FUTURE SPORT
Cycle World|Issue 3 - 2020
Aprilia’s RS 660 is a tractable, practical sport twin, and its engine will power an entire line of affordable, approachable Italian motorcycles.
KEVIN CAMERON

To help understand what the Aprilia RS 660 middleweight twin sportbike is, it is helpful to understand what it is not. The Aprilia RS 660 is definitely not a rehash of the long-serving 600cc middleweights we’ve seen before. These have fallen out of favor for three reasons: They are too expensive—they had become pricey miniature Superbikes, designed to win Supersport races in the hands of professional athletes; they are too uncomfortable—the racer riding position is fun for a 10-minute “let’s pretend” but a pain in the long run; and they are too specialized— focus-group testing always shows that motorcyclists enjoy twist-and-go torque at any rpm, not a power-genie that explodes out of the bottle only above 10,000 rpm.

This leaves manufacturers wondering what new kinds of products can sustain their business. An alternative is a lighter, simpler, and frankly cheaper sportbike that is easier to ride well, powered by a versatile parallel-twin engine that can be used in more than one model.

Product planner Miguel Galluzzi, at Piaggio’s Advanced Design Center in Pasadena, California, spoke directly about the RS 660’s conception. (Piaggio, an Italian company founded in 1884, owns Vespa, Aprilia, Gilera, and Moto Guzzi.)

“Six years ago, being at the office late, we discussed RSV4 and its million horsepower,” Galluzzi says. “Who needs all this? What if we cut this V-4 in half? Discussion began about something more down-to-earth—but recognizing that we are still Aprilia, still Italian. How about a lightweight, more affordable sportbike that can do a lot of things? Not just to have a big-dollar motorcycle in your garage with tire warmers on it, only to look at.”

Getting down-to-earth also meant addressing other economic issues: “The present affordability problem means we need a reset—for some riders, the monthly insurance payment was more than the monthly payment for the bike!” Galluzzi continues. “This 660 began as a simple 500. Is our plan to make a cheap bike, like the Indians do? We keep in mind the new buyer. The riding position of 660 is in the middle—the bars are higher than on RSV4, the pegs are lower. This (change) is not just us, it is worldwide. Do we need more (aero) or less? We are seeing in MotoGP the largest changes in (motorcycle) shape in a long time.”

Galluzzi was referring to the downforce winglets, spoons, and scoops that have appeared in recent seasons. The present shape of sport motorcycles was set in 1958 when the FIM ended the racing era of full “dustbin” streamlining. The whole front wheel and the aft 180 degrees of the rear wheel were required to be visible from both sides, and streamlining ahead of a vertical plane drawn through the front axle was forbidden.

Galluzzi spoke with admiration of the dynamic early US Superbike era (1975-82), when improvised racebikes evolved week by week before our eyes: “The technology of the past was low, but the thinking was very high.”

Finding a way forward in our much-changed motorcycle market requires high thinking.

“Aprilia is the discussion in the company canteen— every department together,” Galluzzi says of Aprilia’s design process. “Now there is a digital way of working: Send a 3-D file from the US in the p.m., Italy sees it in the a.m. This can be done in detail—in the moment. We have to look at the picture today, look at the picture tomorrow, to be predictive of future customers. Americans are looking for Italian design. OK, we have the idea now, but when will it make (market) sense? We fight about what is to be done, and there may be screaming. But the product is central.”

The result of these politics and high thinking is a light (372 pounds, dry), compact (54.5-inch wheelbase), and easy-to-ride (very broad, flat torque) new kind of sportbike powered by a liquid-cooled parallel-twin engine of 81.0-by-63.9mm bore and stroke. It is carried in a bolted-together cast-aluminum chassis, all in a faired MotoGP style.

The concepts of product planners are made real by engineers. Two weeks after speaking with Galluzzi, we teleconferenced with a group of Aprilia engineers— Paolo Nesti, head of power train; Francesco Mennella, chief engineer of motorcycle powertrain; and Piero Soatti, head of body and chassis. We were told the targets for this 660 were “lightweight, not extreme for the rider, not so flat as the competition, with sharp throttle response, quick direction changing, narrow width, and good cornering clearance.”

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