The timing couldn't be any better for the Europeans. At a time when the Japanese manufacturers are scaling back on the rapid pace of their sportbike development cycles, European makes are pooling together all of their resources to take the fight to the Japanese literbikes head on. When Aprilia announced the RSV4 Factory as its superbike contender, the others took notice. With a long lasting Grand Prix heritage, mainly in the 250cc championship, the factory had a long line of experience to draw from when designing its flagship model. The goal was simple: Design a world-class 1000cc superbike with the handling capabilities of the 250cc racers that have won numerous world championships to date. Of course, a company like Aprilia wouldn't stand for employing conventional methods, either. Instead of an inline four like the Japanese (and BMW) the folks at Noale chose a Vee configuration for the engine. Not a V-twin, mind you, but a V-four of 999cc to keep within the World Superbike rules mandating engine size for four-cylinder machines. And with the Factory model comes the top-shelf components we've come to expect from Aprilia, but more on that later.
Building On A Racing Heritage
By now you've surely seen Max Biaggi's successful 2009 World Superbike campaign, riding for the same manufacturer that brought him three world 250cc titles. If you've looked closely you may have noticed just how small the bike really is: Biaggi's about the size of a horse jockey, but aboard the RSV4 Factory he looks, dare I say, normal. His stellar performance aboard a brand new machine in its first year of competition had us journalist types chomping at the bit for our chance to ride the production version. That chance came when our European correspondent, Alan Cathcart, sweet-talked his way into spinning some dry laps around the Adriatico Misano circuit in Italy during the mainly wet world press introduction ("Reborn Return", July '09).
Cathcart was glowing after his stint on the machine, which made our anticipation for a full shakedown that much harder to handle. That time has come, however, and the bike surely delivered some surprises, both good and bad. We put the 'Priller on the dyno, took it through the canyons, wrung its neck for top speed numbers and quarter mile times as well as lived with the machine for awhile. About the only thing we didn't do is take it to the track due to scheduling conflicts with the local racetracks during our December test schedule when we possessed the bike. It just so happens we had some of the '09 literbikes, like the Honda CBR1000RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R and Suzuki GSX-R1000 still around from last year's literbike shootout and we brought them along as a pseudo benchmark to see where the RSV4 stacked up (more on that in the accompanying sidebar).
Building On Success
When we saw the bike on television during the World Superbike races we knew it was going to be tiny, but seeing the bike in the flesh for the first time really revealed just how compact it really is. Total wheelbase is just 55.9 inches, but its super compact dimensions make you think you're on a much smaller displacement machine. There's no doubt of its racing heritage as its seating position places the rider up high, with the rearsets up and back, giving a comanding view of the road at the expense of your wrists. Your bum will be hurting too since the saddle is unforgiving-just like its racing ancestors.
Love it or hate it, the huge...
Love it or hate it, the huge exhaust that's slung to the side of the Aprilia is needed to meet the stringent Euro 3 emissions requirements. Despite it's size it still produces a distinct V-four rumble that is anything but quiet. Note the rear brake caliper mounted under the swingarm for easier rear wheel swaps.
Thumb the starter and the 65-degree V-four actually takes a few cranks to fire up. Once alive the four cylinders bark loudly despite the gargantuan exhaust pipe jutting out the side. As Cathcart mentions in his First Ride piece, the Vee engine configuration was choosen to maintain as narrow and compact a platform as possible. Inside, the 78.0 x 52.3mm bore and stroke make for a largely oversquare architecture. Compression ratio is a stout 13:1 and the cylinders are fed air via 48mm throttle bodies that incorporate variable length intake tracts, much like those seen on the Yamaha YZF-R1 and R6. Twin injectors ensure that enough fuel gets burned up when the right wrist gets heavy.