Conventional wisdom has it that a scooter is a lightweight urban two-wheeler with a short wheelbase and quick steering, that can cut through traffic and accelerate hard up to about 60km/h.
The original 1946 design brief to Piaggio aircraft designer Corrado d'Ascanio (who hated motorcycles with a passion) for the Vespa was that it should be able to be ridden by an Italian mama in a long skirt - hence the step-through, J-frame architecture and the fact that certain models of Vespa still come with a built-in handbag hook.
By that definition the Aprilia SRV850 is a musclebike.
It’s the biggest, longest, heaviest, most powerful, fastest, most kick-ass single-speeder on the planet, with crisp, slightly angular styling that owes something to the company’s RSV4 sports flagship, and the superb build quality that is an Aprilia signature.
But mostly, it’s just plain big, with an 839cc V-twin engine for which Aprilia quotes 56kW and 76.4Nm on a 1585mm wheelbase - the same as that of a Harley-Davidson Switchback cruiser.
And when we parked it on the WPMC weighbridge at the Killarney circuit it clocked in at 278kg (2kg more than the maker’s claimed kerb weight) with a 90 percent full tank of fuel.
INSTANT THROTTLE RESPONSE
But does it have the cojones to match its gonzo persona? Oh yes. Throttle response is instant (sometimes too much so for comfort) and the SRV850 gets off the line faster than anything this side of a supercar, disposing of the 0-100km/h sprint in five seconds flat and hitting South Africa’s national speed limit in little more than the length of a football field.
It shot up to an indicated 180km/h in almost indecent haste on our six-kilometre test straight, after which the speedometer needle slowly crept up to 202, with 8250rpm showing on the rev-counter. Mr Garmin and his friends in the sky, however, revealed a true top speed of exactly 180km/h. That’s a speedometer error of 11 percent, acceptable for a car, less so for a two-wheeler.
One of the reasons for the stretched-out chassis is the extra-length drive train. Conventional scooters have their engine and CVT transmission in unit, moving in unison with the rear suspension.
Obviously, that’s not feasible with a vehicle whose engine alone weighs more than the majority of scooters on the market, so the SRV850 has its 839cc SOHC, eight-valve V-twin and belt drive solidly mounted in a tubular-steel J-frame, with final drive via chain and a gorgeous alloy swing-arm that would do justice to a superbike.
The rear monoshock is adjustable only for preload (and it needs to be at the top of its game if you plan on carrying a pillion) but, in tandem with the non-adjustable 41mm Kayaba forks, it works.
PLENTY OF GRUNT
The SRV850 got a little floaty at more than 160km/h but was reassuringly stable up to terminal velocity even with the rider bent like a safety pin to tuck in behind the little superbike-style fly-screen.
It also went through our ride and handling section at a respectable 118km/h, with no more than a suggestion of the Hippy Hippy Shake (more in warning than misbehaviour), and with plenty of grunt in reserve.
The automatic dry clutch takes up early, so you can use the impressive bottom-end torque to haul you out of slow corners - hard enough to induce pattering on poor surfaces - and launch you towards the next corner in true big V-twins fashion.
The wheels are small for a machine this size, while the engine and seat are tall for a scooter, raising the centre of effort and making the handling a little ponderous, but it’s absolutely predictable (something that cannot be said of all scooters) and the quality front end allows a change of line in a fast corner when necessary. The mainstand lever touches down first on the left, but you’d have to do something really silly to ground anything on the right.
QUIET BUT EMPHATIC
While off-roaders float vaguely over the inequalities of our bumpy test section, cruisers knock the fillings out of your teeth and sports bikes try to kick you out of the saddle, Aprilia’s maxi-scooter simply bludgeons the bumps into submission without transferring even the worst of them to your lower spine.
And all the time there’s this quiet but emphatic V-twin thudding from somewhere under several hectares of plastic to remind you that this GT sofa was actually made in Italy.
The brakes were, frankly, a disappointment. Given the Aprilia’s serious weight and its position at the top of the step-through food chain I was expecting, if not radial-mount GP brakes, at least decent double-sided callipers, and maybe even anti-lock braking.
Instead I found twin-piston floating callipers straight out of the 1970s leftovers bin and an underwhelming single-piston squeezer at the back. Not only were they less than muscular in operation (you need to use both levers if you want to haul the SRV850 down with any authority) but I also managed to induced some brake fade during the course of a morning’s serious hooning over my favourite twisties.
That perhaps says more about how much fun I was having on Aprilia’s Killer Whale than the shortcomings of its cycle parts but, in the final analysis, the brakes are not quite up to the standard set by of the rest of the equipment.
Which is high; the electrics are superb, the lighting almost too good (I cannot recall another two-wheeler of any persuasion that allows you to read a newspaper by the instruments’ backlighting) the seats, front and rear, are broad, flat and decadently deeply padded.
The instrumentation is comprehensive, with analogue gauges for speed (hooray!) and revs, as well as a central infoscreen that tells you all about time, distance, ambient temperature and how far you can ride on what’s in the tank.
There’s plenty of room to move my size 10’s around behind the legshield, and an adjustable bumstop to keep the rider grounded during impromptu Stoplight Grands Prix.
If I have a quibble with the accommodation, it’s the volume of storage. There’s no glove compartment in the leg-shield and the hole under the saddle (even though it boasts a courtesy light, a 12V socket and a gas strut) will just about take a full-face helmet and nothing more.
That’s probably because the makers have given over 18.5 litres of the available space to the fuel tank - not a bad idea since big V-twins are notoriously thirsty. This one averaged 6.8 litres litres per 100km over a five-day weekend of hard riding, with only one commute in heavy traffic and one night ride, so you should be able to get more than the 220km I managed before the yellow light came on.
In Japan, many scooters are used for weekend getaways rather than commuting, thus creating a niche for comfortable, high performance single-speeders - but it’s European market leader Aprilia that has set the benchmark for the genre. Yes, at R118 000 it is expensive (you can buy a European-made one-litre hatchback for less) but you get a helluva lot of scooter for your money.
Engine: 839cc 90-degree liquid-cooled four-stroke V-twin.
Bore x stroke: 88 x 69mm.
Compression ratio: 10.5:1.
Valvegear: SOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 56kW at 7750rpm.
Torque: 76.4Nm at 6000rpm.
Induction: Multipoint electronic fuel-injection with single 38mm throttle body.
Ignition: Inductive electronic with variable advance separate stick coils.
Clutch: Automatic dry self-ventilating clutch with vibration dampers.
Transmission: Constantly variable belt drive with torque server and final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: Kayaba 41mm conventional cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Horizontally mounted Kayaba monoshock adjustable for preload.
Front brakes: Dual 300mm discs with Brembo twin-piston floating callipers.
Rear brake: 280mm disc with single-piston Brembo calliper.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 16 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 160/60 - 15 tubeless.
Seat height: 780mm.
Kerb weight (measured): 278kg.
Fuel tank: 18.5 litres.
Top speed (measured): 180km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 6.8 litres per 100km.
Price: R118 000.
Bike from: Aprilia South, Cape Town.