Aprilia: SL1000 Falco vs RST1000 Futura

Text: Andi Seiler • Photography: Christian Neuhauser, Andi Seiler

Italy's young motorcycle manufacturer Aprilia is conquering the American market with exciting motorcycles. Their sport touring machines SL1000 Falco and RST1000 Futura are excellent examples of the company's great development.

The roaring of the engine's intake tract makes my stomach feel like a bucket of butterflies. The deep growl of the exhaust isn't any less exciting. No doubt about it, it's always been a pleasure and a special moment to ride a V2. And then this unequivocal direct feel from the front wheel that tells you exactly what's goin' on. Of course, it's a sportbike and you feel it. Aprilia's Falco is definitely one of the most desirable bikes on the market.

However, in its class of sport touring machines (to mention the proper classification), it has a new sister for 2001, the RST1000 Futura, which is even more of a bike for touring because of its travel-orientated full fairing and luggage system. And it has the same V2 engine with some changes for more torque over a wider rpm range. The patented big single muffler underneath the seat adds its special note to the newcomer's appearance. Once again, riding an Aprilia is special.

Talking about Newcomers
Who's Aprilia? This isn't an unusual question, even from people who are interested in motorcycles. Although the company is quite successful in Europe and in racing circles, not a lot of people know of it in the U.S. The reason for that is simple. Aprilia USA, Inc., located in the Atlanta, Georgia, metropolitan area, was incorporated only three years ago, in June 1998. But since then the company accomplished great results over here. As of May 2001, Aprilia USA has 106 operational dealers offering a product range of ten different units from 500 to 1000cc.

The CEO and owner of the Noale (twenty miles from Venice) based company is Ivano Beggio, one of the most successful businessmen in Italy. Aprilia got started with motorcycles in 1975 by assembling 125cc bikes with two stroke engines from Sachs and Franco Morini. In the mid-eighties they manufactured their first four-stroke thumpers ETX350 and 600 with motors from the Austrian factory Rotax that is still a partner today. Besides that, Aprilia was very successful with scooters. In 1995, the Italian company presented a new 250cc sportbike, the RS250 with a Suzuki RGV250 engine, which in its current version is also available in the U.S. but only as a club racer. By the way, Aprilia has won 17 World Championships in the 125 and 250cc classes since 1992 and has become the second largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters in Europe. The worldwide sales volumes in 2000 exceeded 300,000 units.

A large part of that was the introduction of the company's first big capacity bike at the EICMA Motorcycle Show in Milan, the RSV Mille with a 998cc V2 engine from Rotax. This bike has earned a huge amount of success in the sportbike market. Based on the same engine, Aprilia developed the big enduro bike ETV 1000 Caponord and the sport touring versions SL 1000 Falco and RST 1000 which were launched for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Chassis & Brakes
Nice, that both of these "dual purpose" motorcycles (sport and touring) are also available in the United States. But although both of them run in the same category, their characters are very different. The Falco is not so far away from the Mille, even if it has a different frame: a double-beam frame with parallel twin tubes on each side. The relatively low mounted clip-ons and the stiff adjustment of the Showa upside-down fork offer you a great feel for the front wheel. At the rear the Sachs single shock tends more in the sport direction, also. What this basically means is that it has a great setup for canyon roads with lots of reserves for fast riding. Like a real sportbike, the Falco needs more input for turns from the rider than the Futura. One reason is that the 180/55-17 rear tire is mounted on a wider 6.00-inch rim - the Futura uses the same tire size on a 5.50 inch rim. The brakes from Brembo complete the package perfectly by offering great braking power and feel on public roads.

The Futura fits better to a person who wants more touring comfort. The chassis and riding position are more comfortable but still allow you to go fast. Handling is easier and doesn't take a lot of effort (think of the rear rim) while the Falco almost asks for hanging-off attempts. But still, compared to the classic competitor VFR from Honda, the Futura offers more fun for sportbike riding. The front brake is the same as the one used on the Falco but doesn't show exactly the same sharp response, which is actually better for touring. The same counts for the disc brake on the rear, which is mounted differently because of the single-sided swingarm.

Engine & Transmission
It's not surprising that the engines play the same game with different characters. The sound on the intake and exhaust side and the throttle response of the Falco show clearly that this was developed close to its donor RSV Mille, a pure sportbike. Without any hesitation the SL listens to your wrist commands and jumps forward like a hunting hawk. And there is no doubt about it, this bike is made for sport purposes. Thanks to the fuel injection by Nippon Denso, the engine delivers a wide range of usable power output from 2,500 to 9,300 rpm (here 118 hp @ crank), which makes the bike perfect for touring. Under

real hard acceleration, the front wheel lifts up off the ground in the first three gears.

Although the Futura uses the same 60-degree V-Twin with two countershafts, its power supply is smoother and totally different when compared to the Falco. The reason for this is the use of another engine management/fuel injection made by the French manufacturer Sagem. At low revs the Futura V2 runs smooth but not as strong as the Falco; at 4,000 rpm the power kicks in to continue to the peak at 9,250 rpm (113 hp @ crank). Out on public roads that means you have to shift one more gear down to get the same acceleration as the Falco. Though both bikes use the same primary and gearbox transmission, the final drive ratio is even taller on the Falco (41/16) than on the Futura (43/16). The downside of the Falco's Nippon Denso engine management is the higher fuel consumption (6.1 liters/100 km or 39.2 mpg). The Futura's Sagem system takes only 4.8 liters on 100 km (49.3 mpg) - all measured by RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Cruising & Touring on public-road test rides only.

Accessories & Arrangements
As already mentioned, the rider on the Falco sits in a sportier riding position with lower mounted clip-ons and a thin upholstered seat. The Futura pilot has a better overview with higher mounted bars and a more comfortable, thicker upholstery. In addition, the back seat (one piece with rider seat) of the Futura offers more space for the passenger and a better leg angle for longer rides. Those who want to change from single to dual rides on the Falco have to exchange the seat cover with the upholstery for the co-rider.
Also, the instruments are different on each bike. The Falco uses a dashboard with a digital speedometer; the Futura prefers an analog clock for speed. In addition, both bikes have an analog rev counter and multiple digital information for all kinds of purposes. Again, the Falco is more on the sporty side with digital gauges for top and average speed while the Futura has, for example, one for outside temperature.

Additionally, the full fairing of the RST gives you more protection than the three-quarter of the SL. Both fuel tanks carry 21 liters of gas (5.5 gallons), which give you great mileage. The hard-box luggage system of the Futura is included in the sales price ($ 12,999) and very practical for longer trips. The soft-case system for the Falco ($ 11,299), which is smaller in capacity, has an added cost of $ 355.36. Included are all necessary hardware parts.

Test Summary
Well, it couldn't be any clearer which bike fits better to which customer. The Falco is clearly more the motorcycle you want to feel like a sportbike with great power output and a stiff chassis. Occasionally, you want to take it on longer trips, mainly by yourself without a passenger. The Futura is the sport-touring bike in its original sense, which is close to, and even better in performance than the long-lasting class dominator VFR. Seating position, luggage system and power output of the RST fit perfectly for touring. And it still feels comfortable if you push it hard on bumpy roads. These test results leave only one question for you: Which kind of rider are you?