Ever since I first rode the R version of the Aprilia RSV Mille, I’ve rated it as one of the very best production bikes you can ride on a track. At its launch at Valencia in 1999, the V-twin superbike was an absolute joy to ride, primarily due to its near faultless handling.
So when the chance to test the latest version of the bike at the Italian track of Vallelunga came along, I got more than a bit excited. The new bike’s spec sheet isn’t boasting too many changes and updates, but as the original was so damned sorted that didn’t seem to matter so much.
By the time we got to the track the sun was shining and temperatures were in the mid-twenties. Everything seemed perfect. Perfect that is, until I rode the bike! It simply wasn’t a patch on the version I’d tried at Valencia. It was behaving more like an overweight sports-tourer with a rhino on pillion, than the finely-honed track tool I’d remembered it to be.
I shouldn’t have been put off too much though, as the problem definitely stemmed from the suspension settings, which seemed to be set far too soft. And given the fact that the Mille R’s Ohlins forks and shock are some of the best kit on the market, it probably only needed some time with the screwdrivers and spanners before the bike could be set up properly. And hopefully then viewed just as favourably as it had been a couple of years ago.
Sure enough, after a couple of sessions firming up the damping at both ends. and raising the ride-height of the shock a little to put more weight over the front wheel to improve its feel, the verdict on the Mille R’s cornering prowess was more as it should have been – a little short of exceptional.
All the spannerwork had clearly been worthwhile and transformed the way the Aprilia dealt with the twisty bits. And it also displayed just how influential suspension can be on the handling of a bike, particularly Ohlins suspension. Unlike on some Japanese sportsbikes, changes to the equipment responded very readily.
Just as single click of adjustment alters the way the bike behaves, such is the quality and precision of the Swedish-made kit. So be warned, if you’re going to buy this bike, take time and care when you’re setting it up to suit your personal tastes.
With the bike’s suspension sorted for the track as well as it should have been, I got a chance to assess the rest of the bike, and came away pretty impressed.
Vallelunga isn’t the easiest track to master, but the Mille R was a good ally to getting to grips with it. The bike steers nicely and feels light and flickable enough to change direction without any obvious loss of stability. In fact, though there’s an Ohlins steering damper to calm any possible excitement up front, I ran with it off all day and never had so much as a shimmy. Nice to know it’s there though, as some bumpy backroads may call for its service. Anyone wanting to make the Aprilia more flickable still can order a bike with a 5.5 inch rear wheel as that’s an option (standard is six inch ).
Blasting along those sorts of routes will be easy given the handling excellence of the Mille R. Getting to high speeds is likewise a doddle for the engine. The big 60-degree V-twin has plenty of stomp on offer to make gearchanging less crucial than it can be on some four-cylinder bikes. And with 130bhp on tap you’re never going to feel short of outright power. Given its slightly more slippery shape (another one of its subtle changes) there shouldn’t be any doubt about it getting up to over 170mph, even though the engine isn’t actually making any more power.
It’s better to relax and not over-rev the motor as it’s more useful and broadly spread mid-range power and torque are where it’s best to be. In fact, if it wasn’t for a really tight hairpin, the whole of Vallelunga could have been lapped fully just using a couple of gears. With a really progressive build up of power the Mille R’s engine is a cinch to use hard.
It’s also reassuring to know that the brakes are not only very powerful but also progressive, so curbing the speed is just as easy as attaining it. The new Brembo calipers are radially mounted and are claimed to flex less, and give more even pad wear. They’re certainly very good, but as to whether they’re much of an improvement over the current bike’s is another matter. I think that only a back-to-back test of the two machines would reveal that.
That’s the story of the all the changes really. Any effects that they have made feel so marginal, you’d be hard pushed to notice them without comparing the latest bike directly with the current one. Which perhaps isn’t so surprising when you learn what they are.
Along with the radial brakes, the gearbox ratios are closer with the first three being higher overall. The forks are stiffer and feature a remote compression damping adjuster body. The forged alloy OZ front wheel has been redesigned and is a fraction lighter. The tail unit is lower and more aerodynamic, as is the front mudguard, which has also been designed to flow more air through the radiator. With new heel plates, bar end weights, a black finish to the frame and swingarm, and a brushed steel look given to the huge exhaust can, you have to admit that the new bike is barely different to the old one.
Now that on the face of it might seem a bit of a disappointment, but in a world where image is paramount, and being seen on the latest-spec tackle puts you at an advantage, the latest Mille-R is still bound to be a hit.
No price has yet been fixed but expect the new bike to be almost the same price as the old one. If that’s the case, and you fancy one of these stylish and speedy V-twins, then you should have no reservations about ordering the new version – especially if you’re a track day nut. The RSV-R will be in the shops early next year.
2003 APRILIA RSV MILLE R
BY CHRIS MOSS
PICTURES BY APRILIA
Engine – Liquid cooled 60° V-twin, 8 valve, four stroke
cc – 997.6
Power – 130bhp @ 9,500rpm
Compression ratio – 11.4:1
Transmission – Six speed
Frame; Alloy twin spar
Front suspension; 43mm Ohlins inverted telescopic forks, adjustable pre-load, compression, and rebound damping
Steering head angle; 25 degrees
Rear suspension; Ohlins monoshock, adjustable pre-load, compression and rebound damping, and ride height
Front brakes; Twin 320mm discs, four-piston radial calipers
Rear brake; Single 220mm disc, twin-piston caliper
Wheelbase; 1415 mm
Top speed; 170mph (est)
Fuel capacity; 18 litres