#311 – An Unfortunate Case of Not Enough Hype – Aprilia

A helmet law nearly brought mighty Aprilia to its knees. But the brand fought back with world titles and great bikes. So, where’s the T-shirt?

Some motorcycles just seem to resonate even though you’ve never ridden one. So it was with the Aprilia Tuono 1000R and me. Essentially an RSV Mille sportbike without the bodywork and with wide, sit-up handlebars, it looked like the perfect combination of outrageous performance and a riding posture appropriate for my aging joints. There was even a patriotic angle: Bombardier-subsidiary Rotax built the 60-degree, liquid-cooled V-Twin engine for Aprilia in Austria.
I got a test ride from the then-dealer in Vancouver, British-Italian Motorcycles. I loved the bike—but not the exhaust racket. The mufflers had been “modified” by the time-honoured method of drilling out the end plates and removing the baffles. That would probably have cost me about five horsepower—and a noise ticket too. But the asking price was outside my comfort zone, even for the decibel-challenged ex-demonstrator, so I let the idea drop.
The year 2010 rolled around, ushering the 1000R Tuono’s demise, its replacement (the RSV-4), and my 60th birthday. Then an email arrived from Dave Richardson of Moto-International in Seattle. Dave had accumulated some leftover 2008 Tuono Rs including one with zero miles, and it had, he said, my name on it. He would do the due diligence for US export; complete the paperwork for the Canadian Registrar of Imported Vehicles—and even deliver the bike to the border! With the loonie around par with the greenback (remember that?), and at Dave’s quoted price, the bike would be landed in Canada, cleared, inspected and tax paid for something in four figures. And I deserved it, didn’t I?
My only consideration was a nagging guilt about not buying from a Canadian dealer. But at that time, there wasn’t one in BC. British-Italian had dropped the line and no one had picked it up. Conscience eased, I met Dave on a blustery January morning in 2011 in a gas station in Blaine, Washington. We got the US export paperwork cleared, and headed for the Canadian side. We fronted up to CBSA, paid the GST and got the import documents stamped at Livingston Customs Brokers, which has the RIV contract.
I loaded up the Tuono and headed to a well-known national chain hardware store for the mandatory inspection. Yes, it’s true: your favourite camping gear, kitchen tool and hockey stick outlet has the contract to do the safety inspection on all imported motorcycles. Just don’t ask them to service it, because they don’t touch two-wheelers. So after the “technician” and I had established which were the front and rear wheels, all went well, and I left with a RIV decal attached to the frame.
I spent a few pennies dressing it up with frame sliders and a taller windshield to provide a little more (than pretty much none at all) wind protection. I fitted new mirrors that showed the road behind my elbows. Time to buy the obligatory T-shirt and ball cap, I thought. And that’s when I discovered why Aprilia’s recent racing success could just be the world’s best-kept secret.
My local dealer, Pacific Motorsports had absolutely no Aprilia merchandise for sale (though in fairness they did give me a free key fob), and could offer no intelligence as to when they might get some. (The “other” Italian brand dealer has a storefront crammed with pricey logo merchandise.) In the end, I bought a T-shirt online from US Aprilia distributor AF1 racing—one they produce themselves.
You’d think having spent millions of Euros winning the Superbike World championship (and this year entering the even spendier arena of MotoGP), parent company Piaggio would want to recoup some of its money by selling branded goods—which would also help embed the brand in the minds of potential buyers. Aprilia has actually won three World Superbike rider championships and four manufacturers’ championships in the last five years—titles that don’t come cheap. Aprilia also launched the careers of Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi, Valentino Rossi, Roberto Locatelli, Marco Melandri, Jorge Lorenzo and Alvaro Bautista. Together they’ve won 54 rider and manufacturer world titles across all championship classes. That makes them the second “winningest” Italian maker behind MV Agusta.
Fans won’t thank me for reminding them that the MV’s unparalleled string of 17 consecutive MotoGP championships happened while there was no viable competition and they had the four best riders of the era: Surtees, Hailwood, Agostini and Read. But I digress…
Then I remembered that Piaggio never wanted Aprilia in the first place. In 2000, Italy brought in a helmet law; and as Italians are vainly proud of their coiffure and tonsorial artistry, helmet hair didn’t really “cut it.” Scooter sales tanked, and Aprilia, Italy’s second biggest scooter maker, went bust. The Italian government brokered a deal whereby Piaggio would acquire Aprilia’s scooter business as well as its motorcycle brands: Aprilia, Moto Guzzi and Laverda.
Aprilia makes great bikes, the Shiver being one of my other favourites; and the Tuono is an amazing motorcycle: taut and stout with the launch power of a Saturn V. I’ll confess that only a couple of times have I caught an inkling of its true handling potential. You have to ride it really fast to find out. And then I see the discounted leftover Dorsoduros and Caponords languishing in the dealer’s showroom, and wonder why. Could it be as simple as printing a T-shirt?