Yamaha YZF-R1 vs Aprilia RSV4: which earned our Superbike of the year honors?
Both Aprilia’s RSV4 and the new YZF-R1 from Yamaha should already be on your short list of bikes to tear up the track or carve through the canyons. But settling on just one is where the critical analysis comes in and will depend on your core motorcycle values and true riding intentions. The 2015 Superbike-of-the-Year finalists were the all-new Yamaha YZF-R1 and the Aprilia’s RSV4.
We rode quite a few bikes over the course of 2015 with experiences spanning the spectrum. We were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled across bikes that completely blew our expectations away with models such as the all-new Suzuki GSX-S1000. Other releases were far less exhilarating and turned out to be an underwhelming surprise given the manufacturer’s exciting reputation… *cough* Ducati Scrambler *cough*
However, on the sportbike spectrum, there are two bikes that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Aprilia’s renowned RSV4 is still looking strong on its 7th year of dominance, but Yamaha’s all-new YZF-R1 is setting a new standard for sportbikes (at any price point) with the Japanese firm’s 6th generation of their flagship bike.
Both bikes are powered by non-traditional engine formats. Aside from burning gasoline via an internal combustion engine, few other aspects of the power plants packed into these two bikes are shared with the typical inline 4-cylinder of Japan (and Germany) and the V-twins of Italy. Departing from a proven format is a risky move, but here are two examples where this gamble paid off.
The RSV4 packs a seemingly-simple V-four format engine. Surprisingly, the V-four motor layout has rarely been utilized in bikes historically, nor has it ever been commissioned for much vehicle use outside of motorcycling for that matter. For Aprilia however, the 65° V-four has been a huge success both with the 1077cc motor in the hugely-popular Tuono naked sportbike, and of course, the 1000cc variant powering the RSV4. The advantages of other engine formats are captured and optimized by this layout.
The bottom end torque of a V-twin is achieved by positioning the combustion chambers around the crankshaft. Top end power of an inline-four is realized by the high RPM’s that are obtainable by the reduced bore and stroke of four cylinders when compared to two of the same total displacement. The result is an extremely well-balanced engine with plenty of low end grunt, top end pull, and beefy midrange connecting the two. The Aprilia RSV4 has addictive power delivery characteristics that will make you rethink those clunky V-twins and typical four-bangers of the past for a sportbike application.
Yamaha has also wandered off the beaten path by exploring a little-known variant of the traditional inline-four. Beginning in 2009, Yamaha introduced its 5th generation YZF-R1 with an all-new four cylinder engine utilizing a “cross plane” crankshaft and uneven “big-bang” firing order. This engine technology was foreign to the industry, and it's the first time in years such a unique motor was introduced to the mass market (not to mention, in the company’s flagship model).
Riders loved the smooth yet stout low end power delivery achieved by this technology as well as the linear power curve. Unfortunately, peak horsepower was sacrificed for these gains over the previous iteration. For years, tuners struggled to reclaim this power and build competitive machines that could hang with almost any other superbike of the day such as the ZX-10Rs, GSX-R1ks and Panigales. That was, of course, up until this year.
The 2015 Yamaha YZF-R1 continued to employ the cross plane four cylinder engine, but with completely redesigned and fine-tuned internals. The result was the same renowned riding characteristics enjoyed over the last six years, but with the detrimental peak power void filled. Filling with nearly 200 horsepower ought to do the job. Power delivery is very similar to that of the RSV4, but with a slightly more-menacing manner. Throttle response is sharper, the torque hit gnarlier, and the midrange ramps up exponentially to the very harsh top end.
Just 10 years ago, digital fuel injection was the latest and greatest technological advancement that superbikes of the day were still dialing in. Electronic rider aides and on-board data logging only existed on big race tracks, in the pits of well-funded race teams or on the bench of R&D facilities. Only a decade later, variable power modes, ABS and gear position indicators are standard equipment on nearly all superbikes. The Aprilia RSV4 and Yamaha R1, however, go far beyond this already-impressive standard.
Yamaha pulled out all the stops when developing the technology bundle for the new generation of the YZF-R1. At the center of this system is the six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). The IMU gathers data on the bike’s position and acceleration in the X, Y and Z directions, then uses this info to manage the rider assist systems such as ABS, traction control, slide control, wheelie control and launch control. The system also keeps tabs on additional parameters such as brake level pressure, throttle position and ambient air temperature to further the intelligence of the computer’s decisions. Even the instrument panel is top notch, displaying the basic vitals such as engine RPM, gear position, road speed and so much more through a sharp and crisp LCD screen. The entire package is not only loaded with features, but it also executes the rider assists nearly flawlessly.
The Aprilia tech package is also very capable and includes a vast array of features on the base model RSV4. The traction control, ABS and quick shifter are butter smooth and intervene without much notice from the saddle. These systems even function well on the street during casual riding when not being pushed to their limits on the track. This has proven not to be the case with many other OEM and aftermarket systems. Other features however, such as the wheelie control and selectable power modes could use some refinement. Especially when being pushed hard on the track, imperfections in these systems surface. Power is abruptly cut when the front wheel lifts a bit too high causing the front end to slam down then pogo back up again and again. The traction control works well to limit the 200 horsepower potential, but this limiting is definitely noticeable on corner exits when that power is most desired.
The Aprilia system is great for street riding, but would need some serious fine-tuning before it would be competitive on the track—especially when bikes like the YZF-R1 are on the loose.
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Riding the Aprilia around town, down the freeway and through the canyons is like driving a new F10 BMW M5 as your daily commuter. Both are beautiful machines with elegant aesthetics and a refined ride that is surprisingly smooth and easy to maneuver. However, you cannot forget about the deep-rooted factory racing soul that is capable of leaving your nonchalant attitude (along with a good portion of your lunch) in the dust. This is an option that is always on tap and exercisable in an instant whenever the mood strikes.
The RSV4 is an extremely comfortable and capable superbike with all the bells and whistles to put it in the premium category. The planted chassis suspended by top-tier suspension components and powered by a stout, yet surprisingly smooth, motor makes for a truly awesome bike for all types of street riding.
This gnarly platform is tamed and fine-tuned by the electronics packages that do an excellent job at keeping things in check on the street. However, these rider aides begin to aide less and hamper more when riding aggressively on the track in pursuit of those lower lap times. The chassis, suspension, brakes and motor perform spectacularly at race pace and have a ton of potential with a finer-tuned electronics package.
On the other hand, Yamaha’s all-new YZF-R1 is much more of a handful. Riding the Yamaha around on the street would be more like taking a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 car out on your weekend errands. The R1 riding position is aggressive and uncomfortable around town. The motor’s powerband is linear on the bottom end of the RPM range, but kicks in hard like a two stroke at the top end—even with the most conservative power mode selected. To add to this rough ride, the throttle is extremely twitchy, which causes even smooth rides down the freeway to be a challenge. That being said, the electronics package is very smooth and systems such as the traction control, ABS and quick shifter work very well on street rides.
When the YZF-R1 hits the track, it also hits its stride. All of the rough edges the bike exhibits on the street completely disappear when unleashed on the track. The brutality transforms from an annoyance to an asset. The rough suspension finds the sweet spot of the spring stroke in aggressive turns, the harsh top end of the engine pulls to the moon out of corners and the aggressive riding position allows for the rider to flick the bike around with ease, hang off the side without much effort and hit each intended mark on the track.
What sets the R1 apart from the RSV4 is the fact that the electronics package assists this aggressive track riding without much notice from the rider’s seat. Though, like the Aprilia’s system, the wheelie control on the Yamaha can produce a bit of a pogo affect, it is much less pronounced. Yamaha’s 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit enables the traction and slide control systems to operate extremely well, giving the R1 a serious edge on the track.
One would not be disappointed with either of these Superbike-of-the-Year finalists in the garage. The Aprilia RSV4 and the Yamaha YZF-R1 both ring up at $16,500 and boast an unbelievable amount of technology. An overall winner cannot be appropriately named because each has strengths focused in different categories. However, once the buyer determines the bike’s primary purpose, the decision is clear:
If a sportbike to ride on the street around town, to work everyday or through the canyons on the weekend is a top priority, the Aprilia RSV4 is the top bike for the job. If street riding is not going to be the bike’s main duty but track riding is, the Yamaha YZF-R1 is definitely the best track bike on the market.
Both bikes are at the top of the superbike class right now mainly due to the respective technology packages. It will be interesting to see how the competition responds in 2016. Stay tuned for addition contenders…
Stills: Sean Russell (follow @sea_russell on Instagram)
Action: BJ at ETech Photo