Aprilia RS660 on track

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Lars Bojsen-Moller gives Aprilia’s hot middleweight RS660 a good thrashing at Hampton Downs. 

By Jock McLauchlan

I’ll start with a disclaimer... I’m not a journalist and I don’t ride much on the road these days, I save it for the safety of the track. Ok, disclaimer over.

So, I was having a chat and a beer with Jock and he mentioned he was testing the Aprilia RS660. Now, I reckon the only way to properly test any sportsbike is at the track. I think it’s safer, whilst allowing you to fully explore the capabilities of the bike and not have to worry about dealing with traffic, oncoming vehicles, poor road surfaces or getting throttle happy and accidentally incurring demerit points or much worse. 

After some gentle persuading, Jock agreed to attend an HD Moto day at Hampton Downs, my favourite way to spend a weekend. 

 

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TRACK DAY

If you have never taken your bike to the track before, then I highly encourage you to do so. It’s a safe environment and will help you learn how to get the most out of your machine and improve your riding skills. I’m fortunate to be able to call Hampton Downs my home track... as it’s my favourite in New Zealand. 

HD Moto is a professionally run track day event, open to everyone with a bike and a minimum of a current Restricted Motorcycle Licence or MNZ Race Licence. The event hosts all sorts of bikes, so don’t think you need a sportsbike to ride, it’s not unusual to see adventure bikes, tourers and nakeds alongside more dedicated sportsbike and track weapons. Many riders ride there on their bike, do the track day and then ride home. You and your daily commuter have quite likely got hidden talents and capabilities that you just haven’t uncovered yet!

SPEED GROUPS
HD Moto is run in four different speed groups including Novice, Slow/Medium, Medium/Fast and Race, so you’re grouped with similar speed riders to keep it safe and fun. I’m one of the Hampton Downs Ambassadors and help out on track and around the pits, to assist riders with getting the most out of their day and helping the HD Moto crew run things smoothly. 

Jock took the Aprilia for scrutineering and after a thorough rider safety briefing, it was time to get the bike set up for the track and Jock’s stature, as he’s not exactly a regular-sized rider, towering over most of us mere mortals. Fortunately, Leroy Rich from KSS (Kiwi Suspension Solutions) is a regular feature and accredited service provider at HD Moto and he soon had his measurement gadgets and tools out, and with the preload increased and the sag set, the RS660 was ready for action.

 

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WET START

Unfortunately, the day started wet, and with only slick tyres on my 1000cc racebike, I wasn’t prepared to risk it on track until it dried. 

Jock meanwhile was out in damp conditions, scrubbing in the tyres and making new friends on the track.

Finally, the weather started to clear and the sun and breeze soon saw dry lines emerging and a chance to get some dry laps in. Jock finished his session and it was my turn to see how this RSV4 look-alike handled. The first thing I noticed, other than the stand out looks of the Lava Red paint scheme, was the ergonomics. The footpeg, handlebar, seat triangle is very comfortable, it isn’t as aggressive as most larger sportsbikes, but it isn’t too upright either. It means there is no uncomfortable wrist pressure and it’s easy to climb off the side of the bike to help get it through the corners. The screen height deflects the wind nicely and it is easy to tuck in under the screen to minimise drag - as I tried to find out just how fast it would go. It didn’t disappoint, topping out at about 230km/h in 6th, before having to pull it up for the fast, blind, right hander that is turn one.

THROATY GROWL
The parallel-twin engine has a real throaty growl and I’m sure it would sound and perform even better with the Aprilia certified Akrapovic exhaust system. The engine is pure torque and from down low in the rev range too, so it punches well out of corners and there’s no need to wring its neck to get it singing. The power 

is extremely linear, with no nasty surprises and it pulls strongly throughout the rev range. The quickshifter and blipper assisted downshifts are seamless, and the bark as the ECU blips the throttle on the downshift is damn sexy. 

The RS is light and handles fast changes of direction easily, it would be a lot of fun on a road ride like the Coromandel loop with its endless array of corners. It certainly feels at home on the track and is very stable under hard braking, although the ABS is a little intrusive, but with the parallel-twin engine offering good engine braking, it’s easy to adapt. On the road, I doubt you’d have any issues with the ABS at all.

In my first session, I found lots of ground clearance and quickly discovered the edge of the OEM Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II’s tyres, which are super grippy and well-suited for both road and track day use. The front end is confidence-inspiring and tipping into the blind Turn 1 at Hampton Downs at high speed, I was all smiles. Ordinarily, I would expect the pegs to touch down before I find the edge of the tyres, especially considering the comfortable cockpit, but this bike clearly takes more from the RSV4 than just looks, as nothing scraped. 

 

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The only gripe I have was that for my first session the electronics map was a tad intrusive and the traction control wouldn’t give me power at high lean angles mid-corner. This was soon resolved by selecting a more aggressive map and then there was fun to be had. The RS carries excellent corner speed and it is hard to unsettle it under braking or acceleration, even with stock suspension. 

I deliberately hunted out a few SV650 Pro Twin riders to see how the RS660 compared, as up until MNZ clarified matters recently, it could have given them a run for their money in the 2022 NZSBK National Series Pro Twins class and it certainly would. It’s great to see that MNZ have listened to those concerned and now we get to see both bikes competing on one grid, albeit in different classes.

With a few modifications, including brakes, gearing and suspension, this will be an exciting machine for those who choose to campaign it over the summer of road racing. Equally, if you’re looking for a mid-sized sportsbike that’s comfy, suitable for commuting, long weekend rides full of corners and capable of generating a huge grin at track days, you shouldn’t look past this Italian stunner.

HD MOTO DAYS
Hampton Downs race track runs motorcycle ride days where the public can have the full track experience. You can feel like Marc Marquez for the day in a controlled and safe environment and genuinely wind the throttle open without the fear of having to walk home... and the subsequent fine. You just rock up with your bike, ride it there or put it on your trailer, sign in and pay, then have the bike checked.

Your bike gets a once over to check it’s safe... nothing loose or broken, wheel bearings and brake etc are all sweet, glass is taped up, mirrors removed if possible and of course it’s checked for fluid leaks. 

 

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Next comes a track rules briefing. This is important, especially for first timers and the Hamptons down crew take it seriously and do a good job. The staff are all helpful, enthusiastic and very friendly. You learn how to enter and exit the track safely. While this seems simple the speed differences are real and so you 

must be up to speed to enter the main line and enter gradually with no sudden moves. Likewise leaving the track, following riders need to know exactly what you are doing. If the track exit is on the right, stay to the right from the preceding corner and indicate with your hand or leg. Passing riders are told to keep two metres separation which is wise, it’s not a race remember, but speeds can still be high.

Lars is a Hamptons ambassador, a very quick rider and top bloke. He walked me through the whole process, which was much appreciated as I’m very much a learner at this track day, tar baby stuff. Riders decide for themselves which grade they will ride in. Novice, Medium Slow, Medium Fast and Fast are the options. Each grade gets about five 15-minute sessions per day, more if time allows. My advice is to choose honestly... the fast guys are fast and you don’t want to be getting in their way. I wanted Medium Slow, but it was full. So was bumped up to Medium Fast.

 

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The first three sessions on the day were wet, I held my own, but in the later dry sessions I didn’t... it’s a genuine step from what you think is ‘road quick’ to ‘track quick’. 

The main thing is – it is fantastic fun! You can test yourself, raise your skill levels in a safe and friendly environment. Everyone is inclusive, happy to help, answer questions and offer advice. You will probably learn more about your bike and riding in a few hours on track than during years on the road. And you can have a truly worry-free blast, its awesome! I absolutely recommend the Hampton Downs experience for any keen rider.

 

Article kindly brought to you by Kiwirider

 





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