It’s a boiling hot day, I’ve been shrink-wrapped by a leather suit and feel like I’m breathing through a wet sponge. Now I’m supposed to guide a little machine with a power-to-weight ratio greater than a Bugatti Veyron around a racetrack. Suddenly motorcycling doesn’t seem like much fun.
The angry-looking black wasp I’m perched on, feeling horribly vulnerable, is the Aprilia Tuono V4R APRC. It’s a lot of letters. It’s also a lot of bike, pitched by the Noale, Italy-based manufacturer as the most powerful “supernaked” model on the market. It’s just been released in the U.S.
I’m intimidated. On previous, twin-cylinder, incarnations of this V4 rocket, Aprilia SPA had taken its RSV superbike of the moment, stripped off the bodywork, stuck high handlebars on and that was about it.
The Tuono was infamously rowdy. With two extra cylinders and 37 more horsepower, this model sounded downright disorderly.
Five decreasingly cautious laps later, the nerves nipping at my stomach have gone and I realize this gem of a bike isn’t intent on embedding me into a wall after all.
In fact, it’s superb in almost every respect, starting with the magnificent sound. From a deep, bubbling growl at low revs, the Tuono builds through the mid-range with an addictive snarl and peaks at a blistering scream.
This is an engine that begs you to keep twisting the throttle, and it’s almost impossible to refuse.
Power, apart from a flat spot at around 2,500 revs that ruins standing starts a little, builds effortlessly and rapidly. The 60 miles per hour mark comes up in 2.9 seconds.
Wisely for a bike with this kind of stupendous power, Aprilia has given the Tuono three different engine modes -- Road, Sport and Track -- that can be switched on the fly. Road mode cuts power 25 percent across the range, ostensibly to make the bike safer and more manageable for city use.
If 125 horsepower sounds a bit like an Italian’s idea of restraint, setting the eight-stage traction control system to the highest level adds a reassuring security buffer.
I experienced its effectiveness first-hand. Cornering out of a tunnel onto a soaking wet road, the back end slid away and the system kicked in immediately, bringing the bike back into line so smoothly that my guts hardly had time to lurch.
Handling, thanks to those higher bars, is very sharp and so quick that for the first five minutes on the racetrack I kept overcooking it, being accustomed to a heavier sports-tourer.
The Tuono doesn’t need much persuasion to tip into and hold a line, and once there the traction control enables you to drive the bike out of corners early, flicking through the gears with the quickshifter and munching through the next straight, before slamming on some powerful Brembo brakes and doing it again.
A combination of electronic brilliance and basic engineering common sense has turned the World Superbike Championship-winning RSV4 sportsbike into a useable roadster that’s hardly tame, yet less maniacal than its predecessor.
The destabilizing effect of a higher, more comfortable riding position has been tempered by reducing the center of gravity, fitting a steering damper and pushing the steering head forward to put more weight over the front wheel.
As a result, the Tuono is supremely stable, even in fast, bumpy corners -- far from being the handlebar-wobbling runaway lunatic you might expect.
The engine has been retuned, with the bottom three of the six gears made taller for more practical real-world use. It’s not creamy smooth like a Triumph triple or an inline four.
Neither would anyone call it refined, unless they’re idea of refinement is Vinnie Jones in a tuxedo. Still, it doesn’t make you work as hard as a Ducati twin at low urban speeds.
If aesthetics are as important as performance, then the Tuono might be a non-starter, even though it’s not as categorically unsightly as previous models.
Compared with competitors like the Triumph Street Triple, Ducati Streetfighter or MV Agusta Brutale, this won’t open the drool tap. Build quality seems good, if a little plasticky in places, with fully adjustable top-notch Sachs suspension.
The seat is sculpted to let the rider climb quickly around the bike on the racetrack. It’s also rock hard, not that you’ll be spending long hours in the saddle, because the mileage is almost laughable at around 200km per 17-liter tank with moderately hard use.
With that phenomenal V4 motor under the seat, any niggles quickly disappear in a blur of addictive velocity and it’s easy to see how this bike has knocked the Speed Triple off its best-in-class perch for the first time in years.
In fact, it’s so good, I went back to the dealer and bought it.
The 2012 Aprilia Tuono V4R APRC at a Glance
Engine: 999cc V4, liquid-cooled with 167 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed, wet multiplate slipper clutch.
Speed: Top speed 165mph (266kmh)
Gas mileage per gallon: 29
Best features: Addictive engine, sharp handling, sound.
Worst feature: Low mileage.
Target buyer: Track and daily use riders who want to arrive at work grinning. Definitely not a novice bike.
(Matthew Oakley writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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