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Origainally published in International Motorcycle, April 2001 Vol.11/Iss.2

Que Bella Machina

By Steve Bond

The Canadian Motorcycle Heritage Museum, a registered charity, is dedicated to preserving the history of motorcycling in Canada from beginning to present day with a central focus on Canadian racing heritage. Presented as a travelling roadshow the Museum displays at motorcycle shows, events, races and through other museums and is maintained through donations.

What is this fascination we have with all things Italian? Just saying the names "Ferrari" and "Lamborghini" sets the sporty car set into immediate drooling mode, while Ducati, MV Augusta, Moto Guzzi and Aprilia are looked upon as motorcycling's Holy Grail by certain fanatical segments of the two-wheeled population.

Aprilia earned its blue-riband pedigree through years of fighting the Grand Prix wars in Europe, recently evolving into a competitive 1,000 cc four-stroke V-twin. Last year the upstarts even had an outside chance to win the World Superbike title, but for a couple of untimely get-offs by rider Troy Corser. Where Aprilia really made its name, however, was contesting the 250 GP class, winning several world championships, a few European titles and a couple of Canadian 250 championships along the way.

The gorgeous Aprilia AF-1 shown below was ridden by none other than current Superbike Numero Uno Steve Crevier, to two successive Canadian National 250 titles in 1989 and 1990. This particular Aprilia is a 1987 model and was originally ridden in the European 250 championship by an Austrian rider named Klaughbacker. An identical machine was ridden in the 250 Grand Prix World Championships that year by Loris Reggiani but reliability problems plagued the effort, requiring a complete re-design of the engine for 1988.

Frank Ciampini brought in two of these Aprilia AF-1s to Canada in 1988 and noted motorsports announcer Pat Gonsalves agreed to buy one of the bikes. "I think it was for around $20,000," Pat recalls. Jon Cornwell rode the Ciampini bike while Steve Crevier rode Gonsalves' motorcycle under the sponsorship of Toronto radio station, Q107. Cornwell and Crevier staged some momentous battles with Crevier emerging victorious at the end of the season, earning the right to wear the Number One 250 plate.


Photo by Colin Fraser
Steve Crevier rode the Aprilia to national 250 cc RACE championships in 1989 and 1990. Even more amazing, he was usually racing a superbike and a production bike on the same day ... totally different machines, including shift patterns. This shot was taken at Mosport in 1989.

The following year, Crevier signed with Yoshimura Suzuki in the AMA Championship but crashed and broke his ankle at Daytona. Shortly after, Yoshimura unceremoniously dumped him and he returned to the Frozen North. Pat loaned him the same Aprilia, which he rode to his second 250 title in 1990.

The Aprilia as it came from the factory is an absolute work of art. Walk around the pits at Shannonville or Mosport and examine the Yamaha TZs and Honda RS 250s. They're the best racing 250s available to the general public and nice enough motorcycles, but nothing can compare to a genuine factory works race bike, even one that's more than 10 years old.

Most of the fasteners on the Aprilia have that lovely, iridescent sheen that screams "titanium" and virtually every component and bracket has been drilled and/or lightened. Most bolt heads have had a circular depression milled in the center for added weight savings. While this might only gain a few grams on each part, add them all up, and it's possibly a pound or two over the entire bike.

The frame is a massive, twin-spar box-section aluminum unit with tapered roller steering head bearings, and the aluminum swingarm is heavily braced. The triple clamps appear as if they're solid billet aluminum but upon closer inspection, sections have been milled for lightness and an aluminum plate welded over top of the cutout for strength.

Front forks are infinitely adjustable conventional Marzocchi units, and the top triple clamp has eccentric adjusters for changing fork offset quickly and easily. Rear suspension is by a multi-adjustable Ohlins shock and spring. Riders could specify either a 3.25 or 3.5 inch Tecno Magnesio front wheel in 17-inch diameter, and the rear is the same only in a 4.5 inch width. Michelin tires were used in the European GP conflicts while Crevier opted for Dunlop rubber.

Braking duties are ably handled by twin 280 mm Brembo cast-steel discs on the front, one Zanzani 200 mm aluminum disc on the rear, and Brembo aluminum GP calipers all around.

The engine is a twin-cylinder Rotax and unique in that it's a "tandem" design with the cylinders inline (one in front of the other) rather than transverse or in a V. The mill has rotary valves and the carbs are magnesium 38 mm flat-slide Dell'Ortos. The tandem design makes for a very narrow engine, unlike earlier rotary valve twins with the carbs projecting from the sides of the machine. The gearbox has six speeds and many possible combinations of internal ratios.

The carbon-fibre tank and fairing are finished to a beautiful gloss and are incredibly light. Even the fuel filler cap is magnesium and so light that if it were left loose, gas fumes rising from the tank would almost float it away.


Photo by Steve Bond
A work of art now as much as it was when new, the factory Aprilia racer that Steve Crevier used to win two Canadian titles in 1989 and 1990

It's certainly got all the trick stuff, but in the words of Shania Twain, "That don't impress me much." How well did all this hardware perform on the track? If Crevier winning back-to-back Canadian 250 titles isn't convincing enough, check out some old lap record sheets from Shannonville. It shows that in 1989, Monsieur Crevier rode the Aprilia to a 250 class record on the short Nelson circuit at 55.60 seconds. Scroll down to the absolute record and you'll see it's 55.60 seconds by some guy named Crevier on an Aprilia 250. Hmm.

On the long track the same season, Crevier set the Pro Formula record (again on the Aprilia) at 1:49.58, which compares favorably to the Superbike record of Number One plate holder Rueben McMurter at 1:48.38. Lapping a 250 only 1.2 seconds off the Superbike record isn't too shabby, especially on a track with a long straight and some pretty fast corners.

In 1992, Pat loaned the bike to Art Robbins who crashed it quite heavily at Shannonville. "I then sold what was left to Ziggy Kapuscinski in Guelph just to salvage some cash, " Pat remembers. Ziggy had partially restored the bike when it was acquired by Bar Hodgson, CEO of SUPERSHOW Events and founder of the Canadian Heritage Motorcycle Museum. Bar completed the authentic restoration of the Aprilia and it's now part of Bar's Collection in the Competition line-up, just as it appeared on Canadian and US race tracks 10 years ago.

Bar has ridden the Aprilia at Mosport and reports that it still runs great. When I photographed the Aprilia, it was residing in Bar's office, right in front of his desk. Bar certainly has some fascinating, Italian-design office furniture.

Que bella machina.


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