Aprilia’s RS 660 re-imagines the 600cc sportsbike into something far more suitable for daily riding in Singapore – without losing sight of the ‘sports’ bit
PHOTOS: Derryn Wong
SINGAPORE – When you see the Aprilia name with the model letters ‘RS’, what comes to mind is the RS 250 – a racy, impractical two-stroke dream machine of the late 1990s. When you see the words ‘600cc sportsbike’, you think ‘race-bred, twitchy, high-revving, wrist-straining and back breaking’.
So you’re forgiven if you heard ‘Aprilia, RS, 600cc sportsbike’ and wet your pants in excitement a little, only for it to become a trickle of disappointment. But though the days of both are now numbered, something entirely new and different now carries the torch: The Aprilia RS660.
Aprilia’s decided that the way to make more people reach for motorbike keys is to remake the middleweight market, once upon a time regarded as a necessary “step” for riders aspiring to tame fire-breathing superbikes.
In the company’s own words, it’s a ‘brand new concept in sportiness, based on an optimum power-to-weight ratio, with thrills accessible to all.’ In simple speak, the RS660 isn’t an all-out race rep, but in contrast, is an accessible machine that’s capable enough to provide thrills for spirited road riding or the occasional outing to the race track.
Yes, it’s not the first accessible 600cc sportsbike – Honda’s CBR650R ‘single R’ exists for example – and it already has prime competition with the just-announced Yamaha R7, but the Aprilia takes the new segment into exciting territory.
The RS 660 makes a good first impression since it looks like a ‘proper’ sportsbike both near or far: Slinky bodywork, a sturdy-looking aluminum frame and swingarm, and underslung exhaust with big pipes.
Just like the RSV4, the RS660 sports a triple LED headlight assembly with LED running lights, and interestingly the indicators are integrated into the DRLs so there are no ugly stalks on the fairing. At the same time, each side headlight also functions as a cornering light. The tail light is a backlit, M-shaped structure that really complements the overall design.
Modern sportsbikes incorporate aerodynamics in their design, and the RS has a wind-tunnel tested double-fairing that optimizes high speed stability, and increases wind-protection for the rider while also helping to disperse hot air.
Aprilia has also managed to overcome one of its traditional shortcomings, that of switchgear and build quality. The finishing on the metal parts is excellent, and the 5.0-inch TFT screen is easy to read in the daytime. While the plastic switches still don’t feel like say, a Honda’s, it’s much better than the flimsy-feeling buttons of yester-Aprilias.
Where the RS660 really departs from supersport 600s is the engine. Instead of a screaming inline four, the bike has a 659cc parallel twin engine, derived from the RSV4’s V4 powerplant – by simply lopping it in half.
The most jaded bikers might scoff at ‘just’ 100hp, but the Aprilia has real pace to it, married with flexible rideability. Its 65Nm of peak torque is helped by its lack of mass, and Aprilia says 80 percent of the torque is available at 4,000rpm. Pair that with the up-down quickshifter and the RS660 is nimble and quick on its feet, despite the occasional jerky downshift.
Even more exciting is the sound. Parallel twins are quite exciting these days, like BMW’s F 900 R and more, and the RS660 has a 270-degree firing order so it sounds more like a rorty V-twin than a motorboat-boring 180-degree parallel-twin, and at higher revs it even begins to echo its V4 parentage.
Interestingly, the RS660’s power plant has two personalities, with a commute-focused softer side when you’re relaxed. But lay the throttle on hard, and the engine’s up for it too, pulling hard from 7,500rpm all the way to the 11,500rpm redline – it’s probably the revviest parallel twin around – it brought to mind Ducati’s 157hp Panigale 959. Having owned and tracked full-bore litrebikes in the recent past, we still found the RS660 to be exciting at high revs.
The RS660’s inherent nature is best described as ‘nimble’. Our test bike with standard Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II did a great job of keeping us informed without being too direct or overwhelming.
The suspenders are quality items: Fully-adjustable Kayaba USD forks and a rebound-adjustable rear shock deliver a sporty but balanced ride quality. It’s pliant, and refused to be unsettled even over rutty sections, yet kept poise when the riding pace got more sporty.
The 600cc supersports of before tended to be good on track and horrible on the road: peaky power, torque-less at sane revs, and overly sharp. But the RS isn’t intimidating for new riders, and we reckon the typical 2A-upgrading-to-full-class-2 rider would find the RS660 easy to adjust to.
The ergonomics contribute to that, with no major aches after a 1.5-hour ride cross-island, thanks to a relatively spacious cockpit and not-so-forward bodyweight distribution, thus avoiding aching wrists.
Even U-turns were surprisingly easy, and there were no major hot spots at a standstill. Overall the RS isn’t one of those sportsbikes where you become a fashion victim at red lights – suffering so you can look fast.
While this is a midranger, Aprilia certainly didn’t skimp on technology here.
APRC (Aprilia Performance Ride Control), the brand’s electronics riding tech, is regarded as one of the best electronics packages in the market. With a six-axis IMU, the APRC suite for the RS660 is truly full-spec: Traction control, wheelie control, cruise control, engine mapping, cornering ABS, and lots more, and most of them tunable with individual settings.
These options are clearly displayed in the full-colour 4.3-inch TFT dashboard, functions are accessed via the four buttons on the left, which is relatively easy to operate compared to older Aprilia systems, but still not quite as clear as the intuitive BMW systems . There’s also the option Aprilia MIA (multimedia platform) for pairing up your phone and adding music and nav.
So is this really the modern reincarnation of an RS250? No it’s not, and it’s all the much better for it. The RS250 was a race rep, impractical, uncomfortable, noisy, expensive, and prone to endemic issues of a two-stroke engine – only a dedicated masochist would want to own one.
In huge contrast, the RS660 is a practical sportsbike that’s easy to live with, comfy, and has plenty of performance potential for when you want it. Aprilia has literally thrown the kitchen sink at the RS660, with a spec that other manufacturers would cry “spoil market”. The bike looks and sounds good, with a flexible engine that’s still racy, it possesses sure footed handling when speeds are elevated, and it could even handle sport touring without killing your wrists.
While it might not have the full-blooded GP pedigree of the RS250, to a realistic rider of the now, it’s far more than an RS250 ever was.
|Engine||659cc, parallel twin|
|Power||100hp at 10,500rpm|
|Torque||67Nm at 8500rpm|
|Gearbox||6-speed manual with up-down quickshifter|
|Top Speed||Not revealed|
|Verdict||Definitely not the RS 250 remade: It’s a new concept sport 600 for a new age that demands more flexibility to go with usable sportbike thrills|