Superbike Tech Brought to a Middleweight

Photo credit: Larry Chen
Photo credit: Larry Chen

From Autoweek

  • These middleweight street bikes get a host of superbike technology, including most of the electronics you'd find on the Aprilia Tuono V4 superbike.

  • Aprilia Tuono 660 may be the best, highest-tech example in this growing class.

  • Prices start at $10,499. They're on the boats now.

You may know the Aprilia Tuono V4, an 1100-cc superbike considered one of the most hypersporty in its class. The V4RR 1100 makes 175 hp and the RSV4 makes 217 screaming horsepower. Of course, you pay for that power, $18,999 for a Tuono V4 Factory 1100 and up to $25,499 for an RSV4 Factory 1100. If you have a good place to ride it, one of those would be money well spent.

For half that price, or $10,499, you can get the Aprilia Tuono 660, with just the front two cylinders of the V4 and a still-hearty 100 hp on a bike that weighs just 403 pounds soaking wet. Aprilia calls it “a true thrill-generator.”

“Tuono 660 is the direct descendant of the Tuono V4, from which it has inherited all the qualities that are so popular with the public and critics,” Aprilia says. “For the first time in its illustrious history, the character and values that have made the majestic Tuono V4 famous are now also available in a medium-engine bike, thereby giving a broader audience the chance to ride an extraordinary bike.”

Photo credit: LARRY CHEN
Photo credit: LARRY CHEN

The new Tuono 660 is an excellent step up from any number of 300-cc entry-level street bikes on your way to an RSV4, and not just because it looks very close to its more powerful big brother. The Tuono 660 may have only half the cylinders but it gets almost all of the electronics of the top-of-the-line motorcycle.

You may recall when electronic fuel injection started replacing carburetors and when ABS arrived, first on cars like the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7-Series, and some Cadillacs and Lincolns. The same progression occurred with air bags, traction control, and stability control. Now every car sold in America has ABS and almost every car sold here has almost all those other electronic aids. The same technology trickle-down is happening in motorcycles. It took a while for the actual electronics box that houses all those circuits to get small enough and affordable enough to fit on a bike, but the transition is well on its way and the Aprilia Tuono 660 is the best example of it.

With a Bosch IMU, or Intertial Measuring Unit, acting like a kind of gyroscopic brain to know how close to the edge you are riding, the Tuono 660 offers customizable traction control, engine braking management, wheelie control, and ABS. It’s currently offered as a $200 option on the 660. (You can get the quick-shifter feature on the six-speed transmission for another $200.)

Photo credit: Larry Chen
Photo credit: Larry Chen

“This bike, we want to say it’s unique, because it really provides you a package that is extremely interesting,” said Marco D’Acunzo, chief marketing officer of the Piaggio Group, which owns Aprilia. “Usually this kind of sophistication of electronics, you can get it with a top-spec bike, whereas we brought the top electronics and put it on this middleweight motorcycle.”

As an option, however. Why not just make it standard? It is standard on the slightly sportier RS 660, but Aprilia is trying to differentiate the RS 660 from the 660 Tuono. If you buy your Tuono 660 without the IMU and its potentially hide-saving electronics, you can add it later for just $200.

That’s not much when you consider the $10,499 starting price of the Tuono 660. Critics will point out that you can buy similar two-cylinder naked middleweight street fighters like the Kawasaki Z650 for $7,249 and the Yamaha MT-09 for $7,699, as well as the three-cylinder Triumph Trident 660 for $7,995 and the four-cylinder Honda CB650R for $9,199. But cross shoppers should also consider the 116-hp Triumph Street Triple R at $10,800 or even the KTM 790 Duke, though those latter bikes are just above it in several parameters.

The Tuono 660 follows the more track and canyon-carving RS 660 into the market. (Rumors say there’s an adventure bike version coming in the future.) The Tuono’s die-cast aluminum frame and swingarm uses the upright two-cylinder engine as a load-bearing member, as any sport bike should. But the slightly raised handlebars and repositioned foot pegs are aimed at a little more riding comfort. The bike rides on grippy Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II tires, 120/70ZR-17 in front and 180/55ZR-17 rear. It’s a promising spec that does not disappoint.

We got to spend the day riding in the hills above Malibu, California, and enjoyed every minute of it. Having just come from a much heavier, much larger Adventure Bike (a BMW R 1250 GS), the transition to the smaller sport bike took a while. The wheelbase of the Tuono is just 53.9 inches and the seat height is 32.2 inches. My 6’1” gangling fish-like carcass felt a little large atop the Tuono at first, but I adjusted as the day rolled along.

Those 100 hp were impressive for a middleweight, but the thing that surprised me the most was how much of the bike’s 49 lb-ft of torque was available from what felt like just above idle. On the second- and even first-gear corners of the ‘Bu’s twistiest curves, the torque reached way down and yanked the bike forward every time. On faster third and fourth-gear flyers the Pirellis felt like they wanted to lean over much farther than I was leaning them. This was truly a sporty sport bike.

Photo credit: LARRY CHEN
Photo credit: LARRY CHEN

After a while in the seat you can start playing with the Tuono’s five riding modes: commute, dynamic, challenge, time attack, and individual. Even in commute mode, with maximum intervention of throttle, traction control, etc., you can still have a great time. Aprilia says dynamic mode is “for sporty riding on the road,” while challenge and time attack are recommended for track use. Once you find the settings you like you can store them in the individual setting. These riding modes are essentially different ways you can exploit the brainpower of the IMU. Depending on how much you are likely to drift through corners or slide around under heavy braking, you can set up the bike to match your riding style, or even just your mood on a particular day. I appreciated not locking up the rear tire under heavy braking, for instance, which I didn’t do during my day’s ride. You, on the other hand, may want to let it drift around more. Others, those who commute in the rain, might just leave it in commute mode all day. Your style is accommodated through the miracle of modern electronics.

I rode in dynamic mode with engine management in level 2 for a little bit better throttle response control, especially in tighter corners where a smooth input is helpful. Traction control was level 5, ABS level 2, and engine braking—how much the bike slows when you ease off the throttle—was set at level 2. That seemed to work for me on this particular set of roads, but you can adjust anything in there to your liking.

Wide-open straightways served to remind you that this is a naked bike, with no wind protection to speak of beyond the seemingly cosmetic stub of a windscreen way down at the front of the bike. But that saves weight and cost, so quit yer gripin’. If you had to ride on long, straight, high-speed stretches very often, you might want something with some more wind protection. Or maybe not; it’s your head getting batted around by the breeze.

Is this the best middleweight street fighter naked bike? Kind of hard to quantify whatever a midlevel middleweight street fighter naked bike is anymore. The class seems to include everything from 500 ccs to almost a liter. It is really cool, though. Me, I have plans to do a whole listicle on these bikes, so maybe I can answer that question for you soon enough. In the meantime, it’s far more sporty than the big BMW Adventure Bike I rode home at the end of the day. So there’s step one of the answering the middleweight street fighter question. I’ll have a more definitive answer soon, but for now it’s at the head of the class.

Would you opt for a middleweight bike, or is a full-on superbike more your speed? Let us know in the comments below.