Obsolescence was inevitable. MV Agusta's F4 line, Massimo Tamburini's attempt to best his most famous piece-the Ducati 916-was getting a bit long in the tooth. After more than a decade of minor revisions, displacement upgrades and special limited-edition liveries named after its founder, top speed claims, and even Tamburini himself, its time had come.
But with arguably one of the best looking motorcycles of all time, improving upon that platform would be a difficult task. Obviously the challenges were many; what would be improved, how would it be improved, and at what cost? If the Ducati 999 was any indication, consumers don't respond well to a drastic change from a design that was loved by so many. On paper the objective was quite simple: go over the entire bike with a fine-tooth comb and make it lighter and more powerful. Or, as Enrico D'Onofrio, Managing Director for MV Agusta put it, "Design by the wind, judge by the clock." But to simply design a faster, lighter, more technologically advanced bike than its predecessor would have been rather easy. The challenge would be to retain the spirit and the image of the former while still meeting the performance goals.
Putting In The Hours
As you can see by these pictures, MV achieved just that. It may look the same on the outside, but look closely and the F4 is completely changed. For starters, the first thing to go on a diet is its name: the 2010 MV Agusta flagship drops any and all references to Formula One drivers, top-speed claims or important figures of the company's past, and goes back to simply being called the "F4". MV claims the only thing the new engine shares with its predecessor is the bore and stroke measurements of 76 x 55mm, respectively, giving it a total displacement of 998cc. Starting with the top end, it shares similar traits with the last generation F4 R312 like higher lift camshafts for both the intake and exhaust for more peak horsepower. Meanwhile, the intake cam is now pushing on titanium intake valves, while the exhaust side remains steel (for cost considerations, we presume). New valve springs find their way in as well.
Having pioneered the variable-length intake tracts first seen on the F4 Tamburini in 2005 (and now imitated very closely by Yamaha on the YZF-R1 and R6 and Aprilia RSV4 Factory), the F4 also utilizes the same technology called TSS, or Torque Shift System. Activated between 10,500 and 10,700 rpm, the intake tract shortens by 23mm for better top-end power while sacrificing nothing in terms of midrange horsepower. Of course with more air there needs to be more fuel, and the F4 meets those demands with a set of secondary fuel injectors not seen on the 990 or 1090 Brutale launched just a few months ago. The secondary injectors begin activation between 4000-6000 rpm, depending on throttle position. Seeing as how previous F4 models were plagued with inconsistent and choppy fueling, we think this is a measure-along with the Marelli ECU-used by Andrea Goggi, lead engine designer, to cure this problem.
Another complaint raised about the previous model F4 was its difficulty to ride in slow-speed corners as the engine had a tendency to spin quickly at the slightest touch of the throttle-not a good thing when leaned over to the max. The fix? To actually increase the weight of the crankshaft, adding 47 percent more inertia to the crank compared to the older model. The weight gain helps to make the bike feel less nervous mid-corner and aids in corner exit. The added weight is slightly offset by the lighter and stronger connecting rods. There are a host of other bits that received some updating, some of which we'll cover later, but most of which will be featured in the accompanying sidebar.
Most importantly however, lead designer Adrian Morton and his CRC team knew not to mess with success and purposely kept certain aspects to maintain the classic F4 image. While largely the same, the fairing now features larger outlets for better heat dissipation. To relieve the rider of the torturous seating position of its predecessor, the fuel tank is now moved forward and the seat was given a larger profile. All told, the F4 loses none of its signature beauty and is now relatively comfortable for six-footers.
The Fruits Of Labor
MV decided to break from tradition and invite journalists somewhere other than Italy to put the new F4 through its paces. The location would be in the south of Spain at the tight and technical Circuito de Almeria, where outright power takes a backseat to a motorcycle that can handle and drive out of a corner. But the first thing I noticed once I threw a leg over the F4 was how close my heels were to the seat in the riding position. Rearsets are just that, wedged close to the rider's bum and set far back as well. Thankfully, clip-on position is moderately high compared to, say, a Ducati 1198, so the riding position isn't completely torturous. Although the low windscreen was barely able to deflect wind over my five-foot, eight-inch frame while in a tuck.
I had my work cut out for me trying to learn an unfamiliar track while evaluating the F4, but the bike's eagerness to change direction was apparent by the second turn of the first lap, making the learning process that much easier. This is no doubt due to the weight loss program MV put it through; in total the F4 lost 22 pounds. Biggest contributors include wheels, which shed 2.6 pounds, headlamp (3.3 pounds), fuel tank (9.4 pounds), and bodywork which alone shed 10.8 pounds.
The F4's distinctive "organ...
The F4's distinctive "organ pipe" exhaust remains, now only slightly tweaked to square exits instead of round. Catalyst for the four-into-one pipes is closer to the combustion chamber for quicker "light off" of the catalyzer.
No ride-by-wire here. Traditional...
No ride-by-wire here. Traditional throttle cables are still employed by the F4 and even include a choke feature. Changing the fuel maps is a matter of fiddling with the starter button. In the background is the streamlined LCD gauge cluster showing engine speed, wheel speed, odometer, tripmeter, engine temperature, drive mode and traction control setting.
The F4 is heralded to be an easy motorcycle to ride quickly-quite the opposite from its predecessors. This would be proven true during corner exits, where the old F4 would require a steady hand to prevent the bike from running off line or spinning the tire madly. I'm glad to report that the improvements have paid off as the extra crankshaft inertia allows the rider to carry more corner speed, while the slower-spinning engine gives a more precise feel between the throttle hand and the rear tire. And while there wasn't a dyno handy to test the 184-horsepower claim, Almeria's long back straight lets the engine sing at full song, and according to the trusty "butt dyno," power to the wheel feels to be in the 150 to 160 range-about average for today's current crop of literbikes.
The fully adjustable Sachs...
The fully adjustable Sachs rear shock coupled with the 20mm longer swingarm provided a stable ride in the back with very little squat under acceleration. Note the suspension link that allows ride height to be altered.
But the straights aren't what the F4 is about. If the new F4 strives to be "judged by the clock" then that'll come down to the bits between the straights. Fortunately, that's an area where the F4 thrives. Using the Honda CBR1000RR as its benchmark, the F4's forward weight bias (52 percent front, 48 percent rear) is complemented by a relatively steep 23.5-degree rake angle (which is adjustable via an eccentric insert in the steering stem) that allows it to steer seemingly on par-if not better than-the Honda. Once on its side the 50mm Marzocchi inverted fork (which offers full adjustability) provides great feedback that inspires gobs of confidence. Elbow-dragging levels of confidence, to be precise. Out back lies a fully adjustable Sachs rear shock, complete with linkage to change ride height. This coupled with the 20mm longer swingarm played a large part in the bike's stability both leaned over and under acceleration.
Brembo four-piston monobloc calipers are mated to 320mm discs, but strangely the steel-braided lines are fed fluid via a Nissin master cylinder-not that there's anything wrong with that. Braking power is strong with a gentle initial bite and progressive feel at the lever.
Brembo monobloc four-piston calipers bite on 320mm discs. Braking power is strong with good feedback. Marzocchi forks measure 50mm and provide excellent damping. A feature that returns on the F4 is the quick-change front axle. After removing the brake calipers and axle pinch bolts, the lower portion of the fork tube assembly pivots away and the front wheel drops straight down.
Riding the new F4 one can't help but wonder if the decade it took to release it was entirely spent designing it. Whether riding at the racetrack or through the streets, the bike is absolutely smooth and vibration free. Despite our hatred for LCD gauge clusters, the unit on the F4 is surprisingly bearable. Yes it has a bar graph tachometer, which we hate, but the brightness is adjustable for day or night riding. Other than that, the rest of the display features the speedometer, gear indicator (a first for MV Agusta), traction control level (eight different levels based on engine speed, not wheel sensors) and fuel-map indicator-oh yes, add the F4 to the list of machines with different fuel maps. Unlike the others however, the F4 only has two maps: Sport and Rain. Further, Rain mode only limits power output slightly when the throttle is opened less than 25 percent, after which full power is available again. This is how power modes should be done. And the best part is that, if we're lucky, MV will bring the F4 to the states for "only" $20,000-four grand less than its predecessor. That puts it on par with the rest of its Italian counterparts. Of course, final price is yet to be determined.
It was no easy task trying to better Massimo Tamburini, but in fact that's exactly what the folks at MV Agusta did; they took a Tamburini creation and made it better. Modernized it, if you will, though there's no mistaking his substantial influence is still evident in every inch of the F4. And that's the way it's supposed to be.
Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC inline four
Bore x Stroke: 76.0 x 55.0 mm
Induction: Marelli EFI, Mikuni single-valve 49mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 23.5 deg/3.9 in. (100mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Claimed dry weight: 423 lb. (192kg)
Seat height: 32.7 in. (830mm)
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal. (17.0L)
An all-new engine design shares only the 76 x 55mm bore and stroke measurements of its predecessor. The cylinder head retains the signature radial valves and is similar to that used on the F4 RR 312, with intake valves now made from titanium. Higher-lift camshafts help the engine breathe at high rpm. Most important improvement is the heavier crankshaft that provides smoother throttle response. This redesign also does without the second counterbalancer seen on previous F4s. Not immune to the diet plan the rest of the bike was put through, the engine is lighter, more powerful and narrower than before.
Swingarm length is extended 20mm while overall wheelbase remains the same due to a revised swingarm pivot location. Rear hub assembly is similar to that on the Brutale, but improves upon vibration and driveline lash reduction through a revised cush drive system. Note the quick-change rear sprocket as well.
Further refinements to the cooling system include a new water pump and a switch from two radiators on the previous model to a single unit now. Cooling efficiency is also said to be improved by a marginal percentage. Note also the single oil cooler beneath the raditor.
First seen on the Brutale 990R and 1098RR, the new water pump now finds its way onto the F4. Not only is it lighter, its redesigned impeller also flows 65-percent more coolant at low and medium speeds than before.
Another item first seen on the new Brutale, the starter and generator assembly now makes its way to the F4. Now 3.5 pounds lighter than the old unit, vibes are calmed via rubber dampers and the unit is kept cool with crankshaft oil.
This view gives a good look at the engine's orientation within the framework of the F4. The crankshaft is situated low for a better center of gravity; that and the engine's slight forward tilt promote nimble handling. Also note that the front half of the fuel tank isn't actually a fuel tank at all, but is in fact the airbox and induction system. The actual fuel resides behind the intake and extends below the seat.
First introduced on the F4 Tamburini and copied by other manufacturers, the TSS, or Torque Shift System, sees its way to the F4. From 10,500-10,700 rpm the variable-length intake shortens by 23mm, providing usable bottom end and mid-range torque without sacrificing any top end. Airbox volume has also been increased compared to last year.
At first glance the old and the new look almost identical, but one of the more noticable changes to the fairings include these exhaust vents that help evacuate engine heat and dissipate it away from the rider.