I'd like to inform you of a well kept secret in the hope that there are newer riders out there that may benefit from advice that I wish I was given. As a new rider (I am 52) I had little idea as to which motorcycle I should choose especially on safety and performance. Let me say now that I had owned a Ford GT 40, I know some people may say this is a bit extreme as my road car and in a moment of madness I sold it. Car less and in some ways soul less I decided to learn to ride a motorcycle in the hope that I could enjoy the same sort of performance with at least a semblance of practicality, maybe even tempt my wife and kids into riding with me, they steered clear of the 40.
So I passed the test and went looking for a bike, cost was a concern as I wanted to be seen as being less extravagant than perhaps I had been recently, so what to buy? I wanted something exciting but practical, fast but able to be used every day, looks of a racer but able to carry passengers get the picture? Obviously I wanted 2 bikes is what all the dealers said…they told me that what I wanted was mutually exclusive. I got offered Honda VFR’s and Pan Europeans…too stodgy and ordinary, a Triumph Tourer looked good till I had a go and found it too heavy for a sports bike, every now and then I caught a glimpse of a Ducati 999 but no one would sell me one as they felt it was too extreme and maintenance heavy for a beginner. I tried 600’s and they felt too slow and peaky even the R6 and I had a little niggle in the back of my mind remembering one racing friend (I have won the odd Karting championship here and there), who said he had got used to his 750 GSX Suzuki very quickly and wished he’d got the bigger one. I am going to upset a lot of people here including some very very good mechanics but sorry guys for me Japanese bikes are just like their cars, well made reliable and boring. There, I have said it openly and feel much better for it, so I then went to one big dealer and not at all hopeful as I had exhausted all the usual options and he said, “What you want is Italian flair and handling/performance in a reliable practical package…something out of the ordinary to make you feel special”!
That was exactly what I wanted but when he mentioned an Aprilia Falco that had just come in I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had heard of the Aprilia GP record in road racing and was interested to know more but surely we should be talking about Ducati? When I saw the Bike…beauty is always in the eye of the beholder but compared to the offerings I had tried from Japan this seemed much more like the CBR R than any other sports touring bike…only slimmer. It had a brushed Aluminium sub frame and a 1000 cc twin engine al but identical to it’s more expensive cousin the RSV Mille which made a much better sound than the fours that I had looked at. The attention to detail was incredible and the magnesium castings on the engine in particular. The weight was light without being twitchy and everything looked to be in the right proportions (again subjective) so I ventured out on the road with it.
As a novice rider I was a little nervous remembering how all my friends had said don’t buy a sports bike and at the time, the one I was looking at was only 900cc. The Aprilia was immediately giving me confidence as everything was progressive…brakes steering and handling simply built as a direct ratio to the speed. The main part of any motor cycle is the engine of course and the Aprilia V twin is a Gem, admittedly it is not Italian but bought in from Rotax and is Austrian, but it captures the feeling and spirit of the whole bike. As I have mentioned it sounds “proper” and power in linear and to quote Rolls Royce ‘sufficient’.
The chassis has feel and means you're never at risk. On the road that means that if you are travelling on a B road in the wet and you come up to a bend that you were not expecting and travelling at an in appropriate speed, you are much more likely to be able to adjust things and make the corner without drama. Through traffic, because the Aprilia is much slimmer than its 4 pot cousins it is much easier to ride through the queues and has the turning circle to be able to manoeuvre from lane to lane. I must state here categorically that 4 Cylinder Motorcycles are not as easy to ride quickly because of the on off nature of the engine and narrow power band, I have seen brochures and articles quoting 10% more power for the multi cylinder sports bikes but in my experience at the top end there seems to be no real world measurable difference. Italian handling means a planted well adjusted chassis that manages stop and go well (Fade free Brembo brakes all round), to correct any input from its in experienced rider and feed back progressive reassuring messages. Even improper use of the brake is dealt with to an astonishing degree. Nose dive under heavy brakes is controlled and the risky high siding out of roundabouts is not a big issue at even highly illegal speeds (so they tell me), the back simply gets back in line!
Lastly on the road you need reliability! I don’t know if its just because I now ride motorcycles, but I notice all breakdowns on 2 wheels on the side of the road and far and away the most are for Japanese bikes check it out. OK that may be because there are many more of them but it makes you think, I have now done 44,000 miles in 2.5 years and my bike hasn’t missed a beat. I changed a solenoid after 25,000 miles as the battery started to lose charge (it still always started) and the bike is working as new and looks set to run for many more years…in fact that big engine is so unstressed…it just feels nicely run in and packs a truly mighty wallop.
So have I find my ideal bike?…Well not quite though I still look forward to the ride into work every day. Mainly by sheer fluke I have found a bike that matches what I want to do and how I want to live. I may now consider a Ducati as that Italian reliability non issue has been kicked into touch, I will get around to riding an Aprilia Factory RSV, I prefer the looks to mine and it has many special parts and acres of carbon fibre. I most envy the MV Augusta F4 1000 looks wise it is just right and I am told that it has the right sort of handling and performance to make the journey in to work even more special, so next year I will ride both those bikes and find out for myself. Anyway a sports road bike is nowhere near as focused and difficult to live with as its track day equivalent in the car world and provides the basis of excellent every day real road experience. To finish this write up I thought I would give you one last fact to think about, maybe it is because of perception of Italian Bikes in this country or because it is seen as a poor mans RSV Mille, the Aprilia Falco can be found in MCN listings with under 10,000 miles at around 2000 pounds! That is cheaper than buying just the wheels and tyres for my old 40!