It's become an old cliché to say that racing improves the breed, but if ever that applied to any motorcycle, it's the new Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE - as in Aprilia Performance Ride Control Special Edition.
This alphabet-soup version of Aprilia's unique RSV4, which since hitting the marketplace in 2009 has become the benchmark by which all other sportbikes are currently measured, was launched at Intermot in October, exactly eight days after Max Biaggi cemented the badge of excellence to the Italian bike by clinching Aprilia's first ever World Superbike Championship at Imola. The Roman Emperor followed that up a week later with the manufacturers' crown for the Piaggio Group's main motorcycle brand, winning the final race of the season at Magny-Cours. Later that same month, the chance to cut some laps of the Jerez GP circuit aboard the APRC, of which just 350 examples will be built and clothed in commemorative SBK title-winning livery, gave a hands-on demonstration of how the various electronic systems that helped turn Biaggi's bike into a World Champion have been so effectively adapted to customer use by the R&D team led by ex-Cagiva 500 GP chassis designer Romano Albesiano.
I'll immodestly admit to having an edge in assessing how well this had been done, having covered 20 laps of Mugello in 2009 aboard Biaggi's first-generation factory Superbike as well as riding its title-winning successor at the new Aragon racetrack in Spain. One of the significant differences between the two bikes - quite apart from the benefits of an extra 10 horsepower and five percent more torque from one year to another - was in the electronics. These have been patiently refined in-house by Aprilia over the past 18 months, with three engineers solely occupied on mapping the various programs on an ongoing basis, using systems their counterparts at Aprilia Racing had already developed for the RSV4 Superbike and before that the 250 GP two-strokes on which the company's traction control system was developed. So, for example, midway through Max's march to the world title this season, Aprilia added an anti-wheelie control to the RSV4 racebike for the first time. That is just one of the several electronic rider aids added to the APRC streetbike now on sale at an inevitably quite steep $22,500, $1500 more than the 2010-version RSV4 Factory to which it's otherwise mechanically identical save for a couple of improvements.
These aren't very numerous - Aprilia got it pretty much right first time - and include a revised internal oil system to improve cooling and lubrication, while the gear-driven counterbalancer now runs on roller bearings for reduced friction. The bottom three ratios in the six-speed gearbox have been lowered to improve acceleration still further, while also closed up by nine percent overall to one another - although the Aprilia is still geared very long, so you need to be travelling well over 125 mph on it before pulling a true sixth gear. We only pulled fifth at Jerez on standard road gearing without venturing anywhere near 13,700 rpm, at which point the engine starts to slow as the soft-action rev limiter comes in. At the 14,200 rpm peak, the Aprilia simply stops building revs and holds a constant engine speed. Whereas on the original RSV4 Factory the rather notchy direct-action gearchange was the one thing I didn't care for, on the APRC this is miles better, not only because it now has the linkage it always should have had, but also because it's fitted with one of the best wide-open powershifter systems I've yet sampled on any streetbike.
With the more extreme Track version of the three available riding modes (the others are Sport and Road) selected, the Aprilia pulls cleanly from as low as 3000 rpm on part throttle. This is doubtless thanks to a combination of the electronically controlled variable-length intakes and the exhaust powervalve, but as power builds smoothly the engine comes alive at 6500 rpm (when the valve is wide open) and accelerates very hard with a very linear delivery to the 14,200 rpm redline. I tried to spot the transition point at 10,000 rpm when the velocity stacks lift off the throttle bodies for more oomph up high, but failed - they just do. With the same 180 horsepower at the crank at 12,250 rpm as the Factory, this is just as fearsomely fast and radically rideable a Superbike with lights as the RSV4 has been from the first. Except, now, it's even better.