Thrillo at Willow
Mille R Ali vs. Smokin' Bruce's RC51
Twin Power Sport Action!
From the desk of JohnnyB, 11/7/02 Rosamond, California, November 6, 2002 --
At the conclusion of our 2002 Twins Shootout, in which Aprilia's wonderful Mille R took all the Honda RC51's and Ducati 998's marbles, several readers wondered how things would shake out if the RC had the Aprilia's upscale Ohlins suspension and tricky bits to bring the two bikes' monetary outlay more in line? As with all Reader Feedback, we'd have been happy to ignore this idea too -- until our friend Bruce Kusada bought a new RC51 and proceeded directly to Dan Kyle Racing, checkbook in hand -- later emerging with Ohlins fork and shock, Sato ti exhausts and rearsets, Power Commander ignition, and even a very natty pair of BlackStone Tek carbon-fiber wheels (which is fair enough since the "R" Mille comes with lighweight OZ wheels).
I think we can safely say Bruce has blown right past the Mille R's $17,695 sticker and right up the slip road with his Honda. I think we can all safely hate Bruce and his BMW M5.
It's a small world after all. The Erion Honda transporter was also taking advantage of October in the Mojave at our Fastrack Friday (www.fastrackriders.com) and it turns out our man Bruce went to high school with the Erion brothers, both Kev and Craig. Kevin and Craig only see each other in court anymore, Kevin says, but Bruce and Kev had quite the little stroll down memory lane: "Remember that little slut your sister used to hang around with? I, mean ah, your SISTER wasn't so promiscuous, but her friend ahh, never mind..." Dan Kyle worked for the Erions for a few years too, and left with a slightly pungent taste on his tongue. Disgruntled, I gathered. When pressed, he'll say of Craig Erion (now proprietor of Two Brothers Racing), that Craig is one of the finest construction company owners he's ever had the pleasure to work with, and so is Kevin.
Anyway, everybody seems happy and prosperous now, particularly Dan Kyle, who reports there are a lot of customers buying expensive gear for their bikes, mostly to ride at track days just like this one. Browse over to www.kyleusa.com. Bruce outfitted his RC with the Ohlins suspenders, Power Commander, etc. -- but needs to foreclose a few more commercial deadbeats before returning to Kyle's Sand City, California, shop for the Moriwaki cams and things.Bolstering the stock Aprilia Mille R -- the very yellow one we tested earlier in the year -- is Aprilia's own high-performance computer chip and titanium two-pipe same-side exhaust (whatever that's called).
Tasty, and for closed-course competition use only. Having fitted both bikes with new Pirelli Dragon Supercorsas -- SC-1 super-soft front, SC-2 soft rear -- all that's left is to ride around a bit on a calm, sunny day in the 70's.
Once again, the Mille R is immediately friendly and comforting round the track after only a couple warm-up laps, with riders of various lengths and girths expressing warm, left-wing liberal feelings toward its ergonomic excellence. The fuel tank is narrow between the knees and wedges out higher up, giving your knees room and a place to hang onto also sculpted to fit your top-side forearm when you're hanging off, and ahhh, its Ohlins fork and shock are of course all-way adjustable, but far as I know nobody adjusted a damn thing.
We just kept fighting to be next to ride it and going faster and faster.
We posted a little news item October 16 labelled "Pirelli propaganda" -- a press release from Pirelli beating its chest over its World Supersport title, etc., on its DOT-approved Supercorsas.
At the risk of sounding like a PR firm ourselves, let me just say that these are the best DOT-approved tires I for one have sampled at Willow bar none, and I even have the lap times to prove it. Dang -- super-grippy, completely stable and all that.
Our Mille pulled back in with its lower fairing scraped up and exhaust pipes nicked--and I'm not usually a big dragger of knee, but my right puck was frazzled by the end of the day from being drug around 140-mph turn eight lap after lap.
Also the never-ending turn two right-hander... Hoo.
"In short, these are some fantastic tires."
And Dan Kyle's, I mean Bruce Kusada's RC-51 is no slouch either -- just a bit on the flouncy-feeling side after the Aprilia -- but then this is its first outing. Wielding the tools of the trade (all Snap-On as befits his station), Kyle dialed in more rebound out back, and more spring preload in front when we complained about a bit of excess brake dive/tail waggle into turn one -- all moves in the right direction. Speaking of brakes, the Honda's Nissins are damp bacteria-filled sponges beside the Mille R's four-pad Brembos.
Bouncing both bikes up and down in the pits with his meaty paws, DK conjectured that the Aprilia is way overdamped, and that the Honda will be better when it's dialled-in... all I can tell you is the Aprilia is a solid hunk of steaming funk, and the Honda's really close but just a tad flaccid in comparison, and as a result just lacks the feel/feedback flowing from the Mille R's contact patches. So we went stiffer again on the Honda's fork springs (I was thinkin' more compression damping, but what do I know?) and got it nice and firm in that fast, turn-one braking zone... and then there I went into turn eight again like I'd been doing all day, hit the same bumps I'd been hitting all leaned over all day, and had an exhilarating ride as the Honda's now slightly too-stiff fork hit one of those bumps and slid about halfway across the track, a situation that could've ended in tears.
I'm sure Dan could've retraced his steps and we could've found something that works (he's thinking stiffer fork springs), but for me discretion is the better part of valor when riding other peoples' pride and joy (especially when they only let me ride `cause I tell them I'm only going to go 80 percent -- which is nearly always true for the first several laps).
Anyway, I have to give the chassis advantage to Aprilia. I mean, all you do is pay the money and ride off on the thing and it's ready. Motorwise, as we learned in this year's Open Twins Comparison, the Honda seems to badly spank the Aprilia -- with 14 more peak horses and 5 more foot-pounds of torque. No doubt it's making more now, what with the Power Commander and Sato exhausts, and no doubt the Aprilia's performance chip and pipes are allowing it to rev a bit more freely as well.
Both bikes pull hard, yes, but the Aprilia's throttle response seems somehow crisper, more direct and right now than the Honda -- which pulls hard but lacks the Aprilia's, ahh, enthusiasm for the task. (And both bikes are maybe the best things you can buy if you're into casual track days; they put their power to the ground in a non-threatening but highly propulsive manner -- with a choice of two gears for every corner.)
Whatever the dyno says, with Honest Dan Kyle manning the radar gun Bruce's Honda made it down the front straight at 141 mph, the upstart Aprilia at 142 -- the Aprilia's wind-tunnel low-drag bodywork paying off big-time at Willow speed. (For reference, Roger Lee Hayden's FX bike did 167, and Jake Zemke's 166 down Willow's front straight.)
Speaking of which, being passed by a smoldering, sideways Zemke into turn three looks just like firing a missile out from under your wing, I think (I could hear him behind me all the way `round two...). And that's another reason to love fastrack; if you're halfway experienced, you never know who you might bump into out there.
"When the smoke had cleared, yours truly had turned a personal-best-on-a-streetbike (probly any bike) 1:29.9 on the lovely Mille R..."
When the smoke had cleared, yours truly had turned a personal-best-on-a-streetbike (probly any bike) 1:29.9 on the lovely Mille R, and a 1:30.7 on Bruce's bracing RC-51 -- which is probably my second-fastest time on a streetbike -- and other riders got similar results -- always a second or two quicker on the Aprilia.
Number one, these twins are tough to beat. Number two, those Pirellis might as well be full-blown racing slicks (the downside being that by the end of the day they looked it, too; the right sides were flat as a sail cat; don't think you'll be using one set of these for three or four track days).
Y'know, I think if MO picked a Bike of the Year, this Mille would be it.
For us, it would have to be more like Bike of the Month, though; there are far too many great motorcycles out there to pick one (especially if you're going to pick a stupid one). For manufacturer points, though, Aprilia is kicking ass lately. Those other factories better watch out.
Oh yeah, speaking of which, what a fine piece of serendipity it was to attend the North American launch of the Ducati 999 at Willow last Thursday on another fine October day -- 13 days after riding the Mille R and RC51 -- and even cooler that Ducati put, yes, nice new Pirelli Supercorsas on the bikes. (Michelin Pilot Sports are standard.) The 999 has an on-board lap timer, just like the Aprilia -- and so I couldn't help noticing my lap times on it too.
Sometimes the stars align and a three-bike comparo falls in your lap. We'll post that tidbit along with a bit more on the 999 in a few days, after we round up all the mpegs and things.
1. John Burns
In closing, let me just say this to Bruce Kusada: Nya na naaa na nyaa naaaaah! (And my Jagrolet will kick your nancyboy M5's ass too.)
Sorry for the lack of fresh action photography; we must blame a breakdown in communication between ourselves and the Willow Springs Gift Shop photography department, as in, they don't know how to communicate.
2. Brent "Minime" Avis
It's been a long time as far as I can tell. Long since I typed anything for The World's Largest Greatest Publication of Any Sort Any Place Ever Ever, and a long time since I've been out on a race track with Johnny Burns on my ass. I miss him there. Does that make me gay?
Enough of that, lemme tell you how shockingly bad ass this Mille-R is. When we first ran these two bikes back-to-back, stock-to-stock, the Aprilia won (we thought) because it had Better Stuff. Well, now that the Honda has Way Better Stuff than the Mille-R and still gets smoked, well, that makes the win even more impressive in my book. But then what do I know? I gave up MO for money, butter for margarine and beer for illicit narcotics. But I digress...
The Honda is owned by my new (wonderful, sweet, intelligent, witty, caring) boss, and therefore I must publicly admit the Aprilia is the second largest piece of poop I've ever straddled (this morning's movement takes top honors). But, if you catch me in a dark alley some late night, before you tell me to relocate myself to somplace safer, I might just let you in on a little secret. You see, while the Honda may be different, it's still not as good as an out-of-the-crate Mille-R. Maybe with more setup time and a few more tweaks it'll be there, but I'd rather spend my track days on the track instead of in the pits with wrenches and pit wenches.