Valencia, Spain—I fear I may be slipping behind the technology curve of late. As the last Cycle World staffer to trade in my company-issued Blackberry for an iPhone, I’m just now getting a handle on this whole Facebook thing. Perhaps certain traits of my father have begun to manifest with age? Dad, a master mechanic throughout much of his professional career, lacked the patience to learn how to program a VCR back in the day. I must wonder what my old man, or, for that matter, legendary MV factory rider Giacomo Agostini, would make of the depth and complexity of the myriad menu options on the info-rich LCD dash of the new MV Agusta F4?
An all-new MVICS (Motor & Vehicle Integrated Control System) featuring ride-by-wire throttle control first applied to last year’s F3 675 model has been further developed and tailored for the latest F4. MV’s electronics package offers the most comprehensive multi-map engine-management system I’ve encountered, also offering rider-assist features such as traction control, an anti-wheelie function and an electronically assisted shifter that facilitates seamless upshifts while also having an auto-blip feature for clutch-less downshifting.
While the complexity and sophistication of MV’s chip-controlled technology rivals the systems found on the Aprilia RSV4 APRC, BMW HP4 and Ducati Panigale, I believe the F4 would benefit greatly from a more-user-friendly way of navigating through the various settings. And although this may sound a bit nitpicky, the F4’s two-button switch on the left clip-on handlebar lacks a tactile feel, which makes it downright frustrating to use while wearing gloves.
I experienced some tense moments while lapping the 14-turn, 2.5-mile Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia, Spain, where MV staged the F4 and F4 RR world press launch. My anxiety didn’t stem from tapping into the RR’s 201 claimed crank horsepower (which is 6 up on the base model, credited to a 500-rpm-higher rev ceiling made possible via titanium connecting rods and lighter valve springs). Rather, I feared being rear-ended while coasting off the race line, feverishly attempting to toggle and lock into a different level of TC. Something as basic as selecting one of the eight available TC sensitivity settings should be more intuitive. To MV’s credit, moving amongst the engine-management maps (Rain, Normal, Sport and Custom) is more easily accomplished, as the starter switch serves double duty as a mode toggle while the engine is running. The Custom map allows adjustment of five parameters that are each pre-defined within the three default modes. These include throttle sensitivity (which can be set to filter out minute throttle movements); two levels of engine response (affecting how quickly the electronically controlled throttle plates react to twist grip rotation); soft or hard rev limiters; two engine-braking settings (that determine how much the throttle plates remain cracked open during deceleration); and lastly, torque output (which implements Rain mode’s reduced peak output via limiting the maximum throttle plate opening when the twist grip is pinned).
All told, four 20-minute riding sessions wasn’t nearly enough time to sample the full gamut of possibilities. Two sessions aboard the RR version introduced further electronic wizardry with its electronically adjustable Öhlins suspension in place of the Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock of the base model. Switching among the RR’s engine-management maps also alters the pre-configured values for compression and rebound damping. While not an active system like that of the HP4, the F4 offers an electronic screwdriver if you will. I have to say, however, that making damping changes while stopped on pit lane proved tedious because the switch on the left bar only allowed the numerical damping value to be incremented in one direction. A lot of button presses are required to go from a setting of 10 to 9 for example, requiring you to loop through the full range to get to 9.
The RR also employs an electronically adjustable steering damper with two modes of operation. Manual has you assign a degree of damping resistance within another dash menu, while Auto mode dynamically adjusts damper firmness to suit the bike’s speed or rate of acceleration; a good street option. Personally, I preferred the simplicity of the conventional CRC unit on the base F4, experiencing less bar movement when driving hard off second-gear corners with the front tire skimming the rumble strips lining the track’s outer edge. I must think, given more time, I may have found a comparable manual setting for the RR.
Wearing beautifully crafted forged wheels (that MV claims to represent the very lightest possible while working with aluminum) gives the RR an agility advantage over its cast-wheeled sibling. Fact is, both models require little effort to bend into turns and track through an apex as though on rails. I marveled at the level of grip provided by the stock Pirelli Supercorsa SP radials, as well as the bike’s seemingly limitless cornering clearance.
My best laps came with the throttle sensitivity and response settings set to Normal in conjunction with a TC setting of 1. This took the edge off, freeing up focus for hitting my marks and exploiting the superb chassis. The TC strategy MV uses retards ignition advance followed by throttle closure, producing a smooth, stutter-free reduction in power output, and the anti-wheelie aspect is very subtle. While not a failsafe against looping over backwards, the benefit here is that the front end never abruptly slams to the ground.
I found the auto-blip downshifts greatly ease rider workload when charging deep into corners, allowing full attention to be placed on braking. It’s never been easier to maintain constant lever pressure and front-end load while changing down through the gearbox, making good use of the powerful Brembo Monobloc M50 calipers on the RR or the F4’s equally impressive (if not as exclusive) Monobloc M4 binders. The downhill approach to the circuit’s final corner requires dropping down to second gear while banked over. This section provided a testament to the system, allowing a comparison of traditional clutch-assisted downshifting to the auto-blip method. I must say, the chassis tracked straight and true every time when simply pressing down on the shift lever and leaving the twist grip and clutch alone. By contrast, an old-school approach resulted in a bit of chassis movement with the rear momentarily stepping out.
All told, both versions of F4 I rode (there’s an F4 R that differs from the base model in its Öhlins TTX shock and forged wheels) proved MV have made great strides of late in harnessing the raw power and performance the F4 has always possessed. While this may not be your father’s MV, the magic of MVICS has made the bike more refined and accessible than ever. Just imagine what Ago, the all-time leader in Grand Prix victories, could do with such a machine.