Since the wheel was invented and the human race eventually shuffled away from the smelly-bottomed horse and its accompanying cart, or whatever it was tugging at the time, man (woman as well I suppose even though around that evolving mechanical period the fairer race were only allowed to invent arguments), had the desire to go faster and further. Seemingly overnight the good ol' horse suddenly lost its 'day job' to the internal combustion engine in one form or another and, so became the modern day transport world we live in today powered by now horrendously expensive fossil fuels.
Humans eagerly accepted this newfound propulsion unit and it was soon bolted into cars and of course more relative to us, motorbikes. But due to the relatively small dimensions of a motorbike the engine size was and still is a designer's nightmare. So because of this problem there have been more engine configurations found inside the frame rails of a motorcycle over the years than any other form of transport. The reason for this engineering conundrum is simple; a motorbike needs a compact and high performance unit that suits the dynamics of two wheels.
After many variations and sleepless nights of how many cylinders to use the favourite amount by far is two. Just for fun, quickly make a list yourself of two-cylinder bikes to prove my feeble theory? Let me help if you're as thick as a whale omelet. BMW, Ducati, KTM, Harley-Davidson, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and the list goes on, but in this particular case we're obviously talking Aprilia. You see two 'pots' can be twisted and turned to easily fit into any bike frame. But by far the most famous configuration of all is the timeless V-twin, and for good reason. It's so narrow, when astride, compared to other configurations that it's perfectly suited to a motorbike. And a big twin will invariably provide more low down torque than any other engine while still delivering punishing top end surge, nice. Perhaps this iconic V configuration came about from the 1800s when a bloke placed two severed horses heads on the floor, neck to neck at 60-degrees, and thought that's a great idea for a motorbike engine, who knows, but I like the idea?
Anyway headless horses aside Aprilia have always been at the cutting edge of the V-twin with bikes like their brilliant original RSVs released just before the turn of the century. Those Rotax punchy power plants are still going strong today with a now updated 1200cc V-twin version, found in the Dorsoduro. But what happens when that engine is inevitably heading towards its limits and the customers want much more, but of the same? Well you go and build a V4 with smaller dimensions than the 'fat' twin that's what, and unbelievably that's exactly what the clever Aprilia designers have done. But it's still a V and rightly so.
Now we all know, or should, that this Aprilia V4 engineering masterpiece has already won World titles in WSB with Max Biaggi in the saddle. A pure race bike for sure but not everyone wants a full-on superbike on the road do they? So why not take Aprilia's celebrated Tuono concept (meaning thunder in Italian), and just make a V4 version of that? Well knock me down with a Toyota taxi they jolly well have, and here it is with its old brother the Tuono V-twin to compare with, both displacing 1000cc, well 999cc and 998cc respectively to be more precise.
Let me just clarify a few things first. The Tuono V4R APRC I have here isn't exactly a RSV4 with a set of MX 'bars bolted on. Aprilia tried this and found the bike was a bit too nervous and twitchy in a naked form so changes had to be made before the public could enjoy the Tuono thrill. A new frame holds the engine lower and the steering column is
further forward plus the rake has been increased to 25-degrees from 24.5-degrees used on the race-bred RSV4 chassis. The swing-arm is the same though but these tweaks and a few others have increased the wheelbase to 1445mm from the RSV4's 1420mm in the quest for improved straight-line stability. The little bug-eyed fairing is also designed to produce some much-needed down force at the front end. After all this evil little black monster is claimed to swing past 270km/h, if you can hang on for that long! But be prepared to generate neck muscles which could support the moon.
The compact V4 engine has also had similar attention. Aprilia have basically increased the weight of the flywheel for better low down torque and lowered the first three gear ratios for improved acceleration, the top three ratios remain unchanged. The six-speed 'box is a cassette type derived from racing, which means you can pull it out with the engine in place and change the internal ratios, something no owner of a V4R will ever do unless you like the idea of dismantling your gearbox while having a beer in the shed and then taking the bike back to your local Aprilia dealer who will charge you thousands of Rands to reinstall it. Some things should just be left alone, like a million piece jigsaw that's only 10cm x 10cm, if you catch my drift?
They've also fitted new camshafts and non-adjustable intake trumpets (RSV4 has variable), but they're 20mm longer than the RSV4's for more midrange performance. Interestingly, and like I mentioned earlier, the V4 engine is smaller in dimensions than their mighty V-twin even though the V4 is 65-degrees between the cylinders compared to 60-degrees on the twin, impressive to say the least. But Aprilia claim all this effort has lost an unhealthy 13hp over the RSV4 and they've also taken away 1 000rpm at the top, for some reason only known to the pasta-masters.
I therefore had no option but to dyno the bike with Noddy on his Dynojet dyno because we've previously run the RSV4 on his industry standard dyno and was 13hp indeed thrown into the eternal bin of compromise? Er, no is the answer to that. Check out the graph? It makes only two horsepower less, which could be down to only atmospheric conditions and the same torque curve throughout the rev range. Perhaps Aprilia's horsepower consultant has only three toes when he believes he has five, but whatever the case the engine is the same but it does lose that top end 1 000rpm, so why is that Toni?
However the best thing without a doubt about the Tuono V4R's engine is that exquisite exhaust note. If one bike justifies its price tag by noise alone and nothing else the V4R is the only bike to buy. What a howling, blood-curdling rasp this engine spits out, beautiful to all who aren't deaf. I would love to rattle my internal stirrup and anvil with a V4 fitted with a race can, oh yes.
Riding the Tuono V4R APRC on the road is an experience that all should absorb. It's ridiculously quick and most certainly not for the faint of heart. If you don't want something that revs to over 12 000rpm with arm-wrenching acceleration that will embarrass just about everything on two wheels go for the older V-twin option, which is still a thunderously quick bike in its own right. 10 Second quarter mile times are easily within the V4R's capability, which is very silly indeed for a 'mere' naked bike. The fuelling low down isn't perfect (just like the V-twin), and only once the needle wafts past 5 000rpm do things clear up and begin to happen at an alarming rate. But, for me, the biggest downside of the new V4R is the APRC part. To others I'm sure it will undoubtedly provide hours of button-fiddling enjoyment.
APRC is lifted from the RSV4 and stands for Aprilia Performance Ride Control. This complicated affair, to some, lets you fiddle with many electronic settings, and I mean many. If I was thinking of buying a Tuono V4R I would opt out of this option and keep the Tuono 'raw' just as the first ones were back in 2002, and the bike would be cheaper than the current asking price of R145 000 with R5 cash back. I'm not too sure if Aprilia SA will actually import the lap-topless version but there's no harm in asking for the click and what a drag version?
Look, why do I need eight settings of traction control when I can do that myself thank you, three power modes where the road setting dispels 25% of all power, anti-wheelie control (three settings), isn't this supposed to be a Tuono wheelie beast? It's not over yet folks, you also have launch control, which I'd like to do myself, and all this is controlled by two gyrometers and two accelerometers. I think the APRC does even more but I got bored and switched it off as much as possible and just got on and rode the damn thing. I much prefer a road bike in 'keeping it real' mode dude. Perhaps my git status isn't meant for this amount of gadgetry, but I felt like I was trying to learn to play the piano rather than riding a brutal V4 Tuono mental naked unadulterated rocket ship. Then again a rocket ship also has more buttons than a Siberian soldiers coat, so what do I know? However there are a lot of people out there that only want all this for hour dispelling pub chat, so to you guys my sincerest iPologies.
Handling and brakes are, as you'd expect, Aprilia superb. Brembo 320mm front discs and radial calipers have been talked about more than Paris Hilton's shaved bits with the brakes possibly having a touch more grip and feel. Let's just say they're excellent as normal and are more than capable of impressing anyone on board, the brakes that is.
The ride on the V4R is firm to say the least and I would like a word or two with the person who designed the seat. Now that's one hard perch and my boney aged cheeks, that resemble a starved zebra from behind, weren't too impressed. I would like to hit them with a cricket bat for an hour in the same area and ask then how they like it. More foam would definitely have been better in that particular area chaps.
On the track though it makes more sense and the RSV4's heritage shines through brilliantly in this zone. The Tuono V4R is one serious track tool and in the right hands it will stay with anything out there, that's how accomplished this naked motorcycle is and dare I say, more at home here than on the road. We also took the twin around at the same time and I know I haven't mentioned the 'old' bike much here because it's all been done before but it is also a brilliant bike in this discipline. The twin did seem to turn quicker and was a far better wheelie bike (no iPodery here folks), and even though it's 30hp down on the V4 it's still surprisingly quick and agile. Both are true and proud Tuonos, sticking their beetle-faced bikini fairings arrogantly out like Mussolini's chin. No wonder though because they enviably and comfortably cover both worlds (track and road), in a world where naked bikes tend to swing one way or the other, rarely spanning both.
So now back to the original title; to V or not to V? That is the question. The answer is a resounding YES and may this engine configuration stay inside a motorcycle forever more, which it probably will. Aprilia need a massive tickle on the spine for staying with engine designs like these, whether it's a V2 or V4 doesn't matter; they aren't particularly cheap to mass produce either. But one thing is for sure Aprilia's take on any of their Vs is exemplary and thank you for the continuing experience. But an even bigger pat on the head goes to the Aprilia Tuono range especially the new V4R option. Still mad, still bad, and Tuonos are therefore still some of the best naked bikes in existence, with that desirable touch of individuality. Long live the 'V'...
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