It seems strange with hindsight that – by the mid-1990s – Aprilia was looked at as something of a small-capacity manufacturer.
Like Honda in the 1950s and 1960s, the opposition almost looked down their noses at the little Noale-based firm as they built and sold solid tiddlers. These were small-capacity two-strokes and four-strokes, both scooters and bikes, with the biggest machine in the range being the likeable Pegaso 650, using –as it did – a Rotax-based single-cylinder motor.
Out on the tracks of course, Aprilia was winning world championships, taking their first with Alessandro Gramigni in 1992 and then going on to win championships with the likes of Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi and Valentino Rossi in the 1990s in the 250 class. They also had a taste of racing against the big-boys with their 500cc V-twin, but it was to be another V-twin that would take them centre-stage in the road bike sector nearer the end of the decade…
Austrian firm Rotax was again to be used to help develop the motor. This time it was to be a 60-degree dry-sump V-twin mill, with twin balancer shafts which would pump out a claimed 120bhp. Rumours began to circulate in 1996 and 1997 about the bike’s specification and by 1998 the machine was ready for launch.
What arrived had ‘challenging’ looks, with a unique (for the time) triple-headlight ‘stare’ which has since been accepted and copied in various forms. The bike itself wasn’t doing things the way the other Italian firm did them, either. This wasn’t a small, teeny-tiny Ducati with cramped ergonomics: instead the new RSV1000 Mille was a tall, stalky and spacious V-twin, with the kind of character and soul that won hearts and the sort of reliability that won minds and wallets, too.
We’ve mentioned those looks and they were in sharp contrast to the elegance of the Ducati 916, but mechanical issues were (and are) few and far between – which was good as Aprilia parts/ordering hasn’t been great…
Better was to come in 1999 when the SP and R versions were released. The 150-only SP was a very rare beast, chock-full internally with Cosworth goodies in the motor – this thing also had stacked exhausts on one side and cost a cool £20,000. Today it’s probably rarer than the RC30 and RC45 combined. If that could be trumped it was by its more affordable brother the RSV-R. This was launched late in 1999 at Valencia and for just £10,000 (about £1200 more than the stocker) you got lightweight OZ wheels, low-level Ohlins forks, shock and steering damper. This was a perfect compromise between the standard bike and the SP.
Aesthetically, the RSV Mille evolved slightly before a full update in 2004 (known as the Mk.2) so later models have revised tail units and headlight fairings and often come in a ‘satin’ finish.
All models were pretty solid, but foibles include oil pressure sensors blowing, connectors/reg-rectifier going pop, clutch slave cylinder seals blowing and fork-seals leaking on the Ohlins-equipped bikes: we all later found out the Ohlins were pretty low-spec.
Prices were in the basement five years back – but no longer. A scruffy but well looked after original 1998/1999 bike could be had then for £1500, but now you’re looking at £2000 as entry-level for a ‘scruffer.’ RSV-Rs obviously command a premium, but only an extra £500-£700 or so on top. SPs are – basically – un-obtainium, but one was seen recently for around £12k which is a bargain compared to the likes of an RC, OW or R7…
Thankfully, other limited-run Milles were made, including Noriyuki Haga-rep (2001, 300 made) and Colin Edwards replicas (2003.) These are basically RSV-Rs with Akrapovic pipes and peppy ECU changes for more ooomph. The Edwards bike also had radial brakes and bigger throttle bodies. These still command a fair few grand more than the standard R due to scarcity. Do check they are legit and not copies…
For– Looks have aged well, performance is good
Against– Can suffer from spares availability – go visit Aprilia Performance for support!
|Major changes||Updated plastics from 2001, and modifications to engine (more power) and suspension.|
|Price when new||£9449 1998
£10,749 1999 RSV-R
£19,999 1999 RSV Mille SP
|Values now||£1500-£7000 £12,000 + for SP!|
Verdict: A superb bike and a great first crack at the sportsbike from Aprilia.