The straightaway at the Mugello circuit is nearly three-quarters of a mile long, and as majestic as the Tuscan hills are the only thing I can think when I first lay eyes on the track is that it’s narrower than I expected. My brain quickly stumbles through memories of the racing lore that has been written here. All of the statistics that have been created. The hundreds of thousands of people who cram into the grounds every year, Shinya Nakano’s 199-mph crash, or Valentino Rossi being undefeated in MotoGP for seven years straight.
Then another number: 217. The number of horsepower that Aprilia claims can be produced by the new RSV4 1100 Factory. At the wheel, probably around 10 percent more than the previous RSV4, which made 185 hp on the dyno. I refocus on the straight: It’s 1.1 kilometers and I can’t see the beginning or the end because of the crests in the track. Somehow, even though I’m on the property, the mystique of Mugello is still hiding something from me. Better to focus on the bike, anyway, rather than the numbers.
Aprilia’s new superbike looks very much like the one we’ve come to know over the past decade. An angry triclops face, angular lines in the bodywork, and a tiny tailsection like a wasp’s stinger. This version is also 11 pounds lighter, thanks in part to a new exhaust system and a lithium-ion battery. The combination of matte black paint and winglet loops on the front of the fairing is the main giveaway that this is the new 1100 model, using an 81mm bore for a total of 1,078cc. (That’s the same swell the Tuono got a few years ago, but the RSV’s internals breathe harder and cool better.) Luckily another thing that hasn’t changed is the raspy baritone that fires out the pipe. We journalists have already used every hyperbole to describe what an Aprilia V-4 sounds like, so I’m not going to try again. If you’ve never heard one, just imagine the most perfect engine noise you can and you’re probably close.
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As I slap my helmet visor down I remember the RSV4 has a pit-lane limiter, which can be engaged to help you feel like a World Superbike racer. In the pits, anyway. It’s also modern superbikes in a microcosm—aesthetics and technologies designed to help you feel more like your heroes—and a good reminder that simply riding within your limits is usually the best solution. Especially in the paddock. I ignore the limiter function and tap the little paddles near the left clip-on to select traction control level 3, figuring I’m at least in the 70th percentile of track riders.
The first lap around Mugello is like a cruise on a perfect country road. Beautiful and, yes, still narrow. There’s something inescapable and totally intangible about Tuscany. It’s alive with perfect greenery which is periodically pierced and fractured by villages of ancient buildings. There’s a vitality that is as vibrant and new as anything in the world, stoically punctuated by towers and walls of ashen rock that were carved hundreds of years before Columbus set sail. It’s permanent, yet somehow always fresh.
Despite the romance of the scenery, the more you open the RSV4’s throttle the more inclined you are to face forward. The added displacement seems to have stemmed the top-end rush of the old engine, by simply adding midrange thrust. It’s incredibly strong, and makes not knowing my way around the track a little less awkward. Pointing horsepower in the right direction at the right time, however, that’s always the tricky bit. As usual, the RSV4’s chassis and brakes are up for it.
Side-to-side transitions are smooth and controlled, and the top-spec Ӧhlins suspenders are characteristically compliant and supportive. Stylema brake calipers from Brembo grace the front of the RSV4 (same as Ducati’s Panigale V4), and they’ve even got fancy carbon-fiber scoops directing air at them to stay cool. There’s limitless power, but I didn’t get the typical front-end feel I’m accustomed to from Italian superbikes while bailing toward apexes on the brakes. It was a little surprising, especially considering the RSV4 has always been a model of ideal superbike ergonomics and terrific comfort under pressure.
The only other source of instability seems to be horsepower provoked. In the last 20 percent of corner exit the RSV4 1100’s steadiness was a little delicate. Initially the traction control helped me smear the rear Pirelli across the pavement, but as the bike stood up a heavy bar input or bump can jostle the chassis into pumping back and forth. There’s no reason to get off the gas, and the pure quality of the chassis reins it in quickly, but even fiddling with suspension settings didn’t get to calm down. (I’m inclined to blame, at least partially, the soft carcass of the Pirelli SC1 race tires mounted to the bike, but I can’t be sure until I try the bike with different rubber.)
Those are my two main nits to pick, which is to say there is so much that was swept under the rug of my consciousness while flying around Mugello at triple-digit speeds. The quickshifter, for one, is tuned brilliantly for the track, making up- and downshifts as seamless as they are clutchless. The bike has advanced ABS too, but I never felt a whiff of it. Sometimes the dash would blink and remind me that the latest evolution of the APRC suit of rider aids was making sure I didn’t flick myself to the moon like Valentino in the Biondetti. Maybe I wasn’t riding hard enough.
And then there’s that straightaway. By the time I was wide open exiting the final corner the bike was showing 120 mph. At the top of fourth gear, around 150 mph, the front wheel would lift gently as if nodding to the pit-lane entrance. Sixth gear came along before start-finish and around the time I was cutting across the green, white, and red stripes of pit-lane exit the dash would show around 185 mph. This is where you can’t see turn one but you tell yourself slowly that it’s in the same place it was last lap. As the bike and I cleared the crest the speedo was typically showing between 190 and 195 mph, at which point the front wheels would lift off and carry for a number of yards before plopping back on the deck and shake me to sitting up into the wind.
The best part of any racetrack is the turns, but only after the straightaway at Mugello did I feel the warmth of having experienced the circuit. It felt as emotional and enigmatic as the surrounding countryside. Some of the curves are tight and some are open, but every one seems to coax you into the next. They aren’t turns to slow you down, only to dare you to go into the next one a little faster. Each lap is a workout for the senses and totally therapeutic at the same time.
As for whether or not the winglets work, all I can say is that I don’t think every MotoGP team uses them because they look cool. What I can say for sure is that the full 18 pounds of downforce applied at 186 mph is only applied at 186 mph, so if you think they’ll change your commute, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re thinking that it seems like similar technology as a certain winged red bike but for $25,000 instead of $40,000, I would say there’s probably a spreadsheet at Aprilia HQ that says the same thing.
It’s a brilliant machine that takes a majestic stretch of road (or preferably a racetrack) to appreciate, and you need it for the same reason you need a pit-lane limiter. Which is to say you don’t need it. But you want it for the same reason you want a pit-lane limiter, which is because it reflects the countless days, months, and years it takes to create a machine like this. A machine that can transport you from seeing a narrow racetrack laid in an idyllic valley to tasting the flavor of world-championship bliss.