Aprilia MilleR Factory Track Test

story by Yossef Schvetz, Created Mar. 16, 2003
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I had a magic moment on the RSV 1000 Erre Factory, oh yes. Drilling through the never-ending, 180-degree downhill Bucine turn, I suddenly realized that I was holding the whole plot with my fingertips. Leaned way over, eyes locked on the turn's exit, I grasped the fact that I wasn't 
"Try to avoid crashing into hard, unmovable objects, such as the planet Earth"
gripping the handlebars at all but was rather caressing them, letting the RSV's front end talk to me: "Do you want to tighten up your line mister? Just press the inner handlebar by another 56 grams please. Want to exit nearer the curb? Just release about 105 grams of pressure from the outer handlebar". A nice dialog to be had while you are on your tire's edges, feeling for the last vestiges of traction at 85 mph -- and not one I could recall having on many other rides. So, MOFOs, forget all the Burns-esque heroic tales of valor about powering out of turns with smoking tires on a GSX-R1000, the RSV is into a different type of game: Finesse with capital F, an annihilating finesse that is. The point did not get lost on Aprilia's PR guys. Motto of the New RSV launch was "one second less", meaning that Aprilia testers achieved, on a variety of tracks, lap times that were faster by about one second than the previous model's. Seemingly an honest understatement, less so when you consider the fact that the previous incarnation of the RSV has previously won the coveted "Master Bike" mega sport bike comparo. This year it was second at that test only to the all-mighty Suzook GSXR1000 by about 0.2 of a second.

The story behind the new RSV which now gets the moniker "1000" rather than "Mille" is heavy refinement. Easy to spot is the all-new frame, lighter and torsionally stronger by five percent. Even easier to spot is the double banana swingarm with its extremely tall arms. It reflects current interest in obtaining "controlled flex" and indeed, though torsionally stiffer, it is less so for sideways deformation thus supplying some "sideways suspension" at high angles of lean and thus improving traction control. In terms of dimensions, the steering head has been lowered (for lower height and CG) and re-angled (from 25 to 24.8). Wheelbase has actually increased by 3 mm although overall bike length has been reduced. All this reshuffling has resulted in a perfect 50-50 weight distribution front-to-back with the front wheel carrying 13 pounds more than before.

The unmoral discrimination between normal RSV and R models power outputs is a thing of the past. In fact, Aprilia thinks that the regular model is now fast enough to be called the "R", whereas the Ohlins suspended/radial

Sadly, this was about all that was left of the Factory R after Yossef's grindage. Mr. Schvetz chalks up MO's first-ever Aprilia crash. Yup, if you're gonna wad, might as well: 1) Get it on onboard video and 2) Highside yourself to the moon so you get sympathy instead of a good beating when you hobble back to the pits and 3) slink away silenty. It wasn't until the first golf ball brained him that Yossef realized he had taken a wrong turn onto the local driving rangebraked/carbon-wearing version is now the "Erre Factory" (Erre being the Italian pronunciation for the letter r), yet both new machines carry the same spec power plant. And where's the WSBK homologation SP you may ask? With the current messy state of WSBK rules, Aprilia is sitting at the sidelines, waiting for the picture to clear up. In fact, Aprilia is rather aiming at the Superstock class and the power unit was seriously massaged with racing potential in mind. Increased squish areas increases mixture turbulence at TDC and allowed the removal of one plug in each pot. Manhole sized throttle bodies of 57 mm of diameter allow the Rotax made twin to take big gulps of air at high revs.

The counter balanced twin claims now produce to a healthy 138 hp at the crank, which is right up there with the S spec 999. Breathing is also helped by the new and tricky, through-the-headstock, central ram-air induction. This is not just a dumb duct but has smug and smart features such as an engine vacuum controlled flapper valve that regulates airflow into the airbox

The new Aprilias are blacker and badder than ever beforeaccording to engine needs. Then two secret chambers dampen out intake air pressure fluctuations and are a great place to stash diamonds or other stuff in case of an atomic crisis. Other useful mods are strengthened con-rods; light magnesium covers for the heads and clutch, twin oil-coolers, bumpier cams and a 1:11.8 comp ratio. Last notable departure from the previous model are the twin exhaust cans instead of the single one in the Mille. Miraculously, the twin Catalyzed silencers weighed less than the single TOW launcher of old. Aprilia were hard pressed to follow the under the seat cans trend/fad but found no inherent advantages in testing, only added costs and roasted bums.

Enough about tech stuff. Italian things are about design too, aren't they? The feisty press conference wasn't really the place to get the finer details about design issues though. First there was a bombastic intro video clip, seemingly targeted at an MTV crowd rather than info hungry journos. Then, some colleagues started asking the Aprilia staff dubious questions in order to get better viewing angles of the surreal supermodel that was assigned to pass the mike between journos. Considering the sheer tightness of her hot pants, I can't really blame them, but you can picture the setting. Trying to get hold of Martin Longmore, the RSV's designer during the track day was equally frustrating with 30 other journos ambushing the guy between test sessions. Luckily I stayed at the track the day after our test ride and got my quality time with the man.

Being a freelance designer, Martin Longmore might not be as well known as Tamburini or Treblanche but he has a serious track record having designed the first series BMW 650 GS, the R1200C, the Aprilia Falco and even BMW's Desmodromic boxer racer prototype, the R1, in the early 90's.

Lil' Mille back when she was merely a glint in Martin's eye.This guy has been involved also in cars with the Audi TT and the BMW Z3. He is a curly haired Scotsman from Edinburgh with an intense body language and a spicy vocabulary. He is also a sporting type having raced single seater cars up to Formula Three level and commutes weekly from his Munich office to Noale by bike.

So what was your starting point with the second generation RSV?
ML: We started very early after the first RSV's launch, in 99'. Aprilia came up with a list of things to be improved, things to be evolved and we tried to keep the design DNA of the first model. We also wanted to get away from the down-pointing wedge paradigm that is so strong in sport motorcycle design since the 90's. A motorcycle moves horizontally and I preferred to develop a design language around that motion, more like a javelin thrown forward, not down.

Third millenium bounty hunter Boba Schvetz pursues the elusive "lost second"And what about the design direction at the detail level? Even a technical part as the frame seems to be designed with all these scalloped areas...?
ML: Well, some people like to wear expensive jewelry, watches, what I like to wear are finely detailed motorcycles!


At this point Martin drags me to a naked bike and starts shooting.
ML: Knock at the frame spars with your knuckles. See how quiet it is? These folds in the frame side members help reduce metallic resonance and increase rigidity. And look at the welds between the metal pressings and the cast rear members, see the angled weld line? It's better looking and stronger than the straight weld line you'll find in other bikes. And see the top attachment points of the rear subframe? The bolts are vertical. It saved us some twenty millimeters of overall width at the critical tank-meets-seat point. And look at these hollow front engine mounts, they allow air to pass through, enter the engine bay and aid cooling...

I spy with my gleaming trapezoidal eyes ... And he goes on and on... Martin was the RSV's designer but he got so much involved with the definition of every single part, even if an invisible radiator bracket or the exact position of the neutral light on the dashboard, that he just couldn't let any thing slip by "undesigned".
ML: I had this idea about having rear turn lights while on the track so you can signal entering the pits without raising your leg off the peg like your going to take a.... So by taking off just 8 screws your RSV is track day ready in five minutes (four for the mirrors/front turn signals, four for the numberplate holder).

PAGE 2 So the man is a wonderful detail freak and it shows when you meet the RSV1000 in person. There is plenty of eye candy in the new RSV and the finish level of the whole machine is much higher than before. Next thing to strike you is the huge reduction in size, physically and visually. The old model used to have a fat camel back silhouette, the new RSV with its horizontal lines looks and feels much lower, leaner and sharper. Upon sitting on the bike, the RSV's old DNA is felt. Riding position remains the very friendly one from the Mille while some subtle touches to footpeg location (15 mm forward), the reduced gas tank size and the lower seat height (by 20 mm), hint at a less extreme riding position. Has the RSV gone soft or can a supposed Gixxer/R1 beater be this comfy?Our man Yossef using his 6'4" height advantage to peer around the curve

Time to sprint out'da pits into the unknown wilderness of a roller coaster named Mugello. A few minutes out and I can't think of much more comforting hypersport mounts to learn such a technically demanding track than this new RSV. On my first laps, while learning the right way round the Tuscan course, the Erre Factory doesn't mind purring his way around at quick touring speeds. The revamped power unit hasn't sacrificed that mid range bulge with peak torque coming in at a measly 7.500, and allows me to pull out of turns paying little attention to which gear am I. With plenty of scary blind turns around, it was also easy to appreciate the relaxed ergos that give even someone with a 6'4" frame the possibility to choose between tucking in nicely with at the long straight to erecting back to gain view field before corners. But above all, that trademark RSV treat of super easy, honest and confidence inspiring handling has been enhanced making the new 1000 a neo-racer friend immediately.

As soon as some real-racer type colleagues with previous track knowledge pass me, I am reminded that I haven't been invited here just to tour around. A good place to start sampling the new RSV's true potential is the long straight of Mugello, a real horsepower test and its there that the "Magnesium" engine struts its stuff. Passing 7.5 K the thing really takes off with a previously unknown before fluidity, peaking just before 10K. At these kind of revs, the old unit would run out of puff while now there is a nice over-rev headroom of another 1K revs with nice pull still. If in the mid range I was hard pressed to tell much difference from the previous mill, its up there at the top that all the new tweaks: ram air, throttle bodies, etc, create a serious upgrade in kick level from the previous R unit, let alone the run-off-the-mill Mille. With very warm tires and some track knowledge under my arm its time to press things in corner's approaches too. Slowing down from some 160 at the end of the straight you need to chop off about half the Mph's to enter the San Donato hairpin. No sweat.

Might wanna tuck down if you plan on catching those guys, Pokey The Radial mounted Brembos calipers actuated by a radial pump are the bollocks. Super feel, super power while the engine vacuum operated anti-lock clutch mechanism kept rear wheel chirping to the minimum even when brutally downshifting. I'm all set for this long slightly hairpin turn and its there that I start to realize that the harder you push the more rewarding the Erre is. It settles down so controlled on its suspenders that you can really dedicate all of your attention to your line and traction situation. Powering on towards the oncoming esses, I have the Erre purring at 6K but it doesn't really mind, it just pulls out vigorously before I chuck it to the left. After the relatively easy to negotiate upper esses the first real test for front-end set up and manhood in general arrives, the scary fast downhill esses of Casanova-Savelli. According to all the bench racing stories I've heard, I was supposed to be feeling here the forks wanting to turn in without control as the front wheel unloads at full lean, yet nothing of that really happens. Planting the Erre on its side at the right fast kink while pointing sharply down fails to faze the RSV. Could it be that extra load on the front doing a really nice job? Rolling the throttle on, off and on again at the difficult transition to the left kink the engine responds with total fluidity. I was definitely having fun now.

That's why we send our main man Yossef to wring out the expensive Italian bikes on MO's behalf. Cause he's a lean, mean, cornering machi ... Aprilia decided to let us have an extended first session of half an hour in favor of all the Mugello newbies around, which means quite a few laps. Yet, despite the scorching heat I cant fail to notice that

I am quite relaxed by the end of my turn, eager to get out to the track again. Upping the pace towards the end of the session wasn't accompanied by the usual grip'er harder white knuckles but rather by letting the bike in faster to turns, tipping her ever more at the apexes, all very brainy rather than muscular or clenched buttocks stuff. Nice.

With a few shots of espresso in my veins diluted by plenty of mineral water, it's time to appreciate the finer points of the RSV under more pressure. Like for instance, that at a half respectable pace of 2:20's at one point, I haven't even gotten a nary wobble or wave, even while cresting the slight rise and kink at the main straight at 150. A later analysis of my onboard video would reveal that in the whole 20 minutes session, there wasn't even a moment where the Erre did anything that had me rolling the throttle back. It's just that it does everything so smoothly that you forget to notice that you are approaching your personal limits. More about that later. In the meantime I am starting to get really mean in places like the fast Arrabbiata turns, especially the second one which is a 90-Mph with a blind exit after a crest. At a certain point I cant really believe the blind faith I am putting on that front wheel when you are pointing the Erre into a point in the sky while bent all over the bike, hoping there is indeed tarmac beyond the horizon line. A few turns later, at one of the finest esses in racing, the Biondetti, entered at high revs in third and hooking up fourth at its exit, the Erre is superquick in this fast direction change. Well, maybe not 600 quick, but surely quick for a liter tool. If it sounds like I was getting cocky, well yes I was. I kept losing time mainly on the sixth-to-third downshift/braking at the end of the straight, braking way too early, but on corners I was having a real fest, enjoying the neutrality of the steering, the sheer sure footedness. Checkered flag, one last lap to enjoy that sweet handling chassis and that buttery feeling twin, and to try and pass that last journo that's in my sights....

... err, uh, that's why we USED TO send Yossef to wring out the expensive Italian bikes.  Well, I bined it but at least did it like a man. At the apex of Borgo San Lorenzo, I dial in some more lean, maybe a little more throttle, the rear Pirelli SuperCorsa cries enough and I am down on my back, sliding feet forward into the gravel trap. Luckily the spectacular high side occurs after me and the Erre have separated. Two crashing tips. First wear your back protectors kids, preferably with air cushions. When I crossed the step of the curb exiting the track sliding on my back, my vertebras could have received a very serious beating without one. Second, if you do crash, make sure to do it in front of a photographer while having also a vid cam mounted on the tank. You'll get plenty of spectacular visuals to show your grandkids.

The Aprilias had drawn straws before hand to see which one got Yossef. This one had the short straw. As it would turn out, that was also to be our last session. Aprilia's Robert Pandya took it like a man and actually urged me to get back on another bike but a sudden evening storm put an end to our track test. A real shame since for our afternoon sessions we were supposed to get the race kit Titanium exhaust cans on our Erres that supposedly perks up the torque curve in a big way. We actually got out to the track with these beautiful sounding pipes that really sent chills through my spine but were called back in when the rain started. Time for complaints. Sorry not much to whine about, at least not when your main worries are things like traction and lines. Would be nice to have more room for ankles. When putting the balls of your feet on the pegs, they were hitting the pipes somewhat. Not so sure that mirrors are far enough apart for police scared riders either. Maybe a stronger rear brake, with street riding in mind. But that's all really.

So then, at the end of the day, just how true are Aprilia's claims about that potential second less per lap? That little something that could turn the new RSV into the king of Superstock. Being just a fair road rider with a dozen track outings, let's leave my feeble 2:20 aside. During the launch days, real racing journos were getting into the 2:10-2:05 while real racers who were there wearing a journo hat for cover, like Italian SBK contender, Andrea Mazzali (who knows Mugello like the back of his hand), got down to a spicy 2:02. How fast is a 2:02? At the National Italian Superstock round, front runners where getting down to 2:00's with full Superstock tune, "street threaded" slicks and of course, no lights, no nothing. So hard to argue with the facts, this Erre could be on that grid, out of the box, lights and all. But to most people this will matter little. What is important is that after their surprise entry into the big bore arena with the surprising 98' Mille, the ante has been raised and the new kid on the block is right there with the best of 'em. The new RSV feels much more modern, precise, agile, tractable and powerful. It was also great to see that in the current rat race for ultimate performance in the liter class, Aprilia has choose to put brain power to work rather than brute force. That special balance, that was so captivating in the old RSV, is still there, intact and immensely enhanced.

If there's anything that these new RSV left me with a wish for, is to have it soon for a street test. Yes there I could show them some tail pipe!

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