that this is, after all, a narrow V-twin hotrod.
And what a hotrod it is. The Tuono R, in a word, rips. If there was ever a bike that fit the description of streetfighter--a bike that can hold its own in urban environs by virtue of its deft handling and cat-quick acceleration--the Tuono R is it. But the added plus is that the Aprilia's outstanding performance transcends any neat sporting categorization. This bike is equally at home shredding a tight canyon road, or even trekking out to a track day (as long as there aren't any long straights, since fighting the wind blast will wear you out in a hurry).
THE RIGHT STUFF
Our test unit was equipped with an accessory titanium slip-on exhaust (which was a tad on the loud side) and requisite ECU chip, which surely helped the engine's overall performance somewhat. Nonetheless, the Tuono R's motor offers the type of instantaneous, yet manageable, acceleration that we've felt has been missing from the vast majority of naked bikes we've tested so far. As long as you're not lugging the V-twin below 3000 rpm in one of the higher gears (grabbing a handful of throttle here causes the chain to snatch as the motor's power pulses fight the tall gearing), zipping from from point A to point B is but a twist of the wrist away. The Aprilia's throttle response makes its ability to squirt into your intended spot in traffic (or between tight canyon corners) almost addicting.
But the Tuono R's low-end torque response doesn't come at the expense of midrange or top-end. Again, this is basically a Mille R motor, so power feels like it's building exponentially as the quick-revving V-twin zooms into its upper rpm range. This bike will bring out the hooligan in everyone, since pinning the throttle anywhere in first gear will send the front end shooting skyward, and second gear wheelies are but a light tug on the bars away. The Tuono R's upright seating position surely helps here, but it also causes you to grip the bars tighter, as their wide splay puts more of your torso out in the wind blast as the Aprilia builds speed with the same intensity as the Mille R. Thankfully, the adjustable hlins steering damper mounted transversely near the bottom triple clamp keeps the rider from feeding too much input into the flighty front end and generating tankslappers.
Speaking of hlins, the R-spec fork and shock seem almost overkill on a bike like this, but we definitely weren't complaining, especially when flinging the Tuono R through some of the twistier canyon roads. The suspension's ability to deal with pavement irregularities large and small is unparalleled--there's a reason why so many race teams use that particular brand--and this is a good thing considering the speed the Aprilia can generate. Combined with the strong motor and upright ergos, which give the rider even more leverage over the wide motocross handlebars, steering and handling on the Tuono R is precise and responsive enough to give hard-core sportbikes fits in those same tight canyons. The four-pad Brembos bleed off speed strongly and progressively, with only one-finger application necessary in all but the most daring situations, and the high-set footpegs ensure that ground clearance during max lean cornering is never a problem.
The Tuono that will be coming stateside in December 2002 to Aprilia dealers won't have the benefit of the hlins suspension components, or the race-spec exhaust and fuel mapping. There will also probably be a slight weight penalty of a few pounds, due to the catalyzers that will enable the Aprilias to pass EPA pipe-sniffers. But if the U.S.-bound Tuono's performance is anywhere close to the Tuono R--and we can't see it being that far off in the worst case scenario--then Aprilia has got a winner on its hands. The first naked bike to offer the type of performance we've felt the class needed all along.
APRILIA TUONO R
Suggested retail price: $17,995
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC 60-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 97 x 67.5mm
Compression ratio: 11.4:1
Carburetion: Electronic Fuel Injection, 51mm throttle bodies
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Super Dragon Corsa
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Super Dragon Corsa
Rake/trail: 25 deg./3.9 in. (99mm)
Wheelbase: 55.7 in. (1415mm)