15 Jun 2012 | Rod Chapman gets up close and personal with a learner-legal Latin lovely
The fact I was on a small-capacity bike was hammered home when a highway overtake was thwarted by a gust of headwind. I was on a dual-carriageway highway on my way home – throttle pinned, chin on the tank – edging steadily past a semi-trailer. Then, when I was halfway along its length, a headwind came from nowhere and forward progress ceased – as did my passing manoeuvre.
The unavoidable fact is, while Aprilia’s new superbike-styled RS4 125 might look like it could do 300km/h, beneath all that gorgeous bodywork beats a modest 125cc four-stroke single. Needless to say, after my ‘air brakes’ experience I assumed a new riding style more suited to an entry-level bike – a little less bravado, a lot more caution – and I wasn’t caught out again.
To be honest, the little RS4 125 – the successor to the long-standing RS 125 two-stroke – was a trooper over the couple of weeks it was in my care. I ride around 600km most weeks, the majority of it on the highway. The RS4 took it in its stride, and with a degree of visual allure that leaves most entry-level bikes trailing miles behind.
The RS4 125’s styling and finish is simply exquisite. The red sections of bodywork fairly glow with radiance in the sunlight, while the bike has an extremely high level of spec for its class. An inverted front fork; alloy beam frame; Marelli electronic fuel injection; a radial-mount, four-piston front brake caliper; steel braided brake lines; gorgeous alloy rims; an LED taillight; proper clip-ons; a stunning banana swingarm; LCD instrumentation – in many respects it really is a scaled-down superbike.
It’s about as far as you can get from my first ride, a clapped-out ’82 Suzuki GSX250S, but then I suspect the new ’Prilla is pitched at a slightly differently clientele. I was a 19-year-old on $200 a week, stretching my finances to the limit by whacking the $1000 GSX on my shiny new credit card. Despite it’s obvious appeal to the young ’uns, I suspect the RS4 125’s real target market is more likely to be older entry-level buyers with a bit of cash to spend – and cash they’re happy to spend to have one of the most stylish 125s going.
Still, looks alone don’t get you home, so on collecting the beastie from Melbourne’s ever-helpful A1 Motorcycles dealership in Ringwood, I was keen to see how it stacked up in the cut and thrust of city traffic.
I got my first surprise before I’d even started it – it’s got a really roomy ride position. At 188cm (6ft 2in) and 95kg I’m not exactly compact, but the RS4 has surprisingly generous legroom. The seat is decent and the ride position is sporty, but not overly so – just enough to put a bit of pressure on your wrists.
When I did thumb the starter the exhaust note was an odd match for the supersonic styling – it’s a small-capacity single, and it sounds it. It took me a little while to find the pipe, too – it’s a stubby, minimalist affair positioned down under the right footpeg. No doubt the aftermarket pipe manufacturers will produce some more rorty alternatives in due course – they’ll be welcomed by RS4 owners, I’m sure.
The clutch is feather-light much like the bike in general (its claimed wet weight is just 134kg), and with its low and narrow seat and light controls it’s supremely easy to ride – as an entry-level machine should be. It needs a good handful of revs to get man and machine rolling and once they are, momentum and corner speed are crucial.
There’s little oomph to speak of below 7000rpm, the revlimiter kicks in at 11,000rpm, and for 90 per cent of the time I found the tacho hovering around 9000rpm – which registers 100km/h in sixth gear. When you’re used to big-bore bikes, these sorts of engine speeds are initially concerning. I spent the first half hour waiting for the piston to make an abrupt bid for freedom, but of course it never did. After a couple of days I’d acclimatised – it’s built for these high engine speeds, and it never skipped a beat.
Once I’d got my head around its power delivery, I grew to love the RS4 in the city. It’s so damn light and so incredibly slim, for lane-splitting you may as well be on a bicycle. The non-adjustable suspension does an adequate if unspectacular job – the bike feels great through the bends but you’ll feel the bigger hits and dips.
The gearbox, however, is really pretty average. It works well enough, but it’s on the notchy side and it wasn’t always an easy matter to find neutral. I experienced some false neutrals from time to time, too. However, my testbike was essentially brand new and had only a handful of kays on its clock; the ’box may well improve with use.
The Spanish ‘J Juan’ brakes are ideal for the target market – adequate power and feel but little if any initial bite. Really, the front stopper’s performance is a little underwhelming given its spec – you’ll have to be really trying to lock it up, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The RS4 is great fun on a twisting road, where it tracks beautifully through the bends and is incredibly agile – just think about changing your line and you have.
Again, in sports mode your corner speed and momentum are everything, and it’s actually really enjoyable to do all you can to maintain both. Stay tucked in behind that screen – stick your head up and there goes another 10km/h!
There’s no issue with ground clearance and the tyres – Sava Bogarts, no less – hung on as far as I was willing to push them. Sava is actually a subsidiary of Bridgestone, produced from a facility in Slovenia, but why it settled on a model name of ‘Bogart’ is anyone’s guess. It’s a reasonably chunky 130 hoop on the rear, which also helps maintain the superbike illusion.
The analogue tacho and LCD display are stylish and easy to read. The latter displays speed and also a choice of two trip meters, an odometer, engine temperature and your maximum speed.
When I picked up the bike the maximum speed indicator was showing 125km/h. That was obviously achieved by a lighter jockey then myself – on flat and level ground and tapped out I struggled to hit 115km/h. At least you’ll really have to be trying to lose those precious licence points…
The classy indicators are mounted on flexible stalks – not a bad thing on a learner bike – and the mirrors work well. So does the headlight, which throws a bright and broad beam after dark.
Pillions? You’ve got to be kidding! There is a pillion seat, but you’ll need to be a motivational speaker of international standing to convince someone that sitting on it, let alone going for a ride, is a good idea.
It’s a miserly thing when it comes to fuel consumption, though – during its time in my care it returned a frugal 27km/lt. With a 14.5lt tank, that’s a working range of around 360km! Still, by the time the reserve light winks on, you’ll be well and truly looking forward to a break.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Aprilia RS4 125 is a stunning little machine of which any novice rider would be insanely proud. It does bear a striking resemblance to Aprilia’s RSV4 superbike – in fact some parts are common to both models – and the Alitalia/Biaggi Race Replica version (which is $500 dearer) raises the style stakes to another level again.
Still, at $6490 (plus ORC) for the standard-paint model you’ll really need to be sold on that Latin allure to bypass some other, far-more-affordable entry-level offerings.
Honda’s top-selling CBR250R has double the capacity and appreciably more performance, and you can buy it with ABS for $5990 (plus ORC). The same marque’s CBR125R goes for $3990 (plus ORC) and Yamaha’s YZF-R15 is $3999 (plus ORC) – although its YZF-R125 goes for a heady $6999 (plus ORC).
Finally, while stocks last, the RS4 125’s biggest competitor is perhaps its outgoing predecessor, the RS 125 stroker. Stock of this super-fun and attractive $7990 (plus ORC) oil-burner are still coming our way, but its days are numbered.
If the price isn’t a hurdle, buyers of the new RS4 125 will be rewarded with an easy-to-ride machine that handles beautifully and looks right at home among any brace of Euro litre-class sportsbikes. What learner rider wouldn’t be happy with that?
prilia was founded just after the end of WWII in 1945, in Noale, near the coastal Italian city of Venice. Established by Cavaliere Alberto Beggio, Aprilia manufactured bicycles until Cavaliere’s son, Ivano, took over control of the company in 1968 and – with the assistance of several others – built a 50cc motorcycle.
A number of production mopeds followed, along with a motocross bike in 1970. Enduro models, trials bikes and road bikes followed in the 1980s, and a deal was signed with Austrian firm Rotax in 1985 to produce engines for Aprilia. The marque dived into the scooter market in the 1990s, launched its RS 125 and RS 250 two-stroke sportsbikes in 1995 and its RSV1000 superbike in 1998, entering the Superbike World Championship in 1999.
Aprilia acquired the historic Laverda and Moto Guzzi marques in 2000, and then, after running into financial difficulties, in 2004 the Aprilia group was acquired by Piaggio, the new entity becoming the world’s fourth-largest motorcycle manufacturer.
Aprilia has been extremely active in racing across a wide range of championships. While it’s enjoyed considerable success in the 125cc and 250cc GP championships over the years, its 500cc GP bike and its later MotoGP bike (the RS3 Cube) were less competitive. More recently, Aprilia claimed its first Superbike World Championship in 2010 with Max Biaggi aboard an RSV4.
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-valves, DOHC, four-stroke single-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 58mm x 47mm
Compression ratio: 12.5:1
Fuel system: Marelli EFI
Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame: Aluminium perimeter
Front suspension: Inverted 41mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, non-adjustable
Front brakes: Single 300mm discs with radial-mount, four-piston caliper
Rear brake: Single 218mm disc with single-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed wet weight: 134kg
Seat height: 820mm
Fuel capacity: 14.5lt
Max. power: 11kW (15hp) at 10,500rpm
Max. torque: 10.9Nm (8.0ft-lb) at 8250rpm
Price: $6490* ($6990* for Alitalia/Biaggi Race Replica livery)
Colours: Racing Black, Racing White or Alitalia/Biaggi Race Replica
Bike supplied by: John Sample Group
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres
*Manufacturer’s list price, excluding dealer and statutory costs