Given that 200 horsepower bikes (or more) are now becoming common in the superbike category, some may think it difficult for the heavily updated 2015 Aprilia RSV4 RR to stand out from the crowd. But an absolutely glorious engine that pulls heavily no matter what and a chassis that is quite possibly second to none mean that Aprilia’s halo model continues to punch well above its weight.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Aprilia only made its first literbike back in 1998, being the RSV Mille, a V-twin superbike. Since 2009, their premier bike has been the V-4 powered RSV4 which powered Aprilia to three World Superbike world championships and four constructors championships. While the 2015 Aprilia RSV4 RR might not look that different from the previous model it is heavily updated with almost nothing from the previous model carrying over.
Aprilia has completely redesigned the front end, modifying the cowl and fairing for better aerodynamics and wind protection. Headlights have been slightly redesigned and the mirrors (which do little to help you see behind) are also new and include built in LED indicators.
The biggest change is probably to the engine. The RSV4 was always underpowered in comparison to the competition but that was never really an issue when it came to racing due to how well the bike handled. But unfortunately, horsepower figures do factor into people’s purchasing decisions and Aprilia needed to follow the dollars. Not that we’re complaining mind you – what was already a good engine is even better.
Not only does the new engine produce 16 more horsepower, it’s actually 2.5 kilograms lighter than before. Peak power is now 201 hp, but it has been improved across the range while torque is now 115 Nm which is reached at 10,500 rpm. While those are impressive figures, what is really great is how the engine delivers the power. Even at low speeds, throttle response is perfect and there’s virtually no abrutpness about it. It continues to perplex us that learner bikes have jerky throttle response by comparison when putting out a small fraction of the power available here.
At high speeds power delivery is just as good. No matter what gear you’re in or the speed you’re going, power comes on smooth and predictably. Only at speeds below 30 km/h does the bike really not feel comfortable but that’s hopefully a pace you won’t normally be travelling at. The ease at which power is transferred from the engine to the rear wheel is a combination of the bike’s brilliant chassis and the electronics package on offer.
Called Aprilia Performance Ride Control (or APRC for short), Aprilia’s software has been developed in conjunction with their WSBK team. It provides traction control which has eight settings of intervention, wheelie control (three levels) and launch control which allows you to spin the engine up to around 10,000 rpm and let the clutch out and have the computer do the work for you.
All those are in addition to the three engine modes available. Aprilia have taken a different approach to most manufactures as the three maps actually all produce the same amount of peak power. All three maps are more manageable and less aggressive than the previously and the only discernible difference between them is the amount of engine braking applied when coming off throttle – race mode has virtually no engine braking.
For the most part the electronics do what they’re supposed to do and in such a way that you don’t notice when they’re intervening. I did however notice that on the lower settings, traction control felt quite abrupt, cutting the engine power and making for a rather rough ride. That’s easily rectified by changing the level up to 4 or higher where it seems to do a much better job.
While the electronics of the bike are excellent, the means by which you select them is not. The whole rider interface is pretty awful, with selections you make taking around a second to update on the screen – it feels like lag when playing a game online. Worse though is the rather cumbersome way in which features are activated and changed. Traction control is modified by using the toggle on the left bar and pressing the paddles up and down.
That’s the good part. Changing ABS settings requires going into the menu system, launch control necessitates holding down both up and down paddles when turning the bike on and even after reading the manual I still can’t work out how to adjust wheelie control. To illustrate the point, here’s how to change engine modes:
Press the starter button once. The symbol of engine map currently in use is displayed in negative against a black background. Press the button twice within 1.5 seconds; the next engine map is displayed in negative against a black background. To select this engine map, press the starter button within 1.5 seconds. Otherwise, the next engine map in the sequence will be displayed in negative against a black background. When the desired map is shown, press the starter button and the desired map will be displayed normally. In any case, do not “open” the throttle during this operation. If the throttle is opened, the activation process for the new engine map by the ECU is interrupted (the map symbol is displayed normally and flashing) until the throttle is closed again, allowing the ECU to complete the procedure.
Once you’ve been riding the bike for a while no doubt it becomes second nature but it is all horribly convoluted. Why all the settings couldn’t be adjusted with a simple menu system utilising the toggle on the left bar is a mystery.
Other negatives of the bike are the rear mirrors are fairly useless, made worse by the fact that they’re on fixed arms that offer no range of moment and the pegs seem a bit cheap. The bike is also pretty cramped, even for literbike standards – those over 6 foot in height will find it a bit awkward.
But that tight setup does translate to a brilliant connection with the bike. This remains the Aprilia RSV4 RR’s best card. Its handling remains second to none – incredibly the bike actually feels more stable when leaned over. You always know what the front end is doing and it instills a level of confidence that encourages you to go quicker and quicker. Conversely, sometimes you don’t even realise how fast you’re going as it all feels so composed. It sounds cliched but you and the bike really do feel as one.
For those who want to get every fraction of performance out of the RSV4 RR, there’s plenty of room for adjustment. Headstock angle, swingarm pivot point, rear ride height and even the engine position in the frame can be changed. Both front and rear suspension is also fully customiseable.
The RSV4 RR doesn’t come with semi-active suspension or cornering ABS like some rivals, but it honestly doesn’t feel worse for it. This is a bike that’s so well put together, such extras would hardly make a difference although they’ll no doubt come in future updates.
The Aprilia RSV4 RR might lack the sex appeal of the Ducati Panigale 1299, the spec sheet dominance of the BMW S1000RR and the heritage of the Yamaha R1, but it stands up on its own merits. It’s a bike that delivers speeds that you don’t realise you’re actually doing because it’s such an easy machine to ride – a bike that makes average riders look good.
Is the Aprilia RSV4 RR practical? No. Is it comfortable? Certainly not. Would I lose my license if I owned one? Probably. Do I still want one in my garage? Absolutely. It’s not a head decision, it’s a heart decision and there is something that draws you to what really is a motorcycle at the apex of modern bikes when it comes to performance. You might not need to go fast on a motorcycle to have fun but the RSV4 RR shows that it helps.