2009 Aprilia RSV4 Factory Review

The V4 dream bike from Aprilia


It’s raining outside while I watch a recorded video at Aprilia’s press conference where Max Biaggi says ciao from the airport in Bologna. The previous two groups of moto-journalists had the extra privilege of riding with Rome’s great son while I had to settle for a video and Alex Hoffman. Suddenly I feel as if I didn’t pick the longest straw after all.

But as the sun began to shine the following morning it was enough to have me drooling over my breakfast with the prospect of having a full day in perfect conditions on the most perfect Aprilia ever.

At Misano I take a seat and as I had expected this is hardcore racing. Just by sitting on the RSV4 Factory and firing up the engine for the first time I knew this would be one hell of a day!

The RSV4 begs to be ridden fast.

On my first few laps I understood that the Aprilia RSV4 needs to be ridden very fast to get the best out of it. We all started on the mid-level of Aprilia’s new Track – Sport – Road throttle settings. After only a lap I didn’t much like the Sport mode and quietly changed on the back straight by pushing the starter button and holding it for what seemed forever. Then released the button and pushed until Track was on the display. I’m not one for believing in hiding the beast and now the RSV4 would wheelie. I’ll quickly explain the Marelli control unit 3 map setting. Track equals full power and no restrictions. Sport mode equals a torque limit in the three first gears and Road mode limits power to a mere 140 horsepower in all gears. A dedicated dual processor runs the Marelli 7SM control unit.

After finishing my first two 20 minute sessions I decided to go quite a bit faster on the final session to push the limits. I absolutely love the front end and the feedback during hard braking. If I trust the front end it’s much easier to enter tight corners at ridiculous speed. I loved the braking on the start/finish straight and having that neat little rear-end wagging its tail swimmingly behind me. No way would I apply any rear brake to miss that feeling! So as we’re accustomed to on an Aprilia Factory model we’re talking Ohlins and Brembo, but with Aprilia’s own adjustable headstock.

After the start/finish straight a beautiful right hander is followed by a tight left hand corner that opens up completely for a full throttle right flick. Directional changes are extremely quick thanks to the fantastic chassis. A chassis that can be adjusted at the headstock, ride height and engine position is pure racing. Suzuki has already complained at the World Superbike level that Aprilia is racing a prototype. Aprilia’s response is to produce 1,000 units of this “prototype” by June which effectively cancels Suzuki’s claims.

The aluminum chassis is stiffer than on the old RSV.

Aprilia explored four different frame options before deciding on this one. One of the four options included exotic materials that rendered the option too expensive and Aprilia had to scrap this despite the fact it would have been the best option. The final chassis is made of cast and pressed aluminum that’s been welded together. This new chassis is considerably stiffer than the old RSV model but features the same high shiny finish. The new swingarm weighs 11.2 pounds. Another interesting weight issue is the fact that Aprilia once again was able to reduce unsprung weight by reducing the weight of the wheels by 2.2 pounds. Aprilia says it is now on the very limit of how light a motorcycle wheel can be before vibration and stability become an issue.

Add to the wheels the brilliant Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa tires and the RSV4 Factory is extremely sure footed even when 180 horsepower transmits through the sides of the tires to the tarmac. You would have thought a massively powerful motorcycle like the RSV4 Factory would shred tires like cheese, but looking at the Pirellis after each pass I was impressed at how un-crumbled the edges were. And what can I say about Ohlins that’s not been said before? Well, the 43mm front fork is stunning both in performance and feel through Aprilia RSV4’s headstock. I could push very hard and never ran out of travel - always feeling like I was in supreme command. Same thing with the Brembo Monoblock front setup, which I could modulate with great ease. The front setup was absolutely perfect for me and the RSV4 remained ready for proper thrashing all day. The RSV4 Factory is a frontend biased racer, but with perfect balance and centralized mass. On the occasions when the rear wheel started to slide on the corner exits it was hardly noticeable and the rear Ohlins monoshock and Aprilia’s new swingarm just went on with the job while my right hand held position and I managed a nice progression on the throttle everywhere.

Handling confidence comes from Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa tires, Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes.

The new V65 engine features the advanced ride by wire system Aprilia started developing on the Cube3 MotoGP bike. The nature of that beast was fairly extreme as both Jeremy McWilliams and Shakey Byrne can testify to. That’s now many years ago and developments have moved on. What makes the 2009 Aprilia RSV4 Factory into a different kind of beast is the power delivery which kicks off with serious intent just when the torque curve maximizes at 10,000 rpm. In first gear the front always lifts exiting the tight right hand hair bend two corners from the start/finish straight at Misano. It all happens from 9,500 rpm until second gear is engaged. But the beauty is that it doesn’t matter as the rear tire just grips and shoots the front forward very controllably even with lean. Wheelies done on purpose aren’t that easy as the power surge kicks in violently above 10,000 rpm. The RSV4 Factory stands lazily up and then suddenly erects faster than a teenager watching Pam ‘n Tommy for the first time. You’ve really got to be careful to avoid a Max Biaggi 500GP moment.

The V65 engine comes to life above 10,000 rpm.

The 999.6cc V4 engine is just brutally powerful and the delivery of those 180 horsepower happens at a blisteringly fast pace above 10,000 rpm. At 12,500 rpm the full onslaught is available and the aggressive but very entertaining to use rev limiter allows for nice progression between close corners without the need to shift up and lose time. There were places at Misano where I simply didn’t dare use all the power but in the corners where I felt most comfortable I was thrilled beyond past experiences and the RSV4 made me both feel and look good around the track. RSV4 Factory is a fantastically fast production superbike and it made me faster than I’ve ever been around Misano in the past. The midrange feels like a bit of a pussycat simply because the top end is so powerful, but it’s deceptive as I progressed through many corners very fast using less than 8,000 rpm. Due to the great chassis and traction you can and should use the upper end of the power range most of the time for a fast lap. However I did a few laps in road mode (not the mapping mode, my brain mode) and the midrange is plenty powerful enough for whatever is needed for overtaking and other road tasks. But I can already now guarantee any future owner that riding the RSV4 Factory on the road will be horribly frustrating, in a good way of course.

Claudio Lombardi stands next to his masterpiece.

Claudio Lombardi, who is the main architect of the new Aprilia V65, preached his gospel to us at the press conference. Lombardi explained about the polar movements of the V4 inertia and a perfect balance even surpassing a V90 by a margin. Aprilia chose the V4 over both the V2 and in-line four concepts simply for the fact it was the best for balance and power. Leo Mercanti once again reminded us that this project has been carried forward by a Piaggio investment so the choice of a V4 was absolutely to ensure the new RSV4 could have as strong a birth as possible. The V4 60 was explored first, but Lombardi and his team found that only V65 would ensure the right shape airbox for the power Aprilia was looking for. The V65 layout also allows for a larger bore in the future. To illustrate Lombardi explained that the 1000cc V4 has a width of 225mm, while an in-line four is 400mm. With narrowness ensured on the outside, Aprilia also wanted a high compression inside. The 13:1 compression ratio was achieved through usage of something called Squish valves. Lombardi explained that the RSV4 features a very efficient post combustion system. Reed valves installed near the exhaust ducts are the enabling innovation here. Finally the RSV4 uses electronically controlled variable length intake ducts enabling shorter duct at higher revs and longer at lower revs where the final difference is of 35mm.

Back on the track, the six-speed cassette type gearbox worked effortlessly and it was just to wait for the red light gear warning to kick up a gear without the clutch. It felt like the engine braking was slightly more intrusive than on an in-line four but a lot less than on a V90. I really liked it and got used to using it to my benefit along with the brilliant slipper clutch and brakes. Corner entry is a really strong side to the Aprilia RSV4 Factory.

Aerodynamics is also very good for such a compact motorcycle. Around Misano with 180 horsepower on tap the aerodynamics aren’t that big of an issue as the RSV4 Factory is perfectly capable of punching big holes through the air, but I was able to compact my own frame almost all the way down even without a double bubble screen. Alex Hoffman commented that you can’t only sell motorcycles for small men and Miguel Galluzi, the design guru behind the RSV4 exterior - himself a six and a half foot tall giant - said even he could sit with some comfort on the RSV4. Galluzi also explained that the design team considered having no tail at all on the RSV4. The end result is a very short tail section. Despite this you’ll get a pillion seat and pegs in a bag when you buy an RSV4 Factory.

Whether it’s high speed riding down the straight or moving from left to right the RSV4 Factory is a very efficient racing bike also when ergonomics are in question.

To me the new Aprilia RSV4 Factory places itself right at the top mixing itself with the 09 Yamaha R1 and Ducati 1198S. It’s even possible that the road version is even faster and better, but only a direct comparison can determine that for a fact. What I can say now is that Aprilia has the most race-ready production superbike on a shared podium with the Ducati 1098R.

Bring the RSV4 to the track and you're sure to turn heads.

When questioned about traction control Aprilia stated that it doesn’t need it as much as its competitors, but that it will develop full traction control in the future.

Summary

The Aprilia RSV4 Factory is one of the most exciting superbikes for the road that I have ever ridden. It really is hardcore and suits only experienced sportbike riders. I had a lot of fun circulating Misano on a gorgeous day and am happy to say that I got a thorough test in one piece. Once again Aprilia has proven that it is the true chassis expert and don’t underestimate how important this is on the RSV4 Factory. The stupendously powerful V65 is impressive and perhaps a little scary on top. The fact that Aprilia has designed this engine from scratch in-house is also impressive and deserves congratulations. If you know how to ride fast around a racetrack this is the choice for you, if not then stay away.

Highs: Sighs:
  • Chassis and the fully adjustable nature of it
  • One really bad and brutally powerful V4 engine
  • Perfect front end that includes the suspension and brakes
  • I don’t like that it takes seconds to change ride mode. I want it to happen instantly so that I don’t have to slow down.
  • I would have liked a top end where more power was available from 8,000 rpm rather than the explosive 10-13,000 rpm range

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Aprilia RSV4 Factory Preview
2008 Aprilia SL750 Shiver Review
2008 Aprilia SXV 5.5 Review
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