You Can’t Out-Fun the Aprilia RSV4 RR at Any Price

Race bike? Street bike? Yes.

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Think of the Aprilia RSV4 RR as a five-figure competitor to anything and everything exotic that you’ve ever desired. A two-wheeled, 200-plus horsepower testament to all that is good and right and internally combusted. It’s all the sound of Sant’Agata, all the music of Maranello, happening between your knees. It’s a homologation special; a race machine for the street. The only thing more Italian is a hot tub filled with Spumante and the captain of the Costa Concordia.

The Aprilia RSV4 was designed from the outset to give the track rider or weekend racer a tuning advantage. Rider-tunable traction control. Adjustable suspension. Adjustable headstock angle. Adjustable swingarm and engine height, even. Adjustable everything, plus a slipper clutch and a quick shifter. Enough adjustments that the Aprilia should be fiddly, too finely honed. Too precise a machine to be joyful. But it isn’t. It’s wonderful.

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Tuned for performance on the track, where corners are well paved and graceful, your average liter-bike isn’t always a playmate on the cobby mountain roads outside of L.A. Smart and quick as they look, sportbikes can become handful—laborious, even—when the road gets unpredictable. The throttle, which started as a rheostat for wheelies, becomes a handful of wheelspin in gravel-strewn corners, and the tucked-in riding position and tiny clip-on bars become a leverage liability. Aprilia’s RSV4 has those same challenges, the same purposeful design decisions, but it communicates its needs so flawlessly that you start thinking they’re your own.

Chris Cantle/

Glendora Mountain Road is just that kind of challenging stretch. It’s tight and a little unpredictable, with falling rocks and decreasing radiuses. It’s also a masterpiece. Canyons turn to ridgelines and the road doubles back on itself endlessly, often with views of LA’s skyline in the distance, sepia-toned in the smog. The road immediately sets a good pace. Scallops along the frame and tank give your knees a comfortable place to tuck in, to leverage the Aprilia higher and your body lower. Little mustard plants crowd the road and whip at your elbows. Immediately, you know that the bike is up for more than you’ve got.

Chris Cantle/

It was heartbreaking once, realizing that no amount of time or money invested in learning how to ride and race machines like this would make them give up all their secrets to me. They’re too fast, too precise. Too sharp a tool in the hands of too blunt an instrument. But that doesn’t make riding a superbike like the Aprilia RSV4 is any less special.

First gear is good for extra-legal speed in any state of the union. And there are five more gears to follow. Any combination is perfectly sufficient for rolling on and off and chasing the music and horsepower of that narrow-angle V-4, well below the 14,000-rpm redline. A hard, flat seat helps you shift your body quickly, left or right, without inducing a wobble. In tight corners, the stiff aluminum frame helps the RSV4 bend in beautifully on its big brakes. Then there’s the apex. Your wrist rolls back without thinking and the Aprilia straightens out, hunches back, and rockets out of the corner, absolutely yowling for more.

The sound. It’s perfect, it resonates off stone canyon walls and you can feel it moving the air in your lungs. And you’re there, yowling too. It’s a rare thing, a track machine that’s just as good on the street.

There’s a little wreath on the tank cover wrapping around the number 54. It’s an ornament, the only concession you’ll see to Aprilia’s racing prowess. The 54 counts notches on Aprilia’s belt—the little Italian company most car guys have never heard of has racked up 54 world titles, plucked them out from under the big guys, like Yamaha and Honda and Ducati and BMW. They’ve only been making motorcycles since the 70’s.

It’s enough to talk you out of the fiddly parts. The scattered dealer network, the lethargic dash controls, the boundlessly irritating fuel tank neck that knows just how to aim a stream of lukewarm backwashed gasoline into your crotch. It’s worth it. The foibles are what makes a machine exotic.

From a thrill-per-dollar perspective, the Aprilia RSV4 RR is peerless. It’s worth it because the fastest cars haven’t felt this fast in years. It’s worth it, because $16,500 just can’t buy anything more exciting.