The venerable Aprilia RSV4 immediately left its mark on the superbike class when introduced in 2009, becoming one of the most dominant and consistent presences in the competitive segment. Since then, nearly every component has evolved and progressed, while staying true to its original intent—deliver unadulterated racetrack performance to the masses.Over a decade of engineering development has made the RSV4 a leader in arguably one of the most technologically sophisticated classes. This year, the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 Factory, and the lower-spec standard RSV4, are taking things a step further. The duo have improved handling, updated aerodynamics, better comfort, enhanced electronics, and even more power.
We took Aprilia’s iconic superbike for a spin at the legendary WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey to see what the Noale firm had in store. Now, without further ado, here are the Fast Facts:
There are two RSV4 models this year, and the differences are subtle but crucial. The standard RSV4 boasts all the same engine, chassis, electronic, and visual updates, while saving $7000 by utilizing fully adjustable conventional Sachs suspension, a Sachs steering damper, and cast-aluminum wheels. Meanwhile, the Factory version flaunts semi-active Öhlins suspension, an Öhlins electronic steering damper, and forged-aluminum wheels, plus paddock bragging rights. The standard RSV4 is available in Dark Losail, while the Factory has two color options—Lava Red and Aprilia Black.
The 65-degree V4 engine is the stuff of legend for a reason. The V4 powerplant is a true force of nature within the superbike class, lovingly refined to the point of near perfection. Armed with more power in 2021 throughout the entire rev-range, specifically on the low- and top-ends, the latest RSV4 also spins up even more ferociously. Despite that raging intensity, its inherent tractability and immense bottom-end power allow mere mortals like me to explore the claimed peak 217 horsepower at 13,000 rpm and 92 ft-lbs of torque at 10,500 rpm.
More displacement this year means more power and more thrills from the 2021 Aprilia RSV4. Spurred by ever-demanding emissions requirements—Euro 5, this time around—Aprilia engineers bumped up the V4’s displacement from 1078cc to 1099cc by lengthening the stroke a little over a millimeter to 53.32mm. The new crankshaft is 1.32 pounds lighter and features less inertia, freeing up the revs and making its personality a little livelier, compensating for the longer stroke. And, yes, despite the lighter crank, it’s still a lusciously smooth beast. Best yet, the engine has maintained its peak horsepower figure, while delivering two more points of torque, 80 percent of which is available at 6000 rpm. Peak horsepower hits 200 rpm sooner than last year, with the torque topping out 500 rpm lower, making the power more accessible than ever.
The sweet V4 song is still a crowd favorite. Aiding in the emissions mission is a revised exhaust system featuring a ceramic matrix substrate catalytic converter for improved fume- and soot-scrubbing abilities. The muffler is much more svelte than RSV4 RR’s bulky unit and is said to be lighter. At idle, it seems a tad quieter, helping you maintain a positive relationship with your neighbors. However, once on the trot, the 2021 RSV4 has a slightly higher pitch to its tone as it belts out a downright vicious exhaust note.
Six speeds of pure excellence await. Aprilia’s cassette gearbox has never disappointed, and in keeping with tradition, it still doesn’t. What has improved is the up/down quickshifter, which on the 2019 RSV4 1100 Factory, I regarded as “one of the best I’ve used to date.” Well, this one takes the cake, as the quickshifter’s updated Hall sensor allows for precise kill times at low or high rpm, improving the shifting experience noticeably.
Handling is improved on the 2021 Aprilia RSV4. Historically, the RSV4’s chassis is regarded as one of the most stable in the business but required some direction from the rider. Compared to the previous model, the 2021 RSV4 features a half-inch shorter 56.5-inch wheelbase and infinitesimally longer 24.6-degree rake. This results in a chassis that turns in much faster and with less effort. Luckily, its stability wasn’t compromised—a critical observation as I rode in cold and initially mixed conditions that required a tempered hand.
The Factory’s Öhlins semi-active suspension makes tuning easy. The semi-active Öhlins NIX 43mm fork and TTX shock utilize the latest Öhlins Smart EC 2.0 system to automatically adjust the RSV4 Factory’s damping. Coupled with the Objective Based Tuning Interface (OBTi), which breaks the nomenclature down to what you need from the bike. After dialing in the settings, I had the RSV4 Factory more composed on entry, mid-corner, and exit, while offering superb feedback. Although three auto modes are available, tuned for racetrack or street use, those looking for absolute lap-to-lap consistent feel will want to freeze the damping characteristics with the three customizable Manual modes.
If you want analog suspension, the standard RSV4’s Sachs suspenders will treat you right. There isn’t a darn thing wrong with the fully adjustable Sachs units. The Öhlins stuff is seriously slick, but it’s tough to knock the Sachs kit. You can save some serious coin to put towards tires, fuel, and other consumables. Although, you’ll have to make your damping adjustments like a mud-farming peasant.
A stiffer swingarm is in the mix. Engineers looked towards Aprilia’s RS-GP MotoGP racebike for inspiration, designing an inverted swingarm that helps marginally lower the bike’s center of gravity. It is also 30 percent stiffer near the axle, which reduces flex and better mechanical grip. The new aluminum swingarm is over a half-pound lighter and uses a three-piece design instead of its predecessor’s seven-piece. In practice, the tire hooks up and bolts off the apex, even with the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP rubber protesting in very tricky weather. Lastly, the axle slot is longer to accommodate wider adjustment range.
Brembo Stylema calipers and 330mm rotors provide all the firepower you need. A few sections of Laguna Seca require you to drop anchor, and the Brembo components offer all the power you could ask for. Importantly, they have a smooth initial bite and loads of feedback—essential when trailing in corners.
The RSV4 platform has WSBK chassis features. Aprilia isn’t shy about its racing pedigree, so racing tech is routinely used in its consumer models. The headstock rake and swingarm height can be adjusted to tailor the chassis geometry to your needs. However, the engine can no longer be moved to change the motorcycle’s center of gravity.
Miguel Galluzzi’s original RSV4 design has stood the test of time and, after more than a decade, it gets a facelift. Following in the footsteps of the RS 660, the latest RSV4 boasts a new look from front to back. It tastefully incorporates its aerodynamic elements, and retains the classic tri-headlight design. All-around LED lighting is standard, as is the “bending headlight” that illuminates the inside of a corner while riding.
Aprilia developed the new fairings with the help of Computational Fluid Dynamics before testing prototypes in the wind tunnel, road, and track. The winglets are said to produce similar downforce figures as the 2019-2020 RSV4 1100 Factory (18 pounds of downforce when traveling at or above 186 mph). Moreover, the fairing is pulled farther away from the front wheel, reducing wind resistance when leaning and directing engine heat away from the rider. Some of those claims are tough to verify without back-to-back testing on a bike with and without winglets, but it was stable while cresting Laguna Seca’s Turn 1, so that’s something.
The RSV4’s nip-tuck also improves rider comfort. Aprilia designers wanted less wind resistance on the rider. That was achieved by raising the windscreen, narrowing the 4.7-gallon fuel tank while also lowering the front for the rider’s head when tucked, and lowering the seat height (0.35 inches) and footpegs (0.39 inches). These changes allowed me to get my 5-foot 10-inch frame behind the bubble while cresting Turn 1 at triple-digit speeds, without being buffeted to death. Aprilia says that it reduced wind resistance on the rider by 11 percent while increasing air-intake pressure by 7 percent.
Ergonomics are a tad comfier. Lowering the plush saddle height to 33.3 inches and whittling the tank down has made the 2021 RSV4s feel narrower and lighter, despite their wet weights being six pounds heavier than the old RSV4 1100 Factory at 445 pounds. The newly sculpted tank has a much flatter surface for your outside leg to latch onto, while the knurled footpegs provide excellent grip and facilitate 1.5 degrees of additional lean angle. I’d wager that the chassis geometry, ergonomic, and fairing updates contribute to the RSV4’s newfound handling capability.
A full suite of IMU-supported electronics is standard. The electronic magic begins with the latest Magneti Marelli 11MP ECU, which has gone from 80 to 144 pins and provides four times more processing power than before. Coupled with that, a Bosch six-axis IMU manages the APRC (Aprilia Performance Ride Control) suite, offering eight-level lean-angle detecting traction control, three-level cornering ABS, three throttle maps, three-level wheelie control, three-level engine brake management, a pit limiter, and cruise control.
The 2021 Aprilia RSV4’s electronics suite gives you the tools to build a motorcycle with a response tailored to your desires. I found that the sporty but not overzealous throttle response of level 2 paired well with TC set at level 3 for exciting shimmying while exiting Turns 4 and 5, without curbing too much fun. TC is still adjustable from the paddle buttons, which is an awesome feature. WC 1 will let you loft the front to impress your pals, and I found myself liking WC 2 so that I could focus the turn ahead. ABS levels 1 and 2 were more than capable on the track.
Six selectable riding modes are available. Three road modes are available—Sport, Street, and a customizable User mode. There are also three track-focused modes, including a preset Race and customizable Track 1 and 2 modes. Given the sheer amount of adjustability, it behooves anyone to sit down and explore everything.
The new bonded five-inch TFT display is easier to read. Loaded with a new user interface, the shiny new display is crystal clear and easy to explore from the redesigned hand controls. A part of me misses the joystick that existed from ’17-’20. However, the button layout is straightforward.
The 2021 Aprilia RSV4 Factory and standard RSV4 have hit their best evolution yet. While Aprilia’s competitors have seen several complete and radical revisions, the RSV4 has persevered with incremental gains that improve the platform and stay at the sharp end of the class. The V4 engine is viciously fast, the electronics are stellar, and the chassis is imbued with greater agility. Toss in the improved comfort, and all I must ask is, “What are you waiting for?”
KTM RC 390 and Gordon McCall of Quail Motorcycle Gathering
byMotos and Friends by Ultimate Motorcycle
Hello and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly Podcast—Motos and Friends.
This week’s Podcast is brought to you by Yamaha motorcycles. Discover how the YZF-R7 provides the perfect balance of rider comfort and true supersport performance by checking it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or see it for yourself at your local dealer.
This week features Senior Editor Nic de Sena’s impressions of the new KTM RC 390. The entry-level KTM has always been an impressive motorcycle that has sold extremely well, however the factory has now taken the bike to another level, with top-spec features that are typically found on flagship machines. Clearly KTM has realized that even smaller engined machines should have high spec suspension, brakes and electronics packages. Nic tells us how well the new RC 390 is equipped, and what he thought of riding the smaller displacement rocket.
In the second segment I chat with automotive and motorcycle industry icon, Gordon McCall. Gordon is the Director of Motorsports at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, California.
This weekend of Saturday May 14th sees the annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering re-start after its Covid-forced hiatus, and having attended every one of the previous Motorcycle Gatherings, personally I’m very happy that the event is back on the schedule. Gordon chats about the event and a little of what’s happening this year. It’s a great event and if you feel like a trip to the gorgeous Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, you’ll get to meet Gordon, Roland Sands, and of course a large number of stunning motorcycles too.
From all of us at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!