Enter the three-cylinder RS Cube four-stroke in 2002, with a vicious powerband and bleeding-edge ride-by-wire controls. Although the RS Cube had disappointing results, its technical innovations play an important role today. The Cube was rumoured to produce a staggering 270 hp on the test bench before Aprilia withdrew its MotoGP team to focus 100% on the new RSV4 superbike. Insiders at Aprilia Racing claim the RS Cube could win races today, as current electronics technology would be able to tame the Cubeís raw power and would make it more rideable.
The same Aprilia insider revealed a V4 had been under development to join the 800cc MotoGP class, but a last-minute decision sent the V4 into World Superbike instead and hence its 999.6cc capacity when it debuted in the RSV4 streetbike in 2009. In its WSBK guise, Aprilia says it produces 233 horsepower.
The heralded RSV4 enters its fourth year of production in 2013, for the first time with boosted power figures. Horsepower goes up from 177 to 181 hp at 12,500 rpm. Torque is also up from 84 ft-lb. to 86 ft-lb. at 10,000 rpm.
Aprilia hosted a media launch at Portugalís Estoril GP circuit where thereís plenty of opportunity to test the RSV4ís power gains. The RSV4 R and Factory are incredibly sure-footed and boast updated traction-control electronics. The result is the most confidence-inspiring superbike I have ever ridden. Itís not like the previous edition wasnít responsive enough, but the 2013 edition is just more of everything in the same stable package.
Confidence in the bike allows applying a wide-open throttle everywhere. The RSV4 R and Factory just laughs at me in corners even though Iím trying my best with limited riding time available. Midcorner, the RSV4 is just so stable whilst still being nimble enough to change the racing line at a whiff should it be needed.
The 2013 upgrade to the APRC system includes improved algorithms for the TC to smoothen out a tendency in past models for an abrupt rear wheel slip in certain situations. Iím no Max Biaggi, and this abrupt slipping tendency isnít something I have been able to push to the edge in the past, so weíll have to trust Aprilia on this update. This upgrade will be available to pre-2013 models as well, so owners should make sure to get a software update at the next service.
Rear-wheel slip is about as dramatic as a snowy weather forecast in Norway when TC is in its lower setttings. I like it when the rear slides a bit, and knowing that the latest APRC is more intelligent than Stephen Hawking, I feel safe. The APRC now features sensors that know whether you are going slowly or fast through a corner and applies suitable algorithms to compensate. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it would have counted for nothing if the RSV4 hadnít felt so good to ride fast.
The main upgrade is the introduction of Apriliaís in-house-developed race ABS system. The upgrade also unexpectedly led to a 1.5-liter (0.4 gallon) increase in fuel capacity. Piaggio engineers had to change the fuel tank to fit the ABS brains under it and simply decided to make the tank a little bit larger while they were at it. The fuel tank now holds 4.9 gallons of fuel, and the new shape supports a rider much better during hard braking and cornering.
The acceleration range at Estoril is massive. The straight is measured at almost one kilometer, but the acceleration itself starts before you hit the straight through the third gear Senna right-hander. Itís an all-out guts-and-glory corner, and you can go as fast as you dare on the RSV4. You can maximise third gear and shift up to fourth at the beginning of the straight if youíre good. It isnít difficult to hit 185 mph before braking.
Braking with Apriliaís new race ABS is a fantastic experience and oh so confidence inspiring. In Race mode it will allow rear lift and feels just like maximising braking on a system without ABS. Apriliaís own very fast test riders have been able to ride down to within a second of the same lap times with or without ABS, which is good news for us ordinary people as it means ABS will win for us every time. I could basically circulate at high speed around Estoril without ever even thinking about the ABS brakes. Itís great stuff, really, when it doesnít intrude at all unless there is a real emergency where it most likely would make your braking faster and safer.
The RSV4 R and Factory struggle to put a foot wrong, and that makes these superbikes incredibly rewarding rides. Front brakes on both models are the Brembo Monoblock M430s, which are about as good as it gets in 2013. Braking markers stayed constant during all sessions and the brakes maintained the same amount of power throughout. ABS can be adjusted in three pre-set modes and can be turned off. The entire race ABS system weighs only 4.4 pounds.
Tires on both models are the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa in 120/70-17 front and 200/55-17 rear dimensions. The front stood up to some serious abuse very amicably, whilst the rear was moaning a bit towards the end of sessions, particularly on the sides.
The RSV4 Factory APRC ABS offers adjustable engine mounting points as well as adjustable swingarm pivot and steering angle, whereas these settings are fixed on the RSV4 R. The RSV4 Factory is also equipped with fully adjustable Ohlins suspension (compared to the full-adjustable Sachs suspension on the R model) and lighter wheels. Highly skilled riders can take advantage of the additional adjustability offered by the RSV4 Factory, but most riders will be just as fast on the RSV4 R. The Factory claims a dry weight of 399 pounds while the R weighs 11 pounds more.
It wasnít a big surprise that both 2013 RSV4s felt fantastic on the circuit. The fact that the Factory version is both lighter and better suspended was difficult to distinguish on our short test. Unless you are into some serious club racing, youíll be nearly as happy with the RSV4 R as youíd be with the Factory version. The RSV4 R is a great base model and now itís even available in matt black. The Sachs suspension works just fine, but I have a suspicion that the RSV4 R would handle really well almost regardless of the logo on the suspension.
Both versions have all the latest high tech, and the 181-horsepower V4 is difficult not to love. It sounds mighty impressive, and riding it just adds to the impressions of invincibility. If you didnít already know it, Iíll just say it: both RSV4s are pretty great motorcycles and will stand up to absolutely anything on the market today.
Although the RSV4 is upgraded rather than overhauled (look for a new one in 2015), it is near perfection among literbikes. Prices start at $13,999 for the R model, while the Factory lists for $18,999. ABS models cost an additional $1000.
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