Yes, it’s been 10 years since this amazing machine has hit the roads and racetracks of Blighty so what was the original model with ‘only 174bhp’ (the latest has 201bhp ‘claimed’) actually like?
Even back then the RSV4 was pretty intimidating. It wasn’t the huge claimed brake horsepower that’s did it, nor the high technology that was crammed into the bike, which made it more of a GP bike for the road. Nor was it figures such as wheelbase, or rake and trail or anything that made a bike like this steer like a ferret with a firework up its bum. All of that was what you’d expect from a modern race-replica sports machine of the time. No, the thing that made us worried was that this was a seriously SMALL machine. The seat height, seat width, height of the bike, length and overall width are what defines your feeling of the bike. Even a decade ago sports bikes were getting smaller and smaller and for the normal sized non-jockeys amongst us, this hasn’t been a good trend.
So, while we can all happily live with and use – say – a 2003 GSX-R1000 K3 and do 13,000 miles on it (we did) you may not with something so Tamiya-tiny like the Aprilia RSV4… It’s like riding a 170bhp wedgie from the school bully…
That said when we rode the thing it did grow on us and we grew into it. Yes, strangely even though it was no spacious sportster it wasn’t the cramped-up agony we were expecting. But we would suggest doing some stretching exercises before going on a long ride.
Burbling out of Silverstone’s pits gives you zero indication of the potential of the bike, apart from an almost instant pick up off the throttle, allied to a little characterful vibration as well as a little lurchiness. We left the thing in ‘T’ or ‘Track mode’ where nothing is held back, you’ve got the full-monty under the control of nothing more than the muscles of your right wrist.
Ten years back, the national track at Silverstone was always a bit of a let-down compared to the big circuit, being a pretty dull layout and hampered by that Mickey Mouse chicane, but there was just enough Tarmac to test the RSV4 and bloody hell, this thing could be an animal: especially on the corner onto the back-straight… In track mode, coming out of the turn you try to open the power, but at 8-9000rpm the thing shakes its head as you apply the power, it lets you know that you have to be more careful with your right wrist.
Yes, there was a lot of wind crossing the circuit on that day, but with such power delivery out of the turns you begin to struggle to hang on and we’ve not even hit the 10,000rpm barrier yet which people have said the bike goes positively mental at. Blimey!
What is good about the RSV4 is that the thing is so tractable in the low and mid-range – almost like a twin or triple, but when you hit five figures it simply throws the horizon over your shoulders with an Italian shrug and lots of lovely traction: little wonder many engineers have considered the V4 to be the perfect engine layout for outright power and mid-range.
We did try the bike also in ‘Sport’ mode (‘S’ on the dash, just thumb the starter when the motor is on to get the mode changed) as this tames the bike down in the first few gears which may help around/out of the National Circuit’s five corners. The improvement is immediate as you feel that bit more confident with the throttle on the exit of that turn onto the back straight. Suddenly that 10,000rpm ‘wall’ can be breached and you feel easier about hanging on to the damn bike as it tears down the straight…
Enough cannot be said about the sublime 999.6cc 65-degree V4, the Factory spec of this bike allows you to join the dots up in the corners, too. Yes, Aprilia often produces special ‘Factory’ versions and that’s what we rode at the time on track. The Ohlins 43mm forks were perfect for us on standard settings as was the Ohlins rear shock. Handling was assured and mid-corner stability was excellent: no bumps or bobbles and the bike itself steered as quickly and as true as the best litre-class sportsbikes of the time. Braking was something else: the Brembo Monobloc four-piston brakes up front were superb and a gentle pull on the lever would see the speed scrubbed off safely. The rear? Well, hard to use it when you’re climbing all over the tiny bike…
Riding the thing on the track meant that we couldn’t assess the RSV4’s practicality other than say it didn’t have much and that the mirrors worked well enough… that’s it with an out-and-out sports machine. Weird then that Aprilia from launch brought out tank and tail bags for the sports-tourers amongst us. Wonder who went touring on the first RSV4?
Either way the RSV4 didn’t disappoint us. Yes, it was (and still is) a small machine, the gear change could be slicker too and the price was high – but at the time it was a glorious re-entry to the class of the V4 powerplant, which makes you feel special when you ride it. Today it’s been joined by the Ducati V4…
Now, with hindsight we can see that the RSV4 family has blossomed into the Tuono V4 and a range of sports race-reps that have been released over the intervening 10 years, but the original still impresses.
Today you could pick up an early model for around £6500 and we reckon that first version may well become a bit of a collector’s item. The only niggle we have in the back of our minds is this: we also LOVE the V-twin Aprilia sports bikes and for HALF of that £6500 outlay you could get a minter Mk.2 RSV1000R Mille. More comfort, great sound, less wonga… You pays yer money…
Aprilia RSV4 Factory specifications
Price (new): £14,999 (now) from £6500
Weight: 179 kg