Practical Sportsbikes (UK)
PRILLER 660 RS vs STREET TRIPLE RS
Aprilia’s new RS660 promises to start a middleweight revolution. But didn’t Triumph’s Street Triple RS already do that?
Almost-sensible Noale fourbanger plays John Bloor’s top three-pot
In recent years 600 sportsbikes have vanished one by one, picked off like nauseating American teenagers in a naff late-’90s slasher film. Only this time the shadowy serial killer isn’t a pervy highschool janitor, but the tedious topic of emissions regulations. Suzuki GSX-R600 is long gone. Honda’s new-for-2021 CBR600RR isn’t coming to the UK. Yamaha’s YZF-R6 has just switched to a ‘track only’ model, while Kawasaki’s ZX-6R is only hanging around until dealers have cleared stock.
Their passing leaves a gaping chasm. What if you don’t want to commit to a 200bhp dance with the devil, nor a £15k+ hole in your pocket, but still want serious sporting ability and cutting-edge technology? Where’s the sportsbike for the rest of us?
Of all people, Aprilia have an answer. The appeal of their new RS660 is as spectacularly simple as it is simply spectacular: take half an RSV4 motor, mount it in a minimal twin-spar ally frame, and off you go hunting apexes with the throttle pinned. Welcome to the great middleweight sportsbike revolution…
Only things aren’t quite that simple. As the UK’S first test bike reluctantly fires into life on a near-freezing December day outside PB’S lock-up, its even-handed exhaust rumble sounds nothing like an RSV4. Where the RSV4 uses a 65° V-four with a 180° crank, the RS660 has a parallel twin with a 270° crank. That’s the first clue this isn’t simply half an RSV4 motor.
And you don’t have to be Vorderman herself to work out that cutting 1078cc into two equals 539cc. So while the new twin shares the V4’s 81mm piston size, stretching capacity to 659cc requires a far longer stroke (up more
than a centimetre, from 52.3mm to 63.93mm). That limits a motor’s ability to rev – the RS’S TFT dash shows a redline set at just 11,500rpm, way down on the RSV4’S near14,000rpm howl.
Sitting on the RS660 and picking steadily onto freshly salted roads further confirms this is no committed, hardcore supersports screamer, but a friendlier, easier road bike. Clip-ons are mounted above the top yoke. Footpegs offer luxurious legroom. A low-revving motor, comfortable ergonomics… what kind of sportsbike is this?
“The Aprilia’s ’bars feel set about the same as the 1994 Honda CBR600F or the 2004 Triumph Daytona 600 I rode last month,” agrees editor Chris. “It’s exactly how 600s used to be.”
Funnily enough, the RS’S performance has a hint of how middleweights used to be too. Its 91bhp and 48lb.ft of torque are both just a fraction more than that ’94 CBR. However, they’re served up at much lower revs – torque peaks at just 8500rpm and power at 10,500rpm, making it responsive without having to work it quite so hard.
Snap the throttle open in first gear and the RS660 surges forwards urgently enough to set off all its myriad traction control and anti-wheelie alarms. Repeat in second and you get crisp, instant shove forwards, with a sense of light engine internals eager to spin quickly. By third gear you can detect a distinct power curve: there’s plenty of accessible, linear grunt below 7000rpm, but the motor really opens it wallet up from there to the low-hanging redline. It’s exciting, engaging and encouraging, without feeling overwhelming.
It’s a delivery that lets you thrash it through the gears without fear of blue lights, DNA databases and smartphone-smuggling techniques. Flat-out in second gear the RS is good for 80mph; top of third gets 100mph.
This is the whole point of a middleweight: experiencing the joy of being able to work a motor hard without needing a quiet racetrack, slick tyres and a big box of brave pills.
The RS’S two-way quickshifter helps, letting you stamp through the ’box without touching the clutch or backing off the throttle. “Yeah, but it’s not that quick a quickshifter,’”says Chris. “It’s more like BMW’S Shift Assist, with a fairly long kill time. It gives nice smooth clutchless changes, but they’re not especially fast.” Still, nice that it’s standard, not an optional extra as it could easily be at this price. Same for the RS’S cruise control and Imu-informed cornering ABS, traction control, anti-wheelie and engine braking gadgets. The RS660 even has a lightweight lithium battery (which explains the laboured cold starting) – BMW charge £205 to add one to an S1000RR. That’s a tech spec miles beyond any other middleweight, and plenty of big-capacity bikes too.
You can argue whether a 660 ‘needs’ gadgets this clever, but if you can out-ride the Marelli 11MP ECU then at least you can tune the Aprilia’s assistance to your tastes. I’m happy flicking between its preset ‘Commute’ and ‘Dynamic’ modes, but Chris picks ‘Individual’ to switch off the anti-wheelie and rear ABS for foolery. With dumb electronics it’s either all on or all off, but a system this smart lets you have it exactly how you like it.
The same can’t be said for the suspension’s adaptability. The RS660 wears 41mm Kayaba forks, with adjustable preload and rebound, but no evidence of the compression adjustment promised in the press pack. Similarly, the linkage-free shock has a pair of preload collars, but no sign of the damping adjuster they mention. It turns out it’s at the top of the shock, so utterly inaccessible. The forks offer a decent mix of supple ride quality and reasonable support, but serious supersport late-brakers squeezing the monobloc Brembo calipers hard will notice more weight transfer than they’re used to.
The rear end is softer still, shimmying up-and-down very gently even in a straight line at 80mph. Don’t get me wrong – this is nowhere near as bouncy as the sh•tty shocks fitted to early MT-09S and MT-07S. But it’s not a component built to the quality of a genuine supersports machine. “You can tell it’s cheap just by looking at it,’” agrees Chris. ‘“It needs more damping in both directions.”
Closer inspection of the Aprilia also draws eyes to the (literally) lacklustre frame and swingarm. Instead of the luscious polished aluminium of an RSV4 or an RS250, there’s a matt silver finish that looks… well… “It looks like it’s come out of a rattle can,” says Chris. “It gives it the air of one of Aprilia’s 125s, not a mini-rsv4.” Some context is needed – nothing’s hideous, but it’s short of the premium expectations set by its high-quality siblings. And, indeed, its £10K pricetag.
Because while an inflation calculator can tell me that’s the same, in real terms, as the £3299 that Honda’s first CBR600F cost back in 1987, it still feels like a lot to spend
“Where the Aprilia thrums briskly, cheekily and excitedly through each gear, the Triumph growls with guttural grunt. At just 5000rpm the Triumph pulls harder than the Aprilia twin at 8000rpm”
on a brand-new bike in 2021. Especially when just £350 more buys Triumph’s Street Triple RS. Descended via a fiddly family tree from the 2006 Daytona 675, it’s a different approach to rekindling the declining interest in middleweights. There might be no fairing or clip-ons, but it’s every bit a mid-capacity sportsbike. You just sit more upright.
An Öhlins STX40 shock tells you Triumph budgeted more for their RS’S springy bits than Aprilia did. And though the Street’s suspension was softened slightly for its 2020 update, it still rides firmer than the RS660. Damping action is thicker and more treacly just bouncing the bike at a standstill, while forks refuse to sink into their stroke when you hit the brakes. And what brakes they are: “Brembo M50s were the poshest calipers fitted to any road bike until a few years ago,” notes Chris. Squeeze the adjustable-ratio lever and they bite with fierce immediacy, rather than the Aprilia’s more leisurely progression.
Good thing too, because the Street Triple’s motor has more punch, pick-up and power than the Aprilia all the way from tickover to redline. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, given it has 15% more capacity and 50% more cylinders. It delivers that drive with a grown-up gravitas – where the Aprilia thrums briskly, cheekily and excitedly through each gear, the Triumph growls with guttural grunt. At just 5000rpm the Triumph triple pulls harder than the Aprilia twin at 8000rpm. Rev it all the way out and the Triumph delivers around 120bhp at the wheel, compared to 90-ish for the Aprilia.
In theory, the Triumph’s electronics are a step behind the Aprilia’s. There’s no IMU on the 765, which means less info feeding the ABS and traction. But from the saddle you can’t sense any stupidity. “If that doesn’t have an IMU, that’s really impressive traction control,” remarks Chris after testing its response on 1.5°C roads.
The Triumph’s two-way quickshifter feels smooth and slick. The Street lacks cruise control, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker. In fact, the biggest digital let-down on the Triumph’s is its dash. A lovely, large TFT screen is spoiled by the hideous design of its rev counter, which starts in the middle of the screen and spreads out to both left and right edges. It’s ugly, unintuitive and a waste of space. The Aprilia’s display might be smaller and surrounded by an ocean of empty plastic housing a few idiot lights, but its layout is cleaner and easier to read.
But keep your eyes on the road and the Triumph feels fantastic. Even today the Street Triple offers more feel for the frosty asphalt, giving more confidence. There’s less chassis movement, more steering precision and clearer communication of the grip available. Which is surprising, given the RS660’S Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa IIS should be more at home in these crap conditions than the Street’s track-focused Supercorsa SPS. “I think the Triumph is overtyred for what most people will ever do with it,” says Chris, pointing at the salt-encrusted, near-slick rubber. “A nice set of Sportecs or even the Aprilia’s Rossos have a nicer profile and more forgiving compound for the road.”
The cold truth is that, dynamically, Triumph’s Street Triple 765 RS offers more than Aprilia’s RS660. It’s faster, better suspended, better braked and generally feels better put together. To an experienced rider raised on a diet of serious superbikes, it makes the Aprilia feel slightly amateur. Which isn’t really fair. Let’s not forget the RS660 packs the kind of power that serious, detonate-any-second Supertwin racers were making recently. It’s astonishingly light too. With a full tank the RS660 weighs 183kg on our scales, making it 7kg lighter than the Triumph and lighter than any 600 supersport bike of the past 15 years. The RS660 is hugely impressive and loads of fun. But there’s a lingering sense that less cost-cutting would make the difference between ‘fun’ and ‘phenomenal’.
So then. If you’ve skim-read the last 1700 words, here’s the crux of it. If you want a classic screaming supersports bike, buy one now while you can. If you want the opposite – comfortable, softer, easier to ride, more affordable and built for the road over track – then definitely test ride the Aprilia RS660. And if you want the best brand-new mid-capacity sportsbike that £10-grand buys, get a Triumph Street Triple RS.