Ultimate Superbikes 3rd place: Aprilia RSV4 Factory

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Lap time: 1:49.8
Top speed at end of straight: 164.4mph
Max braking (g): 1.38
Max lean: 48.2

Why it’s so special
The 1199R and HP4 may be the latest and greatest superbikes to arrive, but neither can boast two World Superbike championships like the RSV4.

Reputed to have been made for Max Biaggi from the beginning, the Aprilia made the world take notice when it was released in 2009, with its compact, powerful V4 engine and some of the smoothest, most refined electronics in the business – Aprilia’s own APRC system.

This is the top-of-the-range Factory version, with monobloc Brembos, carbon trinkets, Ohlins suspension and a beautiful aluminium frame featuring an adjustable swingarm pivot, engine position and headstock.

For 2013 the RSV4 gets another 4bh, racing ABS system, a 1.5-litre bigger fuel tank (now 18.5 litres) and a more refined traction control system, which takes road speed into account, so the TC is more intrusive in big lean, high danger slow corners, than faster, flowing turns. 

On the track
Although this test is supposed to be all about absolute speed around a track, let’s forget Hodgson’s lap times for a minute, because the Aprilia is a wonderful superbike.

It feels the least like a 1000 than its rivals… in a good way. It’s small, compact and agile. The ghostly wail of the exhaust at full throttle is like something from a MotoGP grid and most CRTs use an engine derived from this very bike.

We tested these superbikes at the same time as the 600s we featured in MCN two weeks ago.

The BMW, Ducati and MV Agusta all feel big, ponderous and almost uncontrollably fast after jumping off a Triumph Daytona 675R or Kawasaki ZX-6R 636, but the Aprilia feels just like one of those supersport bikes. The RSV4 is about the same physical size as a 600 and turns as quickly.

The only difference is the sensation of a slightly denser engine in between your legs and a whole lot more power when you open the taps. While the 600s were hitting speeds in the 140mph range at the fastest point of the track, the 1000s are in the 160s.

Before venturing out on track on a superbike you need to psych yourself up and take a deep breath. To ride one fast you need strength, balls of steel and lots of brain power. You’re making constant calculations in your head – when to brake and how long you need to stay off the gas in the middle of a corner, before you stand it up and unleash the power.

The Aprilia doesn’t need such commitment – it’s easy.

That amazing-sounding V4 motor has linear power all the way through the revs and the chassis gives so much mechanical grip you’re never worried about it biting you.

It’s a superbike that likes carrying easy corner speed, unlike a normal point-and-squirt 1000.

The brakes aren’t bad either, as Hodgson proves with a 1.38g braking force, which Bruce Dunn reckons would have seen the rear wheel well off the floor in the hardest braking zone.

What makes the Aprilia even easier to ride still are the electronics, which for a normal rider like you and me enhance the riding experience and increases safety.

We turned the ABS off for the track, but the traction control and anti-wheelie and quickshifter are smooth and refined.

We set the traction control to level 4, which allows a fair degree of rear wheel slip and never holds you back, and with anti-wheelie on its lowest setting you can give the RSV4 Factory full gas without having to climb all over it to keep the front wheel down – it just hovers serenely an inch or so above the Tarmac.

Giving away a good 20-30bhp to its rivals on the dyno, the Aprilia was always going to struggle at such a fast track like this.

The lack of power doesn’t inspire Hodgson but take all the bikes somewhere tighter and the sweet-handling, easy-to-ride RSV4 Factory would be a lot, lot closer.

Hodgson says
It doesn’t do one thing great, but doesn’t do one thing badly, either. It’s the only bike I’ve ridden where, on the slowing down lap, I’m wondering what I’m going to say about it.

Nothing excels, but it’s definitely a good bike. The electronics work well and I can feel the traction control working, giving me confidence. If I rode it all day, I’d eventually turn the TC down.

The quickshifter is perfect and the brakes are good apart from a bit of fade towards the end, but I was using them really hard. But I’ve got this sensation of movement from the bike, when I throw it in and I’m not getting that lovely positive feeling from the front tyre.

I can’t push it hard towards the absolute limit, holding me back from putting in a better lap time. It has a nice riding position and it sounds great from the side of the track – it’s probably the best feature on the bike.

Riding mode:
Traction control: 4
ABS: Off
Anti-wheelie: Off
Suspension: Standard settings, out of the crate – the only bike without some form of electronic suspension