Becoming an Italian bike connoisseur by accident and auction
It was a simple plan; buy an Italian bike on the cheap through site sponsor CrankyApe.com and spend as little as possible to get it on the track. To reflect the project’s low buck intensions, we’d call it Penny Pasta. Given their reputation for fragility, high maintenance and horrendous parts prices, we weren’t sure that we could achieve this goal with a bike built in Italy but decided to give it a shot. Hey, every true sportbike enthusiast should own at least one motociclistico d'Italia in his lifetime!
We haunted the CrankyApe.com site; sure we’d be acquiring a Ducati, since that company is the most prolific Italian producer. Surely we couldn’t afford one of their really high end models but perhaps a big-inch Monster or a 916 would come along within our budget. Then we spotted one seriously rare exotic cycle, a 2003 Mille R. Holy Rigatoni! This machine had been Aprilia’s top offering in its time and came factory equipped with Öhlins, OZ, Brembo and Akrapovic goodies right off the showroom floor, making it a true exotic. Miraculously, we won the bid at $2995, a mere five bucks less than the three grand cap we’d set for our project’s purchase.
Upon getting our Cranky Aprilia home, we were stunned to find it a clean, fully functional machine that was merely scuffed up a bit. It’s mind boggling the way insurance companies write off motorcycles for purely cosmetic issues but we weren’t about to complain! While a bit of gaffer’s tape and some safety wire would have had the bike ready for action, we spiced it up just a bit. We found someone who’d destroyed another Mille in a racing crash and had been left sitting on a brand new set of Sharkskinz bodywork. We got the glass for half price, paying $500. Then we bought a set of Woodcraft rearsets, simply because it was the least expensive way to convert the transmission to GP shift. We found these on EBay, listed as new scratch and dent, for a “buy it now” price of only $279. After a visit to site sponsor Superbike Suspension for a baseline setup, we were ready to go.
Right away, our Mille far exceeded any expectations we’d had for it. (See “Penny Pasta Pounces.”) The machine proved dependable as an anvil and was an absolute blast to ride. Honestly, the 1000cc twin in our 2003 machine is no more powerful than a modern 600 four cylinder sportbike but it has loads of torque and is perhaps the easiest, most forgiving bike to go fast on that we’ve ever had in our possession. We fed the Aprilia Amsoil synthetic oil and K&N filters on a regular basis, cleaned and maintained it after every weekend and just rode the wheels off our Ape! Nothing broke all year. Other than brake pads and tires, this Mille asked for nothing more than the love that any rider should show his machine between events. The bike was simply bulletproof. As our affliction turned to addiction, we raved about the machine in an article called, “Viva la Mille!”
Halfway through the season, Superbike Kenny talked us into a major suspension upgrade. The bling Öhlins components were treated to a full service and upgraded internally with the best race valving that the Swedish company offers. (See “Öhlins Enhanced” for the full story.) We spent $1200 on this modification but found it to be worth every penny as we shed seconds per lap and began to seriously annoy those we shared the track with. The rebuilt suspension made a great bike unbelievable and we couldn’t have been happier with the results.
Senior Editor K3 managed to crash the Mille twice this summer. Once, he simply screwed up and the other time got into something slippery on the pavement. Both crashes were front end tucks and both times the bike ended up sliding on its right side. The first crash caused a lot of problems, including a punctured dry sump tank, a leaking radiator, a broken stock clip-on, a crushed muffler and bodywork damage. This led to the articles “Muffler Repair” and “Installing Clip-Ons.” OEM replacement items were sourced through Aprilia specialist AF1 Racing. This company got us what we needed quickly and at a fair price, which wasn’t too much out of line with what you’d spend for similar Japanese parts. In the second incident, the bike managed to land on top of K3 and ride him to safety, suffering no damage other than a bent rearset. K3 got out of it in one piece as well, thanks to his Komodo K/FX Pro Racer suit and Sidi Vortice Air boots. When you’re asphalt surfing with a 400 pound motorcycle pinning your limbs to the ground, it pays to be wearing the best gear available!
Aside from trackday action as a coach’s bike in all levels, we raced our CrankyApe.com Aprilia Mille on three occasions. With its 1000cc V-twin, the bike is classified to compete against modern literbikes and the big, new twins from Buell, Ducati and KTM. While typically outgunned by 50 or more horsepower, our Mille never failed to bring us home within sight of the winners. Not bad for what is at this point a very dated design! Our Mille’s final engagement for the year was when K3 used her to instruct a race licensing clinic at Gateway International Raceway in St Louis. As usual, she performed her duties brilliantly and without complaint.
Penny Pasta? Damn straight. Over the course of an entire summer, we spent a total of five grand to own and modify this wonderful machine and the ecperience was worth every cent. Aprilia built one fine motorcycle in the 1998-2003 Mille and while dated, this model offers an exceptional performance-per-dollar ratio as a used sportbike. Because we were able to get ours as a salvage bike through CrankyApe.com, the deal was even sweeter. Aprilia’s Max Biaggi dominated World Superbike this year and we’d be lying if we said that this didn’t add to the pride we felt when taking our Mille to the track. It’s fun to be a card-carrying fan of the winning team! Other than maintenance, desired modifications and crash repair, our Aprilia required exactly nothing all year. It was utterly dependable and an absolute joy to ride. We still can’t believe that the insurance company was willing to write off such a capable machine. This project has been a complete success, proving that you really can live your dream of Italian motorcycle ownership on a budget through the magic of the Cranky Ape. Mission accomplished, so now it’s time to move on, right? No way. We’re never selling this bike!