Church of MO: 2002 Aprilia Mille R

John Burns
by John Burns
Photos by Robert Pandya

Shut UP, no way was this 20 years ago! Maybe this 2002 Aprilia Mille R stands out in memory because the year after 911 was so uneventful? First we invaded Afghanistan, then Congress approved the Iraq War Resolution – and Dick Cheney was acting POTUS for a few glorious hours while George W. Bush had a colonoscopy. In other words, the crazy hadn’t really even begun. Anyway, the first four-cylinder Aprilia was still way off in the future – along with a host of unknown knowables – and if you’d asked Minime or me if the world needed a four-cylinder Aprilia, we’d have probably given you a blank stare. Why?

The cure for the common Open-Class Sportbike

Torrance, California, April 15, 2002
Heading out to Fontana for the double-header weekend of AMA racing, deciding which bike to ride out on was a no-brainer. Sure, there was a stable full of the latest Open Class Sportbikes, but a few days prior, something terrible happened.The day we planned to head out to the drag strip for the final part of our Open Sportbike Shootout, Aprilia’s marketing coordinator Robert Pandya winged his way into town. Initially, he was just going to drop off the bike, make nice with us MO boys, and then head back off to do something more important. As it turned out, however, Signore Pandya had some free time and decided to accompany us on our trek over the mountains, through the woods and out to Los Angeles County Raceway that evening. And he was bringing his Mille R with him, with us still mid-flog on our in-line fours, myself on the 954, Johnny Bee on his beloved R1.

We all met up (except for young Calvin and the GSX-R who would meet us later at the drag strip) at the base of the ‘Crest at a tidy little lunch spot. And after a Sun Valley version of Italian cuisine and a half hearted attempt by yours truly to make nice with a not-so-nice waitress, we were off.Sitting under yon pine tree, the bright yellow Aprilia made its presence known. That too-bright shade accented by flat black touches and some bright reddish-pinkish coloring on the fairing lowers sure looks mahvelous, even from a distance. Up close and personal with the bike, however, it’s the details that catch your eye and you pretty much ignore the bright surroundings. Carbon fiber rear fender? Check. Carbon fiber fairing louvers? Yup. There’s a c-f dash panel and front fender too, and it’s all the real deal. None of that fake stuff here. And that’s pretty much how the whole bike is, really.
Up front, a closer inspection of things reveals that the forks aren’t just gold-colored on some artistic whim, they’re from Ohlins. The shock is too, by the way, and it sits just in front of a swingarm that seems fit to be a structural member of a suspension bridge some place. It’s a beautiful aluminum piece, part polished and part flat, with the chain running through a cut-out in its starboard side. The Plain Jane version of the Mille uses the same swingarm though, so I guess seeing it on the R isn’t as eye-catching as the Ohlins bits that replace the Showa stuff of the basic version.

Also sourced from the pages of an Ohlins catalog is the steering damper, which you notice peeking up from you every time you check the bike’s rather confusing five-buttoned instrument panel (though there is a cool lap-timer in there somewhere), mounted just above and in front of the lower triple-clamp. Reducing unsprung weight hanging from the up-rated suspension is a set of very cool blue OZ Racing wheels. They’re forged aluminum, wrapped with Pirelli Dragons and replace the stock cast pieces, the package providing a weight savings of 25-percent. And it’s these high-dollar detail bits that add a few bucks to the price of your plain ol’ vanilla Mille. Though I guess calling the fundamental makings of a World Superbike title contender “vanilla” really is selling things a bit short.

After a few moments spent blabbering on about the bits that make up the Mille R, I not-so-subtley suggested Pandya have a go on one of the other bikes on hand. He’d always been a fan of the in-line stuff, so it was an easy coup, though I had to jump ahead of John to get the Aprilia’s key before he did. And so, fired up, Aerostiched up and basically fed-up with mindless yammering, we were off. After only a few miles of less-than straight roads, I remembered why the standard version of this bike won our last Open Twins Shootout: it’s such a fundamentally sound machine, and it’s terribly easy to ride, too.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve once again fallen in love with big-bore sportbikes. You can do anything on them, go anywhere in reasonable comfort and they’re impossibly fast and can make up for a huge talent deficit if you take some time to hone your point and shoot technique. Riding the Aprilia, however, is no point-and-shooter as it’s carrying around the same weight as our open bikes while producing nearly 30 horses less. The 998 cubic centimeter motor of this Mille-R sure seems decent enough, though it’s the same unit that the standard Mille uses, right down to the fuel/air mapping and exhaust canister.

Riding the bike into the mountains I expected to be left for dead as the two other boys left me behind, their right wrists locked in their full, upright position. Thankfully, I thought, the pace was only sporting and not yet hell-bent like I had expected. I was content to sit back and enjoy the bike’s excellent wind protection and impossibly narrow feel while we just cruised along. Between the knees the Mille seems no wider than a kid’s shoe-box thanks to the beautifully sculpted 4.8 gallon fuel tank. And the motor, though not over-whelmingly powerful, is very smooth for a 60-degree twin, thanks to what Aprilia calls AVDC, which stands for “anti-vibration double countershaft.” And the transmission’s about as smooth as I can remember on any other twin, too.When we came to a route change and swapped bikes, I was forced to give up the Mille to John. I took back the reigns of our Honda while Pandya-san played with Yamaha’s finest. And, shock of all shockers, with his favorite canyon in sight, Burnsie decided he too can win a World Superbike title on the Mille-R.

So up we go, me chasing the hell out of John, both of us being ungracious guests to the Aprilia man whose sanity gets the better of him (okay, and it’s his first time in our backyard sand box). As the two of us sped off, leaving him behind, I didn’t think we were pushing that hard. Then I realized that, yes, we’re moving right along, and the Yamaha’s rear Pirelli Supercorsa isn’t all that warm yet. It’s just spun off the second tight corner in a row, and John’s still ahead of me. A few corners later, the tire’s warmer, but so is John, and when we reach the summit he’s still ahead.When we pulled to a stop, as I dismounted and removed my helmet, John sat still atop the Aprilia, then slowly turned his head towards me. He said something about “just when you think you’ve been riding the best bikes on earth you ride something even better.” But I wasn’t paying attention, really. I just wanted to know how he was able to get 30 horsepower more from the bike than I’d been able to extract only 30 minutes prior.

What it is, you see, is what all the factory Superbike and, we recently learned, the Formula Xtreme guys always talk about. It’s not just the amount of power, they say, it’s the type of power. Wonder why there’s all the fuss over four-strokes as a platform for GP racing? Same deal. It’s the type of power the bikes make, and this Aprilia, it seems, makes the very usable type and it little matters where the tach needle points. And it doesn’t hurt that the bike’s chassis is such a brilliant performer, either.

Mille vs. Mille R
  • 25% lighter forged aluminum OZ Racing wheels
  • Ohlins forks, shock and steering damper
  • Abbreviated rear subframe (saves weight)
  • Carbon-fiber dash cover, front fender, rear hugger, fairing louvers
  • $3,800 higher price tag (though buying the Mille-R is some $3,000 less expensive than if you were to buy all the high-dollar parts individually)
  • Sex appeal, nocturnal emissions, etc.

  • Motor
  • Chassis
  • Arm that swings
  • Exhaust
  • ECM
  • … and of course HP

For those of you who have suffered through years of stock suspension, we will pray for you because, really, you have no idea how good this Ohlins stuff feels. If you are a sick individual whose pornography is made up of stanchions, seals and stacked shims, here’s your swinger’s club. In the twisties, the stuff works to keep the Mille superbly balanced on or off the brakes, mid-corner or on the throttle exiting a bend. Nothing short of a giant cedar strewn across the road upsets the chassis. Even on the freeway, where a sportbike rarely shines, I could see myself doing some serious miles on this thing. I thought to myself on more than one occasion, why don’t touring rigs use Ohlins? Surely old folks appreciate a smooth ride, too.
The only thing keeping me from an Iron Butt trophy (really, it’s the only thing) is the seating position. Though the seat is very nicely shaped and padded, the reach to the bars is a long one even with my long arms and not-so-petite 6’2″ frame. In the twisties and on the race track, where this Aprilia is designed to live, the position makes sense. It puts emphasis on front tire feedback and gets you into a nice little sporting tuck. It also gets my wrists sore after a 40-mile commute down the 405 freeway, lane-splitting below 20 miles per hour most of the way. There’s no stress on the gams though, as the pegs are placed in a reasonable position, and the foot controls feature trick little eccentric adjusters to tailor the bike to your particular tastes. Even the clutch lever, brake lever and Ohlins steering damper feature little knobs for you to twist to suit.

The beautiful thing about this latest Mille-R, however, is that there’s so little fiddling that needs to be done to the bike. In fact, aside from a minor suspension tweak we made after just the first few miles of twisties (the previous magazine tester had the shock’s compression and rebound damping backed all the way out), we haven’t touched a thing. In fact, we don’t plan on touching a thing, except for the exhaust, of course. Ol’ Pandya is sending off a pipe and chip to wake things up a bit, power and neighbors, both.
No sir, in the meantime, we’ll continue to ride the snot out of this Mille until we get it on track for a little thing we’re doing pretty soon called the Open Twins Shootout wherein the fabulous Mille-R will see some stiff competition in the form of a Ducati 998 and an RC51. Until then, however, we’re practicing for the next round of the World Superbike Championship – and the Iron Butt Rally – and I think with the Mille-R beneath us we’ve got a legitimate shot at both.



There are motorcycles for riding, and there are motorcycles for looking at, but the best are motorcycles you can ride and look at–and this is one. The plain-wrap Mille, for many dollars less, is an hellaciously tasty morsel, but the R adds a deft blend of spices to this classic Italian cuisine. Viewed in profile, those wheels have no spokes; the engineer’s desire is all that connects hub to rim. Ohlins suspension looks nice, but only after your coccyx has sampled the stuff over an hour’s worth of concrete freeway slabs (the same ones you’ve experienced a thousand other times on a hundred other bikes), can your tailbone and mind unite as one and say, YES LORD! For once, butt and brain agree. All that keeps the Mille from being perfect is that my favorite magnetic tank bag won’t stick to the Mille’s plastic tank.

Does it roost? Yea, verily–and in the time-honored Twin way of never slowing down much. Something about those calming pulsations just allows you to roll confidently into corners for which other, faster bikes have you grabbing handfuls of brake.

Nicer than the new Ducati 998? Rockinger than Honda’s new RC-51? These are questions motojournalistic science can not yet answer. Join us next week?

Engine: 60° V twin, w/ anti-vibration double countershaft (AVDC)
Displacement: 997.62 cc
Bore & Stroke: 97 x 67.5 mm
Gearbox: 6 speed
Fuel Injection: 51mm TB Indirect multipoint electronic
Ignition: electronic w/ two spark plugs per cylinder
Frame: Box-type aluminium alloy sloping double side beam
Front Suspension: 43mm Upside-down, 4.7 in travel, adjust for rebound, compression and preload
Rear Suspension: progressive linkage, adjust for compression, rebound, preload, 5.3in travel.
Front Brakes: dual 320mm discs, with four 34mm pistons
Rear Brakes: 220mm disc, dual 32mm pistons
Tires: Forged aluminum alloy
Front: 120/70 ZR 17
Rear: 190/50 ZR 17
Fuel Tank: 4.8 gal
Seat Height: 32. in. (fully extended)
MSRP: $17,299 (US Dollars)

Max HP : 112.5 hp @ 8900 rpm
Max Torque : 67.1 lb/ft @ 7100 rpm

John Burns
John Burns

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9 of 19 comments
  • 12er 12er on Jun 13, 2022

    Ah the last liter bike I rode. Hopped on my buddies, free fell onto the bars below my knees, somehow got my feet on the pegs and had about a nice 60 mile behind roasting ride before I took back my Ducati. Vowed then and there to never do that again. So far so good...

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    • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch on Jun 16, 2022

      Sounds like tall people problems. For me it’s more like, “Why did they put the bars so far forward?”

  • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch on Jun 14, 2022

    I lusted after this bike only second to Ducati back in the day. The looks aren't terrible, but they didn't hold up that well over time either. It's mostly the headlight.