An Owner’s Perspective: Aprilia Tuono Upgrades Pt 1


[Frequent MO readers will know that our friend, Thai Long Ly, is not a man of few words. Consequently, we should’ve known what we were getting into when he offered to write up his experience with Tuono modifications. Still, we never expected an 8,400-word opus. So, we decided to break the story into easier to digest pieces. Here is Part 1 for your reading enjoyment. – Ed.]

I’m a happy man. In fact, I’m smirking ear to ear as I sit here typing. Not because I enjoy staring at a computer, stringing together plausible thoughts before the coffee drains down into my sleepy fingers, but because I’ve just compiled a list of mods I’ve installed on what’s arguably the finest street bike made today, the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR. And these mods aren’t just tastefully applied to some anonymous press bike destined to return to its maker in time… they’re bolted to my own personal high powered therapy device. And as we all know, these things go to 11, thus making it incredibly easy to get worked up over a machine that’s near perfection – straight from the box. That incredible engine. The telepathic handling. That arousingly sexual sound!

But I digress. As with anything in life, we can always make things a bit mo’ betta’. And bikers have been tinkering with their bikes for as long as there have been bikes to tinker with. Whether for performance, fit, or flash, modifications are a continuous way of life for any bonafide petrolhead.

My bike as it sits at the time of this writing. Specifications due to change.

With that said, I have organized this list of tweaks to rate their effectiveness and commented on whether they’ve helped or hindered the performance and/or aesthetics of my beloved Tuono. In order to convey this information more clearly, I’ve devised an ingenious rating system of 1-5 stars for the following categories: PERFORMANCE and AESTHETICS. In no particular order, here are the mods and comments. For the record, I purchased and paid for everything here so don’t assume these delightful stars were for sale.

Performance ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / Aesthetics ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Gold anodized Factory forged wheels. A must have if you value handling and maneuverability.

Going from the OEM stock cast to the factory forged aluminum wheels was a significant jump in performance and agility. The inherent weight savings translated into quicker transitions, decreased rotating mass, better braking and stronger acceleration. It also improved fuel economy – which never hurts, especially on a thirsty bike like the Tuono. Losing critical unsprung weight is crucial for improving a bike’s flickability and suspension action, not to mention the drop in physical effort required to maneuver the bike, run after run. You may not see the gains over the course of a single lap, but you will over the course of an entire race or by the end of an aggressive track day. Plus, the anodized finish looks great and cleaning brake dust, debris and bits of rubber off the new wheels is a breeze. Highly recommended.

Aprilia Accessories Forged OEM Wheels

Performance ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / Aesthetics ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Rotobox II carbon fiber wheel in gloss black. The ultimate upgrade. You know you want them.

Wow. Outstanding. Quite possibly the finest mod I’ve ever done to a bike. The jump in performance from forged to carbon was far greater than I could have imagined. I initially figured the jump from cast to forged would yield the largest gains, with the final swap to Carbon showing only slight improvements. Wrong! These DOT approved Rotobox 2’s are simply sublime. Everything improved overall and the bike now feels like a 600cc middleweight, only with nearly 40% more powah! Make sure you adjust your suspension to accommodate the decrease in inertia and you’ll wonder why you waited so long to buy a set. Yes, you can absolutely feel it on the streets. Hell, you can feel it within the first 5 yards of your own driveway! If you’re an aggressive rider that loves canyons, tracks or any riding that bends in multiple directions, you’ll want to save your pennies for a set. This and the customer service at Rotobox is second to none. I cracked a front wheel smashing into a rock (not recommended), and Rotobox took care of me in a courteous and professional manner. Are they more fragile than metal hoops? Perhaps. Though I inadvertently rode around for a few weeks unaware of the crack and the wheel never failed. Stupid, lucky me. Admittedly, I can’t believe I didn’t crash from the looks of the damage. So overall, the immense increase in handling, acceleration, decreased braking and suspension action has me thoroughly convinced. For the love of joy, buy these wheels.

Rotobox Wheels

Rotobox II carbon fiber front in matte finish with a custom graphic. Sick.

Performance ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / Aesthetics ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Öhlins OEM Factory shock. The perfect blend of performance and price for the street.

The stock Sachs damper works great. I’ve thrashed it on the track and in the hills, and it’s without a doubt, a respectable performer. I’d say unless you’re racing for hardware or a paycheck, you’d be fine saving your money and keeping your bike as-is. But mo’ is mo’ betta’, right? So, I sourced an OEM Öhlins shock (standard on the Factory Tuono and RSV4 Factory models) and bolted her right up. And guess what? It’s much mo’ betta’! Serving up a more controlled ride with improved feel in both low- and high-speed compression damping made the 30 minute install completely worth it. The jarring harshness the Sachs intermittently transmitted to my backside over broken pavement has been smoothed over for a more supple and compliant experience. The ride height adjuster is great, allowing one to really dial in the pitch. Worth the money? Absolutely. Plus, that golden goodness just looks ‘da balls’ hanging off any bike. If you’re a seriously twisted canyon/track junkie, you’ll covet this upgrade. If you’re a podium whore, you’ll want to consider the even slicker highly adjustable TTX unit.

Öhlins OEM Rear Shock

Performance ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / Aesthetics N/A

As with the shock, the stock Sachs forks are perfect for most everyone. There’s really no need to change them out unless you’re close to a podium or fighting to retain your sponsorships. Or, in my case, you suffer from a bad case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). I’m much closer to a lectern than a podium, so a quick midnight Googling found me staring at the “add to cart” for Andreani’s replacement valves. These Italian beauties drop right in and replace the stock units (huge thanks to JJ Matters at Graves Motorsports) while utilizing the remaining Sachs tubes, stanchions, and springs (now’s the time to spring for your weight if you’re outside the stock weight range). So what did I gain? Same as what the Öhlins shock did for the rear… plusher compliance, a more supple feel and increased feedback…especially when on the boil and leaned over hard. The front now has more control over stutter bumps and doesn’t have that “sledgehammer to the wrists” sensation you get rolling over square edges and broken pavement. The faster you go, the better she feels. A calmer bike makes for a faster rider, regardless of current skill level. And who doesn’t want that? The next level up would be replacement cartridges, but again, unless you’re a few tenths from a podium, I’m not sure it warrants the extra cost. This predominantly street rider is more than satisfied with the performance of this upgrade. Bonus round: David Behrend at Fast Bike Industries (US distributor) offers excellent after sales support, so know you’ll be taken care of if any questions arise.

Andreani Piston Kit

Performance ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / Aesthetics ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Graves Slip-on. Lightweight and full of tone. Excellent choice if you despise your neighbors.

This is a hard thing to rate. Performance-wise, I gained a couple of ponies on the dyno. So that’s a plus. And the sound? Glorious! Like a hornet’s nest hit with a Mike Tyson uppercut. I’m not convinced I’ve heard a more toneful midrange in an aftermarket pipe yet (yes, I’ve just about heard them all). And it’s loud. Not exceedingly loud, but your neighbors will always know when you come and go. No dB killer insert, either. As for the pipe itself, it’s beautifully made with excellent fit and finish, and due to the titanium and carbon fiber construction, the thing weighs less than 3lbs. I could feel the weight loss just pushing the bike around in my garage. (Sidebar – I rode around with the OEM pipe for a week after installing this and the bike felt more sluggish and labored when transitioning side to side due to the extra weight.) This aspect alone makes it worth a look. And being made down the freeway from me in Van Nuys, CA, is a bonus.

However, as with all stubby/shorty pipe designs on this particular bike, I inherited an aggravating lean spot in the lower midrange. Like a redneck peeping Tom, my poor bike was stuttering and jerking uncontrollably. Essentially, if you held the throttle steady around 4k, the bike would surge and stumble in epileptic fits. No bueno. Apparently, the shorty GP pipes that are currently all the rage don’t offer enough back pressure for smooth midrange performance. Sure, you’ll gain some extra horses on the top end at WOT (wide open throttle), but chances are you’ll sacrifice that sweet street rideability as a result. Physics is a bitch sometimes. So, I can’t knock the product itself, but will knock how it worked on MY bike.

Graves Tuono VR4 Exhaust

Performance ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / Aesthetics ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Graves 300mm slip-on with 50mm opening. Slightly tamer tone, yet every bit as nasty.

So… an informative discussion with Chuck Graves (he did all the informing, obviously) led to a custom made silencer that’s longer, with a smaller inner pipe for increased back pressure and improved midrange performance over the shorter, current GP design. And guess what? Problem solved. Well…mostly. I’d say it helped 93.67%. There was still a twitch of surging, but overall the bike was smoother throughout this critical RPM range. The sound became less raspy; losing some of that intoxicating gurgle and bark of the shorter pipe, while gaining bass response for a more mature yet quieter (1-2 dB) presentation. It came with a chunky removable insert for noise attenuation and neighborly goodwill as well. As a result, I’m thrilled with the pipe and think the new longer dimensions fit the bike better, for a more balanced visual aesthetic. Better looks and improved performance? I’d gladly take that pill. Contact Graves directly for more information.

Graves Motorsports

Internet lore has you believe that if you’re bolting a cat-less aftermarket slip-on to this bike, you’re gonna need the Apriliaapproved Akrapovic Race ECU to prevent a lean condition when running a less restrictive exhaust. So, in the spirit of possibly not blowing my motor, I purchased and installed it in conjunction with the Graves pipe(s) mentioned above. As a result, I noticed smoother fueling across the board and a bit more throttle response off idle. The bike pulled harder from down low, all the way through the mids, for a more enticing off the line punch. The installation was simple and only a few minutes were spent mucking with the tank to gain access to the dock. You’ll need a special cable (Lonelec Cable) to connect to some readily available software (free online, use your Google) along with a working PC (sorry, Mac) to get it all synched. Though not cheap, it’s a safe and effective way to ensure your bike will properly run with that shiny new pipe. Oh… and it’s worth about 2 hp according to the dyno pulls I had done.

Aprilia “Race” ECU

Performance ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / Aesthetics N/A

OK… before you read any further, grab your wallet and pull out your debit card. Kiss it and smile. Now, Google “Gabro Racing” and bombard him with emails until he responds to your incessant groveling. You need this ECU if you value and cherish anything that resembles joy in your life. It’s that good. Seriously. It awakens your bike and unshackles the reins you never knew existed. Your beloved V4 not only rules the streets, it now pisses fire everywhere you aim the headlights! OK, OK, flaming urine is bad, but completely eliminating the lean spot I had experienced prior to its installation (see above) is good. Although the dyno only confesses an additional 5hp over the Race ECU, you’d swear it was an extra 15hp.

“But I don’t need this bike to be any faster,” some may cry. Shut your pie hole – because you’re wrong! Whereas many “tunes” simply strive for more power at WOT, Gabro aims for gains in areas of real-world throttle positions: 10%, 25%, 50%, etc…openings you’ll be positioned at 90% of the time unless you’re exclusively at the track. So, not only do you get that extra wallop up top (he tunes for WOT as well), but you gain this addictively smooth, yet industrial strength pull right in the meat of the rev range. Aside from the Rotobox carbon fiber wheels, this Gabro tuned ECU is the best mod I’ve done to this bike, by far. Just a heads up, he’s busy running a bonafide race team and is hard to get a hold of sometimes (especially during the Italian race season), but don’t give up. You won’t regret it. Tell him I sent you.

Gabro Racing Team

[Tune in next week for the dramatic Part 2 of Thai’s adventures in Tuono modification! – Ed.]
 
 

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