Other 2011 Updates
Overshadowed by all the electronic upgrades are other important improvements to the RSV4 for 2011 to boost performance. A revised internal oiling setup improves cooling and lubrication at high rpm, and the gear-driven counterbalancer now runs in roller bearings for less friction. First- through third-gear transmission ratios are spaced nine percent closer together for better acceleration, although it requires a taller first gear because of the shorter final drive ratio. A new butterfly exhaust valve and motor are better adapted to work with the ride-by-wire throttle, and the exhaust muffler canister was revised, with a new shape and construction dropping more than four pounds from the previous version. Pirelli has provided a new 200/55-size rear Diablo Supercorsa SP tire to help put the Aprilia’s TC-managed power to the ground.
The Aprilia’s ride-by-wire throttle fires up the RSV4 with a quick bark as it automatically opens the throttle plates slightly when you hit the starter button. The 65-degree V-four settles into a fairly high 1500-rpm idle, and swinging a leg over the Aprilia’s somewhat diminutive but supportive saddle reveals ergos that are definitely cramped for those over six feet tall. While most of the info on the red-hued LCD is easily distinguishable at a glance, the mirrors are nearly useless (although better than the Ducati 1198’s); despite its obvious hard-core sporting intent, the Öhlins suspension is sophisticated and well-sorted enough to allow a fairly acceptable ride on the highway while still remaining composed at an aggressive pace with firm settings. And although Aprilia made some small detail changes in an attempt to improve the RSV4’s fuel economy, it still remains a rather thirsty sportbike; hard riding will drop the fuel consumption into the 28-mpg range, and even mellow commuting only brought the numbers up to 33-34 mpg, meaning a range of 145 miles per tank of gas at best.
Tightening up the spacing of the lower three gear ratios has helped overall acceleration, but the side effect of the closer-ratio gearbox is a much taller first gear. Taking off from a stop requires a lot more clutch slip than before, and any low-speed trolling through traffic will have your left hand getting a bit of a workout. The tall first gear also makes hard launches a bit trickier, requiring a deft clutch hand to get the best acceleration. And unless you’re really accelerating hard, it’s probably best to avoid using the AQS and employ the clutch for the first two upshifts, as the kill time is annoyingly long enough at cruising speeds that the gearchange becomes very jerky.
Speaking of launches, the ALC does help — although not so much because of the rev limiter, but more because of the wheelie control. Because of the tall first gear, it’s easy to release the clutch too soon in the heat of a race start, which normally would result in an unintended wheelie; the ALC is able to sense a wheelie occurring, and blunts power at the right moment to keep the wheelie from getting out of hand while still maintaining good acceleration. Launching at 10,000 rpm though (via Level 1 or 2) is a bit much in our opinion, as it tends to be overly hard on the clutch. While Level 3’s 9500-rpm limiter is a bit better, the traction control seems to be really intrusive, making us think that this stage is made for starts in wet conditions.
And the traction control on the Aprilia is probably the best we’ve sampled yet as far as transparency during intervention. While the higher settings from Level 8 to Level 4 are fairly heavy-handed, Level 3 is when the fun starts, as the system will let the rear tire spin just enough to allow some pivoting; and unlike the BMW S 1000 RR that starts to pump on the rear suspension, or the Kawasaki ZX-10R that starts to get a squirmy feeling in the rear, the ATC’s intervention is very subtle. Level 2 and especially Level 1 allow enough wheelspin that you’d better be ready to pick the bike up onto the fat part of the tire in slower corners, otherwise you could be forced to file a flight plan with the FAA if you’re not careful. As with the other TC systems, the ATC is not a failsafe at the lower intervention levels, and will not suffer fools lightly.
Spec-chart mavens will scoff at the Aprilia’s comparatively weak 152-horsepower dyno reading (at least when you’ve got the 170-plus-horsepower class gorilla BMW to contend with) and its middling quarter-mile time (the tall first gear hurts it here), but what isn’t shown in the numbers is how quickly the RSV4 revs and how well-matched the gearbox ratios are to its power. And this isn’t meant to imply that the Aprilia has a narrow powerband, either; as evidenced by the dyno chart, the RSV4 sports a wide, flat torque curve that allows you much more leeway in which gear to use in a certain section. Although we sometimes used the Sport engine mode in traffic, all other times we preferred the right-now throttle response of Track mode, even on the street.
Get the Aprilia in the meat of its powerband though and start banging upshifts with the AQS, and you suddenly find that the distance between corners has shortened much quicker than you’d planned. The RSV4 accelerates with a ferocity off the corners that is easily a match for even the fastest and most powerful inline fours. In fact, its fairly short wheelbase and centralized mass combine with the quick-revving power to make the Aprilia somewhat wheelie-prone — which makes the AWC a welcome rider aid.
The AWC makes all other wheelie control systems seem a bit primitive or inconsistent by comparison. While the BMW tends to be either too heavy-handed (cutting power abruptly) or hands-off, and the Kawasaki’s setup a bit inconsistent, the AWC is much more “intelligent” and subtle in its intervention. Adjustable to three different levels (or shut off), the Aprilia’s wheelie control literally lets you dial in how much wheelie you’d like — and when it does activate, it doesn’t slam the front end to the ground like the BMW. Level 3 basically keeps the front tire on the ground, Level 2 lets the front end loft slightly off corners before gently bringing it back to earth, and Level 1 lets you look like a hero before it reins in the party in a controlled manner. Again, the AWC is not a failsafe in the lower levels; it is possible to loop over backwards in the lower gears going over major elevation changes if you’re not careful.
While the Aprilia might suffer at the end of a long straight to more powerful bikes, it will make up most of that time on the brakes and on corner entry. The Brembo monobloc radial-mount calipers and dual 320mm discs provide excellent stopping power and feel, although we wished for a bit more progressiveness to their response; a bit more lever effort that we’d like was required for major stopping power. Nonetheless, the powerful brakes work with what is probably the best stock slipper clutch setup we’ve tried so far and the RSV4’s superb front-end feel to allow banzai corner entries that would be tad risky on another bike.
Combine all this with what is probably the most agile literbike chassis in the class, and you have the ingredients for a bike that is hard to fault. While not the lightest-steering bike around, once the turn is initiated, the RSV4 simply carves into corners with a precision that borders on telepathic. Line changes can be made with barely any effort, and the options in the corner that open up as a result add up to more speed on the exit.
Racing Technology for the Masses
It’s pretty obvious that we were highly impressed with the Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE (despite its elongated moniker). The RSV4 Factory was already a fantastic bike, but the addition of the most refined electronic rider aid package we’ve yet tested has put its performance on a whole new level. Yes, the entrance fee is a bit steep at $22,499 MSRP, but this is the closest yet to current racing technology that you can buy. And the fact that it’s included on a bike that’s already a superb performer easily makes it worth it in our opinion. SR