First Ride Review – 2021 Aprilia RS660

In Italy, Reviews, Sport by AbhiLeave a Comment

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Today for the people of Aprilia, a new year begins.” Mario Di Maria is the President and CEO of the Piaggio Group, and he’s starting off strong as he presents Aprilia’s newest motorcycle to a group of US reviewers. Forget a new “year” – it’s been over a decade since the Italian firm showed off a new RS bike. So Aprilia is very excited to see riders respond to their new platform. I’m also excited, because on paper this is the kind of sportbike I’ve wanted for a long time.


What I like:
  • An excellent balance of fun and practicality.
  • 403 lb curb weight.
  • The best-sounding stock parallel-twin you can buy right now.
  • Class-leading electronics.
What I don’t like:
  • My pre-production unit had some electrical gremlins.
  • I’m greedy and would love to see 15-20 more horsepower.
  • Makes me incredibly impatient for the Tuono 660…

Let’s have some fun.


First Ride Review – 2021 Aprilia RS660
Photos by Kevin Wing.


Remember the Honda CBR600F2? It rang in the 90s as a dominant racebike (in 1991, a F2 won every single round of the AMA 600cc championship), but it was still very easy to enjoy on the street thanks to reasonable ergonomics, a focus on midrange power, and even a little bit of trunk space! But as time went on, manufacturers with gigantic budgets kept pushing supersports to the edge of practicality in the quest for track superiority, resulting in poor ergonomics that were a chore to ride on the street. Aprilia says that modern 600s got “too extreme”, and that’s partially why the segment has floundered over the last few years. So they’re fighting back with an all-new model that they call a “RS for a new era.” We’ll get into what’s new, but let’s start with what’s old: the RS name.

Seeing how the RSV4 was named, you might wonder why this parallel-twin powered bike wasn’t called the “RSP2”.

History Lesson

RS stands for RennSport, which you’re probably used to hearing from BMW and Porsche because it’s German for Racing. The RS Aprilias debuted in the early 1990s as two-strokes displacing 50cc, 125cc, and 250cc. Americans only got the 250, though every once in a while you’ll see grey-market imports of the smaller bikes – and if you’re interested in one, drop me a line because we’ve got one of each over at Iconic right now but they’re not online yet!

The first four-stroke RS was the RSV Mille of 1998, and four years later we got the naked sibling Tuono. The former was updated to the RSV4 in 2009…and that’s the last time we saw a clean-sheet RS machine from Aprilia. Their lineup in the US is full of large motorcycles – their smallest bikes here are the Shiver/Dorsoduro 900s. But in Europe, they’ve also got the opposite side of the displacement spectrum covered with multiple bikes built around 50cc and 125cc platforms (Tuono 125, anybody?). There is a huge gap in the middle of their lineup, which means that riders who fall in love with the sport of motorcycling on something like a RS125 switch to a competitor if they want to graduate to something bigger but not as intimidating as a RSV4. Aprilia’s hoping the RS660 will fill that gap in Europe. In addition, they expect the RS660 to be an introduction to the brand for new riders in the US and to open new markets in Asia.

What’s exciting to me is how Aprilia is taking on the segment. They’re actually cheating on the “RS” moniker a bit as this isn’t a race bike, it’s a sporty street bike that you can commute with during the week and then take to the track on the weekend. This isn’t a novel idea – Kawasaki and Honda will rightfully point out that the Ninja 650 and CBR650R try to offer the same. But Aprilia’s gone upmarket with features and price.

What Features?

Let’s get the data dump out of the way, starting with the all-new parallel-twin engine. Marco Ghelardoni, Aprilia’s Engine Platform Manager says, “we did not want to make an extreme engine, we already have the V4. We want it to be best in class with the maximum specific power in the 600cc twin range.”

Some companies like to say that the engine is a stressed member of the frame – but Aprilia goes a step further by connecting the swingarm directly to the motor.

In numbers, that translates to:
– 659cc (81mm x 64mm bore/stroke)
– 13.5:1 compression ratio
– 270 degree crank
– 100 hp at 10,500 rpm
– 49.4 lb-ft at 8,500 rpm (80% of max torque at 4,000 rpm, 90% of max torque at 6,250 rpm)
– 11,500 rpm redline

Keeping that in check from a hardware standpoint are full Brembo brakes: both master cylinders, radial-mounted 4-piston calipers up front on a 320mm disc and twin-piston caliper in the back on a 220mm disc with steel-braided lines throughout. OEM rubber is the very sporty Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa IIs.

Kayaba handles both ends of the suspension with a 41mm USD fork and a monoshock, both of which are adjustable for preload and rebound.

Keeping you in check from a software standpoint is a suite of electronics (APRC, or Aprilia Performance Ride Control) that is by far the most advanced in the segment. In fact, it’s even more advanced than what Aprilia offers in the big brother RSV4 as the 660 gets a new Marelli 11MP ECU that has 144 pins, up from 80. That means it can handle more inputs, so thanks to data from a Continental 6-axis IMU, this mid-sized twin is able to offer:
– cornering ABS
– cruise control
– bi-directional quickshifter (GP shift requires a $120 software update)
– traction control
– wheelie control
– ride modes
– engine braking control, something the RSV4 doesn’t offer.
– pit limiter (optional)

There are three riding modes for the street: Commute, Dynamic, and Individual (customizable) as well as two riding modes for the track: Challenge and Time Attack (customizable). It takes a few minutes to learn the system, but the switches are easy to use and the level of tailoring that’s available is excellent. I spent most of my day in Dynamic, switching only to Individual so I could turn off wheelie control and traction control to get a couple of wheelie photos. Compare the display in street mode (top) to track mode:

Rounding out the premium features is what Aprilia calls “automotive-grade” lighting – full LED illumination that also benefits from the smarter ECU as it offers auto-dimming functionality, cornering lights, and emergency flashers that will flash when you’re heavy on the brakes. The lighting doesn’t just make the RS660 visible, it also gives it a distinctive face that maintains the three headlight look of the original RSV Mille.

You’ll be able to identify a RS660 from far away thanks to the DRLs.

Styling

The most notable thing about the styling to me is actually how vibrant the optional colorways are. We’ve got your basic black (or as Aprilia would prefer that I call it, Apex Black), but there’s also two options that I think pay tribute to previous Piaggio Group products.

The black isn’t bad, it’s just not my favorite.

1.) Acid Gold ($200) is a striking yellow that I will say looks better in person than it does in photos. I’d like to think that it’s an homage to the 1971 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport Telaio Rosso.

Much like the RS660 test bike I rode, the Telaio Rosso bikes were pre-production units designed for homologation purposes and to build excitement about a new model.

My least favorite of the trio, but I must stress that the color absolutely pops in sunlight in a way this photo cannot capture. Light brings out beautiful highlights on the sculpted edges.

2.) PurpleLava Red (no additional cost) is my personal favorite, and it’s clearly a tribute to the RS250 Loris Reggiani Replica as well as the first generation of RSV Mille which also had a red/purple livery.

The one miss to me is the mismatched wheels – I think they should both be red like they are with the Acid Gold variant.

The bodywork is also worth a special mention. Aprilia emphasizes that they focused on aerodynamics but in a different way than usual. With something like the RSV4, the aero was all about minimizing drag and maximizing performance. With the 660, it’s about increasing comfort – both in terms of extracting hot air from the engine and protecting the rider from wind without requiring them to fully tuck in behind the windshield.

No one’s going to stop you from tucking, though.

Aprilia calls the front fairings “double layer”, which is their way of incorporating wings but minimizing the visual impact of them. The designer (Miguel Galluzzi) elaborates with an explanation that I think most of you will appreciate: he believes that designers don’t know what to do with the MotoGP-inspired wings we see on superbikes today, so they end up looking like mustaches on a pretty girl. Do you think Aprilia was able to avoid the ‘stache?

On the opposite side of the bike, the taillight seems to have been borrowed from the protective gear company Mithos.

So it’s a looker and it’s interesting on paper. But how does it actually balance street and track duty?

Sporty Street

Our press ride started just like my daily ride into work – a few minutes on city streets, then a hop on the highway. I started in the Commute riding mode (which smooths out throttle input) but I found that the fueling was still excellent in Dynamic so I kept it in the latter for the rest of the morning. The RS660 has some accessory luggage options (more on that later), but I kept my backpack on to get a feel of what this would be like as a commuter. I can tell you all about the ergonomics, but a picture’s worth 1,000 words:

Aprilia got a Yamaha R6 and a Kawasaki Ninja 650 and decided that the RS660’s ergonomics should split the difference.

How about 2,000 words? Yours truly onboard with about 32 degrees of forward lean:

Helping things out dramatically from a comfort standpoint is the seat, which is shockingly plush and offers a little bit of room to move around. Seat height is 32.5″, but it’s easier to get your feet down than you might thank as the subframe is quite narrow (16mm less than the RSV4). The pegs are also 20mm narrower than what you’d find on the RSV4, which means that Aprilia could get them lower to help with seat-to-peg distance and still maintain good cornering clearance. I don’t think I had a complaint about the seat all day during our ~180 mile ride, though I was starting to feel a little bit in my wrists as things were wrapping up. The rear seat may look somewhat sizable compared to the small tail that it’s upon, but it’s not that big and it’s not comfortable. I don’t know if it’s the material or the plate that it’s mounted to, but I don’t see a passenger being happy on this for more than a few minutes based on my very brief time sitting on the back of one. I’ll just have to wait and see what Vy thinks.

Other pluses in town include an assist/slipper clutch that’s light enough to work with one finger and a much better turning radius that you might expect based on the styling. You can really swing the bars wide, to the point that you’ll need to contort your hands when you’re at full lock. There’s even a little cutout in the left fairing to make room for the large cruise control switch on the top of the controls.

Once on the freeway, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the wind management was. There isn’t a lot of bodywork in the way, but the screen and plastics do a great job of keeping wind off your head and chest. More importantly, the airflow is clean – I didn’t encounter any buffeting and I might have seen north of 120 later in the day. I also appreciated the cruise control, which works well and truly adds to the practicality of this machine. One minor gripe with the cruise is how it’s shown on the dash. When the system is on but not engaged, a green symbol flashes on the dash. It’s a little annoying and almost looks like a turn signal indicator in your peripheral vision. Another problem I had on the left controls was the location of the high beam switch. It sticks out a little past the control housing, and I constantly flicked the high beams on while just reaching for the clutch lever.

Whether or not you’re letting the ECU maintain a speed for you, the Aprilia cruises nicely. Putting along at about 70 miles per hour I was seeing 47 miles per gallon on the vibrant TFT dash while cruising in sixth gear (1.22 ratio). At that speed the engine was spinning around 5,000 rpm, and everything is comfortable enough. Once the tach pushes past 6k you’ll start to feel some vibration in the bars and pegs that builds with the revs. There’s enough buzz to discourage you from staying at a constant high rpm for a long time, but the bigger annoyance to me is that the mirrors don’t seem to have much vibration isolation. They offer a decent field of view, but they’re basically unusable at 7k rpms and above.

Guess that just means you’ll have to go fast enough to not worry about what’s behind you!

Track Capable

We didn’t get any track time, but we did get plenty of miles on Highway 33 and some of my colleagues were absolutely flying. I have no doubt that this would make for a fun track toy because it handles so damn well, and much of that is due to the 403 lb curb weight.

That’s an impressively low number, and the impact is amplified by how Aprilia has centralized mass in terms of using the engine as a stressed member and keeping the exhaust low and short. The entire aluminum subframe weighs just 4.37 pounds, the wheels are said to be lightest in class at 7.85 lbs front, 11.86 lbs rear, and the exhaust is 13.67 lbs.

Light weight that’s well distributed lets you get away with a lot of things – the Kayaba suspension isn’t top-spec hardware on paper but in the real world it works well regardless of speed or road condition. The 41mm USD forks are particularly fantastic, somehow making me feel as planted as I would be on a much heavier bike but requiring minimal effort to change directions. This was the first motorcycle launch in a while where I didn’t even feel a need to adjust the suspension, though I admittedly should have goofed around with them for testing purposes. The brakes are excellent, as well. Full braided steel lines help ensure that the lever feel is good (even on the rear pedal, which is not something I get to say often enough), there’s more than enough bite, and it’s very linear. No complaints here! This is by no means scientific, but it is fun – Ari Henning of RevZilla comes through with a slow-motion stoppie:

This chassis is more capable than I am, but faster riders may find some limitations if they’re trying to customize the bike for track duty. Want to replace the clip-ons (either for ergonomics or because you bent them in a crash)? Well, you’ll be replacing the whole top triple.

Want to replace the rearsets? Looks like you may have to deal with the swingarm pivot in the process.

Aprilia is glad to sell you a few upgrades to aid in the pursuit of speed, including a $1,113 Ohlins fully-adjustable shock and a race-only $1,484 Akrapovic complete exhaust. No word on how much horsepower that would net you, but it’s something I’d be interested in as there were a few times on our ride where I would have loved to have another 15 or so horsepower available. Don’t get me wrong – 100hp is more than enough to have fun with. But our ride took us up into 3,000+ ft of elevation, and the corresponding reduction of power was duly noted coming out of low-speed corners. I changed the ride mode to “Individual” as that allowed me to set the Aprilia Engine Map to its most direct setting, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy my desire for a few more horses.

And yet…I’m not too worried about it. I bring it up because if I was following a buddy on a 130 horsepower ZX-6R I might feel wanting, but I’m willing to give up a few hp on the dyno sheet if it comes in a package that’s much easier to live with overall. That’s where the RS660 captures my heart – it’s fun, it’s fast enough, and Aprilia has made it much easier to live with than its peers.

Competition

Aprilia specifically laid out four competitors in their presentation to reviewers – starting with the most street-oriented and ending with the most track-oriented:
1.) Kawasaki Ninja 650 ($8,199)
2.) Honda CBR650R ($9,699)
3.) Kawasaki ZX-6R ($10,199)
4.) Yamaha R6 ($12,199)

Aprilia believes the RS660 ($11,299) is smack dab in the middle of the above grouping on the balance of street/track. It is indeed the median in terms of horsepower, but it’s by far the lightest of any of them and I think it’s the best looking. As someone who does not own a car and lives on motorcycles, where Aprilia stands out is what they’ve done to make the RS660 livable. Whether it’s electronics like the safety package or cruise control (the latter is such a convenience on a bike like this), or accessories like factory luggage, this mid-sized Italian is such a reasonable way to get around on two wheels while still being able to get your sportbike fix on.

In fact, sportbike riders will think I’m weird, but I’m positively giddy about the luggage options and feel obligated to lay them out for you. We’ve got:
– “water resistant” tank bag (expandable from 8 to 12 liters), $169
– “water repellent” tail bag with rain cover (30 liters), $240
– “water repellent” semi-rigid side panniers with rain cover (15-21 liters), $445 but requires $328 racks.

I haven’t been able to find a photo of the side bags on a bike for you yet.

Other accessories with your comfort in mind include a $160 gel seat and a $155 taller windshield. If your tastes run this way, then you may also want to consider the Ducati SuperSport as it also claims to be a sportbike with some comfort. It has a much bigger engine (937cc) which is why it makes an additional 10+ hp and 20+ lb-ft, but the price is almost $2k higher (starts at $13,095). I also don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen a current-generation SuperSport in the wild. If you’re really patient, Triumph’s going to have a Daytona 765 for you at some point in the future, but right now they only have the limited edition Moto2 tribute and that’s a hefty $17,500.

Among all the bikes listed above, my money would go to the Aprilia RS660…assuming they can take care of some issues I encountered at the launch.

The Bad News

Starting at the nitpick level, there’s a couple of pieces that look or feel a little cheap considering the price, such as the side stand or the non-adjustable clutch lever (though I did not have any issues with the reach or feel). I used the quickshifter countless times throughout the ride, but I had two instances of quickshifting from 1st to 2nd while at nearly 100% throttle and having the transmission pop out from 2nd into neutral – one of those times leaving me with a spooky lack of engine braking right as I was approaching a corner.

RS fans will be used to having a polished finish frame/swingarm. I don’t mind the paint, but one of my colleagues who apparently grips the bike with his heels much more than I do showed what can happened to the paint on the swingarm after just 100 miles or so. Looks like the aftermarket will need to produce a guard…

Something minor that bothered me because it was in front of my face all day was the crooked “Aprilia” sticker on the top triple. This photo isn’t even from my test bike, it’s a close-up of one of Aprilia’s photos from the original press release. But I encountered the same thing, and it takes away from how nice the bike feels every time I look at it. It’s the kind of thing that will give you OCD.

More concerning were some electrical gremlins – one reviewer’s bike had a gas tank gauge that always read full. Several of the bikes had issues starting, and my bike had the check engine light come up a few times, which was presumably related to why my clock often just showed 0:00 and the quickshifter sometimes refused to work. The huge caveat here is that our test bikes were pre-production units (we were on VINs 2-5) that were handmade to a large degree and shipped over from Italy for the launch. Aprilia is aware of these things and one would have to assume that they will all be sorted by the time the RS660 is available at your local dealership, but I have to report on what I’m given.

The check engine light that I got too familiar with.

In fact, Aprilia has to get these things sorted because the RS660 represents some big things for their future.

Looking Forward

When Piaggio’s CEO says that this is a new year for Aprilia, he’s not just referring to the debut of a new model. Just like the BMW R18 I recently reviewed, this bike defines a new platform – Aprilia doesn’t hide that we’ll soon be able to enjoy a Tuono 660 (naked) and Tuareg 660 (adventure), and it’s a good assumption that we’ll get a Factory version of at least the RS.

In addition, Aprilia is working on a race bike based on the RS660 – think of it as a RS250 for the new age where there may be a one-make race series/challenge cup. We may also see an Aprilia-backed team competing in WorldSSP. If you want to do your best racer impression (and you’re willing to come out to California), Aprilia has extended their Racers Days program this year and they’ll have a RS660 available for you to try at Buttonwillow on 11/23 or Chuckwalla on 12/14.

Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the bikes appear in dealerships – the current plan is for pre-orders to start getting filled in December with sufficient inventory in dealers by January for walk-in orders.

Acid Gold will be available one month after the other two colors.

Conclusion

I started with a quote from an Aprilia representative and I’ll end with one, too. Marco D’Acunzo is Piaggio’s Head of Marketing for the USA, and he calls the RS660 “the perfect bike for a customer with a hedonistic approach,” someone who never wants to stop riding so they’ll be on roads during the week and on a track during the weekend. There’s two ways to look at a bike that tries to blend two worlds – it’s either a compromise that doesn’t do either thing well, or something that’s good enough to make you feel like you’re getting the best of both worlds. Aprilia’s achieved the latter here, and I think they’ve got themselves a winner. It’s comfortable enough to enjoy every day, it’s capable enough to go fast with, and most importantly, it’s simply a ton of fun!

I love how it looks (especially in Lava Red), I love how it feels to ride, and it definitely passes my “does it make me feel special” test more than the other bikes in the segment. Hell, I even like the way it sounds, and that’s something I never thought I’d say about a stock parallel-twin motor because I usually find them underwhelming. I’d love to hear it with an aftermarket pipe, but even the stock bike sounds tremendous for a drivetrain that’s meeting Euro 5 regulations. Here’s a 0-100+ acceleration run with the quickshifter:

Ready for some heresy? I spent a week in Italy on a Tuono Factory, and I’d rather have done that trip on the RS660. I’m not saying the RS660 is a better bike. But the performance is more accessible, there’s better luggage options, and if you’re only spending time on narrow, twisty Italian roads, then the mid-size option is more fun.

Yours truly admiring the Italian countryside on a Tuono. Photo by Julia LaPalme.

I’ve never bought a brand new motorcycle from a dealership myself. I’ve typically been content to let someone else take the depreciation hit and then snap up something 2-3 years later. Is that about to change? Well, no…because the Tuono 660 has my name on it instead.

I get to ride lots of cool stuff and once I’m done with a test I’m usually fine to move on. Yet I’ve fallen in love with Aprilia’s blend of practicality and fun, and I’ve caught myself daydreaming several times about having a Lava Red RS660 in my garage since I came home from the launch. You’re not going to get better praise out of me than that.

And a good day to you. Thanks for reading!

Check out the 2021 Aprilia RS660!

Helmet: Shoei X-Fourteen in Matte Black – $742.99
Helmet Design: custom design by Velocity Tape – $140
Jacket: Alpinestars SP-1 in Black/Red – $439.95
Jeans: Pando Moto Steel Black 9 – $320
Gloves: Velomacchi Speedway – $149
Shoes: Alpinestars Faster 3 Rideknit in Black/White – $179.95
Backpack: Velomacchi Rolltop 28L
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