Aprila Mille

Words: Quentin
Photos: Marcus & Quentin

Model: Lara Lasher

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complete CD of
entire photo shoot
300-400 enormous images
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I had built this bike up in my mind to be the perfect motorcycle. I had uncrated, prepped, and even test ridden the bike months ago. I even had the chance to ride Aprilia's West Coast Representatives bike well before any U.S. legal bikes were actually imported. I had nothing but great experiences and fulfilled dreams during these brief encounters.

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So, you must imagine how excited I was to finally take one out and beat the hell out of it. A few other guys from the shop and I decided to head to a few local hot spots and show off what our shop had to offer, so we pulled out a Falco, the Mille, and a Ducati 996 and headed for the Santa Monica Mountains.

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I was itching pretty bad to ride the Mille, so when we got to our first stop I was all about getting the keys to the bright-red beastie. Unfortunately the gentleman that rode the bike before me had some trouble with it. He was complaining vigorously about how it wallowed and did not inspire any confidence whatsoever in the corners.

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I get going on it, heading up some of the twistiest corners in So-Cal, from the "Rock Store," a motorcycle hangout, to the coast. Sure enough, the bike felt like poop and I was not impressed. I was depressed. I had wanted this bike to be the ultimate, the stuff my dreams were made of. Instead it was a big, heavy, wallowing, lethargic bag of fetid feces. I was so happy to get on the Falco, and just as content to get back on the 996 for the ride home.

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I knew the photoshoot was going to be directly up the Angeles Forest Highway in Palmdale the next day, so I was a man on a mission to set this bike up to handle. I thought I had a big job in front of me, until I looked at where the damping adjustments had been set. Every adjustment, whether it be compression or rebound, front or rear, was opposite of where it needed to be. I was so relieved to see this, because it was an obvious solution. The settings were all 75% from max, so I set them at 25% from max, with every adjustment. I also screwed the front spring pre-load down one more notch for good measure. It was quite obvious that the preload collars on the shock had not been touched so I left well enough alone. I weigh 140 with full leathers on so I figure this was a good starting point. This all took me roughly five minutes with a small flat-blade screwdriver and a 22mm socket. I also lowered the tire pressures to 30 front, 32 rear because that is where I like it for canyon carving.

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The bike was instantly changed, and completely redeemed for its sins by giving me one of the ten best rides of my young life. It only took a few corners to get the tires up to temp for me to realize that I had done well, and the bike was doing well, and the setup was right. It has all the mannerisms of the Ducati, and while not quite as refined as the 996 chassis; it is a damn sight better than most of the Japanese competition. The motorcycle feels tall and a bit bulky at first. It gave me the feeling of being on top, not in the bike, which I like. The girth disappeared after I got acclimated to it, and especially now that the suspension was set properly.

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I took it up the Crest for a while, then turned off on Upper Big Tujunga, or "Nine Mile", as the locals know it. Nine-Mile then intersects the Angeles Forest Highway, up to Palmdale. Every corner inspired confidence, especially in the beginning stages of the Crest, where smooth flowing lines dictate your course. Towards Mount Wilson, the road gets bumpy, ripply even. These bumps, high in frequency, are littered about the road for many miles of both tight and open corners. On an ill-prepared bike with the wrong tires, this stretch can ruin the ride. For me it is the perfect test for a motorcycle's suspension, and the Mille passed. It traveled over every ripple without so much as a buck or a weave. I was given plenty of feedback, the bike telling me that there were plenty of pavement imperfections, but never did it phase the chassis. The high-speed sweepers of Nine Mile were even better. They have recently been covered with pavement sealer, which has rendered them slicker than normal, but I rarely go fast enough to notice. Every once in a while the bike would start to slide, and I attribute it to the Pirelli Dragon Evos that were fitted to the test unit. I also attribute it to having such a flawless confidence inspiring chassis that practically forces you to exceed the limits of inferior rubber.

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The shadows were getting a bit long at this point, so I slowed it down and concentrated on the power and brakes while traveling up the "Forest." I never had a problem with the power, but it was not quite as hard hitting as I had expected. Later in the week I found out that the magazine that had the bike before me had botched up the computer while installing a performance chip. The chip that was in my bike was inferior, rumored to be a California chip (The rest of the 49 states are less stringent on emissions, i.e. the bikes that come to Cali are almost always down on power). We corrected this problem, I rode the bike with about 10-15 more horsepower later in the week, and I was quite glad that I was not given it to test! Too much power can be deadly in the wrong hands! Again, the bike made quite enough power in the de-tuned form for me to enjoy it.

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The brakes were no concern of mine. They did their job and that was that. I would try a new compound of pad to see if I could increase feel, but other than that they were great front and rear. The lights are fantastic, bright with a good beam pattern. Our model Lara was three hours late, causing us to do a night shoot. I had to ride back home through the mountains at about 10:00 at night, so I was able to test the lights in a very dynamic fashion. The instrument cluster is fantastic, the only letdown being the lack of a fuel gauge. There is a warning light, but with all the other various readouts there should be a proper gauge. It is well lit and well located. All of the switchgear is top notch, right along with the levers and locks. There is almost a Honda level of quality to the operation and control of the bike. All of the nuts and bolts are coated to prevent rust; all of the paint is thick and applied well. Everything is lightweight and pretty to look at, whether it is the fairing panels or the footpeg brackets or the swinging-arm rear suspension. The engine is not easy to work on, but Aprilia have done everything they can to make it as simple as possible. When cramming as much as they have into as little as they have it is inevitable that it is not going to be easy to perform valve adjustments and what not.

I loved this bike and would spend $13,500 on one before I would spend $16,000 on a Ducati 996.



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