Introduced in 2009, the V4-engined Aprilia RSV4 replaced the V-Twin RSV1000R as the Italian-firm’s top-spec superbike.
Boasting near 180bhp in 2009 and cutting-edge design, performance and ancillary components ever since, it’s a slice of Italian exotica that looks to play the likes of Ducati and MV Agusta at their own game, as well as conquer the ultra-competitive litre sportsbike class.
Since its inception, the RSV4 has been synonymous with trackdays and racing; claiming three World Superbike titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with Max Biaggi and Sylvain Guintoli.
This race-winning performance means much of the bike’s grunt and handling capabilities cannot be explored at road-legal speeds, with the Aprilia offering an abundance of power far greater than speed limits permit. This is an issue for all road-going superbikes though.
At the end of 2018, Aprilia took the decision to alter the displacement of the bike, after it had remained largely unchanged for the best part of a decade. Renamed the RSV4 1100 Factory, the bike jumped from 999cc and 201bhp to 1078cc, with a peak power of 214bhp at 13,200rpm.
This follows the same route as the 2018 MCN Bike of the Year Award-winning Ducati Panigale V4, which moved away from the V-twin platform to adopt an 1103cc, 211bhp V4 engine.
A history of the Aprilia RSV4
Aprilia RSV4: the early days
The Aprilia RSV4 marked a significant shift in Aprilia’s performance bike make-up; saying goodbye to their long-established V-twin engines in favour of a howling V4, reminiscent of a MotoGP bike.
The benefit of this was a physically smaller engine and thus a more compact machine, as well as greater performance – boasting 180bhp and 85ftlb of torque, over the 143bhp and 76ftlb produced by the booming twin of old.
Alongside the engine, the RSV4 platform grabbed Aprilia’s litre-bike option kicking and screaming into the 21st century with more modern styling and the latest Öhlins suspension, Brembo stoppers and electronically controlled variable-length inlet trumpets, an exhaust power valve and a Magnetti Marelli ECU to control all the electronic systems.
First conceived in 2005, the bike appeared initially in 2009 as a 'Factory' model only, with a lesser-specced 'RSV4-R' launched at the end of the year. In only its second-ever World Superbike outing in 2009, the bike achieved a podium at Qatar in the hands of Max Biaggi.
When it arrived for the 2010 riding season, the cheaper RSV4-R sat alongside the Factory as a more reasonable, attainable option.
That said, although the engine was basically the same (minus some of the advanced electronics) the chassis parts are slightly lower-spec, such as the Showa forks and Sachs rear shock. Despite this though, it was (and remains) a beautifully-balanced technology-packed Italian missile.
MCN’s Chief Road Tester Michael Neeves rode the bike at its launch and said: "It’s monstrously fast, gives you loads of confidence in the corners, has superb ride quality, looks great (especially the white livery), sounds even better and is massive fun.
"The RSV4R is £2500 cheaper than the RSV4 Factory and £500 cheaper than the base model Ducati 1198. It’s still an exotic superbike, so it’s never going to be in the same price bracket as a Japanese 1000, but for a devilishly fast, superb handling Italian superbike we think it’s worth every penny."
Aprilia RSV4 greatest hits:
After the first two additions of the bike, 2011 saw the creation of a Factory Special Edition, complete with an APRC electronics package, in recognition of their World Superbike rider Max Biaggi.
Between the back end of 2010 and 2012, just 350 of these Factory SE models were produced, featuring cutting-edge rider aids, traction control and wheelie control as well as a quickshifter. You also get three power maps: Road, Sport and Track.
At the back end of 2012, Aprilia gifted the RSV4 Factory with their previously limited-run APRC electronic goodies. Available from dealers from the following February onwards, the bike was £16,599 (the same as the previous incarnation) and gained an extra 4bhp.
Alongside the aforementioned electronics packaged, the bike also got ABS, which is a benefit for the road, however wasn’t strictly necessary for the track.
In 2013, the bike got a larger 18.5-litre fuel tank, ABS and a new exhaust with slight engine upgrades. What’s more, the APRC loveliness was also added to the base model as the technology became more readily available.
In 2015, Aprilia joined some of its rivals in the uber-exclusive 200bhp club, boasting 201bhp from the naturally-aspirated 999cc V4 engine loaded into their £18,135 RSV4 RF. The cheaper RR model initially wasn’t initially imported to the UK.
Although this boost in power provides much-needed ammo in the pub bragging rights stakes, the Aprilia handled so well, that the old bike was more than able to make up for this shortfall when pushed on a circuit.
To help handle the extra ponies, the Italian stallion received tweaks to its chassis parts, retaining the same adjustable twin spar aluminium frame with a fettled engine and steering position. There’s also a lower centre of gravity and a 4mm longer swingarm. In 2017, both the RSV4 RF and RSV4 RR became Euro4-compliant with slight updates.
Aprilia updated the RSV4 RR for 2018 and slapped a reasonable £15,599 price tag on it to create one of the best value brand-new superbikes on the market.
Complete with the firm’s stonking 999cc V4 engine kicking out 198.2bhp and enough electronics to keep Aleix Espargaro engaged, the RR misses out on the Öhlins adjustable suspension in favour of cheaper Sachs units and a non-adjustable steering damper.
You also get cast, rather than forged, wheels, but besides that it is essentially the same machine as the more premium RSV4 RF, discontinued for 2019.
In 2019 we saw a big change to the line-up in the Aprilia sportsbike stable, with the premium Aprilia RSV4 RF being removed from the line-up, leaving just the RR as the only litre sportsbike.
Alongside this, also available is the RSV4 1100 Factory, which was announced just before Eicma 2018 and looks to take the fight directly to the Ducati Panigale V4.
Producing 2014bhp from its 1078cc liquid-cooled V4 engine, the £21,499 features MotoGP-derived wings and uses the same 52.3mm stroke and 3mm larger bore (from 78mm) to gain the extra capacity.
Alongside more punch, the bike’s APRC electronics package comes in a fourth incarnation with traction, wheelie, launch, and cruise control, as well as a pit limiter, two-way quickshifter, multimap cornering ABS, three rider modes (Sport, Track, Race) and full control via the switchgear and multi-screen full colour TFT dash that also supports multimedia connectivity.
MCN's Chief Road Tester, Michael Neeves, attended the launch of the bike and said: "On track the 1100 Factory is nothing short of sensational with more accuracy, composure grip and ground clearance than you know what to do with. It gets better the harder you push, when somehow the limit edges further away giving you a feeling of total invincibility.
"Quicker steering geometry aside, the adjustable ali frame is the same as before (with added sound deadening), but the swingarm is braced internally for more stiffness under hard acceleration and the Öhlins NIX forks have 5mm more travel. A new lithium battery and titanium Akrapovic can saves 5kg.
"Available as part of the 2018 RSV4 FW (Factory Works) Kit, carbon fibre winglets are now standard. Generating 8kg of vertical downforce at 186mph they prevent front wheel lift at very high speed and add stability to the start of fast braking zones."
Aprilia RSV4 rivals
The Aprilia RSV4 was born onto an age of savage superbikes, with manufacturers locked in a bid to produce the fastest, sharpest and most tech-laden machines ever built.
Where once 160bhp was considered the epitome of sports motorcycling, manufacturers have smashed through the glass ceiling, moving towards 220bhp in places in pursuit of performance mecca.
As such, the RSV4 has faced a multitude of European and Japanese competition over its lifetime, ranging from booming V-twins, to screaming inline fours and from snarling cross-plane cranks to howling V4s.
This includes the BMW S1000RR, Ducati Panigale range, Kawasaki ZX-10R, Suzuki GSX-R1000 and 1000R, Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade and the Yamaha YZF-R1 range.
For those looking for slightly less power, would-be owners might also consider the Kawasaki ZX-6R, Yamaha R6, Suzuki GSX-R600 and Triumph Daytona 675.
What’s more, the increased popularity of the supernaked genre means that some sportsbike fans are now stepping away from clip-ons and full-fairings in pursuit of a comfier ride, complete with all the nuttiness intact.
For those after a slice of upright fun, riders could also consider Aprilia's own Tuono V4 1100 range, the KTM Super Duke 1290 and BMW’s S1000R.
Owner reviews of the early RSV4s are overwhelmingly positive, however some reviewers do mark the bike down for build quality and reliability.
Owners marvel at the styling, exclusivity and the sheer volume of tech you get on the bike. Some have also criticised the bike’s fuel consumption, however that was never going to be record breaking; given its racing pedigree and performance-focussed nature.
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