Aprilia RSV Mille R

Fast Bikes - - FEATURE -

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.

Smooth op­er­a­tor.

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!

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