The mere mention of Laguna Seca is sure to pique the interest of any gearhead. It’s a name that transcends language barriers, and its undulating 2.238-mile long layout is akin to hallowed ground in the two-wheeled world, having hosted MotoGP, World Superbike, and MotoAmerica races. Since its founding in 1957 on what was then Fort Ord’s field artillery range, Laguna Seca has slowly evolved into the legendary road course that we know it as today, now operating under the name WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Updated, yes, but authentic to the core.
It is fitting that I took to the technical racetrack between Monterey and Salinas aboard the 2021 Aprilia RSV4 and RSV4 Factory—a platform that exemplifies the importance of iterative upgrades. The RSV4’s muscular 65-degree V4 engine and revered chassis, among many other things, have been refined on a nearly clockwork-like schedule since 2009, and 2021 is a banner year.
The only downside at Laguna Seca was the weather, with the Monterey peninsula offering up chilly and mixed conditions. We made do, and I’d still like you to join me for some of the dry laps I got.
For the first time since its inception, the RSV4 finally went under the knife and deviated from Miguel Galluzzi’s original visual design. Luckily, its sharp features and brooding posture are maintained. The RS 660-inspired integrated aerodynamic bodywork only scratches the surface of the changes, with the latest RSV4s boasting quicker handling, improved comfort, revised electronics, and, yes, even more power.
The RSV4 was conceived for one goal—win WSBK titles. It did just that in its sophomore year of the FIM Superbike World Championship with the Roman Emperor Max Biaggi at the helm. Aprilia is a brand that talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to racing history and, in case you forget it, a reminder of the Noale-based company’s 54 world titles is emblazoned on every Aprilia fuel tank. It also shows up in the DNA with trick features such as the RSV4’s adjustable rake and swingarm positioning—just a tiny example of the WSBK tech present in these motorcycles.
As is tradition, a good RSV4 review needs to begin with the lovingly refreshed 65-degree 1099cc V4 powerplant, and I won’t disappoint. Thanks to a longer 53.23mm stroke (the 81mm bore remains), the mighty V4 has grown from 1078cc to 1099cc—a two percent displacement increase. That led to a few other tweaks, including a new crankshaft that is 1.32 pounds lighter. This reduces inertia to compensate for the longer stroke, giving the V4 firebreather a little more pep in its step as it shreds the revs. And still, Aprilia engineers have managed to maintain the RSV4’s characteristic smoothness, despite lighter internal components.
With massive claimed figures such as 217 horsepower at 13,000 rpm and 92 ft-lbs of torque at 10,500 rpm at your wrist, the power on hand isn’t just omnipresent; it’s genuinely astounding. Aprilia says this year’s lump produces two more torque points than before, with 80 percent of its peak torque available at 6000 rpm. I say the RSV4 spools up with more urgency before and is blindly fast, with smooth, tractable power available at but a whiff of throttle. Head down and with the RSV4’s snout pointing towards the blind crest known as Turn 1 will test the will of any rider, and it also highlighted the extra oomph that the new model has at both ends of the powerband.
What is equally impressive as the performance is that the 2021 RSV4’s V4 doesn’t suffer from any flat spots in the powerband while still conforming to Euro 5 emission standards. Power is ubiquitous, and that’s a fact that some of the RSV4’s emissions-choked inline-four-powered competitors can’t say. That smooth, tractable roll-on power is crucial when feeding the gas on through Turn 2’s double apexes.
Its a hard charge to the pancake-flat and tight Turn 3, winding the RSV4 up again towards Turn 4, where you can get as greedy on the gas as you dare when exiting, all made that much better thanks to the refined up/down quickshifter—all made better by the slimmer muffler and bellowing V4 howl.
Moving beyond the paint-peeling performance, we can discuss how the RSV4 platform’s handling has taken a turn for the better. The RSV4 is lauded for its wealth of mechanical grip and unflappable stability. However, those characteristics came at the expense of outright agility seen in some of its competitors. Now, with a half-inch shorter wheelbase and a marginally longer rake, the RSV4’s handling has hit the smelling salts, something that becomes clear as we near some of the trickier sections of Laguna Seca.
Barreling towards Turn 5, the 2021 RSV4 is more eager to get on the edge of the tires, loading the chassis confidently as you begin climbing the hill—. Twist the grip and do the typical Turn 5 shimmying.
Full tilt now—if you dare—I prepare for the blind entry of the quick kink that is Turn 6. Next, I am driving along Rahal Straight towards the iconic Corkscrew, and the new inverted swingarm is making sure all that insane power gets to the ground. It is 30 percent stiffer near the axle to help reduce flex and is over a half-pound lighter, but all I care about is the grip I am getting, despite the tricky weather, when the throttle is opened.
The Corkscrew gets all the attention, but the rideability of the RSV4 makes quicker work of it these days. Flick it left towards the precipice and take the five-and-a-half story plunge, flipping back to the right, and feeding the gas on for what comes next.
As always, fine-tuning pressures Pirelli Diablo Supercorsas SP tires and the RSV4 Factory’s Öhlins semi-active suspension pays dividends. The Öhlins NIX 43mm fork and TTX shock use the latest Öhlins Smart EC 2.0 system that continuously adjusts damping as conditions change. What makes this technology exciting is the ease in which one can dive into the Objective Based Tuning Interface (OBTi) and find a setup that works for you. The interface breaks terminology down into what you need from the bike. Dial-in options include Braking Support, Acceleration Support—you get the idea.
Instead of turning wrenches, I was pushing buttons. Each electronic tweak resulted in more of the signature RSV4 chassis flavor returning to the fold, and that’s precisely what you need when careening through the high-speed downhill Turn 9 (Rainey Curve). However, if you’re a rider who demands maximum consistency and is chasing lap times, one of the three fixed-damping manual modes is for you.
In for a penny, in for a pound, I say, as the RSV4 Factory’s electronic suspension holds firm through the flowing Turn 10; bang down a gear, trail it in, and she’s sure-footed while you sprint towards Turn 11. If you want to save $6000 at the till, you can opt for the standard RSV4 with its cast-aluminum wheels and fully adjustable conventional Sachs suspension that is good—damn good. The Öhlins kit has an edge in terms of refinement and, of course, lighter wheels certainly flatter any bike’s handling.
Careening towards the short chute towards Turn 11, nothing but top-shelf Brembo Stylema calipers and 330mm rotors will do for the tightest corner on the circuit. Of course, there’s excellent feedback and power, which is essentially for trailing deep into Laguna Seca’s 90-degree point-and-shoot final corner.
Now on the cool-down lap, we can explore the harmony in the RSV4’s continual updates, including its updated seating position. Aprilia says that its reduced wind resistance on the rider by 11 percent, and that was done by raising the windscreen, shaving the 4.7-gallon fuel tank down to provide more space for the rider’s head, and lowering the seat height (0.35 inches) and new knurled footpegs (0.39 inches). My 5-foot 10-inch frame now fits into the RSV4 far better. With the throttle held open as long as I dare, things do feel sleeker through the air.
The side effect is an RSV4 that feels lighter, narrower, and easier to wrangle, thus reducing fatigue. The new tank has plenty of real estate to latch onto while cornering and can still be squeezed nicely in hard braking zones. In all, the new seating position reduces the inherent fatigue of riding a superbike, and I’ll take all the help I can get. Interestingly, claimed wet weight of 445 pounds is six pounds heavier than the old RSV4 1100 Factory.
Some other benefits come with the aero fairings, too. It’s tough to comment on the efficacy of these features unless testing a bike with and without them, but I can tell you they don’t hinder the motorcycle in any way. The fairings were developed with computational fluid dynamics, then taken to the wind tunnel and racetrack for testing. Downforce figures are about the same as the previous-generation RSV4 Factory (18 pounds of downforce at or above 186 mph). Another RS-GP-inspired element is reflected in the fairing being pulled farther away from the front wheel, reducing wind resistance when leaning. Lastly, the new fairings draw engine heat away from the rider, and I’d say that’s effective.
Electronics are part and parcel on superbikes these days, and RSV4 rider aids are even more refined. A new Magneti Marelli 11MP ECU provides four times the processing power as the previous unit, going from 80 to 140 pins. That’s not all—a Bosch six-axis IMU informs the latest APRC (Aprilia Performance Rider Control) rider aide suite, providing 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, launch control, and cruiser control. Whew.
That’s just scratching the surface, with six selectable ride modes on hand. Sport, Street, and a customizable User mode are dedicated to road use. Meanwhile, the three track-focused include a preset Race and customizable Track 1 and 2 modes. All of these can be found while exploring the new five-inch TFT display that is much easier to read and has a more intuitive interface.
Wading through the bevy of options will allow you to tailor the RSV4’s response to your needs based on skill, terrain, and conditions. I hold the APRC system in high regard, and on this day, I settled for the plenty sporty throttle response of level 2 and TC at level three that allowed a bit of wheel-spin on the exits without killing drive in rough condition. WC 1 will let help you get all track-day power-wheelie shots your little heart desires, while I settled on WC 2 to tamp things down and focus on what’s ahead. ABS levels 1 and 2 are more than capable of hitting the track, while level 3 should be reserved for the street.
That brings us back to the paddock, folks. Over a decade of development is behind the RSV4 platform, so chinks in its armor are difficult to expose in isolation. There is no doubt that this methodical evolution is successful because Aprilia has managed to slot its superbike towards the front of the pack with every iteration. The V4 engine blitzes, the chassis and electronics inspire confidence, and it’s even a little more comfortable. If that doesn’t convince you, maybe the raging exhaust note will.
Photography by Larry Chen
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
- Suit: AlpinestarsNdS custom suit
- Baselayers: VnM Sport Compression Top and Pant
- Gloves: Alpinestars GP Pro V3
- Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R Randy Mamola Legends Series
2021 Aprilia RSV4 Factory (and RSV4) Specs
- Type: 65-degree V4
- Displacement: 1099cc
- Bore x stroke: 81 x 53.32mm
- Maximum power: 217 horsepower @ 13,000 rpm
- Maximum torque: 92 ft-lbs @ 10,500 rpm
- Valvetrain: DOHC, 4vpc
- Fueling: 4 Minarelli 48mm throttle bodies w/ 8 injectors
- Transmission: 6-speed cassette-type w/ quickshifter
- Clutch: Wet multiplate w/ mechanical slipper system
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Twin-spar aluminum w/ headstock, engine height, and swingarm pin height adjustability
- Steering damper: Öhlins electronic (RSV4: Sachs)
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable semi-active Öhlins NIX 43mm inverted fork; 4.9 inches (RSV4: Fully adjustable Sachs inverted 43mm fork; 5.0 inches)
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage assisted, fully adjustable semi-active Öhlins TTX piggyback shock; 4.7 inches (RSV4: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable Sachs shock; 5.1 inches)
- Wheels: Machined forged aluminum w/ 5 split-spoke design (RSV4: Cast aluminum w/ 3 split-spoke design)
- Front wheel: 3.5 x 17
- Rear wheel: 6 x 17
- Tires: Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 200/55 x 17
- Front brakes: 330 mm floating discs w/ Brembo Stylema monobloc radial calipers, radial master cylinder, and steel-braided lines
- Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ Brembo 2-piston caliper and steel-braided line
- ABS: Adjustable corner-aware C-ABS Bosch 9.1MP
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 56.5 inches
- Rake: 24.6 degrees
- Trail: 4.1 inches
- Seat height: 33.3 inches
- Tank capacity: 4.7 gallons
- Estimated fuel consumption: 34 mpg
- Curb weight: 445 pounds
- Colors: Lava Red; Aprilia Black (RSV4: Dark Losail)
- 2021 Aprilia RSV4 Factory: $25,999
- 2021 Aprilia RSV4: $18,999
2021 Aprilia RSV4 and RSV4 Factory Laguna Seca Track Test