The Kids Are Alright

  • By Julian Ryder

    Before I paste his article in, I just wanted to say it's reasons like this why I am so passionate about building my Biaggi Replica RS 125

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    I found this on the first page of the Haynes Manual for the Aprilia RS 125 when I was looking for some information. I had to hand type it in, so expect the odd typo, but I felt it was worth sharing as it really does highlight why Aprilia's RS125 was such a superb bike.


    The Kids Are Alright

    Aprilia RS – The Kids Are Alright
    by Julian Ryder

    Many yeas ago anyone with a serious interest in super-sports motorcycles rode a two-stroke. The Grands Prix were then entirely inhabited by two-strokes and the nearest thing to them that you could buy for the road were the replicas marketed by most major manufacturers. Yamaha started it with the famous LCs in 1980 – water cooled twins based on their TZ racers – that equipped every privateer racer from the club paddock to the GP rostrum. The other three Japanese factories weren’t slow to follow and at one time all four big Japanese factories had 250cc two-stroke twins in their ranges and there was a 400cc triple from Honda in imitation of their 500cc GP machine, and four cylinder 500s from both Yamaha and Suzuki. However, the writing was already on the wall for the road-going two-stroke. Very few of the above bikes made it into the vital American market thanks in the main to California’s increasingly stringent emissions legislation and that meant their model lives, with the exception of the LCs, were relatively short.

    So two-strokes almost disappeared from the enthusiast market and retreated into the commuter and scooter markets. However, there was still one country where the moped and scooter markets are fundamental to success and vital to profitability, and that is Italy. In the late 1980s and early 1990s companies like Cagiva, Gilera, Italjet and Aprilia fielded ranges of stylish scooters and sport small bikes from 50cc to 125cc based on both Grand Prix racers and desert rally-raid machines. In such a fickle and fashion-conscious market, the difference between success and failure was very small and exaggerated. If you got it right you sold all you could make; if you got it wrong the very future of the company was in danger. As a bonus, the 125cc bikes competed in the fiercely competitive Sports Production class that has given so many of today’s MotoGP stars including Valentino Rossi their first taste of tarmac competition.

    The Aprilia company got it right a lot more often than not. Their credibility with the teenage market came from racing, with their little single-cylinder two-stroke road bikes being sold as replicas of the bikes ridden by the Gran Prix heroes. The first hero was Loris Reggiani, a notably tough customer who led the race project when it started in 1985 and took a memorable first win for the factory at Misano in 1987. It was no fluke; he beat two double world champions, Luca Cadalora and Sito Pons by seven seconds. The following year Aprilia launched the first 50 and 125cc race replicas with the AF model designations. It took a few years before this breakthrough was consolidated despite sporadic success in GPs and the European Championship. In 1991 the factory got serious with a full factory effort and started winning regularly. In 1992 Alessandro Gramigni won the 125cc world title and at the Germnan GP three Aprilia riders stood on the 250 rostrum; Pier-Francesco Chilli, Max Biaggi, and Loris Reggiano.

    It was the perfect lead-in to the RS range of race replica two-strokes, which appeared for the following year. The 50cc RS50 used a Minarelli engine, the 125 a Rotax, and both had the full set of race track equipment: aluminium frame, three-spoke wheels, braced swinging-arm, full fairing, single seat, and giant disc brakes. The unrestricted version of the 125’s exhaust valve even had the most contrived acronym ever to adorn a motorcycle – RAVE, a standard for Rotax Adjustable Variable Exhaust. In similar spirit of restraint, both models were called Extrema. Aprilia never designed their own two-stroke motors from the ground up, instead co-operating with Minarelli for the 50cc engine, Rotax for their 125, and later even with Japan when the RS250 used a Suzuki V-twin. In each case, the Italian factory decided the detailed specification of the motor and would incorporate their own development work.

    The Aprilia factory’s campaign against the other Italian factories for their teenage home market, particularly Cagiva and their equally desirable 125cc Mito, was aided enormously in 1994 by the first of Max Biaggi’s three consecutive 250cc GP titles. The factory made another little piece of history in that same year when Kazuto Sakata became the first Japanese rider to win a GP on a machine made outside Japan when he won the 125cc GP of Australia at Eastern Creek, and went on to the world title. The factory made sure their customers could bask in reflected glory from the race track. In 1996 the 125cc RS was sold in replica Biaggi colours, black with Chesterfield sponsorship decals, although Max’s departure to Honda the following year meant that colour scheme was short lived. In 1998 race rep colours were back, this time you could impersonate Tetsuya Harada or Valentino Rossi. The only other racer to be honoured with a replica colour scheme was 2003 World 250 champ Manuel Poggiali.
    The relationship between the racers and the street bikes is more than skin deep. In Sport Production trim, the RS125 was used for the one-make Superteen and Aprilia Challenge race series in the UK. This was where MotoGP star Casey Stoner got his first taste of racing on tarmac alongside other fast youngsters such as Chaz Davies and British Supersport Champion Leon Carmier. In Italy, there is a 125cc Sports Production class for young riders which functions as the stepping stone from minimoto to senior championships. This heavy reliance on the track for the marque’s image depends on success at the highest level, and Aprilia have certainly achieved that. It is a rare season in which an Aprilia rider does not win a 125 or 250cc Grand Prix title, it being a racing certainty that they will win races in each class. Consequently sales of racing bikes nowadays form a useful profit centre for Aprilia.

    The performance two-stroke market may nowadays be too small and specialised for the big companies to put any effort in, but thankfully a small factory in the Veneto region of Italy still builds the closest thing you’ll ever get to a 125cc GP racer and puts it on the roads.

  • Interesting Calum, remember the Japanese 2 strokes first time around, the Aprillias were focused and personally never saw many at all. Did meet Chas Davies years ago when he was a spotty oik , if memory serves his family owned a mini moto track and a friend of mine had a son heavily involved in racing. Have been lucky enough to end up stood on the grid (at Donnington I think,) as his son raced in bsb supersport. He also had cracking brolly dollies (am I allowed to say that?) Have had a lot of big sports bikes, rode like an idiot a lot but lived to tell the tail, and to be honest the thought of a near 200 bhp sportsbike now would make me *** myself no matter how much electronics were in control. Am enjoying my riding much more than I have in years riding the lightweight 2 strokes and would like an lc or rd in the future, can understand the appeal for you and hope you pop some pics up in the future.

  • @oldman I'd really like an RS250 to be honest. Like most, I've done my bike license but never moved off the DT. Got a car which I don't drive and picked up an RS frame last year but still haven't done anything with it.

    I like the idea of owning a bike, rather than the actual experience riding. My best days were on my Aprilia RS50, but naturally I was only a baby. Nowadays it's the thought of building something rather than the riding of it. I think the golden era of two strokes has long gone. We are but the remains.

    I thought it was an interesting read nevertheless. Took an age to type it all out lol, I didn't want to scan it in.

  • @calum I might have to differ a little I think 2 strokes being so in lack of better wording being so special? Not any tom dick and harry has one so when you see one built as a vintage bike as a new concept I just think it’s brilliant because it’s going against the direction of life, life wants every bike to be 4 stroke every old 2 stroke I see either restored or well used I just think it’s a really special bike you know the owner must really want and love that bike

  • @declan You have to appreciate when this was written. Some 20 years ago.

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