Why aren’t there more V-4 sportbikes? The V-4 is a logical yet rarified engine configuration. Even with my limited grasp of engineering principles, the benefits of a V-4 are fairly evident: The crankshaft-sparing energy transfer between pistons, high rev ceilings, and slim packaging add up to one proper way to assemble moving parts. If Honda uses one in its RC213V MotoGP bike, it’s gotta make some kind of sense.
Honda’s V-4 racebikes are the most storied of all V-4s. The arc of Honda’s four-stroke V-4 racers can be traced from the FWS 1000 all the way to Marc Marquez’s RC213V, with go-fast luminaries along the way, such as the RC30 and RC45 homologation specials, and the oval-pistoned NR750. And then there’s the two-stroke NSR GP bikes. CBRs aside, the motorcycles that most defined Honda as a brand and as the engineering innovator of motorcycle racing had V-4 engines.
That Honda does not currently produce a mass-market V-4 remains one of motorcycling’s most frustrating, beguiling disappointments. The “Honda Is Building a New V-4 Superbike” rumor is the most persistent in motorcycling’s corner of the internet. It’s clickbait that I fall for every time because I want to believe it. The best way to mend a broken heart is to find another love. Since Honda refuses to build an affordable V-4, I’ll take my affections to the Italians.
Thanks to Aprilia, and now Ducati, sportbikers can buy mass-produced, brilliant V-4s with the whooping multi-cylinder rush of one of the most celebrated, successful, and alluring engine architectures of all time.
So until Honda gives us a VFR1000R, VF1000RR, RVF1000, RCxx, or whatever (I’ll have the Joey Dunlop TT replica, thank you), the Italians will carry the torch.
Yesterday: Honda RC30
The RC30, or VFR750R, is definitive: a V-4 Honda that gives the impression that every mechanical detail was wrought in aluminum just as it was devised in the brilliant mind of the Japanese engineer whose insomnia was fed by the quest for designing the most efficient suspension linkage or the perfect location for the swingarm pivot. It is passion fuelled by obsession, precision as moral imperative, the final iteration as the only iteration. That was Honda.
The RC30 represents that Honda. It’s a motorcycle that’s beautiful in its functionality and significant because of its racetrack achievement.
With a wet weight of 488 pounds and a claimed 118 hp, the RC30’s performance could be eclipsed by a second-hand R6, but its provenance and hand-built beauty make most bikes seem generic by comparison. There’s a whiff of superiority about the whole thing, which only a V-4 Honda can pull off.
To enjoy a V-4 moment, google “RC30 promotion film.” It’s the most soothing motorcycle video imaginable: Men in matching coveralls lovingly assemble an engine and slow-mo racetrack action are accompanied by gentle piano music. Being mesmerized by the images of the pistons being fitted in the cylinders and marveling at Joey Dunlop’s TT lap in V Four Victory are all most of us have as consolation—virtual though it may be.
Today: Aprilia RSV4
This is what moving on looks like.
It’s Italian, it’s black and red, it has 201 hp, and it doesn’t need Aprilia’s 2000-era lion graphic to let you know it’s a beast.
Generally regarded as one of the best superbikes on the market, the RSV4 has something all the other superbikes don’t: a snarling 65-degree V-4. For 2018, the Panigale V4 enters the fray, but over the years, the Aprilia has been honed to a sharp edge, which will ensure we won’t stop loving it, even when the next big thing rolls down the road.
Even the garish “#bearacer” emblazoned on its fairing can’t put us off. Remember how badass Max Biaggi’s jet black RS250 looked? The RSV4 has that shadowy exterior on the inside. At least, that’s what the exhaust note conveys.
In addition to the standard models, Aprilia offers the moneyed V-4 enthusiast the chance to own the ultimate machine through its Factory Works program. The program offers superstock and superbike spec RSV4s as well as the RSV4 FW-GP, which features a 250-hp engine derived from the RS-GP15 MotoGP bike—pneumatic valves and all.
Perhaps that’s enough to make the Italians the new kings of the V-4.