“I first became aware of Aprilia in 1985, during my first full season of 250cc Grand Prix. The Italian manufacturer entered a Rotax-powered machine with Loris Reggiani on board, and he came flying past me on many occasions. Thankfully my skills improved, as did his when he won Aprilia’s first ever 250 GP at Misano in 1987. The brand has grown substantially since the eighties not least as they are very good at producing highly desirable motorcycles.
“I’ve actually owned an Aprilia Climber Trials bike and a few gorgeous RS125 race replicas that were mostly used by my boys for racing in the Aprilia Superteen Championship. Nice as they all were, it is probably no surprise my ultimate machine is the RSV4. I’ve ridden quite a few over the years and loved every second. The fun always starts with the growl of that wonderful big V4 motor but, once rolling, the RSV’s world superbike championship winning DNA takes over. The slick gearbox, superb handling, and compact riding position is fine on the road, but you can tell this bike’s real home will always be on the racetrack.”
“I always wanted to race a factory 250 Aprilia. Throughout the '90s it was the bike to be on and all the great 250 boys at the time rode their exotic looking bikes. Reggiani, Biaggi, Capirossi, Harada, and Rossi all won races and championships for the factory. There was just something special about them. They looked, sounded and even smelt beautiful. If you’d managed to buy an old factory bike back then it would be worth 10 times what you paid now, as they’re a sought after bit of kit. I’ve been lucky enough to test the latest RSV4 1000cc road bikes a few times for MCN, on road, and on track. They always have a distinctive feel to them, well-balanced smooth and easy to ride. On the track, I found it really deceptive as the lap times were much faster than it felt. Compare it to, say, the BMW S1000 RR where you know you are doing a good lap time. The feeling with the Aprilia was that you could be on lap record pace with one hand on your hip. I guess this demonstrates just how good the bike is.”
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When Ivano Beggio took control of Aprilia in 1973 at the age of just 29, following the death of his father, the firm from northern Italy employed 18 people and built only bicycles. By 1996, the Aprilia name was known around the world for its motorcycles and scooters, and had humbled mighty Honda with a string of world titles in the 125 and 250cc Grand Prix classes.
Beggio’s firm was one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing manufacturers in the Nineties. Scooters and small bikes provided the bulk of the sales and profit, with racy two-stroke singles including the Futura 125 and RS125 among the best in their class. The Pegaso 600 was a classy dual-purpose model; the Motò 6.5, shaped by French design star Philippe Starck, was distinctive and garnered headlines beyond the traditional motorcycle media, even if sales for the big single were less successful.
The bike that probably best summed-up Aprilia was the RS250. Essentially a roadgoing replica of the racebike on which Max Biaggi had won the 1994 250cc world championship, the RS combined a high-revving two-stroke engine with a massive twin-beam aluminium frame, top-class cycle parts and streamlined, racetrack-inspired styling.
Its engine was a reengineered version of the V-twin from Suzuki’s RGV250, and produced 70bhp. With its aggressive riding position, peaky powerplant and ultra-light weight, the RS came closer than any other bike to providing grand prix style thrills on the road. It was good for 130mph, and its superb suspension and powerful brakes made it fast and fun on road or track.
Aprilia proved difficult to beat in GP racing in 1994, winning both the 250 and 125cc world titles with Biaggi and Japan’s Kazuto Sakata. Beggio attributed much of his firm’s success to an unusual policy of manufacturing virtually no components in-house. Instead, Aprilia relied on a network of suppliers for parts that were assembled at his factory in Noale, near Venice. Over a quarter of Aprilia’s 500 strong workforce was employed in racing, or in research and development.
Aprilia’s next big step came in 1998, when the firm became a superbike manufacturer with the launch of the RSV Mille. Powered by a 998cc V-twin engine with cylinders at 60 degrees, the Mille was designed as the basis for a World Superbike racer. Its bodywork was shaped in Aprilia’s wind tunnel; its aluminium twin-beam frame designed by race department engineers.
The 128bhp motor was superb: strong at the top end, torquey in the midrange and with plenty of V-twin character. And the chassis was equally impressive, combining high speed stability with light, responsive steering. The RSV Mille was a fine first effort that succeeded in establishing Aprilia as a serious superbike manufacturer. On the track it won world superbike races, mostly through Japanese ace Noriyuki Haga, without quite threatening Ducati’s dominance of the championship.