With the world economy in a tailspin, much of the motorcycle industry is still in bunker mode. The previous heady days of ramped-up development cycles resulting in new models every two years in the sportbike market will now probably be a fond memory, as manufacturers have taken on defensive positions to ride out the financial storm and stay intact when it clears. This is especially true for the Japanese Big Four factories, who have been hit hard by the declining sales resulting from the economic downturn. Most of their sportbikes have remained mostly status quo for '10, and Suzuki has gone as far as deciding not to import any '10 streetbike models into the U.S.
European manufacturers, however, don't seem to be in much of a retrenchment. In fact, they've introduced many all-new models, and seem to have timed their new offensive perfectly. BMW's new S 1000 RR has taken the world by storm as the company's first real all-out literbike, with Aprilia not far behind with its superb RSV4 models. A clash with the established Japanese powers was inevitable.
So we gathered three of the latest Japanese literbike tackle-Honda's CBR1000RR, Kawasaki's ZX-10R, and Yamaha's YZF-R1-to face off with the BMW and the standard R version of Aprilia's RSV4 over nearly two days of circulating Northern California's fabulous 2.52-mile, 12-turn Infineon Raceway and several days of canyon carving and urban commuting in Southern California (we decided to exclude the Suzuki GSX-R1000 because of no existing '10 model, and the Factory version of the Aprilia because of its special homologation status and pricing). It was a grueling yet worthy and satisfying test with some surprising results.
Street Aprilia 83 pts.
Hmm. We were obviously enamored with the RSV4 Factory in our April issue test. So when we took delivery of the less expensive R version ($15,999 versus the Factory's MSRP of $20,999), we weren't expecting much of a performance deficit, if any. After all, the only differences between the two are the R version's Showa fork and Sachs shock in place of the Factory edition's Öhlins componentry, the Factory's lighter forged aluminum wheels, and its variable length intake system.
And for the most part, the R edition delivers on matching the Factory's superb performance. The Aprilia feels so light on its feet that it even puts the previous class gazelle, the Honda CBR1000RR, down a notch. The RSV4 R has the same small, compact feel as the Factory, making the rider feel as if he can effortlessly put it anywhere in a corner. And most of that same midrange lunge accompanied by a screaming 152.3-horsepower top-end (even higher than the Factory we tested) means the RSV4 is not lacking in the engine department.
Or is it? Nearly all of our testers surprisingly complained that the Aprilia seemed to drive off the corners well, but then acceleration felt like it petered out on top. A look at the dyno chart shows why; unlike the Factory's fairly smooth dyno graph, the R model's is racked with numerous dips and flat-spots, including one right at 10,000 rpm that blunts acceleration until it recovers at 11,000 rpm for only a short time before running out of steam 1500 rpm later (it seems the Factory's variable length intake system is crucial to its performance). The R model's downgraded suspension also drew some complaints, with harsher and less compliant action (coupled with the absolute plank of a saddle) leading many testers to feel beat down after a spirited ride on a rough canyon road.
Make no mistake, the RSV4 R is a very capable sportbike. It just wasn't as enjoyable overall as the others in this group on the street.
Suggested Suspension Settings
|APRILIA RSV4 R
||Incredibly agile chassis
||Top end flat-spot, coarse suspension
||A definite letdown from the Factory model
||Spring preload—5 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping—1.75 turns out from full stiff; compression damping—0.75 turns out from full stiff
||Spring preload—7mm thread showing; rebound damping—12 clicks from full stiff; compression damping—1 turn out from full stiff; ride height—6 threads showing on adjuster