APRILIA RSV MILLE SP
There are special bikes, and then there are the kind of bikes you’d give your left nut to own. Aprilia’s RSV Mille SP fits into that latter category… and with good reason. In essence it’s a very tasty piece of kit, and you’d be about as likely to stumble across a hen’s tooth on your favoured digital marketplace as you would be one of these. See, while it might look strikingly familiar to the RSV Mille that hit the showrooms back in ’98, the SP version was rather more exclusive, and almost different in every way to the spec of that inaugural V-twin Aprilia. It also cost twice as much, and the justification for its eye-watering £20,000 price tag back in 1999 came in the form of endless, bespoke trick bits and the kind of engineering you’d need a PhD to get your head around. It’s hard to know where to start on a machine this special, that not only featured a different frame to the original Mille, which was made 20% stiffer, but one that featured an adjustable headstock angle, an alterable engine position and a moveable swingarm location. The fairings were made of carbon fibre (apart from the plastic bellypan that was always destined to be ditched by race teams) and the crankcases were sandcast. Its Öhlins suspension was another league on from the stuff you could buy over the counter and the engine it harnessed was entirely different from the Rotax offering that’s since become synonymous with Milles.
While Aprilia could hold its head high on the two-stroke scene, with countless 125 and
250GP wins, plus production championships the world over, it was something of a newbie at four-stroke competition in the late Nineties, and owing to its desire to capitalise on the glory and sales attributed to proddie bike success in the World Superbike circus, they needed a worthy contender to take the fight to Ducati. Their answer was to ask Cosworth, the renowned engine developers, to take a look at their twin and reinvent the wheel so to speak, which is exactly what they did. A slightly smaller capacity, wider bored, higher revving short-stroke power plant was born, with bigger valves, titanium con rods and forged pistons – it was everything you’d expect from a pukka racer. The configuration had retained its compact, 60-degree profile, but everything else about it, such as the lightened crank and reduction from dual plugs per cylinder to just one, was made different in a bid to hunt down any potential ponies or mechanical advantages that would be needed out on the race track.
A total of 150 Mille SPs were commissioned for the road, but that was more of a formality to achieve homologation status than a desire to flood the streets with these super-special specimens. Thankfully, a decent number were actually sold on the open market and this right here is one of them – number 95.
I’ll admit, even as a current Mille owner, I had little grasp of the SP’s epic backstory or its attributes before being educated by Griff of AP Workshops when collecting his example for our test. By now, if you didn’t know before, you’ll have come to appreciate the spectacle of this machine that lived up to its hype on the race track with multiple wins at the hands of Troy Corser in the year 2000, with a third-place ranking in that year’s World Superbikes standing. But for all its
As chance would have it, I just so happened to have ridden this exact bike about six months ago. At the time, the dealer had just taken it in, and it had 10-year-old tyres that were rock hard, brakes that lacked purpose and a few other niggles that meant my time on it, while peppered with moments of joy, was ultimately frustrating.
So, to be given the opportunity to ride one of the rarest of the rare homologation specials again was always going to be a treat, but to do so this time with fresh tyres and brake pads was more so. It didn’t disappoint, and any lingering frustration I had from the last time I rode it is now gone.
It’s all about its engine; just blipping the throttle off tickover, it’s impossible to not notice just how quickly the motor spins up. It’s obvious that the Mille SP’s engine has got some trick stuff going on inside, specifically with the crank and pistons. It’s properly angry compared with the docile SP-1.
On the road, the Mille SP has a tall riding position which in part helps the way it turns into corners quickly and precisely, and it feels like it carries its weight high up in the chassis. It drops into corners rather than turns into them. It’s a joy to ride and there’s a precision and stability to the way it handles that makes it easy to ride fast, very fast. virtues on the circuit, the question I really wanted answering was whether the SP offered anything over the stock Mille that I’d bought last year for just £500, or the abundance of Mille Rs you’ll find for sale costing around £2000-3000. They’re corkers of bikes, and at £17,000 cheaper than the SP (two decades on, they’re still changing hands at £20k), I was hoping the charm and performance on offer was going to weigh in heavy. But any such thoughts of hopping on this steed and giving it a good seeing-to were soon back-handed out of mind owing to the age and degradation of its tyres and brake pads. I like a risk as much as the next bloke, but 11-year-old tyres and freezing cold wintry roads are never a good pairing, and don’t even get me started on the crumbling brake pads. With only 12,000 miles on its clocks, it was clear to see this bike was very original… maybe even too original. So the spanners were out, Michelin rubber was fitted and some box-fresh EBC pads got slotted into those sexy, red Brembo stoppers. With that, we were finally good to go.
Now, you might need to find a chair to sit on before I share this revelation, so be warned, but clambering on to the SP felt an identical experience to every Mille I’ve ever sat on – who’d have thought it? The seat was high and wide, the ’bars were broad and its adjustable footpegs felt sportily placed, yet roomy. They don’t make sportsbikes like this nowadays, with ‘comfort’ often being considered a dirty word at the design stage, but sitting on the big Mille actually felt quite nice. Even the seat was generous in size and lacked that wooden, arse-numbing persona that seems to come as standard on a lot of the market’s contemporary options. The dash also mirrored that of my base model RSV, with its half analogue/digital blend. If it hadn’t been for the special SP top yoke, or the subtle differences with the adjusters on this bike’s Öhlins forks, I could have kidded myself it was just another Mille. That said, there was no mistaking the urgency of the Mille’s motor when fired into life. A blip of
UNBELIEVABLY, NOT EVERYONE APPRECIATES THE THUNDEROUS TONES OF THE SP.
996cc, liquid cooled, dohc, 8v, 60 degree V-twin 100mm x 63.4mm 11.5:1
Single injector per cylinder 145bhp @ 11.000rpm (claimed) 112Nm @ 8000rpm (claimed)
8 8 8 8 8
cornering prowess. It was a big bike, it did have a top-heavy feel to it and to get it pitched into a corner on occasion did feel like I was steering a barge, but once on its ear the SP felt truly planted and more committed than I was to smashing each and every apex that came our way. What it lacked in litheness it made up for with its surefooted ways and I was impressed by how majestically it sucked up road imperfections too, be they potholes, squashed rabbits or the occasional plank of wood launched at me by an angry local (unbelievably, not everyone appreciates the thunderous tones of the SP). Like a tank, whatever you threw at it the Aprilia seemed to suck it up, with a constant narrative from the chassis about what was going on. But as to whether the fancy frame and suspenders gave it any edge over the stock Mille’s offerings, I’d be lying if I said they did. To all intents and purposes, it felt strikingly familiar to the joys of any RSV being ridden at road-going speeds. On track, I dare say things would be different, and if I had the knowledge or inclination to go fettling with the mass amount of adaptability this thing had, I might have made it back for dinner a little quicker on my last leg of the day’s ride. But I wasn’t in a race to bring this joyride to an end, so I just indulged in what was on offer, soaking in all of the SP’s goodness.
As days in the saddle go, this one had been pretty exceptional and massively fulfilling. The simple aura of the SP made it feel special and while I can’t justify its £20k value, I get that its appeal was more meaningful than a stock RSV or a multitude of bland inline fours, past and present. It had real character, it had a fascinating story and throughout my ride I couldn’t help looking down at that ‘No.95’ on the yokes with a sense of realisation at the rarity of this thing. What’s more, it was actually a great bike to ride; the motor had real energy about it, the brakes were surprisingly strong and it wasn’t afraid of getting stuck in on the bends. Okay, I’ve not even touched on the fact it is about as technologically advanced as a stone, but its lack of traction control, wheelie modes and ABS, in particular, only heightened the appeal of this bike. It didn’t need an arsenal of wizardry to help you get the best from the Aprilia, it just needed a bit of compassion and a general understanding of what it was that was being offered. It represented analogue at its finest and accessing its plentiful amount of pleasure was easier than making fun of Carl’s haircut… which really is saying something. Over the course of my ride, it had well and truly got me under its spell and left me with the profound realisation that this bike was, and forever will be, special. But as for its £20,000 price tag, well, that’s the bit I’m still trying to get my head around.