2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF – The Ultimate Superbike?
I can still remember watching World Superbike at Laguna Seca back when Noriyuki Haga and Troy Corser were dueling teammates for Aprilia. The matte-black bikes were so sick; and watching Haga slide sideways into the final turn, lap after lap, had me praying for a bike like that. A few decades have passed but my prayer has been answered.
The beautiful 2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF is as close to a production World Superbike racer as you can get and after riding it around Circuit of The Americas for a few hours, I’m convinced this is one of the best sport bikes ever produced.
For as long as I’ve been riding motorcycles, the sport bike has been the pinnacle of performance on two wheels. Every manufacturer pours its heart and soul into these machines in the hopes of winning championships, and consumer lust in the showroom. Aprilia first released pure techno-porn in the form of the RSV4 back in 2009, and since then it has resulted in three WorldSBK titles in five years, and thousands of units sold.
Man, how things have changed in this category over the years. Three decades ago we were blown away by 130-horsepower engines, twin-spar aluminum frames, four-piston brake calipers, lightened con-rods and flat slide carbs, but these days you need a little more than that. Engines must now be in the 200hp range, electronics need to rival that found on GP bikes, hard parts must include the latest unobtanium metals and there should be bodywork that looks as if it was sourced from a sci-fi movie. The evolution of the sport bike has hit terminal velocity and the motorcycle that features almost every go-fast gizmo ever created is the 2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF.
New Aprilia RSV4 RF Technical Highlights for 2017
Aprilia Cruise Control: This should be mandatory on all motorcycles. I never got to actually use it on the track but it could be used to take the sting out of a long street ride.
Aprilia Traction Control: Nine settings adjustable on the fly. System can also be turned off. Unfortunately, I never got very good at the on-the-fly adjustments but supposedly it can be done.
Aprilia Wheelie Control: Three settings of wheelie management. I hate this function because I am not great at riding wheelies; I was born with my own internal WMC system. This is double redundancy.
Aprilia Quick Shifter: Electronically controlled up- and down-shifting has never been so easy. No clutch, no blip of the gas. Just tap the lever up and down and let the RSV4 do the work for you.
Aprilia Launch Control: Three settings that are intended to help you get a perfect launch. I used the previous version on a Tuono at the drag strip; it’s cool but it is not intended to help you cut perfect runs at the drag strip. It is meant to keep you from having a crappy start on the race track.
Aprilia Cornering ABS: Bosch 9.1 MP multi-map system that constantly monitors pitch, yaw, lean angle, acceleration, and front brake pressure.
Aprilia Pit Limiter: Allows you to set a top speed limit. This could be a fun prank to pull on your buddy. Imagine setting it to 55 mph and watching him grow confused when his attempts to shatter the sound barrier are met with a rev-limiter and sputtering. This could be the greatest viral video meltdown ever.
Rear Lift-Up Mitigation: Limits rear wheel lift during hard braking, if you have the courage to go that deep into a turn. I don’t think I did in this case, but how would I know? It was always on.
Full Color TFT Instrumentation: This is the best farkle found on the new RSV4 RF. The dash looks like an iPad mini with more functions and features than your eyeballs can process in a single lap. It has the info on almost everything you want to know. All the ATC, AWC, ABS and Modes are managed here. There’s a lean angle indicator that is a challenge to watch on the move but it’s still cool. Tach and speedo, all idiot gauges, lights, etc. Plus it is your interface to the V4-MP.
V4-MP Multimedia System: Utilizes smartphone connectivity to allow access to Aprilia’s own database of track specific, corner by corner settings for all the traction control and ABS functions on the bike. I don’t know for sure if it was in play during our ride but it is cool to know it will be at your disposal if you plunk down the cash for this bad ass motorcycle.
Wheels: Forged Aluminum Five-spoke wheels
Suspension: Ohlins NIX Fork, TTX Shock and Steering Damper
Brakes: Brembo M50 Four-piston Monoblock front calipers
Transmission: Six-Speed Cassette-type with Slipper Clutch
Horsepower: 201 @ 13,000 rpm
Torque: 85 lb ft @ 10,500 rpm
Riding the RSV4 RF - Play by Play Lap of COTA
As a general rule I am not a huge fan of rider-assist functions protecting me from myself, but in this application it works well and I found very little to complain about during my time in the seat – riding one of the sickest tracks on the MotoGP championship. I had never been to Circuit of the Americas and a few years had passed since I'd last ridden an RSV4, so I was excited to be there. COTA has 20 turns confined within its 3.4-mile long course layout and every one of them revealed something sweet about the RSV4.
So, here we go: The awesome power of the Aprilia's 999cc 65-degree V4 engine is on full display on the long, uphill straightaway leading to the first turn. With speeds reaching 140 mph and the tach nestled neatly against redline, the Euro 4-compliant exhaust screams its beautiful melody, which reverberates against the pit lane walls. I have no doubt it would have brought a tear to your eye, it’s so bitchin'. And the thing pulls like a mo-fo, too. That’s what the engine is all about. Aprilia claims 200 hp at the crank; dyno results make that just over 180 horsies at the rear wheel. It feels every bit of that but the V4 power delivery is smother than an Inline and has a distinct character to it that is hard not to like.
Turn one arrives quickly and you have to scrub off speed while cresting a long incline that leads to a giant landing pad at the top. This pad leaves plenty of room for running wide as you bend nearly 180 degrees back down the hill. Braking in this zone reveals that the Brembo M50 calipers, 3300mm front rotors, and fully adjustable Ohlins suspension work very well. The NIX fork doesn’t dive too much when you grab a handful of brake. Instead, it feels like the bike's being sucked down to the pavement while the speed disappears at the behest of your two right fingers.
Flick the bike to the left in the wide, flat turn and enjoy the ride as it glides across the surface and back down the hill. You’re on the throttle again, 80, 90, 100 mph and still the bike is capable of accelerating much quicker than I am willing to force. Back downhill into the first of the now famous COTA S-turns. The blue and red stars-and-stripes motif of this section are hard to ignore in your peripheral vision even at 100 mph – all the while muscling the well balanced 450lbs bike from side to side. At the exit of turn five you’re already trying to set up for that final off-camber righthand turn six that’s coming up quick.
I’m imagining the Aprilia Cornering ABS and traction control are dutifully diluting all my bad rider inputs. I’m no MotoGP racer but it feels like I’m going as fast as the bike will go through this section. By the time you hit one apex another is right there and if you’re too wide you'll cross onto the paint; if you’re off line, your drive to the exit will suck. So, I’m doing my best to keep the speedo in the 90s as the bike carves from side to side.
Off-camber corners are a challenge so turn six requires a lot of attention. The goal seems to be entering from wide on the left and carving across it to the outside of the exit on the right. Yet the momentum drags you unwillingly toward the left side where you just don’t need to be. Getting it right keeps you as far away from the downward slope and the rubber marbles waiting for you on the outside.
There’s not much time until you flick the bike through a left-right-left uphill section that, unlike the S-turns, feels very abrupt and devoid of flowing lines. It requires constant shifting, braking, and hopping from side to side while accelerating in a hectic 30-second span. This is the area where you can actually feel the difference of the lighter forged wheels and Ohlins suspension on the RF, compared to the set-up on the base model RR. The RF is just better.
Is it $6,000 better? Not for me. But again, I’m not a racer. So I can imagine someone with bigger cajones might find the difference worth every penny.
There’s no time to do anything but focus on the next turn here, it’s all action and it highlights the nature of the RSV4 chassis.
As you crest the hill on the exit of turn 10 you can lift the front wheel if you have the Wheelie Control set on its lowest setting. Of course, each time I go out I forget to dial the AWC down, but that means I can say without a doubt that it works. I try several times to loft the front wheel here and it's damn near impossible. Shame. It would have made for a great photo. Someone must have pulled it off; once I see a pic from one of the racer-studs at the intro, I will link to it for you. Anyway, back on the track I'm content to take advantage of AWC and get a strong drive into the hairpin turn 11.
In case you're wondering, yes, I try to change the AWC setting on the fly. But because I’m technologically challenged, I'm not able to figure it out while under way. Flying into turn 11, you can shift twice and pull 120 mph going downhill. That's not really "Stop and figure out how the bike works" time. It is, however, a prime opportunity to let the Quick Shifter do all the hard work, as you have to downshift fast while hard on the brakes from triple digit speeds. Without releasing my death grip on the bars, I can bang three downshifts into first gear without touching the clutch. It takes a few sessions to get it right in my head but eventually I feel the true benefit of the AQS.
Clutchless downshifts eliminate the need for pulling your fingers off the bar – reaching up and dabbing the lever while blipping the throttle. The RSV4 does it all for you. You save a bit of energy and can stay focused on the task of turning the bike. I’ve ridden with a lot of QS systems over the years and this is the first time where it works flawlessly on every single shift. The AQS will decrease arm fatigue a bit during a track day or a race day and that increases the number of laps where you can push hard. That my friends, is a very good thing.
Next up is the ultimate showcase of the V4 engine, on the long back straight between turns 11 and 12. MotoGP bikes accelerate in excess of 200 mph here. Me – not so much. For one reason or another I don't ever get a really good drive here, but the acceleration was still a joy to experience. Get into full tuck behind the windscreen, twist the throttle to the stop and start tapping the shift lever as the bike hurtles toward the brake markers at 100, 130, 160, and – nearly – 170 mph. It’s exciting if not a little Zen-like as your helmet presses against your face, your surroundings blurring out like you’ve initiated hyper-drive.
It’s in these few moments, when your face is as close to the dash as possible that you notice how great it looks. The tach is a graph that zooms across the top of the display and there’s so many function indicators you might never have the time to use them all, let alone decipher what they mean at full speed. It’s easy to see the large speedo digits spinning in a flurry right in the center, though. Hitting 160 mph, I’m already at the first of the brake markers, which signal it is time to let off and get this bike slowed down.
Pop up from the tucked position and the wind tries to peel you off the bike. This wind blast taxes upper body strength as you try to grab the brakes and shed speed for the approaching first-gear turn. The back of the bike wags a bit, but, once again, the front fork doesn’t dive too dramatically. Superbikes rarely feel this good on the brakes but something about this one is different.
Now we're in the stadium section that includes turns 13, 14, and 15. This is a fast-flowing sequence with three consecutive long, flowing corners and two short straights between them. This area allows me to focus on my riding position and how it feels to crawl around on the bike. The RSV4 is designed to fit small riders, so it feels like it was made just for me.
The seat is comfortable, my belly rests nicely against the tank and the high pegs have me perched in the attack position. This allows a rider to unweight and toss the bike around with relative ease. I don’t feel any hard part protrusions, or irritating touch points while sliding around. The designers did a great job of molding bodywork and chassis components together seamlessly, making it feel oh-so-good beneath you. The only thing bothering me is the fact the 'bars are really low. My wrists ache after a while and soon I'm pining for the comfort of the Tuono (review coming soon). But as far as superbikes go, the RSV4 RF has an accommodating riding position.
The next three turns – 16, 17, 18 – keep you on the edge of the tires for a long time, and it amazes me how well the RSV4 suspension feels at this constant steep lean angle. At this point I’m stoked that the Pirelli Supercorsa SP tires are sticking like glue. I’ve always been a fan of the Supercorsa and these latest versions feel just as great: consistent, compliant, and confidence-inspiring. What more can you want? This particular combination of premium rubber and sophisticated electronics has me feeling more confident carving through these 20 turns than I have in a long time.
I mentioned that I’d never been to COTA before, so I came looking for a section to call my favorite. The final five turns truly take the cake. After the challenging stadium corners are complete, you cross under the bridge and peel into a long, righthand double apex section that starts at turn 16 and ends at 18. You are on your knee forever as the track bends, straightens out, then bends again. From behind my visor, it looks like a video game POV, where you stay in the middle while everything moves around you. It really is surreal. You lock into your riding position, hang off the bike, and modulate the lean angle with the throttle as your knee puck grinds across the track surface.
Compared to the high-speed Zen found on the back straight, putting together this sequence of turns is more fulfilling because it takes a bit of faith. It helps to have a bike like this beneath you. The throttle response on the Track setting is so smooth and deliberate that I would probably never need to switch it. I don’t mind the Race setting either but it definitely makes for a more abrupt feeling when you get on and off the gas. In either setting, this is an experience I wish I could bottle up and share with you. This feeling of bike and speed and perfect connection to both. It is the feeling I long for; the feeling the brings me back to the track every time.
It’s always nice to reflect on life’s special moments like this one, but it would probably better to do it after I finish the next corner.
At the end of turn 18 you get one up-shift as the bike surges toward the final two corners. Gently drop down a gear into second while coming into the sharp, downhill left where you drag footpegs, toe-sliders and a knee without even trying. This is the ultimate photo-op as the bike is at max lean, suspension is weighted and your body is dangling off the left side of the bike. It’s. So. Bad. Ass. The lap is almost over now. You get two up-shifts at full-stick heading into the flat, final turn leading back on the front straight. You have time to relax your grip, soak in the melody of the motor and take a deep breath for climbing the hill into the first turn.
This is when you start the entire process over again for the next lap. Only this time, the track layout is making sense and you’re hoping to avoid the mistakes you made on the previous lap. But the most important thing is that you get another 3-minute high-speed thrill ride on the most bitchin' motorcycle Aprilia has ever made.
What Others Say About the RSV4 RF
Tom Roderick – Motorcycle.com: “When you piece the whole picture together; a manageable 200-hp engine, grade-A suspension and brake components, MotoGP-level electronics, and magic-carpet-ride handling, you begin realizing the RSV4 RF would probably run circles around a 10-year-old World Superbike racer.”
Zack Courts – Motorcyclist: “A clattering, raucous V-4 engine spread at 65 degrees makes for an exhaust note that’s second to none in the industry, and Aprilia has been hell bent on making the RSV4 one of the best-handling machines available from the get go.”
Ron Lieback – Ultimate Motorcycling: “The RSV4’s ergonomics are perfect for my nearly six-foot frame. For the first time at the track, I experienced zero cramping, and my damaged left knee could have gone another eight sessions.”
What I Liked About the RSV4 RF
There are so many things I dig about the RSV4. I love the engine. The chassis is on a level that I will never be able to tap into, and the brakes, suspension, and electronics are sourced straight off the Aprilia race bikes. So I’ll never be able to get the most from any of those components either. But it is fun trying, and that engine is something I can play with all day long. Crack the throttle open, feel the rush of acceleration and the sensational sound spilling out of the exhaust, and you’ll understand why I’m crushing on this motorcycle.
What I Did Not Like About the RSV4 RF
I’ve always fit well on the RSV4 superbike but for some reason it was rough on me this time. I’m 47 so I’m not as flexible as I used to be. Plus, we rode the Tuono for the first half of the day and I guess I got spoiled; I feel so much better on that bike. I struggled when I actually tried to make on-the-fly adjustments of the ATC and AWC. I assume I’d get it down if I focused on it but with a half day of riding I gave myself an F when it came to making adjustments. I also don’t care much for the $22,999 price tag of the RSV4 RF. Even the RR version is steep at $16,999. But other than the high price of admission, there’s not much to complain about here.
Would I Buy the About the RSV4 RF?
Oh yeah. I want one of these so bad I cannot even see straight. These days I am not a big fan of riding sport bikes on the street, but I love riding them on the track, and this would be the ultimate track-day bike. I usually don’t get excited about bike electronics but the RSV4 is an exception to the rule. It works so well, and the bike already oozes excess, so why not embrace it?
When I first swung a leg over the RSV4 back in 2009 it was a near-perfect combination of size, unique engine, go-fast gadgets and sexy bodywork that tugged on my heart strings. It performed well and over the next few years it racked up three World Superbike titles, multiple bike of the year awards by magazines around the world. For 2017 the RSV4 RF is the flagship of the Aprilia superbike line-up. It combines all the best qualities of the previous RSV4 and adds the Ohlins hardware, M50 brakes and updated electronic ride assist tech into the mix.
Like I said: I remember watching Haga and Corser kicking everyone’s ass during a WSBK weekend at Laguna Seca many moons ago. Those may have been V-twin engines back then, but the sinister black and silver livery with Italian red accents continue to be signature colors of the Aprilia brand. Fast forward to 2017 and take a long, hard look at this Aprilia RSV4 RF. It would probably humble those old WSBK machines. And it's available right now at your local dealership. Remember earlier when we prayed for a world superbike for the public? Behold the 2017 Aprilia RSV4 RF. Ciao Bella!
Height: 5 feet 8 inches
Experience: Decades Spent Doing This.
Body Type: Short, old, stocky with a beer belly
Kens Riding Gear
Leathers: Alpinestars Atem 1-Piece Suit
Boots: Alpinestars SMX Plus
Gloves: Alpinestars Supertech