2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF Review | First Ride from Misano Circuit Turn
2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF at Misano World Circuit

 

The change in the Aprilia RSV4’s nomenclature from “APRC ABS” to “RR” is about the only part of the the Noale-based company’s flagship superbike that has been simplified.

The higher spec RF version tested here (which used to be the Factory) is essentially a limited edition RR. The RSV4 RF arrives with forged aluminum wheels and Öhlins suspension with a steering damper, and “Superpole” graphics that mimic Aprilia’s World Superbike race bike. The RSV4 RF – limited to 500 units –  also arrives with a trick numbered plaque on the top triple clamp.

I had the chance to ride the stunning new 2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF at quite possibly my favorite racetrack – the recently repaved and staggeringly awesome Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli on the Adriatic coast in Italy. It’s a MotoGP-level track with one very fast section through “Curvone” (Turns 11/12/13 complex), tied together with multiple technical sections that flow together really well.

Aprilia’s multi-championship winning RSV4 has always been a confidence inspiring superbike to ride, and although not necessarily the most powerful motor out there, what it lacked in outright horsepower was more than made up for by a forgiving chassis, a planted front end that was almost second-to-none, and a well-rounded electronics package straight from the WSBK race bike that was ahead of anything else out there.

2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF Review | First Ride from Misano Circuit knee dragOn board, I always found the RSV4 to be torquey and easy to ride, and I had such insane front-end confidence it constantly lured me into corners faster than intended—but on exit left me feeling as if I could have carried another 10 mph. Yes, it was that good.

Aprilia started the RSV4 revamp with a completely redesigned 65-degree V4 motor that culminated in a whopping 16-horsepower gain at 8,000 rpm over its predecessor. The engine with redesigned crankcases is 3.3. lbs lighter, and thanks to revised porting and combustion chambers in the now CNC milled head, a much more efficient airbox (with straight through airflow), and slightly larger (now titanium) valves, and considerably lighter camshafts (500 grams), the engine now outputs a mind-boggling 201 horsepower (claimed) at the crank and a healthy 85 ft./lbs. of torque.

All that power is tamed with Aprilia’s APRC seamless electronics package and pushed through a new six-speed gearbox with different ratios. Electronic aids can be a bit of a double-edged sword, and the key for me is for them to work in the background with as little obvious interference as possible.

My best-case scenario would be to report that I couldn’t tell if they were working or not, and Aprilia has now evolved their package to the point that it is just that. Consisting of eight levels of traction control (aTC) and  three levels of wheelie control (aWC) where the first setting (least intervention) now allows a smoother drop of the front wheel. Aprilia’s launch control (aLC) for full throttle race starts remains unchanged, as is the quickshifter (aQS) for clutchless upshifts.

Race-level anti-lock brakes (ABS) also has three levels and includes Aprilia’s version of rear-wheel lift mitigation (RLM). Level 3 is for rain use or poor grip surfaces; Level 2 is for fast street riding; and Level 1 is intended for the racetrack. The three settings can be combined with any of the three (Race, Track, and Sport) ride-by-wire (RbW) engine modes. Back-torque/engine braking is handled by each map, and each one of which has its own dedicated anti-back-torque level; the Race mode has minimal engine braking for aggressive track riding. All the electronics can be turned off if so desired, but it all works so quietly in the background I cannot imagine why anyone would choose to do that.

2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF Review | First Ride from Misano Circuit UpperAccelerating hard in second gear out of Misano’s Tramonto (Turn 10) and on to the fast straight that leads to the infamous Curvone section, the RSV4 pulled even harder than you’d imagine, through to the 158 MPH (flat-out in fourth) Turn 11 that the telemetry later informed me I was carrying. The aQS (quick shifter) worked as intended, allowing for clutchless upshifts, and although a blip-downshifter is missing I’ll bet Aprilia is working on that as we speak.

Leon Haslam (one of Aprilia’s current World SBK factory racers) was present at the test and he told me that one of the RSV4s strongest points is it’s accuracy and stability into fast sweeping corners; he feels the bike will shine best at the flowing tracks such as Phillip Island, Jerez, and of course Misano.

Unsurprisingly, I agree with him, case in point being that entrance to Curvone. At full chat in fourth gear and over a buck-fifty-five on the speedo, pretty much sorts out the wheat from the chaff in machine terms. Turning in at heart-in-mouth speed is when you need a bike to turn with precision and go exactly where you’re aiming. It needs to hit that apex perfectly—and not drift wide on the exit. That’s not an easy thing to do, believe me. That decreasing-radius series of corners then tightens into almost-as-fast Turn 12, and finally culminates in the even tighter Turn 13 that comes up alarmingly quickly.

You need to be super-confident in the front end at that point, because survival is only achieved by mega-hard braking while still leaned over. There aren’t too many machines I’m prepared to really push through there, and yet the RSV4 is definitely one of them. It had the accuracy and gave me the confidence I needed; it seemed that the more speed I carried into the tight corner the more the front end dug in, and the harder the front Pirelli Super Corsa tire bit down into the asphalt.

After a couple of laps I literally had no qualms at all. No bad moments; no uncertainty or hesitation. Impressive stuff. I think my confidence was helped by knowing the Aprilia Race ABS was there to prevent a wheel lock-up—and perhaps it did, who knows—but as mentioned earlier the key to world-class electronics is for the rider to be able to concentrate on riding and remain unaware of the aid he’s getting. Phew.

At several places on the circuit (not just Tramonto) the only giveaway that the aTC (Aprilia Traction Control) was working was a subtly flashing yellow light on the dash that indicates when the electronics are helping out. Unlike other versions of TC I’ve tried, the RSV4 version doesn’t make the engine feel weak or held back such is the seamless level of interference; actually, I can’t honestly say I felt it working at all—perhaps the dash light is just a placebo put there to make me feel like a world class rider. There are a total of eight levels of TC that can be changed on the fly with simple plus and minus buttons on the left switchgear; I settled on Level 3 which provided just enough slide at the rear to persuade me I’m a better rider than I really am.

2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF Review | First Ride from Misano Circuit Back ShotAt 419 pounds curb weight (without fuel), the RSV4 sheds a couple of pounds off its predecessor and is now one of the lightest literbikes available. I was immediately struck by how easy the machine is to ride and how light it feels. Sitting astride for the first time it certainly feels tall from the seat; noticeably taller than say the Suzuki GSX-R 1000 or the new Yamaha R1 that I’ve recently ridden.

The RSV4 carries its weight slightly lower in the chassis than its predecessor, and this is achieved by dropping the motor to the lowest position in the 3-position chassis mounts. It makes the bike slightly more stable and helps riders at my modest level, however Leon Haslam mentioned to me that he prefers the engine in the center position for slightly quicker transitions when going from one max-lean angle to the other.

The RSV4 is the only current production sportbike available to the public with this level of chassis adjustability, and if you’re good enough to ride at Haslam’s level you can always move the engine up one notch. Other chassis changes include a 14 mm-longer swingarm to give better grip and less wheelie tendency.

Light weight, solid front end feel, and well-centralized mass equals a machine that transitions with alacrity, and sweeping through the Rio section of Turns 4 and 5 (that are taken as one long corner) pushes the bike out wide on the exit — at just about the point where you then have to transition back across for the left-hander at Turn 6. This is not a sequence of corners that would be enjoyable in a truck. The RSV4 however is so agile, and my confidence was so good, that I was able to carry more speed than I ever have before, and flick the bike from max-right lean angle straight over to the max-left, with minimal effort. The RSV4 performed way better than I would have imagined or even thought possible.

Braking from the Brembo M430 radial calipers and radial handlebar pump is of course exemplary; the brakes have tons of power and with plenty of feel. The chassis would tend to stand up a little when braking hard, but I think I noticed it more because I rarely trail brake very much into corners, and yet the RSV4 (and Misano) totally encouraged me to push way beyond my usual limits.

The Öhlins suspension on the RSV4 is of course up to the usual standard, and with more time I’d have gone up a couple of clicks at both ends. Increasing the rear compression damping by 3 clicks reduced (but didn’t entirely eliminate) the waggle at the handlebars when exiting hard from the two slow corner sections at Turns 6 and 10 respectively, and especially when accelerating on to the front straight.

Braking very hard into Quercia (Turn 8) I found the front would squirm a little and I’d liked to have increased the compression damping there by a click or two. So although I reached the limit of the standard set up, don’t take that as a criticism; this is a personal set up choice that as an owner I’d customize to my riding style. Rather take it as an indication of how amazingly confidence-inspiring the RSV4 is, and how as a rider with relatively modest skills I was encouraged to up my game.

2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF Review | First Ride from Misano Circuit frontThe new Aprilia Telemetry App (both iPhone and Android) that is available for the new machine is very cool, and you may notice from the pictures the iPhone attached in front of the instrument cluster. The (free) App can be paired up with a Bluetooth transmitter installed on the bike that will show real time corner by corner data such as lean angle, acceleration and so on. It will also give a lap by lap breakdown of your times. An Adaptive race assistant can provide riding tips to help you optimize your technique and set your best lap times in safety, and a variety of tracks are available that includes all the famous ones–including Misano.

That’s the really impressive thing about the new RSV4. Aprilia has taken an already sophisticated motorcycle that was always one of the best in class, and not just made it more powerful, but also made it more accessible and easier to get the best from. You can pootle it around if you like, and the wonderful torque and silky-smooth motor will be super-manageable and easy to ride.

But if you wind open that stunning, shockingly fast, howling V4 motor and unleash all that potential, then you will be rewarded with a machine that does precisely what you intend—even if you’re getting it slightly wrong. The level of forgiveness in a 200+ horsepower machine that makes you feel like you could compete for the next World Superbike win is truly amazing. I’m a fifty-something-year-old guy and I know I’m not that good. But this Aprilia RSV4 has almost got me persuaded that maybe, just maybe, I am.

The 2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF will be available in June for $21,999.

Check out some on-board footage on the Ultimate MotorCycling YouTube channel.

Riding Style:

Photography by Roberto Graziani

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