Is the Aprilia RS 660 a sportsbike with a modern mindset?
Does a lightweight 100hp sportsbike really give us all the thrills we need?
Even if you're not a die-hard biking nerd, you can probably predict how most reviews of modern sportsbikes go. "It handles fantastically, has loads of electronics to keep you safe but it doesn't come alive until it's doing 160mph on the back wheel past the local orphanage." And that, dear readers, is part of the reason sportsbike sales are dying.
Bike manufacturers have been locked in a horsepower battle since time began, and now it's not worth releasing a sportsbike unless it has more than 200hp – anything less just won't be competitive.
However, the times they are a-changing. Aprilia is one of a growing band of makers that have realised bikes are more fun when you can thrash the knackers off them without ending up in clink. That's the whole ethos behind its new RS 660. Watch the video below to hear it in action (and my god does it make a brilliant noise), or read on for more thoughts.
What is it?
The Aprilia RS 660 is a £10,150 sportsbike with a new 100hp 659cc parallel twin that uses a 270-degree crank to give it a wonderful, soulful howl that you wouldn't usually associate with a parallel twin. The engine's wrapped up in a modern, lightweight aluminium chassis that helps keep the RS 660's weight down to a scarcely believable 183kg wet. Pushing it around the garage is like shooing along an errant goose feather. It's remarkably light.
Despite the back-to-basics low-power, low-weight ethos of the bike, it's festooned with technology to make riding safer and more fun. A full six-axis computer brain informs lean-sensitive traction control and ABS, and there's also wheelie control too – all of which is adjustable.
How does it ride?
Pretty sublimely. The amount of sheer feel the Aprilia gives you engenders total confidence from the first corner – it rails around bends holding a line like a proper thoroughbred sportsbike. The Brembo front brakes might not be the latest (expensive) Stylema models, but they are effortlessly strong when you need them to be.
Diddy exhaust exits (there's one on each side) make very little noise – the induction roar is hugely entertaining though
The chassis really is the star show here. Because the engine doesn't have loads of power it's the sort of bike that encourages you to carry lots of speed through corners, and doing so is a huge amount of fun. The sculpted fuel tank locks your knees into the bike – I fit fine even at 6'3" – and before long you find yourself hanging off, dangling a knee in the corners even though you might not be going terribly fast. It's a huge amount of fun.
You can pin the throttle all the way through first gear and most of the way through second before worrying about speed limits, which is a breath of fresh air after riding 1,000cc bikes that can lose your licence in first gear.
And you'll really, really want to rev the RS 660 out – the exhaust is all-but-silent (thank Euro emissions regs for that), but the airbox noise is to die for. It's a racy, hollow sound that feels exotic, and not a world away from the MotoGP engine noise of the RS 660's bigger brother – the RSV 4. The standard-fit quickshifter and down-blipper mean you can dance on the gearbox to get the noise again and again and again.
It's a reasonably torquey engine for its size too – it serves up 67Nm at 8,500rpm – and you do get the odd little lift of the front wheel over bumps in second gear. With anti-wheelie off it'll lift the front happily in first gear, should the mood take you. There's an annoyingly gutless couple of thousand revs at about 6,000rpm, which does make it a little tricky to surf the torque – but you soon learn to ride around it.
What else do I need to know?
You get individual, dynamic, commute and rain riding modes – and a few for the track. Just leave it in dynamic...
You get the sense that Aprilia has designed the RS 660 to be a fun roadbike first and foremost – the riding position is pretty bloomin' comfy given it's a sportsbike. The pegs aren't too high and the handlebars aren't too low – I did a couple of two-hour motorway stints without any aches or pains whatsoever. It's witchcraft.
The RS 660's cruising credentials are helped by standard fit cruise control, which you operate using a slightly fiddly switch on the left handlebar.
Other bits? The TFT dash is bright, colourful and logically laid out (with a fuel gauge!), and the menus are easy to navigate using a D-pad. The mirrors are pretty blurry at most revs, but in top gear at 70mph they sharpen up again – you can almost use them as a speedo…
Should I buy one?
Aprilia's done a blinding job with the RS 660 – finally we have a properly exciting little sportsbike, an affordable bike whose chassis hasn't been ruined by cost-cutting. So often smaller capacity bikes make do with ragtag bits of cheap chassis componentry, but it definitely doesn't feel the case here.
Approach the RS 660 with an open mind and you might just rediscover your love of biking
If you want to rediscover the joy of nailing corners on a sportsbike with all the delicious front-end feel that entails – but also want to keep your licence clean and the bank manager happy – then the RS 660 hits a real sweet spot. Hopefully we'll see more of this sort of bike soon…