Throwback Thursday: Aprilia SXV550 first ride
A decade ago the supermoto was the next big thing in motorcycling. Lightweight, punchy engines meant they handled like a dream and they didn't cost the earth.
When Aprilia joined the party with the SXV they binned the traditional single-cylinder engine, favouring a V-twin. This is what MCN Senior Road Tester Michael Neeves thought back in 2006.
If you're a rival manufacturer to Italian bike makers Aprilia you'd have noticed their annoying but enviable knack of getting things right first time round.
During the '90s the Noale factory's 125 and 250cc racing bikes promptly won world championships straight from the box. At the end of the '90s they decided to build a big V-twin sportsbike. The result was the brilliant RSV Mille; an immediate thorn in Ducati's side. And now there's the SXV450 and SXV550 supermotos which, judging by our first ride at their Sicilian launch, are going to change the way the world thinks about supermotos forever.
The secret behind the SXV - a barely disguised race bike with lights - is its innovative design. Until now, a typical supermoto was a pretty basic animal: a single-cylinder dirt bike stripped of its big wheels and replaced with 17-inch spoked wheels and sticky tyres. The SXV is different. It's built from the ground up around an ultra-compact 77º V-twin motor - either 450cc or 550cc. Both models have been developed on the track, with the SXV450 having already won the S2 World Supermoto Championship in prototype form.
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The attention to detail is staggering. It starts with a beautifully-crafted cast aluminium/steel trellis mixed frame and sexy swingarm. There are twin slash cut underseat pipes and a multi-function digital display, 48mm upside down forks with high and low-speed compression adjustment, radial front brakes, slinky bodywork and an RSV-like diamond-shaped rear light.
But the SXV's real party piece is its liquid-cooled engine. Both models are powered by highly-tuned, high-revving race motors, with the 450 kicking out a claimed 60bhp at 11,500rpm, and the SXV550 70bhp at 10,500rpm at the crank. Being race-focused machines, the engines have a strict service schedule. Aprilia say they'll need new pistons and a shim check after 60 hours of racing (although you can expect longer service periods for normal recreational riding).
Both the 450cc and 550cc motors are as small and light as a supermoto's usual single-cylinder engine. They're also more powerful, quieter and smoother than a comparable single, thanks to advanced electronics and fuel injection - previously unheard of on a single. The bike weighs in at only 125kg.
The 450 has been built for the S2 racing class and is impressive enough, but its the SXV550 you want: Accelerate out of a slow corner and the 550 surges forward, not violently like a big single, but progressively, controllably and with devastating potency.
With the rear Dunlop D208RR dug in and the throttle pinned, the front wheel rises gently as the revs surge through the mid range and rev on all the way to peak at 10,500rpm, at which point a single would have blown its brains out. The 450's power is noticeably weaker so you'd only really want to consider it if you plan to race in the S2 class.
Set up by Aprilia engineers to suit this tarmac-only test track, the suspension was impossible to fault. On hot Sicilian tarmac, the SXV handles like a tough, stiff supersports bike - normal supermotos seem flimsy by comparison.
The 450 is the epitome of stability on the brakes, through corners and on the gas. The chassis transmits all the information you need through bars, seat and pegs, leaving you to ride in the style you feel most comfortable with. You can 'back it in, square it off and fire it out' supermoto-style like the pros, or hang off road racing style like, erm... me.
With its sophisticated V-twin, the SXV will handle long journeys far better than a vibey, thudding single. That makes the SXV somewhat of a first: a flickable, gorgeous supermoto you can actually live with on the road (if you can stretch to the servicing bills). Now watch the others follow.