We race this big Italian beauty.
Introducing the 2016 Aprilia RSV4 RF
The RSV4 has been an unconventional yet astonishing superbike ever since Aprilia revealed the bike in 2008. The robust 65° V4 Italian power plant nestled tightly within the compact yet stout chassis produces a ride like no other in its class.
Aprilia then offered the “Factory” version of the RSV4 for those looking for even finer-tuned engine components, electronics and suspension. The strategic motivation behind this offering provides Aprilia with an edge in the racing world by racing the same bike available to the public in order to comply with Superbike and Superstock regulations.
For model year 2016, Aprilia has replaced the “Factory” model with the “RF” designation. Only a few hundred of these special edition RSV4’s will be available, and only in certain markets around the globe (200 in North America, 500 total). This is because Aprilia is less interested in the revenue generated from these sales, but rather need to meet the minimum requirements imposed by sanctioning bodies of premiere racing classes, such as World Superbike, in order to continue the company’s dominance in such championships.
We hopped on #3 of the only 200 allocated to our continent and could tell this was a special bike before even kicking up the side stand.
Our initial impression after just piloting the bike around town was extremely positive. Clutch and throttle operation are smooth, light and simple. The ride-by-wire throttle system helps dampen throttle transitions and produce smooth power modulation. The bike handles low speed parking lot maneuvers with ease.
However, getting used to the extremely tall first gear requires an adaptation period and some extended clutch slippage. Electronic assistance such as ABS and traction control intervention go nearly unnoticed from the pilot’s seat. The bike is surprisingly smooth, tame and forgiving on the street for such a purebred racing machine. That is, of course, until the bike hits the corners and stretches of closed course competition from which it was born.
On the race track, the bike is much more brutal than on those plush rides around town. This is not necessarily a great attribute when trying to get around the circuit with haste. The engine mapping is linear and polished, dishing out over 200 ponies before you know it. However, the electronics regulating all of this power waste no time announcing their presence. Even in mode setting 1 (least intrusive), traction control is noticeably restricting power as to not allow even a hint of rear wheel spin or slide. Wheelie control cuts power abruptly, slamming the front end to the ground the second it gets airborne in mode 1 as well. The chassis, suspension, quick shifter and brakes all work extremely well, counteracting these pesky “rider assist” technologies.
Perhaps the RF is just a bit too watered down for street use to allow the beast underneath to exercise its full potential on the track.
The RSV4’s 4-cylinder 65° V configuration is one of the most unique yet capable motors on the superbike market. Delivering 201 horsepower at 13,000 RPM and 86 foot-pounds of torque at 10,500 RPM, this power plant puts up some of the highest numbers in its class while doing so in an extremely smooth fashion.
The rough and torque-y lower RPM range of a V-twin and the twitchy screaming top end characteristics of an inline-four do not exist with this longitudinal V4. Engine braking is also reduced at higher RPM’s to further smooth out the top end. All of this results in a tame ride around town and leisure cruising down the highway, while also enabling elevated corner entry speeds, mid-corner throttle modulation, and wide open leg-stretching down the straights on the track.
The 6-speed transmission paired with the aQS quick shifting system channel all of this power to the rear wheel nicely. While the tall first gear takes some getting used to on the street, it's very practical on the track. As a result, leaving a stoplight and trying to grab the holeshot both require much more clutch modulation and slippage than is typical of other sportbikes on the market. However, after clicking into 2nd, the delta between each gear through 6th feels rather consistent. To help with these shifts and give the clutch a break, the aQS quick shifter allows for easy shifting without letting off the throttle or reaching for the clutch lever. Unlike many other systems on the market, the aQS doesn't strictly require wide open throttle, high RPM’s and a heavy load on the powertrain to perform well. Casually popping into the next gear while cruising through the neighborhood is surprisingly smooth, and accurate as well.
Chassis and Suspension
The chassis is another area where the RSV4 excels against the competition. Compact, nimble yet stout, the bike handles amazingly well on and off the street at race-pace and cruising speed. Regardless of track or road topography, the bike is extremely planted and sturdy, even in high-speed sweepers. These attributes make it hard to believe that this robust aluminum frame nestles the powerful V4 motor into a package that weighs a few pounds shy of 400 dry, or just over 450 lbs full of fluids. This makes the RSV4 one of the lightest superbikes in the segment.
The RF model is equipped with Ohlins suspension gear all around. A set of fully-adjustable 43mm inverted forks with 120mm of wheel travel up front and a piggyback shock with 130mm of wheel travel in the rear allow the RF to really perform at high speeds on rough track surfaces. Initially, the front end didn't have as much feel as anticipated, but just minor adjustments to the clickers on the Ohlins gear produced very noticeable results that quickly cleared up the issue.
Even the steering damper is an Ohlins unit that allowed zero headshake at speed and minimal resistance at idle. However, the base RSV4 RR model is equipped with SACHS suspension components with the same specs listed above, so it would be interesting to see how they hold up head-to-head.
Braking is taken care of by the massive Brembo hardware. M430 monobloc radial 30mm 4-piston calipers up front and 32mm 2-piston calipers in the rear bind on 320mm and 220mm discs respectively. Metal braided brake lines and a Bosch ABS system produce extremely powerful, yet controlled braking capabilities.
The full aPRC electronics package on the RF model includes aQS quick shifter, aLC launch control, aTC traction control and aWC wheelie control systems. However, the performance of the latter two systems seems unrefined compared to that of the quick shifter’s silkiness. Even in the least intrusive setting, the traction control is distractingly-hampering in mid-corner and on corner exits.
Technically, the system works extremely well, halting any traction loss in its tracks, but the power loss is apparent and not restored until the bike is completely upright. A little bit of slide would be nice if modulated properly, especially in the system’s lowest setting. The on-the-fly adjustment of this system via left hand index finger and thumb triggers is very convenient, but the values of these settings could use some adjustment of their own.
The same intrusiveness is also apparent with the wheelie control system. Again in the lowest setting, the front end pogos and motor surges abruptly on corner exits down the straights. The launch control tends to do better in this department by keeping the front end down in a smoother fashion, but it seems that this could also be modulated better through the rider’s right wrist.
The ABS system, on the other hand, is a very well-refined piece of equipment. Developed by Bosch, the 9MP system constantly monitors and wards off traction loss under braking in a manner that goes nearly unnoticed from the saddle. Very low and very high speed intervention is extremely smooth yet effective. Minimal feedback is transferred through the brake levers or chassis. We usually prefer to turn the ABS systems off when on the track with other bikes, but the RSV4’s system worked so well that we kept the unit in the level 1 “track” setting of the three settings available. Finally, the entire system weighs in at just over four additional pounds.
For a full-on superbike, the RSV4 is actually quite a comfortable ride. The seating position in relation to the clip-ons and foot pegs doesn't seem too cramped as on some sportbikes despite the compact chassis. The wide clip-ons and thicker hand grips put less stress on the upper body. However, the vast array of controls that pepper the clip-ons can be confusing and awkward to reach, especially the turn signal switch. From the saddle, the formed contour creates tolerable extended rides despite the lack of padding on the seat.
On the track, the bike puts the rider in an aggressive riding position to easily command trajectory and lean angle as well as quickly jump from side to side. The thin lower portion of the fuel tank and wide upper allow for great leg grip. Hard parts on the lower portion of the bike such as the catalytic converter canister on the exhaust system, the exhaust shield, and lower fairing do tend to drag along the track surface during anything beyond a moderate lean angle. This has been an issue with the RSV4 since the bike’s launch nearly eight years ago that has yet to be addressed.
Another interesting capability of the RSV4 is the versatility of the chassis geometry. The forward motor mounts, swingarm pivot position, and subframe mount/seating position are all adjustable to dial in the ideal geometric set-up for each individual rider.
The limited edition RSV4 RF that we tested comes with a $21,999 price tag. That is, of course, if one of the 200 produced for North America (500 worldwide) can be located. However, the base model RSV4 RR rings up at $15,649. This puts the Aprilia at the same price point as the Japanese liter bikes.
To be honest, the RF model comes with some great goodies and the limited production run adds some collector value, but the Ohlins rear shock, forks, and forged aluminum wheels don’t seem to be capturing many economies of scale with a nearly $6,500 premium. All of the components and aspects that make the RSV4 such a great superbike come standard on the base RSV4 RR.
The 2016 Aprilia RSV4 is an excellent all-around superbike, just as it has been since its initial release. The compact chassis cradling the stout V4 motor, suspended by responsive suspension, slowed by powerful braking gear and assisted by an advanced electronics package make for a very nimble and capable sportbike. When pushed hard, the rough edges of certain rider assist technologies tend to surface. Couple this with the hard parts that like to exchange material with the pavement when leaned aggressively into a corner, make the RSV4 slightly sub-optimal for the track right out of the box.
Regardless, it's impossible to overlook the fact that the RSV4 is one of the best superbikes on the market for the street and the base RSV4 RR model delivers all of the punch at a very un-Italian price.
Weight: 160 lbs
Height: 5’ 10”
Built: Compact, athletic
Experience: 20 years riding; 13 years street/sportbike, 20 years motocross, 12 years roadracing
Specialty: Sportbikes, road-testing, racing, technical
Helmet: Arai Signet-Q
Suit: AGV Sport leathers borrowed from California Superbike School
Gloves: Alpinestars GP Pro
Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R
Action: BJ at ETech Photo
Stills: Sean Russell