Italian street fighter uses heavy artillery
When asked about the fortunes of war, Napoleon evidently replied that God sides with the army that has the best artillery. These days, the little emperor would probably modify the statement to include the best electronics as well as the best ballistics.
Consider the new Aprilia Tuono V4 APRC to be a fine example of how firepower and computer control units can combine to devastating effect.
With the World Superbike Championship-winning 165bhp engine of the Tuono, Aprilia brings heavy artillery to the naked streetfighter class, going where few bike-makers have dared to go before on the ultimate power output of an upright streetbike.
Fortunately, our Tuono V4s also come with a full armoury of electronic riding aids, including 8-way traction control, three selectable maps for the ride-by- wire throttle (track, sport, and road), wheelie control, and launch control. The outrageously-quick 183kg Tuono may launch with the same fiery intensity as the now- defunct space shuttle, but you feel as if there is a control room of Nasa computer programmers located somewhere in the midst of the bike to help you ride it.
Take just the beautifully calibrated wheelie control. When I first picked up the brand new Tuono, I set the throttle to the road mode that lowers the redline and softens the response, turning the 165bhp fireball into a more gentle 124bhp ride. Yet such is the mid- range response of the V4 that the bike would still levitate the front wheel upon occasion even in this mode, especially when accelerating over small crests in either second or third gear.
What happened next was a revelation. For the wheelie control would gently cut in and lower the front wheel slowly back to the road with the same precision as a pilot dotting down a helicopter. Few humans could have achieved such a gentle reconnection of front wheel and road, even those who pride themselves on their throttle control.
As more kilometres clicked over on the Tuono's odometer, and the superb V4 began to bed in, it was time to experiment with the eight settings of the traction control, and the two other throttle modes on offer. The TC is very similar to that of Ducati's rival Streetfighter and Diavel in that the lower the number selected, the less intrusive the intervention.
As when riding the Dukes, I found 3 perfect when riding with the throttle in the full-power sport mode, and that any setting above five should be reserved for slippery surfaces, or use by Bowling Club members or freshly- minted full bike licence graduates.
However, my favourite set-up for the Tuono was with the throttle in road mode. With the superbike-strong engine cut to 124bhp, and the TC allowing quite a bit of rear wheel slippage before intervention, the V4 felt as biddable, involving, and as entertaining as the 1000cc V-twin version that preceded it. Call me old-fashioned, but I preferred to ride the bike on our roads with it set up to limit its great advances, the huge increase in power output and the sophistication of the electronics from great leaps forward to dainty little steps.
Of course it helped that the V4 engine drank fuel at a slower rate with the throttle set in road mode.
Back in more baby-faced days, I remember a Kawasaki Mach IV- riding mate stating vehemently that fuel consumption is the last thing to think of when choosing a bike to buy. The Labour government of the time had just revalued the dollar, and you could get a gallon of petrol, a packet of ciggies, or a jug of beer for 50 cents. These days, it definitely matters that a bike is capable of drinking fuel at a rate comparable to a Aussie V8-powered sports saloon - which the Tuono V4 can definitely do at times, especially when ridden with the throttle set in the absolutely mental track mode, that only mad men and women need apply.
In creating the Tuono V4 from the much-acclaimed RSV4 sportsbike, Aprilia slightly softened the engine and the chassis. The often-frenetic histrionics of the sportsbike have been replaced by more stable, yet just as exciting riding persona, backed up by a suspension package now targeted more at the road instead of the track.
With the strong Brembo brakes backed up by ABS on the New Zealand model, it all adds up to one of the best down-under back- road rides of the streetbike class.
At $25,995, the sophisticated Tuono V4 APRC rips the ground from beneath the wheels of the similarly-equipped $36,990 Ducati Streetfighter S and $36,790 Diavel Carbon. It's a saving that should leave plenty left in the kitty to pay for the fuel.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 999cc liquid-cooled dohc 16v 65-degree V4 stoked by fuel injection to develop 123kW (165bhp) at 11,500rpm and 112Nm of torque at 9500rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Cast-alloy twin-spar frame with curved alloy swingarm, 41mm inverted fully adjustable Sachs front forks , fully-adjustable Sachs rear monoshock.
Hot: Only mildly tamed, the amazing RSV4 sportsbike has spawned what is probably the best streetbike of the class.
Not: Drinks fuel like an Aussie V8 at times, with an appetite for sticky Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tyres to match.