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Aprilia Tuono V4 1100RR Riding Impressions

By Rolf-Immo Gabbe

Having owned an original 2004 Tuono until it was stolen a few years back, I jumped at the chance to ride the newest iteration with V4 motor and all the bells and whistles (ABS, Ride Modes, Traction Control, Launch Control, Wheelie Control, etc.). So what if it’s February in the Great Northwet – cold, rainy, and with the occasional icy patch at higher elevations. Just think of it as a chance to better evaluate the Ride Modes and Traction Control.

So let’s start with the electronics. What initially looks like a Luddite’s worst nightmare turns out not to be so bad. As Dave Richardson of Moto International, who kindly supplied the bike, said: “Like all things Italian, it’s semi-intuitive.” So true. While it would no doubt take some time to become intimately familiar with all the fine points, the essentials are easy to understand. Basically there are 3 ride modes – R, S, and T. According to the manual R is for “Road,” and it limits power across the entire rev range; S is for “Sport,” which limits power in the first 2 gears; and T is for “Track,” with no power limitation. There is also Traction Control with 8 levels of intervention (1 is least, 8 is most). Mode and Traction Control settings can be changed on the fly.

In reality, “R” mode could just as well have been left off. While there’s still adequate power, there’s an annoying hesitation in the delivery. That small lag between command and execution, more than the reduced power, will keep you from using the R mode.

For street use, I basically left the bike in the “S” mode with Traction Control at level 4 or 5. Throttle response in the “S” mode is so linear and controllable that it’s easy to modulate it even in slippery conditions.

“T” mode (think “Take no prisoners”) is a bit abrupt for street use unless you’re a gonzo rider and like your adrenaline in large doses. Launch Control and Wheelie Control functions are only available in “T” mode.

The Tuono falls into the “naked sport standard” category, i.e., it’s an un-faired sport bike derivative with a more relaxed, upright, slightly leaned forward riding position. The footpegs might be a bit high and to the rear for some, but they worked well for me. My six foot 2 inch frame fit comfortably with all controls falling readily to hand.

The instruments consist of an analog tach, a rectangular digital display with readouts for speed and other information, and several idiot lights. About the only “nice to have” item that’s not there is a fuel gauge (there is a “low fuel” warning light).

As it happens, the day I was scheduled to pick up the bike dawned clear and sunny, if a bit cold. Since the forecast for the rest of the week was “Rain” (yes, with a capital R), I thought this might be a good day to go for a longer ride. Since riding an unfaired bike over 4,000 foot mountain passes in February is only cool if one is not cold, I layered up accordingly and also took along my electrics and connection pigtail in the hope that the battery was easily accessible, which it turned out to be. Good thing, too, it would have been a cold ride without the electric gear.

So there I was, fat (all those layers), dumb (Hey! I’m going riding in February!), and happy (Hey! I’m going riding in February!), and ready to go. I decided to head from Seattle over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth, from where I’d have several options, depending on available time and weather conditions. As it turns out, after Leavenworth the day’s ride would take me over Blewett Pass to I-90 and back to the Seattle area via Snoqualmie Pass.

The first thing that stands out after starting the engine and getting underway is the light clutch pull and the smooth, broad engagement. The clutch is cable-actuated, so there’s no hydraulics to service. Next, proceeding through Seattle’s congested traffic, the light steering and easy maneuverability were noticed and appreciated, but it’s on the open road that the bike really shines. How can something so quick and agile also be so stable at speed? Seems like it used to be you could have one or the other, but not both! It can be tossed into a corner and it holds the line like it’s on a rail, but it’s easy to make mid-corner corrections if necessary. I should note that, while the suspension has lots of adjustment possibilities, I rode it as I got it. On the theory of “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” I left it as it was, since it worked well for me. I found the suspension reasonably compliant; it keeps the wheels on the road and absorbs the rough stuff. The ride is firm but not harsh. On a bumpy road you know you’re on a bumpy road but you’re not bouncing all over the place; the bike goes where you want it to.

That brings me to arguably the best part of the bike, and that’s the drive train, and specifically the engine. The 1,000 cc V4 sounds and feels great, and responds to throttle inputs right now! Twist the throttle and the semi-muted roar deepens, the vibrations change, and the bike leaps forward. The sound and feel of the engine going to work is addictive, the bike feels like it wants to run. The motor likes to rev, but it’s no slouch when asked to pull from lower rpm’s either. The vibrations the engine produces aren’t really intrusive or irritating. They’re felt primarily in the handlebars and footpegs and to some extent the entire chassis; they’re part of the bike’s character. The transmission does its job quietly and efficiently; it’s a slick-shifting unit with very good feel. You know you made the shift, no vagueness whatsoever. There’s very little slack in the driveline, you can roll off the throttle and go to engine braking without a jerk or upsetting the chassis.

The seat is quite good for a stock unit. The loop I rode was just about 250 miles, about 6 hours of saddle time (including a lunch stop and 2 fuel stops), plus about another hour of dealing with Seattle-area rush-hour traffic when I got back, and I could easily have continued the ride had I had a few more hours of daylight. Passenger accommodations? Not tested, but judging from the size and shape, I doubt that they would rate highly.

Overnight the Rain (yes, capital R) came, and I didn’t go for another long ride because my trusty old Aerostich isn’t as waterproof as it once was, and I don’t entirely like riding with a wet crotch (and even less so when it’s cold out). I did take the bike out briefly just to play with the traction control. I approached this with some trepidation; initially it’s not easy to whack open the throttle while leaned over in a turn on a wet road, but the system works as advertised. I managed a couple of incipient slides - at the lower intervention levels one can feel the rear end start to break loose (bit of a pucker factor at first); at higher levels it never gets to that point.

With all this sunshine, surely there’s some shadow? Well, yes, there’s a few things I didn’t like, mostly minor, and one more major item. Plus, there are lots of subjective evaluations. For example, the soulful sound and stirring vibrations I see as part of the “character” of the bike might equally be interpreted as too loud, intrusive, and irritating by some and, in their frame of reference, they wouldn’t be wrong. Apples and oranges.

Starting with the most minor of items, the switch that changes the digital displays is located directly above and close to the turn signal switch. Both are of the “push left,” “push right” type. The turn signal switch sticks out a bit more, and more than once when I tried to change the display I turned on the turn signals instead (or also). Doing that might decrease with time and experience (and perhaps not wearing winter gloves), but it’s not well thought out, and a blinking turn signal could be hazardous to your health. The turn signals are not self-canceling, which is also a negative.

Item two – more steering lock would be nice. A bike as maneuverable as this should be able to make a tight U-turn. I understand the chassis comes from a bike that’s as close as you can get to a street-legal racebike, that the relatively limited steering lock carries over, and that there’s the possibility that changes that increase steering lock might adversely affect the great handling. But it irritates in parking lot maneuvers and making U-turns.

That brings me to my single biggest complaint about this bike, and that’s the fuel mileage. I realize that this, too, is a subjective evaluation. Also, I need to point out that I seem to have a God-given talent for bringing out the worst in parameters like fuel mileage and tire wear. I don’t know how I do it; I often ride with people that ride harder than I do, yet I’m the one with the worst mileage/highest wear. Just lucky, I guess. Be that as it may, the average fuel consumption for the Loop I rode turned out to be right at 30 mpg (29.7 on one fill-up, 30.3 on the other, very close to the display readouts of 29.9 and 30.7). The bike has a 5-gallon tank (approximately 1 gallon of that is reserve), so you’re looking for gas at 120 miles and standing by the side of the road at 150. And yes, I had to fill up twice to cover 250 miles! I might add that this was at a brisk but (mostly) near speed limit pace (I went by 2 state police cars and a county sheriff without being stopped). The third tankful – when I was playing with traction control, etc., came in at 25.5 mpg. On a good day I can damn near get that with my Sprinter van! You may not care (with this bike I almost don’t, and I think the mileage is abysmal), but I don’t think it’s good for the long-term health of the motorcycle industry when cars have better mpg figures than motorcycles.

There you have it. Overall, the bike is simply phenomenal. It has character in spades. In its segment it’s as good as anything out there (subject to verification - I’ll gladly help with a comparison test). If you’re looking for a bike in this market niche, you need to take it for a ride to see how it resonates with you.

March 16


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