reviewed by Chad Carr
Earlier this summer while on my late night ride home from work, I got passed. I was on 35w in south Minneapolis rapidly approaching a smooth 35 mph right hander when I noticed another bike closing in fast on my six o’clock. Still riding my old TDM, I settled into the turn and flew through fast. As I gave the old Yamaha the beans coming out of the turn I didn’t even have time to check my mirrors before the other rider, who had bettered my corner speed by at least 25 percent, wound it on and drove decisively past. It was an Aprilia Mille.
The reason I recall this story so vividly is not because I was passed (that happens often) but because this was my first encounter with an Aprilia on the street and it was a lot sooner than I’d expected.
When I pick up a bike magazine and read about a marque with a new bike slated for U.S. sales my mental clock starts ticking. The clock stops and my opinions on the manufacturer and its longevity begin to form the first time I see one on the street. Less than a year after first reading about Victory I saw one at the gas station by my house. I have never seen a Cannondale motocrosser in person, while KTM on the other hand made the transition rather quickly. The first MV Agustas also appeared quickly. The word nemesis just makes me giggle.
None of these manufacturers, in my opinion, have come through like Aprilia has with its four stroke sportbikes. From Italy to dealers in the states, and then into the hands of regular people like you and me, there are more of their bikes on the street than ever before.
They offer two models based on the same 1000cc, sixty degree v-twin motor. The first is the RSV-Mille. It is a full on race replica aimed directly at the superbike crowd. The second is the SL1000 Falco. It is the retuned for more torque, real world,civilized ergonomics version of the Mille. These words don’t really stir emotions but hey, look at the Honda Superhawk and Suzuki’s TL1000s. Both of these bikes fall into the same redheaded stepchild category and neither of them are exactly duds.
The Falco doesn’t give up much ground to it’s sportier brother. Five to ten horsepower and only about 1/2 second in the quarter mile. Low elevens versus high tens. Zero to sixty in around 3.4 seconds. These numbers are on par with the competition.
On down side, the list price is also in the low elevens, far exceeding the competition. Trick parts like four piston Brembo brakes, aluminum Brembo wheels with a 180 section rear tire, and three way adjustable Showa inverted forks help sweeten the deal some. What you’re really paying for is the cool Italian name and a bike that everyone has not already seen. A bike that will turn heads with its distinctly non-Japanese look.
The frame looks cool, especially on the black version, and the motor looks like it was stuffed in as an afterthought with some blocky edges here and jagged edges Athere. I love this look. To me it means that the engine designers spent their time on more important things like perfecting the twin spark plug (that’s four total) heads.
The three section headlight is one of a kind, though the low beam was tough to spot during daylight hours. The tail section is so slim and perfectly rounded that it’s a shame to have to hang a license plate back there. The mirrors are sportbike buzzy but the double bubble style windscreen creates an awesome pocket for small riders and screams tourer. The riding position is somewhere in between. Comfortable and not too wristy up top while slightly cramped below the waist. Definitely more on the sporty side.
Both come with the same multifunction dash that tells you speed by LCD display and RPM by needle. The only warning you have before hitting the rev limiter just above ten grand is a smallish shift light that you can set to come on as soon or as late as you want. The display has five buttons labeled A through E. Each operated a separate function allowing you to switch miles to kilometers (klicks), display time, temp, average speed, top speed….you get the idea. All of these functions are locked up when the bike is moving except for the triggerable lap timer which curiously enough, is locked up when the bike is standing still.
If you were to dyno a brand new Falco you’d see a disappointing eighty some horsepower. Aprilia sends them out of the factory with a stuffed up airbox and a restricted fuel injection map. Uncorking the airbox and cutting one wire results in a twenty horsepower gain. The bike we tested had already had this work done to it.
My first impression was that the bike felt gimpy. Sitting there with the engine idling, it didn’t have the strong thump that I now relate to big sporty twins. Pulling away it felt like I was riding a SV650 rather than a liter twin. Maybe it’s the quiet exhaust, or maybe it’s the fact that the stand up, sixty degree twins vibrate more than the ninety degree design that the rest of the sport world insists on using. It just doesn’t feel like 107 horses waiting at the rear wheel.
That feeling soon grew as I began trying to hook up a few wheelies. With no real spikes in the power curve to work with, I started by canning the throttle at five grand. Good acceleration but no altitude. I tried again at six, then seven, finally quitting at eight. Nothing but short little hoppers.
I had taken the bike out by myself after Sev and Victor stopped for a quick break. I was becoming disgusted with the bike and, turning to head back, decided to race through the gears and see if it really felt like an eleven second bike. Leaning forward in first gear at about seventeen hundred rpm, I nailed it and waited.
Up came the front. It floated about eight inches off the road until about six grand where it began rising again with the rev limiter conveniently kicking in just as things started to get a little too high. Shocked, I coasted down the road thinking that maybe there was actually something to this retuning for lowdown torque thing. Low speed wheelies are a snap on the Falco, and the weird little two step trick it performs gives you a little time to think about what you’re going to do when it comes up the rest of the way. You can even see it doing this in the video clips on Aprilias website.
Riding around on fast, mildly twisty roads the Falco never gave me any scares, which is always nice. I’ve read some reviews that say the shock is second rate compared to the forks, and is prone to overheat and fade quickly. Its adjustable for rebound damping and preload, which was was cranked way up on our tester. But as I said, the bike felt good to me. Stable through the corners and not too twitchy going in.
Chasing after Victor through the corn fields of rural Minnesota I crested a small hill while coasting down from over 130 mph, only to see an unmarked corner coming up fast. Hitting both brakes hard, the fronts felt like top notch sportbike material, while the rear had little feel. It locked quickly and then felt like it had to be let off almost completely to release again. This may have been because I was all over the fronts and the rear had little traction left to keep it rolling. Regardless, I slowed in plenty of time and the bike gave me tons of confidence in doing so.
In a time where there are dozens of competent bikes competing for our money, the Falco holds its own. It feels close to a full on sportbike. It’s just missing a little bit of that carved from a chunk of billet aluminum feel. Despite my first dubious impressions, after one afternoon I grew used to the bike and it felt great. So what if the Japanese can build theirs cheaper. The strong v-twin motor and the fresh Italian styling boost the cool factor way up there. More cool is always worth putting a larger down payment on.