Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Factory and the Superpole!

If it is Italian, it has to be beautiful and I am not talking only about the pretty ladies here. The untethered love the Italians put into everything they do just shows. The love makes it exotic. Add a dose of ‘madness’ to it, as the legendary Tom Tjaarda says, and you have to be blown off.
Meet the artsy beauties from Italy – belonging to the distinguished family of the furious lion on its racing flag – the Aprilia RSV4s. I am talking in plural here because not only do we have the RSV4 Factory but someone much more special, much more precious, much more insane and much rare. We have with us the only motorcycle on our shores at least for now – the one and only Aprilia RSV4 RF SUPERPOLE – numbered 276th of the 500 to be sold globally. A special thanks to the Ten Hut for letting me get up close with it and Sanchit for the amazing pictures.
Aprilia, the Italian marque, started humbly with cycles back in 1945 and has grown over the years, racing. Be it motocross, trial bike, MotoGP or WSBK (World Superbike Championship); Aprilia have made a mark for themselves. All Aprilias, true to the Italian roots, have that dash of madness, the prowess they possess to excel at the task. And then there are the Factory bikes. It is known fact in riding circles – ‘You can’t tune an Aprilia better than the Factory’.

A look at them and I don’t know where to start. The sharp angular lines fuse into a curve that wedges through the air like an aerofoil. The red and black livery of the RSV4 Factory APRC is mean to say the least. The black paint masks the ample use of carbon fibre in the panels to keep those pounds in check while the red accents give the touch of insanity. If you have ever been on the superbikes a decade ago, you will appreciate how compact the RSV4 is in spite of being a litre-class bike. As I swing a leg over the saddle, it feels like a 600cc – small and tucked in. All the mass of the Factory has been wrapped around the compact V4 motor leaning on the 43mm upside down custom Ohlins Racing forks. The titanium nitride coated golden forks are fully adjustable for preload, hydraulic compression and rebound damping. The rear suspension packs an adjustable bespoke Ohlins TTX rear shock setup low using an APS progressive linkage on the double braced aluminium swing arm. The upswept ultra-thin tailpiece makes the front weight bias more pronounced.

If you thought you could take your girl out for a ride on this one, you would rather buy something else. Not because Aprilias are sexist, but because the designers had built the bike without a tail-piece and then added a minimalist tail to fit in the definition of a production superbike and an almost non-existent pillion seat and footpegs that Aprilia prefers giving you in a box. The riding position is aggressive – something that most hyper-sports riders are used to – but is quite comfortable. The well sculpted tank and the saddle work in unison to give you grip to hold on to under heavy acceleration, braking or when you are leaning all the way to glory. The split handle bars are adjustable to help you find your sweet spot. As if all the possible permutations and combinations of the available adjustments were not enough to help you tune the perfectly tailored track tool, you can also alter the centre of gravity of the motorcycle by adjusting the engine placement thanks to the adjustable mounts. You can absolutely live with this motorcycle all your life and keep tuning it for different circuits and riding styles and not get bored of it.

And if you still got bored fiddling with the variables, all you would have to do is turn the key and thumb the starter to bring the V4 to life. The engine cranks with a blip to remind you of the monster within. The chief architect of the 999.6cc 65⁰ V4 is Claudio Lombardi – the man behind the power plants of the WRC winning Lancias in the 80s, team manager for Ferrari F1 in the 90s and the one responsible for the Ferrari V12 engine that is still one of the best for the last two decades. Superbikes have seen V4s before, but this thoroughbred 999.6cc 65⁰ V4 is nothing less than epic. Though they started with a 60⁰ V4, the balance of the V65 turned out to surpass the 60V and even the 90V by a margin and also allowed them to fit in a perfect shaped air box for the kind of power Aprilia had been looking forward to. The V4 layout has made the engine very compact – 225mm as against the 400mm width of an inline four.

If at all you think the 180hp and 115Nm torque the Factory V4 makes is not enough, take a look at the RSV4 -RF Superpole. The grunty factory motor has reworked internals and weighs a hefty 2.5kg lesser than the Factory. But the best part is that it now breaches the 200hp (201 hp) barrier to enter the league of the ultimate superbikes. And it is not only the extra power but the way those horses kick in that makes the Superpole even more special. The V4 is industrial – it is coarse and harsh but sweet at the same time. You find a harmony of notes between the cacophony of the tings and dings and the clunks – we call it music.

Twist your wrist to open the gold butterflies and the engine gets noisier. It resonates near 3500rpm almost rocking the motorcycle with it and if you thought it is the beginning – you are wrong. You open the throttle further and the engine starts smoothening out – settling into a symphony that has two base guitarists playing all the time! When you open up inline threes and fours, they become quite harsh as you approach the red-line. The power is delivered in a burst concentrated more at the peak of the power band. The V4, you can say, is more of an opposite. The engine smoothens out as it revs by virtue of the dynamics of the layout. There is quite a bit of torque at the lower revs and it keeps on building to its peak at 10,500rpm post which the power takes over all the way to 13,000rpm. And now you will not be surprised when we tell you that this is the same basic motor on which the WSBK champion and the current MotoGP CRT engine is built upon.

This is the age of technology where electric pulses get you everything you need within less than even a blink of an eye. Yes, I am talking about the electronics and to begin with – it is one of the best systems available today and yes, this too has been derived from the system they had built for the RSV Cube MotoGP bike. The Aprilia Performance Ride Control (aPRC) as they call it is a comprehensive package. It includes the Aprilia Traction Control (aTC), Aprilia Wheelie Control (aWC), Aprilia Launch Control (aLC) and the Aprilia Quick Shift (aQC). There are 8 different settings for the aTC with an option to turn the traction control off. The aWC is a unique system that identifies if the front wheel is up in the air and controls the power output to keep you safe unless you are Max Biaggi! It can be set to three modes to help you unleash the last of the horses as you bang the throttle wide open.

Aprilia’s track focus is further stamped by the aLC. If you are on the track and racing, you have to have a perfect start every time and the aLC ensures you get the best of the starts. All you have to do pop the clutch, twist the wrist and shift up to the next gear. It is available only in track mode and in has three presets. Last but not the least we have the aQS – the quick shifter. After the launch, you can forget the clutch and slot in the next gear without losing absolutely any cutting the throttle. The system is designed to adapt to shifts at different revs to cut the exact number of revs for the particular shift. Riding purists generally tend to hate too much electronics and with the list of rider aids Aprilia has, you may be sceptical. This is where Aprilia excels again. The rider aids kick in so seamlessly that you actually do not even feel them. The aPRC that is being fine-tuned since 2009 provides you with just the right amount of assistance so that you can go faster than you have ever imagined.

The aPRC has three riding modes depending upon your usage. The Road mode is for city riding where the throttle response and the maximum power developed are restricted to make managing the motorcycle easy. The Sport mode unleashes all the power but keeps the throttle response slightly easy to help you carve out those highway corners. And then there is the Track mode that unleashes the beast within. The throttle response is almost instant with the ride by wire technology. The throttle is direct and when you get a hang of it, you can extract the exact amount of power you need at every point of time. The crisp throttle response at all revs is also because of the electronically controlled variable length intake ducts. The duct length reduces by as much as 35mm as the revs climb to enable faster passage of air to the intake chamber, ensuring enough oxygen for combustion in the high compression combustion chamber (13.1 : 1). The Aprilias also get a slipper clutch. The engine braking – managed by the state-of-the-art Magneti Marelli ECU – is different for every riding mode.

An engine of this capability and pedigree and the electronics package to get the maximum out of it needs a chassis that will not just hold all of it together, but also do justice to it and what better than the chassis that has 18 MotoGP world titles! Derived from the 250cc Aprilia MotoGP motorcycle frame, the aluminium chassis is a congregation of cast and pressed components welded together to keep the weight in check and at the same time get the right amount of stiffness and flex. The swing arm, built with the same construction technology helps keep the unsprung weight low. The forged wheels have lost another kilo of unsprung weight. All of this combined with the Ohlins trio (forks, rear shock and the steering damper) and the Pirelli Diablo SuperCorsas adds to the handling. I have ridden the RSV4 aPRC before and fluidic is the least that I can say about its handling. The motorcycle changes direction so eagerly and easily that you wonder if it is really a litre-class motorcycle. With the mechanicals of the RF, I am certain it is going to be much better.

So, here we are, still looking at the Aprilia twins. The shiny aluminium finish on the chassis, the silver gloss paint on the tank, the Aprilia signature splashed across the body, the shiny red powder coated rims, the golden shocks, the Italian flag on the belly and the ‘#be a racer’ decal is something that makes the Aprilia RSV4 RF Superpole stand out for the bike lovers out there. The 65V4 engine, the MotoGP chassis, the innumerable suspension adjustments, the variable engine mounts, the adjustable wheelbase and the signature Aprilia triple headlamps of the Factory as well as the RF Superpole appeals to the automotive geeks. And then we have the ride and handling package the RF offers that impresses even the best of the riders. I would again say that, we at are very very lucky to have one amongst us – to be revered and loved the way those designers would want them to be!

PS: I wrote this almost an year back and cannot thank Ten Hut enough for this! The memories of looking at her for the first time are etched deep on my heart! 

No comments: