2011 Aprilia RSV4 APRC SE | Review

Factory APRC SE

The term high tech has never had a more suitable subject to describe outside of NASA than the new 2011 Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE (Special Edition) racetrack-ready motorcycle. It has traction control, launch control, wheelie control, triple ride-by-wire riding modes, quick shifter and blinkers incorporated into its mirrors. The RSV4 Factory APRC is what legends are made of.

With the offering of APRC technology to a mainstream audience, Aprilia has the recipe to shatter everything that stands in its way in 2011. You’ve got to love Aprilia’s attitude of daring to fail to succeed. It takes guts to bring along a bike such as the RS3 Cube-the first manufacturer to use ride-by-wire in MotoGP.

It failed, so Aprilia packed up its MotoGP ambitions, rebooted its computers and came back stronger than ever in World Superbike with the RSV4 Factory and Max Biaggi. Aprilia developed a triple from scratch, binned it.

Then thought about building a new V-twin. Binned it. And then finally chose to build a V4. Aprilia built the V4 from scratch in-house and launched it as quickly as it could, and, in 2010, Aprilia won the World Superbike Championship with Biaggi.

Having followed this bike from the pre-concept stage to reality, I’m delighted to be able to give unconditional praise. It rained at Misano, engines blew up at Mugello, and it was cold and damp at Estoril. Those are all places I’ve been with Aprilia to test the RSV4.

Here I am at Jerez, another Grand Prix circuit and the temperature is 88 degrees F and conditions perfect. Finally, the highest spec APRC superbike for the road ever can be tested properly.

From its failures, Aprilia has learned a great deal and the RSV4 Factory APRC can be called a motorcycling virtuoso in the technical area. A combined (but competitive) effort from Aprilia, BMW, and Ducati has bloodied the Japanese noses seriously in the last couple of years. Aprilia and Ducati have done it on the World Superbike circuits (though Yamaha did prevail in WSBK in 2009), and BMW on the sales charts.

The APRC (Aprilia Performance Ride Control) system consists of the following control systems:

ATC (Aprilia Traction Control)

A system designed to help the rider limit wheelspin, or slippage of the rear wheel relative to the front wheel.

ALC (Aprilia Launch Control)

A system designed to help the rider optimise acceleration from a standing start.

AWC (Aprilia Wheelie Control)

A system designed to help the rider limit wheelying by reducing torque and returning the front wheel gently to the ground.

AQS (Aprilia Quick Shift)

This system enables upshifts without using the clutch and without changing the throttle position.

The instrument panel includes is a specific orange indicator light for the APRC system (triangle symbol).

Now, let me tell you how good this motorcycle is. On my very first lap the Aprilia APRC technicians force-fed us level eight. I thought, “How dull. They are ruining my fun like this!” However, they were right and I was wrong, as this was the perfect way for me to ride the tightest Jerez corners using first gear, full throttle and just let the traction control automate me through the corners.

Without traction control such behavior on your warm up lap would end in tears–guaranteed. After that, I simply used the Mana (absolutely no reference whatsoever to anything else on that bike I promise) switch gear using the minus button to reach lower levels on the traction control or the plus button to go back up. I used my left index finger for the minus button and my left thumb for the plus button, which is intuitive, all while on the move.

There’s no sound or chugging or anything when the traction control kicks in. I could feel when the rear tire slipped, but trusted the Aprilia Traction Control (ATC) instantly. The amount of rear wheel spin allowed is pre-determined depending on which traction control level you choose. I worked my way all the way down to level one, but I did a whole session using level four which suited me just fine.

Each of us had five sessions on the bike, of which the first was to test traction control alone, the second session to test wheelie control with traction control, the third session to test launch control, and the two last sessions to freely explore. That’s nearly two full hours of hardcore undiluted adrenaline pumping action.

Wheelie control makes me think of a well-known rude old Prince song, but let’s leave it with that. Aprilia’s wheelie control is highly sophisticated, and not only stops unduly acceleration stopping wheelies from happening between low gear corners, but it knows how much it should allow and how to land them soft to avoid upsetting the handling. Don’t you tell me that is not very clever!

The physicality of trying to curb a wheelie while racing is immense. Riders have to use their upper bodies like athletes forcing weight forward while accelerating and withstanding G-forces and wind resistance. Aprilia has, with the AWC, taken that physicality away allowing the rider to, again, concentrate on pinning the throttle.

The AWC have three levels to choose from, and I suspect level one is the only really race one. Some front wheel lift is always allowed because, as long as the wheelie isn’t too high, you can still be at maximum acceleration levels. What is really good about this from a racer’s perspective is to keep that front down between really quick directional changes in low gears whilst keeping the throttle wide open.

A small wheelie is then accepted whilst you pin it and turn the bike over from side to side landing it just in time to steer out of the next corner. And landing it smoothly to avoid upsetting the front more than the steering damper can handle. There’s gyrometer wizardry involved here and not only sensors between the two wheels.

How does it work? Two gyrometers and two accelerometers are at the ECU’s disposal for any data it may need for the various systems. Anything a motorcycle can do, whether it be vertically or horizontally, the ECU is aware.

So, when we do something the throttle at the wrong time and in the wrong place, the system saves us from ourselves. Through the ride-by-wire system, the ECU also know the throttle position and based on pre-calculated algorithms based on a variety of conditions (you choose the levels, computer performs to that level). Torque is the joy and the misery of motorcycling–too little is dull and slow whilst too much in the wrong place can be dangerous.

Aprilia has nearly 100% control of torque with the APRC system. The instrumentation is bi-polar with one race mode and one road mode. In race mode, there’s no speed indication and the space is used to show a variety of information related to the APRC instead.

Launch control was another first for me (along with the wheelie control), and it is one that’s quite difficult to get right the first time. It’s not for no reason racers practice launch control, despite the fact they have done it a thousand times before. True, all you have to do is to keep the throttle fully open and release the clutch, but you still have to modulate the clutch release. Aprilia allows three levels of how aggressively you can launch.

Level one can put you in a lot of wheelie trouble if the clutch is released to quickly. Training makes perfect, but my three attempts at it were a disappointment, as I was a little bit too careful with the clutch. Aprilia made sure to advise that the clutch needed some serious cooling after each launch attempt so we did a full lap between each launch.

Imagine yourself being slowly tortured as 180 wild horses are released at once. This feature is not for road use, as you have to pass 100 mph and third gear before the system cancels itself out. And whilst in launch mode the traction control doesn’t work.

The Aprilia Quick Shifter allows you to shift up clutch-less while keeping a wide open throttle. I think you’ll start to see the pattern here. Every operation apart from braking and shifting down can basically be done with full throttle! For the Factory APRC Aprilia have added a closer spaced six-speed gearbox for improved acceleration and quick shifter which makes it into a formidable straight-line dragster. I fly down the start/finish straight and so does the gears.

The Pirelli SuperCorsa Diablo SP tires in dimensions 120/70-ZR17 and 200/55-ZR17 were developed in the 2010 FIM Superstock championship. The main advantage with the ultra wide 200-section rear tire is its superb grip on corner exit. The contact patch is wider than ever and provides superb levels of grip when 180 horsepower wants to rip it apart.

The tires are approved for speeds up to nearly 200 mph. More rubber that copes with more heat allows for some very long black lines up turn 4 at Jerez. The only thing that would give you more grip is a full on set of slicks. Wait for it, the RSV4 Factory APRC SE features traction control that self adjusts to new and different tyre sizes.

Even the final gear ratio this system can discover and fine-tune the traction control. There are professional high-end racing teams in the world with less sophisticated electronics than the RSV4 Factory APRC SE road bike. I think we at this point can give Aprilia a big bravo!

The suspension consists of fully adjustable top-spec Öhlins items, including the steering damper. Aprilia’s experts have set everything up, despite the fact that they shouldn’t know my weight. The RSV4 Factory has got that subtle but plentiful feel that speaks of high quality suspension.

The Öhlins fork and shock are soft enough for feel in slow corners and hard enough for ultra-fast corners, especially in the very fast corners 4 and 8, as I held absolutely nothing back. The brakes are the well-known Brembo monoblock radial type, which stops the 395-pound motorcycle (claimed dry) with great authority.

The only way to improve these items further is to fork out around €15,000 or so for the items Max Biaggi uses on his superbike. The chassis is fully adjustable, as you’d expect, and as nimble as a 250GP racer.

The 999.6cc V4 engine features state of the art technology, such as independently controlled throttle bodies. Max power is still 180 horsepower @ 12,250 rpm and 85 ft/lbs @ 10,000 rpm, but with improved torque delivery and acceleration in the three lower gears. The new exhaust also helps to improve power delivery. These changes shoot the RSV4 Factory like a missile out of corners.

Only the Ducati Superbike 1198 can rival in the corner exit war. The engine feels and sound great and, for such a powerhouse, there’s hardly any vibration. The mechanical slipper clutch helps stopping the bike quickly and only on two occasions during my day in the saddle could I feel any shatter whilst hard on the brakes.

The Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE can be visually distinguished by its special decals and the tricolore on the lower fairing. Those in the know will notice the new exhaust and that fat 200mm rear tyre, too.

I can finally tell you that if the APRC Special Edition (only 350 to be manufactured) turns out a success (inevitable!) the technology will be fed down to both the RSV4 R and the next RSV4 Factory. Also expect an APRC system drip down to other Aprilia road products, where the Dorsoduro 1200 was the first one out.

There are only two things the 2011 Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC SE can’t do–flying and automatically tweeting your laptimes. It’s difficult to make sense of this motorcycle on paper, but actually riding it and using the myriad of features on the circuit just immediately tells you that it’s a mechanical and technical genius. Most of Aprilia’s

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One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007 and is currently Editor at Large at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of 365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).