Aprilia RSV Mille R
The truth is I didn’t really know what to expect of a two-decade(ish) old Aprilia that was nearly 100bhp down on its modern day equivalent (RSV4RR/FW) and had the novelty of a choke on its left clip-on (remember them?). At least it ticked the boxes aesthetically: just look at that frame; beefy, sculpted and unpainted. Who does that nowadays? No one. Whether it handled or not was anyone’s guess, but I really liked the look of it, including the chicken mesh venting on the seat’s side panels that somehow managed to complement its appearance.
As you’d expect from a machine produced in Italy, it epitomised exotica, looking every bit the considered build with its flowing architecture and generous smattering of shiny bits, including Brembo anchors, Oz forged wheels and Öhlins pogos. And then there was the carbon. As a top-spec RSV-R it got all the aforementioned goodies, but also loads of lightweight loveliness in the shape of carbon fibre heel guards, mudguards and cowl spoilers. It even got a carbon clock shroud that tidied up the early-tech digital display. Yep, this bike was a beauty and categorically batted the ZX-7R’s dated appearance well and truly out of the park. But could the Mille ride as good as it looked?
There’s a lot you can do with a blank piece of paper… aside from paper planes and papercuts. While the ZX-7R was the product of evolution, inheriting more hang-ups than a millennial snowflake, the Mille was built with ground-up grandeur. Performance was at the heart of the package, revolving around a stonking V-twin motor that was exclusively designed and built for it by Rotax. At the time of its launch in 1998 it was considered something of a masterpiece, sporting first-generation fuel injection and a kind of primitive slipper clutch that worked off a vacuum when the throttle was closed. While arch rival Ducati played it safe (back then and now) with a 90º vee that naturally delivered primary balance, Aprilia opted for a more compact 60º unit, making it small enough to fit in your carry-on luggage. Its only major downside was its need for weighty dual balancers to stop your fillings from shaking free.
Throwing caution to the wind and putting my own dental work well and truly on the line, I fired this particular example’s twin-thumper into life. Being just 17,000 miles young, it ticked over effortlessly and responded immediately to every selfindulgent blip of the throttle. The noise was deep and booming, undoubtedly made all the sweeter by its baffle-less, aftermarket end can. If there’s one thing I hate about most big twins it’s their stuttery disposition in the lower revolutions, but it hit me hard and fast that the Mille bucked that trend. It was no Ducati, to put it bluntly, which made my early miles through narrow urban streets much more pleasant than expected. Of course, you don’t buy a bike like this for sheer pleasantness. Like a naughty mistress, you want
a few extra thrills and the minute the roads allowed for it the throttle got given a good seeing too. Above 5,000rpm the thing really came to life, pulling half-decent until 9-10k. By today’s standards, it was no wonder-weapon, but it didn’t piss about when getting up to speed. The fuelling felt spot-on and the delivery really linear.
I even found myself a fan of the gearbox, which was unaided by gizmos like blippers and shifters ; it made gear changes without complaint in both directions. The more I rode it, the more I liked the motor. It had a great soundtrack to it and a character of its own according to your revs; it could be suave and sensible down low, or mad and scrappy up top. Best of all, I never had to look at the revs to get the most from the lump, with its pick-up and drop-off points feeling more tangible than a kick to your plums. The power band wasn’t massive, but it was pretty usable.
The same level of admiration goes out to the chassis. If you’ve never sat on a Mille before you’ll probably be surprised at how gangly they are. I was. I still am. I could have done with borrowing some of Boothy’s stilettos for this test, but Carl had borrowed them (all), so I just had to stretch my 5ft 9in frame for all it was worth when trundling along at a walking pace. When I was on the move the height of the bike seemed that bit less significant… until I got into a corner. It felt like you had to lean forever to get your knee down, quite unlike the Kwacker. But when angling over, the bike was always precise, predictable and an absolute weapon when getting on the gas.
It felt a very firm and planted machine, with a racy edge to it. Of course, that’s maybe down to some fettling of this particular bike’s fully adjustable Öhlins, but the point is that all examples harbour the potential to feel this good. It was pretty agile too, especially at speed, and it didn’t take a can of spinach to get the bruiser hustling from one side to the other. The back torque of the motor actually made life easier, meaning you could reduce or build the throttle to encourage a tighter entry or wider exit. It wasn’t even that bad over bumpy roads either.
Planted behind the big front fairing and the equally large and tall screen (that was so tinted I couldn’t see through it), I was in a protective bubble… Maybe not as big a bubble as the ZX-7R had to offer, but far greater than the likes of a modern day sportsbike. The ergonomics felt relaxed and, better still, the wide bars were vibration free. The pegs weren’t bad either, or the seat for that matter, but the biggest revelation was that the broad-set mirrors were clear as day. It was ridiculously accommodating compared to today’s standards, and those wanting to make this bike even more comfy will be pleased to know that the stock pegs’ brake and gear selectors come with a simple cam system that lets you revolve the lobe part closer or further from the peg.
At the risk of getting carried away with touring, I’ll switch back to its sportier credentials; the brakes are strong, with a consistent bite, untarnished by the likes of ABS and perfect for stoppies. We’ve got so used to rider aids these days that you forget what it was like before wheelie control, traction control and all that other wizardry arrived. Things used to be more playful. Less powerful, but more fun. I love power and speed but sometimes there’s a real pleasure that comes with feeling the boss of a bike and mastering every ounce of it. Sometimes less is more and that’s the case with the RSV Mille. What a corker.
Boothy never did find any hidden talent.
Good looks, a great motor and it’s going up in value – the Mille’s an enticing package.
Who doesn’t love antiques?
Absolutely stonking stoppers!