Smokin’ into his­tory

Old Bike Australasia - - APRILIA RS250 - Story Ren­nie Scaysbrook Pho­tog­ra­phy Jim Scaysbrook, Dave Aquilina, Keith Muir

Be­tween 1994 and 2004, Aprilia dom­i­nated the World 250cc Cham­pi­onship. Seven times they would be crowned world cham­pi­ons with five dif­fer­ent rid­ers in this time, but it all started back in 1994. The fac­tory in Noale, north west of Venice, Italy, had re­cruited Max Bi­aggi for the 1994 cham­pi­onship af­ter he spent a fruit­less year rid­ing for Erv Kanemoto on the Roth­mans Honda NSR250, and the young Ro­man made good use of his black Ch­ester­field spon­sored weapon, lay­ing waste to the world’s best for the next three sea­sons. Com­mer­cially, Bi­aggi’s suc­cess was a god­send for Aprilia in 1994. The fac­tory was young and street­bike pro­duc­tion was still tak­ing a back seat to the busi­ness of rac­ing, but with their sweet lit­tle 250 racer they al­ready had the ba­sis for a pro­duc­tion bike to beat all oth­ers in the 250cc two-stroke class. En­ter the Aprilia RS250. The fact that this was at a time when two-stroke en­gine pro­duc­tion was re­ally start­ing to wind down didn’t worry Aprilia. Honda was faz­ing out the NSR250, Kawasaki had dropped the KR-1S, the Yamaha TZR250 was gone – the only com­pany still push­ing the two-stroke bar­rel to any great de­gree was Suzuki. Aprilia’s disc-valve grand prix engines were de­signed by Ro­tax but the Aus­trian com­pany wasn’t in line for the pro­duc­tion con­tract. That went to Suzuki, who supplied the VJ22 RGV250 en­gine for the RS250 right up un­til 2004, when the two-stroke dream fi­nally died out thanks to ever-tight­en­ing emis­sions laws in Europe and the USA. Suzuki had ac­tu­ally stopped im­port­ing their RGV250 to Aus­tralia back in 1998 de­spite re­leas­ing a Ja­panese and

Euro­pean VJ23 model in 1997 (Suzuki Aus­tralia chose not to im­port the ma­chine as many states did not give L and P plate rid­ers ac­cess to the ma­chine). It goes a long way to ex­plain­ing how glob­ally pop­u­lar the RS250 was in that a com­pany the size of Suzuki would con­tinue to make the en­gine six years af­ter it stopped pro­duc­tion of the VJ22 en­gine for use in its own RGV250.

The Aprilia RS250 wasn’t of­fi­cially im­ported to Aus­tralia un­til the 1999 model year (which meant you could get one late in 1998, as An­thony West did), but its im­pact on the Aus­tralian rac­ing scene was im­me­di­ate. The RGV had been the weapon of choice in the cut-throat world of the Aus­tralian 250cc Pro­duc­tion Cham­pi­onship by the time the Yama­has, Hon­das and Kawasakis all dropped off around 1992, and Aussie ti­tle rules dic­tated you couldn’t race a grey im­port ma­chine – so no 199597 RS250s were el­i­gi­ble. By the end of 1998 that all changed. The Aprilia quickly be­came the bike to be on, and by 1999, when the only RGV you could buy was (prob­a­bly) a very well used sec­ond han­der, the RS250 filled the grid from top to bot­tom. For­mula Xtreme pro­moter Terry O’Neill jumped on the RS250 band­wagon a step fur­ther, cre­at­ing the Aprilia Chal­lenge in what is widely recog­nised as the most suc­cess­ful one-make series Aus­tralia has ever seen. Stacked grids of 30-40 RS250s pro­vided some of the clos­est rac­ing any­where in the world, with names like Bren­dan Clarke, Brent Ge­orge, Dustin Gold­smith and Reece Ban­cell all lead­ing pro­tag­o­nists. It was our ver­sion of the no­to­ri­ous RD Cup in the UK of the early 80s. 1999 was the first of­fi­cial year the RS250 was im­ported and the only time the RS250 re­ceived any form of a makeover. The en­gine was still the VJ22 RGV unit and the chas­sis re­mained largely the same, but the body­work was changed to stay in line with the fac­tory Aprilia RSA250s of 1998 250cc World Cham­pion Loris Capirossi, Tet­suya Harada and Valentino Rossi (you could buy a Rossi replica in 1999, but truth be told it didn’t much look like his racer in the colour scheme. In 2002, you could buy a Tet­suya Harada replica which looked very sim­i­lar to the RSA500 he raced in the 500cc class). The sharp tail and nose from the 1995-97 bike was gone, in place came the droop­ing nose and tail that still looks im­mac­u­late and the clos­est you could get to a race replica at the time. Aes­thet­i­cally the bike would stay this way un­til it died its pro­duc­tion death in 2004 and Aprilia also kept the grand prix rac­ers look­ing very sim­i­lar un­til they dropped off at the end of 2009.

It’s funny to think the twin-cylin­der, two-stroke RS250 is now about the size of the RSV4 su­per­bike, which houses a 1000cc V4 four-stoke and pumps out roughly three times the horse­power, but back in 1998 the RS250 was quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Chas­sis de­sign clearly mim­icked the grand prix rac­ers, with the main frame a twin-spar cast alu­minium de­sign that at the time was claimed to have the high­est de­gree of tor­sional stiff­ness of any pro­duc­tion chas­sis. The same claim was made for the swingarm. The 1995-97 RS250 had 41mm forks made by Showa, so for the lat­est and last in­car­na­tion Aprilia fit­ted the same Showa fully-ad­justable 41mm forks and a fully-ad­justable shock. This gave the Aprilia an in­stant ad­van­tage over the now age­ing Suzuki RGV with its preload-only ad­justable front end. Brembo

four-pis­ton calipers grip­ping 298mm discs graced the Aprilia’s front end and pro­vided phe­nom­e­nal brak­ing power, es­pe­cially when you con­sider they only had to pull up 140kg of claimed dry weight. A twin-pis­ton caliper stop­ping a 220mm disc took care of the back-end du­ties. The Aprilia RS250 was not as nim­ble as the RGV on cor­ner en­try, hav­ing a 15mm longer wheel­base at 1365mm, but what it did have was greater mid­corner sta­bil­ity and more com­pli­ance over dodgy road sur­faces com­pared to the of­ten flighty Suzuki. It was also phys­i­cally much larger than its Ja­panese com­peti­tor. The body­work de­sign came straight off the grand prix rac­ers and al­lowed larger rid­ers to get the most out of the ma­chine. The curved front fair­ing al­lowed for eas­ier tuck in for rid­ers taller than 160cm, and the seat de­sign and ma­te­rial meant you didn’t feel as though you were rid­ing on a wooden plank af­ter 10 min­utes. The RGV-de­rived reed-valve pow­er­plant may have come from Suzuki but the Ital­ians still had a mi­nor play with it. The ex­pan­sion cham­bers were dif­fer­ent (although the muf­flers looked the same), the re­worked cylin­ders and cylin­der heads bumped com­pres­sion up to 12.0:1 over the Suzuki’s 7.3:1, and there were dif­fer­ent ex­haust power valves and the RS-spec ig­niter, and richer jet­ting with the twin 34mm Mikuni flat-slide car­bu­re­tors. The in­creased com­pres­sion ra­tio gave the Aprilia no more power in the top-end than the Suzuki but gave it much more mid-range torque. Be­ing a 250cc two-stroke you still had to keep the thing on the boil and once you let the revs drop be­low 8,000rpm you could kiss any mean­ing­ful drive good­bye, but more torque from 8,000-10,000rpm meant the Aprilia was eas­ier to live with in traf­fic and for ev­ery­day rid­ing than the Suzuki. An­other thing that made the Aprilia a win­ner was the dash. This was the age where dig­i­tal read outs were slowly be­com­ing the norm and the Aprilia was one of the first to come out with a dash that could record your lap times. The ECU could store up to 40 cir­cu­la­tions, so as long as you re­mem­bered to hit the high beam switch each time you crossed the line it made it eas­ier for boy rac­ers to chart their progress. The ana­logue rev counter stayed but the speedo was now dig­i­tal, and you also got cur­rent and av­er­age speed, clock, water tem­per­a­ture, bat­tery volt­age and an odome­ter. What the Aprilia did with the RS250 was bring to mar­ket the clos­est ma­chine ever to a grand prix bike that you could ride on the road up to that point. The en­gine may have been pump­ing out half of what the grand prix ver­sions were do­ing, but the chas­sis re­mains to this day one of the sharpest track tools you can buy. And de­spite its grand prix her­itage, the phys­i­cal size of the ma­chine meant it ac­tu­ally wasn’t that bad a road­bike. Granted it wasn’t what you’d call com­fort­able, but it was never meant to be. The in­creased torque of the two-stroke en­gine and the ma­chine’s over­all build qual­ity was su­perb – plus the ad­justable sus­pen­sion meant the RS250 could be soft­ened for a road ride but stiff­ened to ra­zor sharp po­ten­tial for the track, and good for about 210km/h.

Prices for these lit­tle Ital­ian beau­ties started climb­ing in re­cent years as peo­ple got nos­tal­gic about the good ol’ smoky days, and find­ing a mint one now for un­der $10,000 is near im­pos­si­ble. But there are still rea­son­able ones out there for un­der 7000. Bear in mind many peo­ple used these bikes to learn to ride (or race) so do a proper check of the ma­chine and its his­tory be­fore buy­ing it. These bikes were and still are ab­so­lute gems of pure,

unadul­ter­ated per­for­mance. They taught guys like Broc Parkes, An­thony West, Aaron and Alex Gobert, Glenn Aller­ton and Rob­bie Bug­den how to race and win. These were real race bikes with lights.

Old num­ber one

As al­ready stated, the RS250 wasn’t el­i­gi­ble for Aussie Pro­duc­tion rac­ing un­til 1998, but that doesn’t mean there were none here. The very first RS250 to come into the coun­try di­rectly from the fac­tory is still res­i­dent; the prop­erty of Dave Aquilina, who has just com­pleted a ma­jor re­build, care­fully keep­ing the ma­chine in ex­actly orig­i­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion. “This bike is num­ber 188 of 500 of the 1994 Loris Reg­giani Repli­cas to cel­e­brate the 250 and 125 GP wins in 1993 and 1994, its VIN num­ber is ZD4LD0000R­OOOO154”, says Dave. “It’s to­tally orig­i­nal and goes like stink. The bike it­self was im­ported by Steve Turner; just an ev­ery­day con­creter who fell in love with the RS250 and paid $16,000.00 to im­port it. He reg­is­tered it be­tween 1998 and 2005. He was an­other ter­mi­nal bike tragic with a love of Ital­ian thor­ough­breds. The bike lived in his lounge room and re­mained in as-new con­di­tion. It was pro­duced in Aprilia’s Rac­ing sec­tion along with a spe­cial edi­tion RS125. I don’t think there would be many of these left as they were raced ex­ten­sively. It was made in Novem­ber 1994 and Aprilia did not start sell­ing here un­til 1998. The Loris Reg­giani Repli­cas all had num­bered badges on the frame. I bought the bike from him a cou­ple years ago, stripped and de­tailed it, got it go­ing – fill­ing the shed with lovely two stroke smoke! Then I drained the tank and car­bies and now it lives in my Man Cave and I can­not wait for Old Mates to drop around for the brag­ging rights and to see the look of envy on their faces, its worth ev­ery cent.”

More lo­cal lovelies

Due to track car­nage, there are few RS250s around in Aus­tralia to­day, and even fewer in top con­di­tion. One that def­i­nitely does fit the bill be­longs to Syd­neysider and Aussie mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try per­son­al­ity Ben Maike, who has owned his Aprilia RS250 since 1998. His ma­chine has been through the wringer and come out the other side look­ing like a show bike, and just talk­ing about it with him gets him all ex­cited like a teenager.

“It started as a race­bike for the Aprilia Chal­lenge in 1998 and I picked it up soon af­ter the sea­son ended,” says Ben. “I used it as a track­bike for the last decade, rac­ing it in BEARS in 2002 in the F3 class, then de­cided to turn it back into a road bike to bring it back to its orig­i­nal beauty. I’ve dressed it up as a 1998 model but it’s a 1999 un­der­neath the body­work. The pis­tons are good for 16,000km, but the engines do leak around the ex­hausts. It’s not re­ally an is­sue if you race it as you’ve got it on max revs the whole time, but you’ll no­tice it on the road. I got some Ar­row pipes for it. I had a good re­la­tion­ship with Ar­row af­ter work­ing at Aprilia for so many years. They sound fan­tas­tic and give the en­gine that slightly tin­nier sound; that GP-style of noise. Plus they look great and are ex­tremely well crafted. “It just backs up how good those bikes were out of the fac­tory be­cause they were stan­dard things when they were raced – no mods al­lowed – so it’s a credit to the en­gi­neers and how right they got it. I get peo­ple ask­ing to buy this bike all the time. They are very sought af­ter and the ones out there for sale, hardly any look stock. There’s ei­ther dif­fer­ent colours on the tank or fair­ing, holes drilled for rac­ing; you just can’t be sure about them. So to have one from such an early age and know all of its his­tory, that means a lot to me. It’s been a fan­tas­tic bike. I’ll never sell it; it’ll stay with me for life. It’s su­per quick, ex­cel­lent on the brakes, and just a phe­nom­e­nal bike all round – it’s very spe­cial.”

LEFT Stan­dard pipes on Dave’s bike. ABOVE In true race/road style, in­stru­men­ta­tion is min­i­mal. RIGHT Choke lever on left hand switch.

Broc Parkes, win­ner of the Aus­tralian 250 Pro­duc­tion Cham­pi­onship in 1999 with his RS250.

Tool kit lives un­der the seat. Big stop­pers: 298mm discs with four-pis­ton Brembo calipers.

ABOVE Ben At­tard hurls his RS250 down the Esses in the Easter Bathurst meet­ing in 2000.

Alyn Vin­cent owns this RS 250. “One of the last ones. Still in fac­tory con­di­tion with no af­ter-mar­ket ac­ces­sories. 30,000km and two own­ers. Most def­i­nitely a fu­ture clas­sic – not many left in orig­i­nal con­di­tion. Need­less to say the pil­lion seat is...

Ren­nie in­dulges in a spot of street rac­ing on Ben Maike’s RS250.

LEFT Steer­ing damper is an es­sen­tial piece of equip­ment. RIGHT Proud owner. Ben Maike with his RS250. INSET Ar­row pipes set Ben back about $1500.

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