I absolutely love Aprilia’s RSV4. It’s a bike that hasn’t changed drastically at any point since its inception, but instead has just constantly evolved over time, with everything from the chassis, to the engine, to the electronics getting some serious work over the last 13 years. Last year Aprilia tweaked the RSV4 even further, gifting it a slightly bigger engine to tackle Euro5 while retaining incredible power and torque figures, an underbraced swingarm (like you’d find on a GP bike) and some fairly hefty aero updates, which not only improves the downforce and aerodynamics of the package, but also makes it look incredibly mean as well.
But then again, litre sportsbikes are proper weapons, and if you judge the bike by its spec sheet, the current iteration is one of the most potent that this planet has ever seen. The 2022 RSV4 1100 packs a whopping 214bhp, with 125Nm torque, while weighing in at an anaemic 202kg, which combined makes for an absolutely ballistic motorcycle. To put that into context, two decades ago, the iconic Ducati 916 weighed in at 195kg, and shoved out 109bhp and produced 88Nm of torque. Things really have moved on.
But there’s more to a machine than just some numbers on a sheet; as power and performance has grown, usability and technology has too. The APRC system powers not just the Öhlins EC 2.0 semi-active suspension, but also a whole raft of rider aids and power modes crafted purely to keep you safe and make you faster, working alongside the sticky Pirelli Supercorsa rubber to keep you upright. The funny thing is though, although bikes have got faster and more advanced in every way, tracks haven’t really got much bigger or wider – in fact, they’ve got even tougher on big bikes, with stop-start chicanes added and whole sections modified to bring the speeds down, making heavy braking zones and big acceleration from low speeds all-too common. So, is a litre machine too much for the proper nitty-gritty UK tracks such as Cadwell Park? Well, we spent a day there on the £21,600 Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory to find out.
If you’ve never been to Cadwell, it’s something that should be on your bucket list. It’s got everything from the tight and twisty to the fast and flowing, but with very little margin for error thanks to its blind and undulating nature, thin ribbons of tarmac and the necessity to be absolutely precise, absolutely everywhere. And that isn’t helped by weather in the UK either, as typically on our trackday there had been a little shower overnight, meaning that the track was damp for the first session out. Just what you want with a brand new set of tyres and no tyre warmers.
With this in mind, and six riding modes on tap (three for road, three for track), I got to work on making the RSV4 as gentle as I could for the initial outing. Setting up one of the track modes I made the engine map slightly softer, stuck the suspension on a more gentle setting and then upped the traction control, while still keeping the wheelie control and ABS on lower settings. It was super easy; the big, TFT dash and the whole interface on the latest generation of RSVs is by far the best they’ve ever been, and in the space of about five minutes, I had created two of my own bespoke track modes, that I could change in a doddle; one soft and gentle and one far more aggressive.
Heading out on track for the first time, I couldn’t believe just how tame the RSV4 felt. For something that has more horsepower than it does kilograms, it felt almost as docile as an RS 660 in terms of its power delivery; the throttle response felt insanely smooth and because the electronics were keeping things in check, I felt like I had about 120bhp to play with, rather than the full 214 horses available. Everything felt far more gentle than I’d expected from a range topping sportsbike, and it really meant that I could focus on hunting out the damp patches, running the tyres in and getting myself acclimatised to the bike, track and conditions. Even though I was relatively slow, even the Öhlins EC 2.0 semi-active suspension was working its magic and felt responsive, and it showed just how far these bikes have come on in terms of their usability. Genuinely, it didn’t feel like a big, aggressive superbike, but something super easy that I didn’t need to think too much about, and as I started getting a bit of heat into the rubber and scoping out the dry lines, I even turned down the traction control bit by bit too, which was simple to do on the fly, via the buttons on the left handlebar. As far as I was concerned, the new RSV4 had passed the first test with flying colours. Years ago, these litre machines had just one personality of wanting to be as fast as possible, but now? Well, there’s a mode for whatever you want, a setting to make your fire-breathing beast feel like a gentle pussycat.
But the beauty is, the RSV4, like so many modern sportsbikes, is not just a one-trick pony. You see, when it’s un-chained from the electric wizardry that does such a good job of keeping it tamed, that is when the real animal comes to life. With full power on tap, traction control, ABS and wheelie control all switched right down and the suspension set up in a more suitable setting, it took me a fair few laps to get my head around just how potent, precise and exciting the big Aprilia is – especially at a track like Cadwell Park. There is so much power in that V4 motor that straights not only become shorter, but also little kinks become proper corners; you have to be on the ball to keep it on the straight and narrow, or even keeping that front wheel down in a straight line. The same goes for the cornering abilities of the RSV4 too as its brakes are so good and chassis so capable, that no matter how late I was leaving my markers I always felt like there was room to steal a few more metres, egged on by those impressively damped electronic suspenders underneath me. The whole experience is utterly exhilarating and insanely addictive in equal fashion, and I’ve got to say that 20 minutes around Cadwell on a litre sportsbike? Now that’s a workout, but something that is seriously fun, beyond all belief.
I’ve done hundreds (maybe even thousands) of laps round Cadwell now on the very finest machinery money can buy, yet every time I swing my leg over a full-fat litre machine, it still blows my mind just how savage and exciting they can be. So much power, so much grip and so much capability when it comes to every aspect of attacking a corner just make the whole experience so exhilarating, and something that every rider should sample at least once. But the beauty of the modern era of sportsbikes is, it can as savage as you want it to be; dial down the power, up the rider aids and you’ve got a user-friendly pussy cat underneath you, which is perfect for building confidence, learning tracks and even just purely focussing on your riding. So, is a litre machine too much for UK tracks? Absolutely not; you just need to dial your machine into your style, pace and comfort zone, and it will look after you as well as any smaller capacity bike will – actually, with the electronics on offer, it will look after you even better. We’ve never been so lucky to have the machinery, tech and innovation that we have today.