We loved the solid RSV2 motor that powered thousands of happy grins the world over, and reminded IL4 riders of the meaning of mid range… The old Tuono takes centre stage in our private biking pantheon. And now this…
What could possibly go wrong?
The ingredients are spot on. It’s a beautiful early autumn day, and I’m crossing seductive Dorset countryside on a variety of spectacular roads, sitting on top of the most powerful production street bike in the world. I am assisted by traction control and a plethora of electronic management devices, top notch suspension and brakes. The machine has abundant torque throughout the range, to the extent that the top two gears are hardly required on anything other than an empty motorway. Everyone, it seems, has been smitten by the glory that is the Tuono RSV4. specification
And for the first fifteen minutes of my ride, I was too. On a flowing A road the power was effortless, and the chassis seemed made for fast open bends. But then weight of traffic and approaching lights meant a section of stop start stuff. And the dream faded, never to be re-captured, regardless of the type of road I subsequently found myself on. It isn’t supposed to be like this, not here and now, not astride the second coming. So… what’s going on? Why am I not enjoying myself?
We all know that on any naked bike, aerodynamics becomes a serious obstacle as you head onwards into three figure – which, broadly speaking, is where the V4 wakes up, forcing the pilot into a crouch. Wind pressure on arm muscles causes him or her to inadvertently start gripping the bars, a bad move. So your elbows drop further down until you are pretty much adopting the kind of ride position that is default on say a 1098, but a demented crouch is both counter intuitive and faintly ludicrous on a naked. On a sportsbike the fairing makes the whole deal far more efficient at speed, but drop the revs back on the Tuono so you can sit up – and it feels a bit pointless, just like it did when you were unsuccessfully trying to hang onto big speeds. There is 165 brake sat under you, and yet you can only use maybe two thirds of that on the Tuono. That power compliments the Tuono’s RSV4 sportsbike brother and the call of the track, but it compromises the naked. A decent screen or a really well designed bikini fairing would help, up to a point, and it may be that this issue will be addressed by the factory. In its current form, the V4R seems conceptually flawed: has there ever been a road bike less capable of realising its true potential?
One day the penny will drop and manufacturers will re-discover that ultra light, lower powered machines are more enjoyable on the road, corner faster, drink less fuel and are far less likely to land you in the dock when chasing the revs. Imagine a 450 Tuono or RSV based around the SXV lump, permitting the rider to properly get to grips with the bike instead of having to back off all the time. Weight wise we’d be looking at around 125 kilos. The V4 weighs in at 183 dry – heavier than its exalted V2 predecessor in both its standard and factory guises.
This machine’s capabilities can only be challenged on the track, and then – courtesy of the aerodynamic scenario – only by a pretty decent rider. For the rest of us, on the road, the bike consistently reminds us of our own inadequacy, more so than say a Fireblade: it’s easier to utilise the sportsbike’s performance because you aren’t fighting the storm. On the Tuono, it’s a running battle. Because such a significant chunk of its performance is simply unusable, the RSV4 is arguably a more sensible option.
The V4R does not happily accommodate backing off, something we have to do all too often on our overcrowded roads. Stuff that works as a seamless unit at speed – fueling, quick-shifter, slipper clutch – can become intrusive when, for whatever reason, things slow down. And pottering on something like a Tuono V4 is just so counter intuitive…. which negates part of naked’s raison d’etre: it’s very hard to chill out for a while. It’s as though you had a leopard instead of a tabby restlessly patrolling your apartment. It just doesn’t want to be there, and you yearn to set it free.
Around town, a nice light touch on the clutch lever pays off . The change up from one to two at urban speeds causes a bit of rattle from the top end as you pull away in lowish revs, and getting on the throttle low down gives an FI kick very familiar to KTM Superduke riders. The lump felt like it was running lean at low revs – courtesy of emissions – something which never lends itself to smoothness. It could be that rain mode is worth a shot when things snarl up, because in town smoothness is what you want. I stayed in sports mode: track, the other option, is best left for where it belongs. If you have to slow down on a roundabout while someone makes up their mind which exit is required, and then get on the throttle, you’ll feel that kick again. But the Tuono has traction control to keep the rear wheel in order…
Those who pontificate about TC being redundant on the road are missing the point: it’s a safety feature for Joe Ordinary on shite roads, as the bike demonstrated when we encountered the usual rural mix of stones and mud across the carriageway. The back end stepped out but everything was back in order instantaneously: job done. We would probably have recovered fine without TC, but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where that might not be the case. What I don’t get is the make up of the APARC package. ESA would surely have been a more useful addition than launch control: we’re talking about a naked road bike here. But the most notable absentee is ABS. Quality ABS and TC can work in tandem when things go seriously pear shaped. But decent ABS requires a working back brake: the Tuono’s follows the classic RSV template in being almost useless in that department. For those who still claim not to need it, your rear anchor is a brilliant asset in town, useful going downhill, and essential for maintaining good pillion relations. It’s also been known to assist in the odd powerslide (with TC turned off). The Italian tradition of a ‘drop me quick’ sidestand and conservative steering lock has also been adhered to. The fact that irksome design foibles have somehow survived into this extraordinary new incarnation is another gripe.
Standard suspension settings were excellent except on rougher sections of road: backing off rear shock compression damping a couple of clicks would certainly have resolved that issue with no major downside. The front brake was strong but lacked a little bit of progression, without ever feeling harsh. The high ride position, fat rear section and limited lock made U turns cautious. Whilst being on rails in fast bends, the bike didn’t feel quite as flickable and maneuverable as the last generation of V2 Tuonos: again I wondered about the wisdom of a 190/55 rear section as standard.
I owned an 03 Tuono for a while, a bike I miss more than my lamented Street Triple R, which speaks volumes for the former. I think it arguable that on the road, the V2 Tuono simply makes more sense while sacrificing very little in the way of fun. One reason for that is the new bike being a bit serious, in a way that the old one never was: housed in a naked those power figures demand a very focussed mindset… It all ends up being too much like hard work. Subjectively, the old one felt more rewarding, more funky. The V4 is awesome, but that same quality makes it a bit irrelevant in this form. You can pick up clean V2 mk2 and save yourself £7.5k over the V4. And whatever it is, as far as road riding is concerned, the new Tuono is not seven and half grand more fun than the old. For all its undoubted qualities, the V4 felt like a bike in search of a context.
Many thanks to the knowledgeable lads at MotorSport Aprilia in Yeovil for the loan of the V4, a quality source of Tuonos old and new, and all things Aprilia in general. The rapidly improving Guzzi range can also be found there.