Bikeland's Eric Putter makes the grueling and dangerous trek to warm and sunny Daytona Florida to check out Aprilia's new race team, as well as Aprilia's pay-per-play test rides at Dayonta's world-famous Bike Week. A lot of you wrote in wondering why on Earth you'd want to pay $20 for a test ride on a new Aprilia, so we saddled Eric with the task of riding some brand new Italian kit to find out what it's all about, and what your cash buys you…
Story and Photos by Eric Putter…
Like all great press junkets, this one was held in a memorable location, included a fine meal, elicited remarks from well dressed operatives, and featured an evaluation of the company’s latest wares and/or services.
The luncheon was a catered affair held at The Daytona 500 Experience, the Speedway's wildly interactive, Disneyland-like, "NASCAR fan wonderland" adjacent to the famed racetrack. This media gathering offered up a few twists: short speeches were given by plain-spoken men in brightly colored, matching race team-issued togs, instead of stuffy pinstriped suits. The main event was indeed a test-ride opportunity, but didn’t facilitate another round of the ego-laden 2009 Motojournalist Grand Prix series.
Instead, Aprilia treated assembled scribblers to a simple mid-day meal, race-team introduction and a refreshing break from Bike Week’s noise, traffic and various genres of chaos with a firsthand look at its new extended demo ride program.
The baton was
officially tossed to the Italian company’s new AMA Pro Racing partner, the Factory Aprilia Millennium Technologies team, at this low-key meet-and-greet. The squad will field a pair of KWS Motorsports-prepped RSV 1000Rs in a 12-race battle with a swarm of 600cc inline Fours, 675cc Triumph Triples and various other Twins in the new Daytona SportBike class. Manning the clip-ons will be a former Aprilia-mounted Grand Prix rider—and winner of last year’s Daytona 200--Chaz Davies and Ben Thompson, who rode for the KWS/Millennium Suzuki in 2008.
“With a new team structure, new riders and the new RSV4 en route for 2010, a season’s worth of preparation with KWS and real-world racing experience for Aprilia USA at this level has tremendous benefits,” said Rick Panettieri, Aprilia USA’s brand manager. “The current-model RSV has long been respected for its race-bred DNA and its precise and predictable handling under even the most aggressive riding conditions, which has made it a favorite among track day enthusiasts. We chose KWS Motorsports as a racing partner for their expertise in creating top-performing race and production bikes. This will ensure that the RSV is tuned to give the competition a real challenge.”
Team Manager Chip Spalding couldn’t wipe the smile from his mug when facing the media: “After several successful seasons in AMA Superbike and Superstock, launching a factory Daytona SportBike program for Aprilia is a real thrill,” he said. “Daytona under the lights is the perfect way to start what we know will be a memorable series.”
Appetites satiated, information bestowed, questions answered and notes taken, lights dimmed and the room emptied as a small flock of motoscribes made their way over to the Aprilia rig for their very own Aprilia Adventure, a 90-minute, 50-mile ride that costs $20. At Daytona, the rides sold out in just 15 minutes as demo demons vied for a spot on one of 16 bikes in each of the four adventures each day.
This new program came out of Aprilia’s desire to proactively address a concern that has dogged the motorcycle industry for years - and was recently backed up by research firm J.D. Power and Associates: New-bike buyers’ don’t have enough test-ride opportunities.
According to the 2008 Motorcycle Escaped Shopper Study - a survey of the dealership experience based on responses from 3,022 new-motorcycle buyers in September and October of 2008 - a majority of new-motorcycle buyers reject a motorcycle brand because of dealer-related issues, citing lack of suitable test rides as the number-one problem in their new-bike-buying experience.
The inaugural study, which analyzes the reasons shoppers consider a particular motorcycle brand but ultimately purchase a different brand, finds that 51 percent of new-motorcycle shoppers cite dealer-related issues as a reason for rejecting a motorcycle brand.
One of the primary dealer-related issues for rejecting a brand is the inability to test ride a bike, which was mentioned by one-fourth of shoppers as a reason for rejection, while 7 percent of shoppers indicate that the inability to test ride was the most influential reason for not purchasing a particular motorcycle brand.
Although I’m not in the market for an automatic-transmissioned, naked V-Twin, out of sheer professional curiosity I wanted to ride Aprilia’s new Mana, a scooter/motorcycle hybrid.
To give journos the full consumer experience, Aprilia’s demo folks played it by the book, even going so far as making us sign the standard test-ride legal form and suffer through a pre-ride briefing performed by a way-too-chipper staffer.
Normally split up by “experienced” and “semi-scary,” we took off in two random groups, each headed and tailed by chaperones wearing neon-yellow vests and sporting bike-to-bike communication.
When leaving the Speedway, we performed obligatory 12-minute, stoplight-to-stoplight tests of the bike’s cooling and exhaust-heat eradication systems that make up the majority of demo rides around the country. Beyond the mayhem, the first half of our Aprilia Adventure consisted of cruising a semi-rural, high-speed highway, veering off into agri-biz country on a semi-twisty road and stopping at a lakeside park, where we met up with the other group. We were joined there by additional Aprilia staffers, who offered up refreshments and gently prodded us about our takes on the bikes.
For the second leg, many riders swapped machines. I signed up to ride the Dorsoduro, a new Supermoto-style bike with a 750cc V-Twin motor and manual clutch. Eager to compare and contrast it with the Mana and my Yamaha WR250X, we headed back to Daytona via a similar mix of pleasant back roads, a smattering of interstate and tire-to-tire traffic.
This pleasant test-ride experience was similar to the motorcycle comparison routines that I’ve undertaken for various magazines and websites. We rode on many types of roads at all sorts of speeds, stopped to take notes and talk about the bikes, then threw a leg over another contender and headed off for another leg of our journey.
Rather than leading riders on a droning demo, Aprilia created an effective sales tool. I asked Aprilia’s Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Gary Pietruszewski if a measly 20 bucks covers Aprilia’s expenses for this ultra-cool ride. “No, but frankly, most of our buyers are on the higher end on the demographic scale, so we really want to give them a great experience,” he said. “We built the Aprilia Adventure to reach the people who are seriously interested in our products. So far, we’ve had more than 10 sales just from the demo rides, so our local dealer is really happy.”
The company man also dropped some big news: “If I really get lucky, for the race at Miller Motorsports Park, I’m hoping to bring over a few of our new V4s. They’ll be at dealerships in the fourth quarter of 2009 in standard and factory versions.”
Even though I didn’t have to pony up the cash--and in spite of conspiracy theorists’ dark assessment of this program as a way to bleed hard-earned money out of consumers--I found this adventure well worth the cost, especially considering the bag of schwag that awaited our return. Parting gifts at Daytona include an Aprilia-branded t-shirt, hat, pen, stickers, temporary tattoos and an event ticket-holding lanyard.
Aprilia’s Adventure will go on a nationwide tour of the AMA Pro Racing nationals and will make various dealer appearances along the way. For more information, visit www.apriliausa.com.
Photos & Words: Eric Putter