When Fagan threw himself off an SV 650 and onto the tarmac at Castle Combe, pulling his poor shoulder out of its socket in the process, he quickly rendered himself unable to fly to Italy to test the all-new, ever-so-fancy Aprilia RS 660 – what a bastard! But his loss, on this occasion was my gain, so I packed up my troubles in my old kit bag, had the obligatory Covid 19 test (that, at the moment, the Italians won’t let you in without) and jumped on a half-empty BA fight to Italy.
Details were fairly scarce about the RS 660 before we got to the launch – all we knew was that it had a parallel twin 100hp engine, and a bunch of fancy electronics. That was it, they didn’t even tell us the price, which I had estimated to be around the £13k mark. When we finally got hold of an official Aprilia press release, I was thrilled to see the new model sporting the much more slender price tag of £10,149, which considering it’s spec, didn’t seem completely out of the question – I mean, let’s have a look at it for a second; it’s got 100hp, weighs 169kg (dry), it’s got Brembo brakes, a shifter and blipper, as well as a suite of electronics that a £20k + superbike would be proud of. I can’t think of another sportsbike, for that sort of money, that has half the electronic wizardry as the RS 660. We’re talking eight modes of traction control, wheelie control, cruise control, adjustable engine braking, adjustable engine maps, cornering ABS, adaptive LED headlights, the list goes on.
Needless to say, I was thrilled about the prospect of throwing my leg over Aprilia’s latest weapon, so I made sure I only had one beer too many during the socially distanced press briefing, where we were told how the RS 660 is here to fill the huge gap in Aprilia’s sportsbike line-up that exists between the RS 125 and the RSV4.
But despite the umpteen pages of bumph that we’d been issued, I still wasn’t sure what the RS 660 was going to be. Or more specifically, which end of the sportsbike spectrum it was going to be closest to.
When I first jumped on the RS, the seat felt dead comfy and the suspension soft and fairly unsupportive, so I wasn’t expecting a MotoGP bike when I rolled out of the hotel carpark – that said, I was pretty happy to be sat on the thing; the high bars and low pegs made trundling through town a very pleasant affair, very easy on your arms and back, although I couldn’t help thinking that this would be to the detriment of its skillz when we got up into the twists and turns of the Italian Alps.
But more on that later, because the first thing that impressed me was the motor. I was expecting a thumpy little engine that packed a reasonable punch at the bottom of its rev range, but one that would feel wheezy and lethargic when you really made it sing – that’s just normal procedure for a little 650(ish) twin – but that wasn’t what I got. The 660’s motor, which, if you are interested, is (roughly speaking) the front two cylinders off the RSV4 with a different cylinder head and a slightly longer stroke, delivers decent, usable power from about 4k, all the way to its 11,500rpm redline. It’s not eyeball-bursting, arm-socket-wrenching power, but it’s lovely and smooth and the little engines revviness definitely gives the bike a playful feel. It just makes you want to twist the throttle.
And when you do twist the throttle, you’re not only rewarded with delicious acceleration, your ears are treated to a pretty tasty soundtrack too. In fact, if you were to close your eyes, and have a rev of the mummy bear RS, you could be forgiven for thinking there was a rip-snorting RSV4 in town, and that’s with the standard exhaust system; I can’t wait to hear what it sounds like with the “For Race Use Only” Akrapovič.
I had a little play with the rider modes, of which there are five – three for the road (Commute, Dynamic, Individual) and two for the track (Challenge, Time Attack) – and they can be toggled between on the move. I found myself using ‘Individual’ mode most of the time, as this is the mode that the most customisation of all the leccy controls – i.e. let me bin off the systems that were going to stop me having the most fun!
It wasn’t long before we were up in the hills and I was pushing and pulling the 660 from side to side, trying my best to burn through a new set of Winona Ryders (sliders), and I was beginning to really fall for the medium sized Aprilia. It didn’t matter how twisty the roads got, its lightweight tekkers made it a piece of piss to turn and put where ever I wanted on the road. I had worried that the bikes low pegs might have been troublesome at gentlemen levels of lean angle, but thanks to the bikes narrowness, I never found them to be a problem at all. Throw some super sticky, red hot race tyres at it, and it might be another story, but on our test ride both foot pegs remained unscathed
Upping the ante a bit meant squeezing the Brembos ever harder, and not once did I ever feel like I needed more power from them. The cornering ABS, set to level 1 allows skids and stoppies when you are upright, so it never reared its ugly head when I was anchoring on for the corners , but it still gave me peace of mind whenever I needed to trail a bit of brake, or squeeze them mid bend (usually when I’d been a bit ambitious with the old throttle hand).
Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to start feeling like I was asking a bit too much of the suspension. The standard KYB forks can be adjusted but not a whole lot, I would wager, and I can’t imagine it would cope very well with a trackday. Hard braking was using way too much of the fork travel and the shock didn’t really offer much support when you started chucking it around and being a bit ham-fisted with the throttle. It could definitely do with better suspension, but I suppose that’s a reflection of the bikes reasonably modest price tag.
After a full day in the saddle, there were no aches, pains, numb bits or sore bits, which we all know can be par for the course on a full-blown superbike, so the 660 definitely gets a tick in the box for comfort, but is that because it’s not really a sportsbike? Well, in a word, yes, it’s not a real sportsbike, in the true sense of the word – but that’s not a bad thing. It’s sporty enough to ride like a sportsbike, if you really want to, but it has a chilled enough riding style that you don’t have to ride like a maniac eight days a week.
And for that reason, I can’t really discern exactly what this bike is supposed to be going up against. It’s not quite a supersport bike; it’s not powerful enough to go up against the likes of a Yamaha YZF-R6, or a Kawasaki ZX-6R and it’s not quite sporty enough either, but it’s a lot more comfortable than both and it would tear both of them a new arsehole in a game of ‘electronics-package Top Trumps’. And then there are the other 650 ‘sportsbikes’ that aren’t really sportsbikes at all, they just have a fairing – I’m talking about Honda CBR650Rs, Kawasaki Ninja 650s and the like – the Aprilia is better than any of the other manufacturers offerings in that category, in every way; but it’s a bit dearer, too.
I’ve tried to work out exactly who the RS 660 is for. If you’ve got an RS 125, you love the Aprilia brand, and your long term goal is to be an RSV4 owner, the 660 is the perfect stepping stone. At the same time, it wouldn’t be a bad shout for the bloke that’s too old and worn out for a ‘big’ sportsbike, and wants something a little bit easier going, but something that still looks good and still has all the electronic bells and whistles that he’s become accustomed to. Would I have one? Well if I had £10k and I was looking for a middleweight, sporty road bike, that I was unlikely to take on a track, I think the RS 660 would be right at the top of my shortlist. As it happens, I’m not looking for a middleweight, sporty road bike, but I am looking for something to take to the Isle of Man next year for the 2021 Lightweight TT – and it’s not at the top of my shortlist for that… it is my list!
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