First Ride: Aprilia Tuono -

Yossef Schvetz
by Yossef Schvetz

Noale, Italy, July 31, 2002
Better get that gunslinger pose perfected, cause Aprilia's new little toy will accept nothing less than fully committed cowboys; no half measures whatsoever on this one, oh no. Wasn't that what we've been asking for since this naked craze began?

A streetfighter has been badly missing from Aprilia's line-up since their 1000cc power unit declared war on the Bolognese L-twins in `98. Naked show models from Aprilia have come and gone while Monsters, Speed Triples and 919's have gotten the drop on the sales floor. It took 'em a while, but Aprilia has finally responded with a guns-blazing, no nonsense tool that's equipped with the RSV Mille R's 130-horse power unit, no less. The overkill doesn't stop just yet. The Mille's twin spar frame is all there, complemented by tasty Ohlins suspenders at both ends, including trick titanium-nitride coated fork sliders and finger licking good forged OZ Racing rims. Aprilia has decided to make a big splash in the pond with its Tuono. In order to totally overshadow nifty rides such as the Ducati Monster S4 and Cagiva Raptor 1000, they went the expensive and exclusive way, namely a Mille R that's been stripped of its fairing, and crammed full of carbon fiber.

Wherever the eye rests, it can't avoid getting screenfulls of the hi-techie stuff. The stealth bomber theme continues with a matte black paint overdose and gold anodized frame and swingarm. The Tuono has, of course, the obligatory flat handlebar mounted on a carved-from-solid top triple clamp. Like a rebel nudist in a summer camp, the Tuono prefers to keep one half of her bikini on; it's the top half. A generously sized fairing carrying the same front lights as the RSV blurs somewhat the definition of the genre, but with a top speed that should walk all over the other naked contenders, it's supposed to supply more than symbolic wind protection. As if all the above weren't enough to cause copious drooling, there are dozens of little details that should keep dedicated train spotters occupied. Kevlar-carbon covers protect the radiator and water overflow tank, nylon frame-protector buttons are factory installed, the seat is covered with an exotic kevlar-based fabric, and a milled number plate declares that I am going to ride bike number 007 out of a planned 200 pieces -- 50 of which are heading towards U.S. soil. Sounds exclusive enough for me.

Upon picking up 007 from Aprilia HQ in the sleepy village of Noale (that's in Italy), finding roads where the thing can stretch its legs becomes a bit of a chore. The area of Veneto, near Venice, Italy is flat and featureless as the proverbial billiard table, a grid of arrow straight roads riddled with heavy traffic but at least that gives me enough time to appreciate the relaxed guiding position before the lunacy starts. The tapered diameter aluminum handlebar seems to be ripped off a CR 250, and instantly transforms the sporty crouch of the RSV into an enjoy-the-vista posture. In the hour of heavy traffic riding on our way to the nearest mountain range, the Tuono shows extremely nice manners, does not break wrists the way our RSV Mille R backup vehicle does, and in general behaves itself like a really nice kid. Slick gear changes, light clutch and throttle action, and very smooth fuel injection make handling the Tuono in traffic a doodle. Height-challenged riders might have to tip-toe in the slow, though; seat height is a lofty 820mm.
The only hint of what's about to come is in the easiness with which the front wheel paws the air when leaving stoplights -- courtesy of the lighter load on the front and some serious midrange grunt. The fun begins as soon as we start climbing the road that snakes up to Monte Grappa. In this proper mountain road the Tuono flicks my trigger to full interceptor-pilot mode within a hundred yards. The way the Tuono explodes into even the shortest of straights, compressing time and distance, requires some brain recalibration. Even more mental is the way the bike reacts to every handlebar input. In fast esses, it's just a matter of pulling and pushing the bars with your finger tips to have the Tuono laying flat on its side. While there, the ultra-rigid frame keeps the whole plot locked on target, and the exquisite Ohlins boinkers damp out any superfluous oscillations. Swedes know their way 'round hydraulics; those gold leaf forks and multi-adjustable rear shock swallow road imperfections without ever eructing. It is a memorable experience that lets you concentrate even more on your lines rather than on avoiding the potholes.

Forget about any comparison with big trailies, such as Suzuki's V-Strom, tools that supposedly excel in tortuous mountain work. We're talking warp speed here; stuff that would have big trailies, with their long-travel suspension, tied up in knots. On the other end of the scale, trying the same stretch of road with the normal RSV Mille R and its low bars, leaves me with the feeling I have just been in a wrestling match in which someone's just twisted my neck a turn or two. When the time comes for some capital "C" cornering, the Pirelli Dragon Supercorsas are grip overkill, but nothing drags, mind you. If anything, time and again I'm left with the feeling I've chickened out by 5 or 10 mph in every curve.Learning to trust the Tuono's granite front end and searching for the limits of traction is not easy though. Sitting bolt upright, the front wheel feels somewhat far removed, and the wide handlebar filters out some needed feedback. As confidence builds, you learn that the Tuono will handle anything that you can throw at it. Torquing out of turns deserves a chapter in itself. Aprilia claims to have installed in the Tuono's engine management computer a chip that enhances the power delivery at low revs compared to the RSV R. Well, it seems to work since the bike feels even livelier down low than our accompanying RSV R. There is a nice supply of brutal forward thrust from 4000 rpm, and the easy scanning of the road ahead lets you open the throttle way sooner than on a crotch rocket.

Keep it pinned to 10K and the thing goes ballistic while the mountain walls reflect a mad drum and bass soundtrack punctuated by the occasional backfire on closed throttle into your helmet. As if that wasn't enough, American riders are going to get their Tuonos with a 16-tooth front gear wheel instead of the 17-tooth unit in Europe. That one should rock on an open throttle even more.Super-thrust brings to light some problems, too: Crack the throttle a bit too much at the apex and the Tuono starts to understeer slightly courtesy of the front wheel becoming too light -- if not totally airborne. That's the price to be paid for the comfy ergos. Luckily, the Tuono is also happy to remain in third, a gear that covers most of your mountain carving needs and lets you just ride instead of fighting to keep the front down. And the cool-looking seat covering material turns out to be way too slick, making it hard to keep your crotch from kissing the tank when applying the stonking "triple bridge", four pad Brembos or when moving around in general.

Further limitations of the Tuono come to light on our way back to Noale, on a fast highway. The thing is sure enough able to romp into the 150s, but there is no way you could ever hold on to it at those speeds, even with the D-cup bikini fairing. The handlebar is way too high and too near the rider to allow a proper crouch behind the bubble. Just as well, the sail effect of having your arms flapping in the wind induces some weaving and prevents the Tuono rider from keeping up with a proper supersport mount, such as the accompanying RSV R, in fast sweepers. In the unthinkable situation that I'd own a Tuono, I'd definitely try and fit narrower and lower handlebars. Why am I so pessimistic? 'Cause having a streetfighter that's equipped with soooo much top of the line componentry means a price tag that's way up there too. And there lies the built-in contradiction of the Tuono. It might be the best ever canyon carving tool I've ever swung a leg over, but can you really pull all the stops out on a 17K limited-edition cycle? Is it the kind of tool that you'd take on to practice your wheelying and burnout techniques in a deserted parking lot?

It's hard to figure out why a more down to earth Tuono hasn't been built out of the regular RSV Mille, something that would put it in contention with Ducati's S4 pricewise. On the other hand, taking a current sportbike and outfitting it with all the good stuff on the Tuono -- the way most people build streetfighters -- wouldn't end up in a smaller bill. Seen in that light, the Tuono might be even a good deal.

As it is, the Tuono is an expensive two-wheeled creation but it never really flaunts it. Just like a camouflaged interceptor jet, from a distance those subtle satin black surfaces don't grab much attention. It's only when you get up close that you start going all "ooh" and "aah" about the sexy light reflections of the carbon fiber panels and all the rest; no funky war colors or bold new graphics BS. A kill 'em all canyon tool in the most understated of packages. A factory special that's almost subversive. I like that.

998cc Four-stroke, liquid-cooled DOHC 600 V twin, 4v/cyl.; with anti-vibration double countershaft
Bore and stroke: 97 x 67,5 mm
Compression ratio: 11.4 : 1
Max.claimed power (crankshaft): 96 kW (130 hp) at 9,500 rpm
Max. claimed torque (crankshaft): 10.3 kgm (101 Nm) at 7,250 rpm
Fuel delivery: Integrated electronic engine management, indirect multipoint injection; two 51mm throttle bodies
Ignition: digital electronic,two spark plugs per cylinder
Lubrication: Dry sump
Primary transmission Straight tooth gear, 60/31
Gear box: wet multi-plate clutch with hydraulic assist, six-speed
Final drive: chain; 16/42

Frame: Aluminum alloy box-type double beam frame.
Adjustable double-chamber Ohlins steering damper with single block mount
Saddle height: 820 mm
Wheelbase: 1415 mm
Rake/trail: 25 degrees/99mm (97mm with 120/65 tire)
Front suspension: inverted 43mm Ohlins fork,titanium nitride tubes, fully adjustable, 120mm travel
Rear suspension: Ohlins Racing coil-over shock, fully adjustable (including length); 135mm travel
Front brake: two 320mm discs; four-piston Brembo four-pad calipers
Wheels/tires: OZ Racing forged aluminum alloy wheels
Front: 3.50 X 17" 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa
Rear: 6.00 X 17" 190/50-ZR17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa
Capacity: 18 litres (including 4 litres reserve)
MSRP: $17,299

Yossef Schvetz
Yossef Schvetz

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