After spending the perfunctory getting-to-know-you period with the Futura, we were less than amazed. Not that there was anything wrong with the bike, mind you. It just didn't tickle our nether regions like we expected it to. But once we started to spend some more time on the bike, we began dispensing of hundreds of miles at a time and, almost magically, our opinion of the bike changed.
Right now, Aprilia is really doing the biz, popping out bikes left and right, seemingly with each one going straight to the top of its class. In addition to their numerous championships in various two-wheeled disciplines, the success of their recent entries into the street bike market have caught a number of people by surprise. Including us. Aprilia's Mille won our Open Twins shootout, their Falco quickly became a staff favorite and their Scarabeo 150 is practically Italian sex in a practical package. All juicy, emotional stuff, no doubt. So why the lack-luster initial response to the Futura?Not Just a Mille With Bags When we first heard about the Futura last year, we were sold on the bike -- based purely on technical merit and our growing love affair with the Italian company. On paper, it would appear that the Futura has all the ingredients we look for in a serious sport-tourer.
The Futura's "V990" motor has Mille bloodlines, though it has been altered to make it more appealing to the touring crowd. The motor is in a more sedate state of tune than even the SL1000 Falco. Aprilia claims that this re-tuning makes the new motor, "not just suitable, but rather ideal," for sport-touring use.
Still displacing 997.62 cubic centimeters, the 60-degree v-twin features four valves per cylinder and camshafts driven by a combination gear/chain system, just like on the Falco and Mille. Similarly, the motor retains Aprilia's Anti Vibration Double Countershaft (AVDC) balancing countershaft and also uses their patented Pneumatic Power Clutch (PPC) that keeps the back wheel from chattering on downshifts during hard braking.
While the core of the motor is the same, there have been quite a few significant changes made elsewhere. Starting with the intake system, the Futura uses different throttle bodies that are designed for torque instead of high RPM power as on the Mille. Their diameter still checks in at 51 mm, but they work with a new intake pipe to keep the focus on producing power at low revs.
The entire electronic fuel-injection system gets a serious once-over as well, courtesy of the people at Sagem. This all starts with the control unit taking note of things every 10-degrees of crankshaft rotation. Their control module is able to sense acceleration or the release of the throttle in order to optimize the fuel-air mixture for the smoothest delivery of power. The fuel mapping is, of course, changed from the Mille and Falco, and is different in each cylinder to make sure things burn as efficiently as possible.Another nice feature of this new control system is that you'll notice the choke lever missing from the left grip. Start-up chores are now taken care of by Sagem so you don't have to. There's also a larger generator that works with all this electro-trickery to smooth out the torque delivery and to provide a constant, uninterrupted flow of electricity.
Wrapped around the new motor is a frame that resembles that of the Mille, though it features a number of important changes. For starters, the steering stem has been lengthened by four millimeters while the lower triple clamp has been brought forward by five millimeters, increasing the wheelbase and the amount of rake. The engine also finds itself in a new location within the frame. Of course, the purpose of these changes is to tailor the bike's road behavior towards the touring end of the spectrum, without detracting too much from the sort of track duty the RSV Mille has become known for.
Hanging off the rear of the Futura you'll find a nice bit of eye candy in the single-sided swingarm, made of aluminum alloy. Aprilia claims they've used a one-armer because it allows swift removal of the rear wheel (only one nut holds it in place) and because it allows them to use a nifty, under-seat exhaust system.
The exhaust is a two-into-one-into-two-into-one system that features an overall volume of 15 liters (3.3 gallons) thanks to a portion of the system residing under the motor. A catalytic converter is incorporated and a helps to not only keep things quiet, but emissions remain low enough that the Futura will pass all noise and emissions tests throughout the world. The use of this system also allows the standard hard luggage to fit in tightly, keeping the Futura's overall width nice and narrow.Suspension-wise, the Futura uses 43 mm Showa forks up front that feature adjustable preload and rebound, though they are devoid of any sort of provisions to alter compression externally. Aprilia claims they've set up the suspension for "riding comfort" targeted at sport-touring instead of the sportier settings used on either the Mille or Falco.
Rear suspension is handled by a Sachs shock that is, again, adjustable for preload and rebound damping, though there are no signs of a compression adjuster back here either. The rear suspension works through a linkage and the rear shock features a nifty knob located under the left side of the seat for on-the-fly preload tweaks.
PAGE 2 Fitted to both ends are Brembo's "Gold series" brakes and Freudenburg brake lines that are said to offer the same performance as braided steel lines. The front brakes feature dual floating 300 mm discs and four-pot calipers that use different size pistons (34 and 30 mm). The rear disk is a single 225mm unit with a single two-pot caliper using 28 mm pistons.
Other features include a removable steel sub-frame, center stand, hard luggage and "free-form" headlight that features three H7 55-watt halogen bulbs.
Sporting and TouringOur first impression of the Futura was that it's a larger bike than most photos indicate, looking 15-percent larger than most other sport-tourers. It looks at least 15-percent better, too. Well, we know looks are subjective, but once you've seen the bike in person, it really grows on you. Fast.
Swing a leg over it, and you see why it looks so large from a distance -- it is big, but in a roomy sort of way. The bars and all their controls fall readily to hand and the fairing appears large enough to hide comfortably behind for hours on end.Once underway, you realize your initial impressions were correct. The bike's front section is large and provides the sort of wind protection only found on full tourers and some sport-tourers whose emphasis is firmly in the touring. Despite the bike's large size, though, the Futura feels good between your legs. The generous cut-outs in the tank give the impression of a bike whose mass is far less than spec sheets would indicate, weighing in some 50 pounds more than the Mille.
On the open road, a quick glance down will tell you all you need to know about your steed. The instrument panel gives you the bike's vitals and offers a few warning lights should the electronics decide to take a nap at some point, though hopefully this will never happen. The instrument cluster is a far more simple place than the Mille's, devoid of the five or so buttons along the bottom edge that make a simple odometer reset on that bike such a daunting task. Instead, there are two buttons here: One that allows you to see the bike's temperature or the ambient temperature, depending on your curiosity at the moment. The other allows you to toggle between odometer and trip meter, and there's a fuel gauge that shows how much fuel remains in both graphic and numerical readouts. About the only thing missing here is a second trip meter, but the cool lighting of the display at night seems to make up for this little oversight.
You'll also notice, while looking down, that the filler cap on the gas tank is offset to the right. Aprilia have done this on purpose so that you can more top off the tank while the bike is laid over on its side-stand, should you be too lazy to properly prop it up on its center-stand.
Mirrors nicely integrated into turn signals and add to the chiseled look of the bike, doing a decent job of providing a rear-ward view, showing minimal amounts of elbow or back-side, depending on your riding position and the width of your riding companion's derriere.Droning along the highway, the Futura has more than enough oomph to squirt past other vehicles with little more than a slight rotation of the throttle. No downshift is needed and the motor's smooth power means you can be as lazy -- or aggressive -- as you want to be. The motor is pretty smooth at constant throttle, but a few testers did mention the motor's vibrations coming through the grips pretty consistently while under heavy acceleration.
Ths suspension works very well at keeping you isolated from the chunked concrete below, yet gives you plenty of feedback as to just what's underneath you. That little knob below your left thigh is a handy thing, too. It allows you to go from straight highways and soft suspension to tight roads and tighter suspension settings without having to stop for a moment.
In the twisties, the Futura is a big bike that makes its heft known, requiring a steady shove to steer through a corner. But if you're willing to commit to a corner, it's absolutely amazing how well this new Aprilia responds.
On one particular ride, we were off helping one of the more substantial print books with a multi-bike comparo of their own -- one that included several of today's fastest and most track-worthy, cutting-edge sport bikes around. We happened to bring the Futura along just for yuks, and the bike ended up surprising everybody who rode it. Though it took some effort, the Futura pilot was able to keep up with the other bikes in just about every condition we encountered on the road.
About the only place the Futura had any problems was in fast sweepers, where the speeds were incriminating and the revs were above 7,000 RPM. It was only here that we experienced any sort of fuel-injection glitch. Mid-corner, through long sweepers where the throttle is used to make minute line changes, the fuel-injection would occasionally glitch, hesitating just enough to momentarily upset the well-balanced chassis. Thankfully, this occurred only in very specific situations and never showed up during the rest of the time we spent on the bike.For most of that hard-charging time, the Futura was a joy in the twisties. Go down the straight hard on the throttle, accelerating smoothly before up-shifting at about 8,000 RPM -- just above the 7,200 RPM torque peak -- to keep things moving forward. No need to rev this one, boys. Ride the torque and revel in its splendor.
Fast enough? Then grab onto the front brake lever and give her a squeeeeeeze, feeling yourself get promptly hauled down from where you shouldn't have been in the first place. Maybe even drag the excellent rear brake to help settle the chassis, if you feel so inclined. It works just as well as the front.
Shove the bike down into a corner after you've let go of the binders and, if all is well with the world on this day, you'll just touch the center-stand down. After that little scrape, feel free to thwack the throttle the rest of the way open and ride on out of the corner on one of the smoothest, most linear power curves this side of a diesel. Then get on with the next series of beds and the next highway. The Futura has one of the best seats of all time, allowing you to play like this all day in complete comfort.Another Aprilia WinnerInstead of making a sportbike with bags, it's as though Aprilia used its sportbike parts to build a tourer, and then made sure it didn't feel like a tourer at all. The Futura is so well thought out and so well put together, it's as though a Honda technician jumped ship to help out. The Futura may just be the best sport-tourer we've ever had the chance to swing a leg over. So then what caused our luke-warm initial response?
The Futura works extremely well, maybe even better than we'd ever expected it to. But because it's Italian, you naturally expect some real, honest to goodness eye-tal-yun flair, of take out of which this particular Aprilia lacks. Maybe that's a good thing though, since "flair" and "character" seem all too often interchangeable with the terms "glitch" and "problem" -- two things you definitely do not want on a proper sport-tourer. And this new Aprilia really is a proper sport-tourer.Specifications