Driving report factory superbikes from Aprilia, Ducati and Honda
ONLY 1 IN THE SENSE
While world champion Troy Bayliss is already looking forward to starting number one, MOTORRAD was able to test this year’s world championship machine and its fiercest two-cylinder rivals from Aprilia and Honda.
Australians are easy going types. An Australian who has just become Superbike World Champion is even more relaxed and cool.
“First up, gearshifting is on.” A mechanic’s final instructions are brief. First gear up, the automatic gearshift is activated. Let’s go. Thanks to the tire warmers, the Michelin slicks are up to temperature a lot earlier than I am. It takes one or two laps to find my way around the tight space on the Ducati. The line doesn’t fit properly either, although I know the angular course quite well. A superbike like this just doesn’t want to be touched with ice cream gloves, it needs the gentleman to impose his will on it. In my mind, I see the troubled looks of Troy Bayliss and his team watching me from the pit wall. I’ll wait another lap for their sake.
Round four. Entrance home straight. Now applies. I fully open the tap, turn the thundering two-cylinder to just over 12,000 rpm and, without twitching the throttle hand, tap the gear lever four times with the tip of my foot almost every second. As if stung by a tarantula, the Ducati shoots forward with its front wheel slightly raised, only finding safe contact with the ground after two or three hundred meters. The pit wall flies by in fast motion, but everything runs smoothly and stress-free.
The Brembo brake, on the other hand, is tough and snappy. Just touched it with two fingers, it compresses me brutally. Quickly three gears down and just let the clutch come. A special slip mechanism on the clutches of the superbikes prevents the rear wheel from stamping. During the subsequent bend, the Duc would prefer to be turned hard on the brakes. There is no longer any trace of the stubbornness of the series machines, but the cornering stability is impressive. Only at the exit of the fast links at the end of the start and finish does the hindquarters begin to pump slightly. Should be due to my measurements: 83 kilograms distributed over 190 centimeters. Bayliss is certainly closer to the racing ideal.
I reel off lap after lap, find braking and shifting points, hit the line more precisely and start building more and more confidence in the grip of the slicks. The speed range of the almost vibration-free V2 extends from 5000 to 12500 rpm, so the poorly readable digital tachometer hardly disturbs. Performance always and everywhere, the less the better. It’s better to go up a gear, it calms the driving style and increases the controllability of the superbike.
The second Troy in the league also maintains this driving style. Troy Corser was also one of the top favorites on his Aprilia this year, but unfortunately could not stabilize his good performance at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t until the end of the season that Aprilia started to pick up again. This last version of the RSV mille is also available for a test drive in Valencia. And, to my surprise, presents himself as a completely different character. While the Ducati works gently but firmly, the Aprilia acts rather hard but cordially. She is much more aggressive on the gas, turning every little sugar in the right hand into a grim forward thrust. The lack of the lower balancer shaft doesn’t exactly make the most powerful two-cylinder in the field any smoother. The hard vibrations in footrests and handlebar stubs are not for the faint of heart.
On the other hand, the RSV offers enough space for gymnastics. I can work with the motorcycle, actively throw it from one lean angle to the other in tight bends. There is no doubt that the Mille suits great drivers. Where the Ducati shows slight unrest when accelerating, the Aprilia lies like a board. And this board wants to be bent around corners with the appropriate force. The harder you tackle the Aprilia, the better it works and the safer you feel.
As the engine speed increases, the engine no longer looks quite as toxic, the connections between the gears are then more harmonious. The gearbox slips almost as gently as that of the Ducati, the transitions from pushing to load operation are softer. And the forehand doesn’t rear up quite as suddenly as it did in the first few laps. I’ve got used to the rough engine running, which also rattles mechanically when idling. What is not necessary with the Brembo brake system, Ducati uses an identical one.
The Japanese competitor Nissin also knows how to use the finest brake technology. As the Honda SP-2 proves, the bike of the dethroned world champion Colin Edwards, which is ready for test rides in southern Spain just three days later. And again provides a surprise. This V2 forms, so to speak, the golden mean between Ducati and Aprilia. Like the Aprilia, it reacts very directly to the smallest changes to the throttle valve, but uses its brute power almost as smoothly as the Ducati. If you trust the statements of Aprilia race director Jan Witteveen, Corser’s Aprilia is pretty good in the feed with around 165 hp on the clutch, both Ducatis and Honda’s two-cylinder engines should move in these regions.
Whereby the chassis geometry of the SP-2 seems a bit more top-heavy than that of the competition. In any case, the noticeable advantage lies in the easy turning in without great effort. The bad habit of lifting the front wheel up into third or fourth gear every time you accelerate is significantly less with the Honda. In return, your chassis makes complaints when you just drive straight ahead. A slight suggestion is enough, and the load begins to wobble alarmingly and is difficult to calm down until the next bend.
D.This is where the SP-2 can play its trump cards again, brakes with pinpoint accuracy and with absolutely precise dosing, turns playfully, can be circled to the desired line with millimeter precision, in order to flick out of the corners with a powerful pull on the rear wheel. Even one or the other easy slide can be provoked this way. I’m thrilled, but at the same time I’m wondering where I’m going to lose the six seconds that I’m missing on the pros.
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