I set the RSV4’s pit speed limiter as I pull out of the garage. For no other reason than because I can. It's the Tuesday after this year's Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas and hot pit is empty, hold for the cleanup crew tasked with re-packing MotoGP team crates. They don’t seem to mind if I abide by the speed limit, but I do it anyways. Because Aprilia made it so that I can. The bike sputters as I turn the throttle to the stop, then settles in at a steady 37 mph. Pit exit passes, I tap the PIT button again, and the bike lets out the most glorious of yelps from its exhaust. We’re off. CoTA, almost entirely to myself. Two days after GP. On what’s become one of the best sportbikes of the past decade.
For 2017, the bike is meant to be even better, too.
I should say bikes, as technically we’re here to test both the RSV4 RR and RSV4 RF. The first of those two bikes is considered the “base-model” RSV4. It gets the same electronics package as the RF, but swaps Öhlins suspension for Sachs pieces, and five-spoke forged aluminum wheels for more budget-conscious three-spoke cast aluminum hoops.
Aprilia says that both models are, on average, one second faster around a racetrack. This thanks to an updated engine, electronic rider-aid package, brakes, and suspension. I’ll say now that I didn’t test this. You probably won’t get (err, want) to, either. Aprilia’s point, of course, remains the same; This is an evolution of the platform, a step meant to build on what’s already been accomplished.
The biggest change is to the thing you can’t see: the Aprilia Performance Ride Control (APRC) system. This includes Aprilia Traction Control (ATC), Aprilia Wheelie Control (AWC), Aprilia Launch Control (ALC), Aprilia Quick Shift (AQS), Aprilia Pit Limitier (APL), and Aprilia Cruise Control (ACC).
I normally wouldn’t make you suffer through an entire list of acronyms, but to know these systems—and their updates—is to know the 2017 RSV4. I’ll still skip over the fine print. What’s important to know is that the traction control system has a higher-performance operating logic, that the wheelie control system is now adjustable on the fly without closing the throttle, and that your wrists can now take some time off on those long highway slogs, thanks to the addition of cruise control.
A new, fully ride-by-wire throttle saves a few grams (590) while doing its best to replicate the twist-grip feel that you’ve come to expect from an RSV4. A repositioned inertial measurement unit is said to more accurately detect the dynamic conditions of the bike (read: offer more precise information, so that the systems can operate more efficiently). And while the three engine maps (Sport, Track, and Race) remain, Aprlia has made updates. All of the electronic rider-aid settings are adjustable through new switches and TFT display.
Small, small changes to the tank's shape have enabled Aprilia to accommodate the re-positioned inertial platform. You won’t be able to see them. And in all ways, the 2017 model looks exactly like its predecessor, which was updated with a re-shaped front fairing for 2016.
Further down you’ll find a set of 10mm larger (and 5mm thicker), 330mm front brake discs. Brembo M50 monoblock calipers are standard, and on the RF model, both Öhlins pieces are referred to as “latest-generation.” Also on the RF, Aprilia has updated the rear shock linkage to increase the reaction time of the shock, which, admittedly, you’d probably need to be a World Superbike rider to feel.
Cornering ABS is now standard and works in unison with the Rear Lift-up Mitigation system to keep the rear wheel planted (depending on setting) at corner entry. ABS works on three levels, plus off.
You’ll need it. Or at least a good set of braking hands—this latest RSV4 still producing a claimed 201 hp at 13,000 rpm and 85 pound-feet of torque at 10,500 rpm, despite now meeting Euro 4 emissions standards. New pistons are lighter and allow for less blow-by, connecting rods have a special treatment for reduced friction, and the valve springs are updated “in order to guarantee reliability during the heaviest operating loads,” Aprilia says. Maybe related, maybe not, but Aprilia has raised the rev limiter by 300 rpm, through a new ECU. The variable timing intake ducts have also been eliminated, Aprilia going on to say that the extended rev range renders them unnecessary.
All this, of course, to an engine that was massively updated just two years back, with new valves plus lighter-weight camshafts, pistons, connecting rods, and more.
If all of the above suggests that Aprilia's main focus was only on improving the way power is put to the ground, then you’d be right. And that’s okay, because A) the latest iteration of that 65 degree V-4 engine was already as soulful as it needed to be and B) the RSV4’s weak point has, in recent years, been its inability to keep pace with the competition rider-aid wise. Its systems were always built in the right mindset, but when it came down to it, they were simply more abrupt than others come time to step in.
CoTA is a good test, with rises, drops, fast sweepers, and a mix of tight hairpin corners that you’ll want to get off of smoothly if you want to brag to your buddies about max speed at the end of the back straight. No, I never won that battle. Yes, I blame my dad for my less-than-aerodynamic 6-foot-3 frame.
Starting at the smaller details, this RSV4 is better. The TFT display is absolutely gorgeous, plus easy to navigate once you figure out which of the new switches does what. Ergonomics are the same as they’ve been, which means taller riders will look a little bit silly when tucked in behind the small-ish front fairing, but feel surprisingly comfortable in the roomy saddle.
Chassis feel is as good as it’s ever been, which is to say you’ll almost never feel like you’re actually pushing the bike’s limits. The bike is stable, planted, and doesn’t mind in the least if you want to trail the brake right in to the corner. If there’s any one standout feature of the RSV4, it’s how much feedback it gives you, and how little the chassis detracts you from your job.
The RF’s Öhlins suspension is noticeably more stiff than the RR’s but I’d be lying if I said that the higher-spec stuff made me feel any faster. That’s not to discredit the RF’s suspension, so much as it’s a way of complimenting the RR’s bits. Like the frame itself, both pacakages will outride you in all the best ways possible. With still some in reserve…
The difference, then, is in the slightly lighter handling of the RF through a set of side-to-side transitions. If you’ve ever watched a race at CoTA, then you know that the esses here mean business, and while neither RSV4 takes it easy on your legs or shoulders, the flickability is a decent trade-off for what you get in terms of stability. The bike sits low (we drug hard parts on the RR before adding spring preload, but not the RF since its suspension is stiffer and doesn't settle as much), and I wonder how more time spent adjusting suspension/ride heights might change things.
I felt like there was a slight difference in feel at the throttle, a change I’d associate with the new ride-by-wire setup, but without riding a 2017 and 2016 model back-to-back, I can’t confirm exactly how different the feel is. In a lot of ways, the RSV4 still feels to me like an interesting balance between raw performance and a computer program that’s trying to keep everything in check. I respect that computer, but I don’t love it.
I experimented with different traction and wheelie control levels to get a feel for the systems’ revisions. From level three to one, I could get around the track at a decent pace, but still fought the systems on a pretty regular basis. Performance seemed to vary depending on the corner; out of the flat, slower-speed left-hander that dumps you on to the back straight (turn 11), the traction control light would flash and I’d only feel small cuts, while in the downhill entry in to turn two—on worn tires—the system would cut in a way that prevented me from putting any power to the ground. The system fought valiantly, while all I really wanted to do was open the throttle so that I could get some weight off the front tire. I was at war with the computer. It was winning.
I’m not afraid to admit that 201 ponies are more than I really need direct access to, but in some ways, I still feel like there is room for refinement. As it was, I would often resort to traction control off and wheelie control off. This, for me, was the fastest way around the racetrack.
Other electronics told a different story. I never once felt the ABS system step in at level 1, and the (new) auto-blip downshifter provided seamless shifts, so long as I let revs drop before grabbing the next gear (the system prevents downshifts above a certain threshold to prevent you damaging hard parts). Similarly, the various riding modes offered just enough change in power delivery to feel like they were advantageous options. I mostly opted for Track, which Aprilia tunes with less engine braking and a smoother on/off throttle transition, changes that make the bike easier to ride over the course of a session, and as tires drop off.
Brakes are equally as impressive, and in all honesty, I’m not sure I ever utilized the M50/330mm disc combo to its full potential. Grab the lever with aggression, and it’s like you’ve literally thrown an anchor over your shoulder. Power modulation is a little tough as you get deeper in to the corner as lever feel starts to fade, but as a whole the system is fantastic, with all the stopping power you’ll need to bring that beautifully potent V-4 to a halt.
What that all means
Essentially, what you have here is a motorcycle (or motorcycles) that feel like a refinement over last year’s bike(s). The overall mannerisms are the same, and in many ways, you’d be hard-pressed to tell a difference between the two. It’s that last 10 percent where you’ll notice a difference, which by no coincidence, is exactly where the biggest differences are made in racing. That last bit is the difference between first and second, and Aprilia, a racing company, knows that. This is Aprilia showing how much of a racing company it is.
Personally, I’d still like to see the electronic rider-aid systems evolve even further. Compared to a system like what’s on the Yamaha YZF-R1 or even BMW’s latest systems, the RSV4's system seems less consistent, and its cut are more abrupt. A really well-tuned traction control and wheelie control system work in the background, applying cuts that are only just noticeable. Their performance is repeatable corner after corner, lap after lap, and they are just as much a tool for going faster as they are a safety net. This system has room for improvement in both areas.
Good thing for us is that Aprilia isn’t afraid to keep pushing. And that, in so many other ways, the RSV4 sets a new standard for what a sportbike must be. It’s a race bike in street clothing, and you’d be hard pressed to find many motorcycles that are as emotionally stirring.
Aprilia’s made it so that you can go to a track and feel like a racer, and I’d have a hard time giving you reasons why you shouldn’t jump on the chance to do just that.
Pricing is as follows:
2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF: $22,999
2017 Aprilia RSV4 RR: $16,999
|ENGINE TYPE||Liquid-cooled V-4|
|BORE & STROKE||78.0 x 52.3mm|
|SEAT HEIGHT||33 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.9 gal.|
|CLAIMED WET WEIGHT||450 lbs.|
|PRICE||$16,999 RR/ $22,999 RF|