Gabe: No Negatives Naked
It was appropriate that we tested the new Aprilia Tuono V4R with the complaints typically leveled at japanese nakeds (often inheriting severely detuned superbike motors in overweight chassis suspended by budget forks and shocks) firmly in mind…so as to appreciate the new Tuono all the more:
1.Top-spec naked sportbike.
2.167-horsepower V-Four engine.
3.Comfortable, upright handlebar.
4.Priced it under $15,000.
5.Quick-shifter, electronically controlled slipper clutch, wheelie control for racetrack starts and adjustable traction control at no extra charge.
6.Re-tuned powerplant for more midrange while actually adding power to the top of the rev range compared to last year’s model.
You get the picture—this is a kick-ass, highly entertaining machine. In fact, it may represent the high-water mark of the gasoline-powered motorcycle.
It’s based—heavily—on Aprilia’s World Superbike-winning RSV4R. We rode that bike not too long ago (“Viffer Swiffer?”, January, 2010), and though we liked it—a lot—it had limited utility as a street ride. The seating position is race-oriented, gearing is tall, and the powerband is weighted toward very illegal speeds, even in first gear.
What to do? As we have already pointed out, a Japanese manufacturer might take the motor, castrate it to about 110 hp and stick it in a cheaper, heavier chassis with low-spec suspension and brakes and slice an ‘R’ or two off the name. That’s not how Aprilia rolls, though: to create the Tuono V4R APRC, Aprilia designer Miguel Galluzzi (who also penned the original Ducati Monster, if the name sounds familiar) left the frame, suspension and brakes alone, but street-o-rized the 65-degree liquid-cooled, four-valve, dohc V-Four by extending the inlet tracts, changing valve timing, increasing flywheel inertia and shortening gear ratios in the first three gears. He lopped about 12 hp off the top end compared to the (also retuned for 2012) RSV4R motor, but also moved power and torque peaks 1000 rpm down from the 12,500-rpm redline.
There are other changes from the RSV4R. Chassis geometry is more relaxed than the sportbike’s: steering-head angle is a half degree more, to 25, the wheelbase is 20mm longer, yielding 2.5mm more trail. The bodywork is unique, but has an interesting continuity with the RSV4R’s aggressive shapes. There’s a tiny passenger seat and shrunken windscreen, and the minimal bodywork lets you eye-hump all the sexy details—that compact V-Four, the vast aluminum radiator, giant, braced swingarm, deep, angled oil sump. Plenty of internet-forum haters unimaginatively typed “fugly!” when they first saw photos, but in person—especially with the glittery gold-painted example we had—the bike triggers desire.
Nobody will use “fugly” to describe the riding experience. Actually, there aren’t a lot of words to describe it—it’s that good. The motor is unbelievable: smooth, packed with torque, and strong-like-bull in any gear. In fact, the Aprilia “In Any Gear” is what they should have called this bike, as the brilliant ride-by-wire throttle makes it so smooth and tractable that trolling around town in first gear is very practical. Second or third is fine for tight, twisty roads, and in smooth, high-speed sweepers, fourth or fifth is fine—just roll on and off the gas to go as fast as you want. Just be careful—it goes really fast, and it’s so smooth and refined it doesn’t feel like 160 hp is getting fed into that fat 190 behind you. The electronic wheelie thing does its job keeping things under control, but this bike is still a wheelie machine. No surprises there.
Handling, brakes and suspension are as you’d expect: good. The chassis is balanced, and I’m sure the frame is as rigid as you need, if Max Biaggi can win SBK races on it, and he can. As delivered, the springs and damping felt stiff but they’re fully adjustable, and what setup is perfect out of the box? A cheap fix if it isn’t. The high, wide bars help the bike steer as quick as any standard (though Al’s DR-Z supermoto felt like a bicycle after the Tuono), but Galuzzi’s tweaking of the chassis numbers keep things feeling natural and stable—no mean feat in a streetfighter. The brakes are plenty strong, but they’re not the Brembo Racing monoblocs we know and love so much around here—but hey, Aprilia has to do something to make the inevitable high-spec Factory version worth buying, right?
The electronics package is also remarkable. Bang multiple up and downshifts like a superbike racer without damaging anything all morning and you’ll want a quickshifter and slipper clutch for your everyday ride, too. The traction control and wheelie control are also nice to have, and easy to adjust as well—kudos for Aprilia for not being too Italian about user-friendliness. I’ve heard Lifetime Network has signed up for five seasons of a new series based on the Ducati Multistrada 1200 owner’s manual, starring Téa Leoni and David Duchovny, but you won’t need basic cable to adjust the eight-level traction control on the Aprilia—just thumb the paddle by your left handgrip.
Before I took this screaming yellow zonker out, Scuderia’s Don Lemelin said something that stuck in my mind: bikes are getting so good it’s almost as if the factories are forced to engineer in character, as the electronics—traction control, ride-by-wire, digital fuel injection, selectable fuel-mapping modes—make the riding experience so seamless. If that’s so, has the gasoline-engined bike reached its developmental zenith? How much better can things get? If they don’t get any better, that’s okay—this bike is far better than I will ever be as a rider.
Okay, now the not-so-good things about the new Tuono. First: No ABS? WTF? This is nonsensical. The electronics and wheel-spin sensors are all there—isn’t ABS sort of traction control in reverse? We get it that it’s fun to not have it, but sometimes you really wish you did—just give us an off switch. There’s also that awful seat-shaped thing behind the gas tank which, combined with the very high footpegs, makes the bike not-so-great for longer rides. The bike is also pretty heavy—Cycle World’s scales registered 480 pounds for its test bike. That’s not such a problem, as the bike is so balanced and easy to steer that it doesn’t feel big, but you don’t doubt that you’re on a big bike, though it feels small physically.
Maybe the biggest fly in the Italian ointment is the horrendous fuel economy. A full tank—about 3.5 gallons without reserve—got us just over 87 miles before the ‘low-fuel’ odometer kicked on. Seriously? I’m guessing you could ride like an old lady—maybe even an old Italian lady—and coax 35 mpg out of a tank, but 25 mpg? You will get better economy with a ’97 Cadillac Fleetwood, and I’m not even kidding. We have tested this.
Still, most of those negatives can be fixed—or willingly lived with as the price of riding such a sex machine. This bike isn’t for some drudge seeking maximum value and economy so he can commute for pennies a day. It’s for an expert rider who wants uncompromised ability and performance with some measure of riding comfort. If those are your criteria, this new Tuono V4R meets it, with a dollar change from your $15,000.
Alan Lapp: The paper shredder you can’t buy at Costco.
The Tuono is less a motorcycle than it is a piece of office equipment, a paper shredder, in fact. Specifically, a driving privilege shredder. Just feed it your driving license, which will promptly be sliced, diced and spat out the exhaust pipe. If you buy this bike, while you’re getting title and tags at DMV, you might as well just hand over your license to save a trip later.
Yes, it’s that much fun. Stupid giggling, gasping, eye-popping, OHMYGAWD-shouting-inside-your-helmet fun. That’s with the electronics-package features set to mid ranges. Lower the values just two clicks, and you’d better be on your A-game.
The unmistakable first impression is that this bike makes incredible power and torque. The amount of low- and mid-range torque is just amazing and lovely to ride. I am told that the Tuono has been detuned for more mid-range and less top-end from the sport version, the RSV4, which surely must require genetic testing for super-human riding skill prior to ownership. Not that the Tuono is slow on the top end. Everything in life is relative, right? Right.
In fact, it reminds me of my first ride on the legendary CR500 in the mid ’80s. Then, as now, I expected it to be fast. The Tuono will wheelie more or less anywhere, anytime, in any gear. There is so much thrust available that clutch-dropping is a thing of the past, it’s roll-on wheelies from here on out.
Gabe suggested not dwelling too much on the technology, but it’s impossible to separate it completely from the riding experience. The mere mortal rider, such as myself, positively needs the assistance of the electronics because without them, like Siegfried and Roy’s tiger, it would be a sexy, exotic beast that would surely savage its rider in a moment of inattention. The electronics render the bike useful to a much wider audience than would otherwise be possible.
And, I must say, those electronics interfere skillfully. My daily driver car, a 10-year-old GM sports car, has traction control that is as subtle as a red rubber kickball to the face… it chops the throttle abruptly and holds it closed for a fraction of a second. Aprilia’s TC is so smooth and unobtrusive that you think it was your idea. The same with the quick shifter – I have ridden for 35 years, and can’t shift as quickly and smoothly as it does. The TC, quick shifter and launch control modulate the throttle and clutch to execute their respective tasks flawlessly.
The only thing the electronics can’t fix is bad judgment—for example, whacking the throttle open mid-corner to explore the lean-angle-sensor-equipped traction control, while your boss is slowing down to pick out photo locations. Good thing the brakes are excellent, with crisp, linear feel.
I consider the Tuono V4R a good value, especially considering how much technology there is and how well it is integrated. However, it’s only for a small pool of riders. Clearly, it’s not a beginner bike. Heck, it’s not even suitable for average riders, though they could ride it safely. Despite the hard, slippery seat, the ergonomics are comfortable, and the chassis and suspension are extraordinarily competent. Even with the stock exhaust, the V-Four makes a luscious soundtrack, icing on the cake. It’s the equivalent of a Giorgio Armani suit: it’s Italian, it’s stylish, it makes you feel like a million bucks, but you just don’t wear it to Costco. I see it as an indulgence for experienced track-day junkies or former road racers. I could see one in my garage. Yellow please. Now, if I could just get my license back . . .
Editor’s note: yes, we know Roy’s tiger (Mantecore) was trying to “protect” Roy by biting his head and dragging him offstage. We were just making a point.