Fighting on the street

Aprilia made its name with racing two-strokes, but now the company builds some of the world’s highest-performing four-strokes. The Tuono V4R is one of them, but is all-out performance everything in a bike like this?

Aprilia’s 1000cc V4 is a busy engine. Unleashed in 2009 to power the RSV4 superbike, it was the driving force behind the Italian factory’s 2010 World Superbike crown and is looking good to repeat that success this year. The very same V4 is also used in Aprilia’s ART MotoGP machine and was chosen by Norton for the legendary marque’s low-key return to the Isle of Man TT last June.

The incarnation of the Aprilia V4 which we evaluate here is somewhat different. The Tuono V4R was not designed for the racetrack, it was created for riders who want race-winning horsepower and handling without the self-sacrificial riding style.

The Tuono isn’t the irst motorcycle like this. Far from it. This kind of machine has its roots in the early 1980s, when hard-up riders unable to fully repair their crashed sports bikes simply tore off the bodywork, itted straight handlebars and got on with it. Thus was born the cult of the street-fighter, a kind of dystopian, concrete jungle version of the café racer cult that rumbled through Britain in the 1960s. While the café racer was all about the joy of the open road, the street-fighter is all about muscling your way down back roads and causing outrage among the masses.

The manufacturers took a while to wake up to the sales potential of factory-built street-fighters but they got there in the end, proving as always that street fashion can have a dazzling effect on the catwalk.

In fact the Tuono V4R wouldn’t look so great on the catwalk, it’s more like the muscled, tattooed bouncer you’d find on the door. Stripped of the RSV4’s sleek race fairing, it looks brutish and stands naked and unashamed: V4 engine, coolant pipes, cables and the rest all on show. If Richard Rogers were to design a motorcycle, it would probably look like this.

Instead of crouching forward to grab the handlebars, you sit almost bolt upright on the Tuono; up for a ight, as it were. It’s a riding position that makes a lot of sense at slower speeds, where the high and wide handlebars allow plenty of steering leverage. But this begs the question: why does a motorcycle that feels best at everyday speeds need a 165 horsepower engine?

Because nothing succeeds like excess, perhaps. And that is why bikes like this exist. Like just about any 1000cc sports bike, the Tuono is too fast for reality, but it is better than a head-down, bum-up superbike at allowing you to exploit its excessive performance in brief little splurges.

Riders of extremely fast motorcycles live for these moments: when the road opens up to reveal a thousand yards of empty asphalt, enough to wind on the throttle, click a couple of gears, feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins, then back off and rejoin the real world. It’s the street version of a double-shot espresso.

The Tuono is bone-jarringly quick. Open the throttle in irst gear, aim for the red line and you’ll feel your neck go click as you strain to hang on. It’s the usual sub-three-second 0-60 for a superbike-powered machine, but this kind of behaviour is more fun on the Tuono because the upright riding position lifts the front end more easily and the high handlebars give you much better control of the front wheel as it lifts off the road. If it lifts off the road, that is.

Our top-of-the-range Tuono included the full package of electronic rider aids as fitted to more expensive versions of the RSV4. The software includes eight-level traction control and three-level launch and wheelie control.

This system is designed mostly for track use. After all, half the joy of a streetighter is feeling the front end achieve lift-off as you power out of a corner or accelerate away from the traffic lights; which is why I immediately turned down the wheelie control to minimum.

I’ve never been into kissing the sky with the front wheel, but there’s something very special about feeling the front end lift – just a few inches – as the rear end squats under power. It’s a sensation that tells you that you are pushing on, and with the Tuono it’s heightened by the V4 engine’s baritone roar, so much more aurally pleasing than the grinding mechanical yelp of an inline four. At low revs it sounds rough and racy, just enough to give you a bad reputation around town. V4 engines don’t just sound wonderful, they also work brilliantly in a motorcycle. The configuration has been well used by Aprilia, Honda and Ducati, achieving huge success in all forms of racing, from World Superbike to MotoGP and from endurance to the Isle of Man TT.

During the 1980s and 1990s Honda’s V4s – the FWS1000, RVF750, RC30 and RC45 – dominated everywhere but the world’s biggest bike brand has inexplicably fallen out of love
with the configuration. Its RC213V MotoGP bike – ridden by reigning World Champion Casey Stoner – is a V4 but the superbike that Honda sells to its customers is an inline four.

The beauty of a V4 is in the way it produces power. The RSV4’s engine iring sequence is smoother on the crankshaft and creates a friendly spread of torque which is much better at generating traction than the peaky kind of power delivered by most inline fours. You feel that every time you ride the Tuono – the engine might be hugely powerful but it’s never intimidating. In fact it does get entertainingly violent on the most extreme engine mapping mode (T for ‘track’), but it is perfectly civilised on the S and R modes (for ‘sport’ and ‘road’).

When Aprilia designed its V4 the company didn’t copy Ducati, which uses a perfectly balanced 90-degree V4 configuration in its troubled MotoGP bike. Instead Aprilia chose a 65-degree vee angle, because they wanted a more compact motorcycle with its mass more centralised. Most people in the MotoGP pitlane now believe that the Ducati’s bulky engine is at the heart of its chassis problems. The Aprilia engine is shorter, which allows for a longer swingarm, which can also help find more traction out of corners.

The Tuono’s engine isn’t identical to the RSV4’s. In RSV4 spec the V4 delivers nigh on 170 horsepower and features fancy variable-length intake ducts. In factory World Superbike
mode – as raced by Italian Max Biaggi and Irishman Eugene Laverty – it puts out more than 220 horsepower.

This version has been slightly detuned to it its less frantic role in life, with revised inlet timing and longer inlet trumpets that shift the power further down the rev range, where it can be found more easily. Flywheel mass has also been increased to smoothen engine response at lower revs.

The Tuono is good for very nearly 170mph, but achieving that velocity without getting sucked off the back surely can’t be easy. You’d need to be no taller than a mouse to get behind the bike’s so-called windscreen, so I didn’t even bother going for maximum velocity. By the time you get much beyond 100mph you have a very good understanding of why most motorcycles boasting this kind of performance bend you into a praying mantis, hunched over the handlebars, hiding behind the windscreen.

Aboard the Tuono anything much more than 85mph is uncomfortable to sustain for any length of time, such is the windblast against your head and torso. Which, funnily enough, is precisely why some riders buy bikes like this. Conventional superbikes don’t tell lies but they certainly do mislead you. Tucked into a racer’s crouch and protected from the howling gale by a windscreen, 80mph can feel more like 50mph and 120mph like 80mph. There are all kinds of dangers in that. Sitting aboard the Tuono you are always fully aware of how fast you are going. The wind blast is like nature’s own speed limiter. Anyone with a driving licence already frayed around the edges will appreciate a non-electronic rider aid like that.

Because sustained motorway cruising is a pain in the neck on this motorcycle, you will also find yourself foregoing the tedious convenience of motorways. That’s pretty impressive stuff from an inanimate lump of metal and plastic: not only does the Tuono quickly cure you of your excessive desire for high speeds, it also switches your entire life view, taking you down the scenic route, where speeds are less and enjoyment is more.

Despite its aggressive, urban look, the Tuono’s natural habitat is twisting A-roads, where the upright riding position provides a much better field of vision than any headdown

The chassis – chunky aluminium frame and swingarm – is taken straight from the RSV4 superbike. The frame isn’t identical, however. Like the engine, it’s been detuned. Aprilia has taken the edge off the RSV4’s razor-sharp steering by easing the steering geometry by half a degree and adding 25mm more wheelbase.

The numerous subtle chassis modifications aim to make the bike more real-world friendly. It’s certainly that, with calm, neutral steering and firm handling. A bit too firm, if anything. While they were toning down the chassis geometry, Aprilia might also have got inside the suspension and re-valved the front forks and rear shock for a comier ride.

And while I’m in the mood for a grumble… The Tuono’s electronics are astonishingly good. The launch control, wheelie control and traction control wouldn’t have been out of place on a MotoGP bike a few years ago. Indeed, Italian Danilo Petrucci started this year’s MotoGP World Championship with stock RSV4 electronics on his privateer Aprilia-powered Ioda machine. The Aprilia system includes two accelerometers to measure lean angle and acceleration/deceleration. It’s all wonderful, hi-tech stuff, but the Tuono lacks the most essential rider aid of them all: ABS. There’s no excuse for this.

Traction control is all very well, but it’s not vital like ABS. If you lose the rear and crash, it’s probably your own fault. If you lock the front and crash, it’s probably because someone has pulled out in front of you. It’s difficult to imagine what convinced Aprilia to let this bike out of the factory without anti-lock braking.

The whole concept of the Tuono is to be an RSV4 for everyday riding, a comfy streetbike with very nearly all the performance of the superbike. But the RSV4 is just as easy to get along with in the real world and a better motorcycle for longer rides at high speeds. Even at lower speeds the Tuono isn’t as comfortable as it should be – the seat is rock hard and the footpegs are a good few inches too far back, so too much weight is thrown onto your wrists.

Then there’s the fuel range. On the road the Tuono and RSV4 average between 32mpg and 38mpg which gives them not much more than 100 miles between fuel stops. That’s worse than most other sports bikes and it’s not enough.

If I were looking to buy an Aprilia V4 I’d certainly forget about the Tuono and go for the real thing. This spec Tuono goes out at £11,599, which is £2400 less than a basic RSV4 and £5000 less than a top-spec RSV with full electronics and racing-grade Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes. Like Paul Newman said, “why have hamburger when you can have steak?”

Mat Oxley