2002 Aprilia Mille R

The cure for the common Open-Class Sportbike


Torrance, California, April 15, 2002
Heading out to Fontana for the double-header weekend of AMA racing, deciding which bike to ride out on was a no-brainer. Sure, there was a stable full of the latest Open Class Sportbikes, but a few days prior, something terrible happened.

The day we planned to head out to the drag strip for the final part of our Open Sportbike Shootout, Aprilia's marketing coordinator Robert Pandya winged his way into town. Initially, he was just going to drop off the bike, make nice with us MO boys, and then head back off to do something more important. As it turned out, however, Signore Pandya had some free time and decided to accompany us on our trek over the mountains, through the woods and out to Los Angeles County Raceway that evening. And he was bringing his Mille R with him, with us still mid-flog on our in-line fours, myself on the 954, Johnny Bee on his beloved R1.

We all met up (except for young Calvin and the GSX-R who would meet us later at the drag strip) at the base of the 'Crest at a tidy little lunch spot. And after a Sun Valley version of Italian cuisine and a half hearted attempt by yours truly to make nice with a not-so-nice waitress, we were off.

Sitting under yon pine tree, the bright yellow Aprilia made its presence known. That too-bright shade accented by flat black touches and some bright reddish-pinkish coloring on the fairing lowers sure looks mahvelous, even from a distance. Up close and personal with the bike, however, it's the details that catch your eye and you pretty much ignore the bright surroundings. Carbon fiber rear fender? Check. Carbon fiber fairing louvers? Yup. There's a c-f dash panel and front fender too, and it's all the real deal. None of that fake stuff here. And that's pretty much how the whole bike is, really.

Up front, a closer inspection of things reveals that the forks aren't just gold-colored on some artistic whim, they're from Ohlins. The shock is too, by the way, and it sits just in front of a swingarm that seems fit to be a structural member of a suspension bridge some place. It's a beautiful aluminum piece, part polished and part flat, with the chain running through a cut-out in its starboard side. The Plain Jane version of the Mille uses the same swingarm though, so I guess seeing it on the R isn't as eye-catching as the Ohlins bits that replace the Showa stuff of the basic version.

Also sourced from the pages of an Ohlins catalog is the steering damper, which you notice peeking up from you every time you check the bike's rather confusing five-buttoned instrument panel (though there is a cool lap-timer in there somewhere), mounted just above and in front of the lower triple-clamp. Reducing unsprung weight hanging from the up-rated suspension is a set of very cool blue OZ Racing wheels. They're forged aluminum, wrapped with Pirelli Dragons and replace the stock cast pieces, the package providing a weight savings of 25-percent. And it's these high-dollar detail bits that add a few bucks to the price of your plain ol' vanilla Mille. Though I guess calling the fundamental makings of a World Superbike title contender "vanilla" really is selling things a bit short.

After a few moments spent blabbering on about the bits that make up the Mille R, I not-so-subtley suggested Pandya have a go on one of the other bikes on hand. He'd always been a fan of the in-line stuff, so it was an easy coup, though I had to jump ahead of John to get the Aprilia's key before he did. And so, fired up, Aerostiched up and basically fed-up with mindless yammering, we were off. After only a few miles of less-than straight roads, I remembered why the standard version of this bike won our last Open Twins Shootout: it's such a fundamentally sound machine, and it's terribly easy to ride, too.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we've once again fallen in love with big-bore sportbikes. You can do anything on them, go anywhere in reasonable comfort and they're impossibly fast and can make up for a huge talent deficit if you take some time to hone your point and shoot technique. Riding the Aprilia, however, is no point-and-shooter as it's carrying around the same weight as our open bikes while producing nearly 30 horses less. The 998 cubic centimeter motor of this Mille-R sure seems decent enough, though it's the same unit that the standard Mille uses, right down to the fuel/air mapping and exhaust canister.

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