2006 Aprilia Tuono
Beyond the personality trait noted above, Italians seem to have also a propensity to melodramatic opera acts. The concept was invented here after all. Aprilia's story for instance is charged with drama, up and downs and a main characters that rises up from the ashes only to fall back and who knows, maybe rise up again? Back in '69, the son of a bicycle maker named Ivano Beggio seemingly got tired of pedaling and decided to open up a small moped factory. From humble beginnings with a 50cc moped the company grew nicely into making bigger scooters. The guy is also very design conscious and early on, a proper design manger is put in place and Aprilia's produce becomes a synonymous with audacious design. Later on, tasty sporting 125's arrive and the AF1 replica racer becomes the subject of many an Italian teenagers' wet dream. Aprilia jumps in the 80's into grand prix racing, a crazy move in front of the might of Honda and Yamaha in the smaller classes. Yet the wins arrive and later on World championships too, all in less than 20 years. Not to mention the fact that the likes of Rossi, Capirossi and Biaggi, all grew under the caring hands of Aprilia's "reparto corse". The name is established then and in '99 a big bombshell arrives, the RSV Mille, a 1000cc Superbike that's just too good to be a first try from a manufacturer that produced until then only small capacity bikes and one 600 D/P single. Things start to go wrong when the introduction of a helmet law for mopeds in Italy drops sales of 50cc's drastically, a big income source for the firm. The situation is compounded further when Beggio, more out of passion than sound business sense buys the failing Moto Guzzi factory and the rights for the Laverda brand. Jumping into the MotoGP bandwagon with the huge investment required to develop the RS Cube doesn't help either. During the late 90's boom years Beggio also invest heavily in his factory, founding an impressive R&D center but the general downturn in sales after 2000 wasn't in his plans. Very dire straights.
The moment arrives when Beggio understands that he just has to leave the center stage to allow the emergency management to come up with a saving deal for Aprilia. Very sad. After proposals from BMW, Ducati, Bombardier and others are refused, an acquisition/saving deal is sealed with arch-rivals, mega scooter makers, Piaggio. Not an easy achievement, the strong work force of Aprilia had to be convinced that their jobs would not be jeopardized in the deal. This huge conglomerate now houses the brands of Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, as well as older assets like Gilera, Derbi and of course the good old Vespa trademark with obvious advantages in terms of resources sharing, common logistics and sales operations. This huge group is now fourth in the world in terms of outright production numbers. With debts cleared and fresh money available, Aprilia is back to work at full steam. In a huge press conference held in Venice, right after the Tuono's launch, head honchos Colaninno (Piaggio) and Mercanti (Aprilia) revealed ambitious plans for the Venetian brand. Four to six new models a year (scooters included) and whole a new direction in future sportbikes. Aprilia is aiming to come back with a bang to Superbike racing with a V-4 1000 model and enter the 600-750 sector with light and powerful twins. Talk might be cheap but there is no denying that on this very first year alone, they are already delivering the goods. Two new exciting Guzzis, the Breva and Griso. This new Tuono, the very nice Pegaso 660 single in street and dual-purpose versions and of course the loony dirt/supermoto V-Twins. The 450 version has already won the FIM world supermoto championship last year, just in case you didn't know. Granted, many of these projects were started in Ivano Beggio's days, a testament to his genius and audacity but sure enough, without Piaggio's saving move they would have remained just drawer projects. Good days at last, Aprilia was getting good and they really deserved a second chance. Just don't forget that without Beggio, his passion, his vision, his spirit, none of this would have existed in the first place. Maximum respect.
End of complaints. As soon as I moved on from static admiration to brainless action in the south dolomites mental roads, any visual sin was soon forgiven. In this all too short day of mad riding, I found it really hard to come up with any bad words to say about Aprilia's R&D work. Well actually I found plenty of "bad words": Serial killer, illegal stuff, mental, real bad. You know the type of flattery this bike brings to mind is of that special kind. And here's another one, schizophrenic. Uh? At the beginning of our ride, as we follow the scooter mounted (500cc Atlantic) photographer, I was misled into thinking that I'm a top some light and pleasant Italian ladies bicycle. While calmly trotting along, this Tuono's engine is way more docile than I remember from the previous version, everything feels much more smooth and buttery. At low speeds the thing is perfectly balanced and light. Is this really the heir to the ultimate tool for cannonball runs?
The illusion that the Tuono is just a good yeshiva kid ends pretty soon. I happen to be in the company of the loony British press brigade and after a few minutes appraisal of the Tuono's feminine side, the feast begins in earnest. We're in a really tight road, slow and gnarly, there's hardly a straight longer than 50 yards between twists in sight yet all of the sudden, as if in unison, the whole herd is monowheeling! That's exactly the point where I also ask myself: What is this rubber twist grip good for? Let's see? 5,000 rpm, second gear, I feather the throttle, open up again and up she goes for a nice 50-100 yards. Mmmm. Nice. And I wasn't even trying? The wheeling orgy all around just goes on. These guys have a point to prove, "who keeps it up longest" I guess and having a female motorcycle journalist in the area that might notice their prowess must be an incentive. With me being somewhat wheelie challenged, I simply enjoy the feeling of riding this 133-hp mountain bike. The possibility to pick up your front in every possible and impossible occasion, the way the Tuono shoots forward with every caress of the throttle and for the moment it looks like we are just tickling the frame. Such is the sensation of rigidness. In the first few hours we are mainly busy with photo shooting but two facts stand out. This thing goes down to full lean, tire edge feathering angles in a jiffy and stays put as if on rails. Second, I really dislike the original equipment 208 Dunlops. They do have grip but not much feel and they take ages to warm up. Another lean here, another lean there smiling for the birdie, it's getting on my nerve, I need to really ride. My colleagues seemingly need some more wheeling shots (It help magazine sales, so I hear) so I leave them and attack some of the sick roads chosen by Aprilia for our ride. In the slow and tortuous what you really need is a tool that responds to every milimetrical input. Get off the line in one off the blind corners around here and you might end up planted in some car's engine bay.
Yeah, servitude and precision in executing commands and the Tuono responds to mine like some fresh army recruit willing to please his Sargent. Down on your side! Yes sir! Now to the other! Yes sir! These side to side lean angle switches can be done with the Tuono at warp speed and if you gas it some in the process you get those naughty little wheelies while your bars are twisted over as a reward. Brake hard, boot a couple of gears down and the anti chattering system (operating on engine vaccum) limits distracting wheel chipring to a minimum while you are pointing the Tuono towards the next apex. Some of the roads we ride on are far from having a perfect surface. There are some wet spots from yesterday's rain, some potholes, yet the Tuono's frame and suspension take everything in their stride. The Showa/Sachs combo is calibrated on the harder side and might not be top shelve stuff but it manages to filter out imperfections quite okay considering this scoot's orientation and keep the whole plot in perfect control. Another positive aspect is that the smoother power delivery of the magnesium engine lets you fight less with the bars when powering out of turns. The previous Tuono had a propensity to wiggle bars and run wide sometimes when applying the power yet this new model stays far more planted. After a lunch break in the amazing castle we spent the night in, I join a few throttle happy British colleagues and Aprilia's UK importer Paul Walker for an afternoon blast. Chris Moss, a journo with an interesting reputation tells me " Hey, don't go crazy man, somebody got pulled over by the cops already". I have my own worries. After destroying an RSV in the name of objective journalism the last thing I want is to crash another 'Priler. So we head towards a much more flowing road and we proceed at a semi quick pace. Paul's presence seemingly calms down the spirits a bit. Well, as I said before, there is something about the Tuono that sooner or later will bring out the worst in you. You can guess what happened next. Some fast sweepers appear on our sights and gaaaaaaaaaaasssssssss! Nice handfuls, from the bottom of our hearts. A good thing really, because regardless of the possible painful consequences, it turns out that the faster the going, the better this thing gets.
When the tarmac changes from a slow mental road to a fast mental road, the Tuono shows his supersporting animal. Throw the thing into 90mph, 100mph or faster sweepers and it tracks with scalpel like precision. The wide handlebar should in theory induce some imprecision but in reality, when I needed to aim the Tuono at speed between the converging lines of the two solid stone walls lining the road, the accuracy was there. At these four, fifth gear turns, the reduced drive enables me to really roll it on in the exits and it's a real pleasure to let the engine play in the higher octaves. The thing gives an extra crazy shove between 7-10K. On really high speeds I've got not much to tell. I offered my companions to hop on the Autostrada for a last top speed check but nobody seemed inclined to contribute to the health of the Italian highway system by paying the required toll. But who really wants to know if a naked fighter does 150 or just 140? By that time your neck vertebras are about to snap anyway. At a certain point we do a sad U-turn. We have to be back but we've could have stayed in this crazy playground a few more hours. It's been a while since I've ridden something that put me in such a kill, kill, kill mood. Or maybe it was for the better, who knows how it would have ended up. As I attack a last high speed right hander, I realize that we are riding over some kind of bridge with the accompanying steel expansion joints, at full lean that is? "Shite!" goes I but the Tuono makes nary a wobble, it tracks on as if nothing. Phew!