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THROTTLE JOCKEY SUSAN CARPENTER

There's fast, and then there's this

October 18, 2006|Susan Carpenter

SMOKIN'. That isn't just a reference to the F4-1000R's top speed. It's what I wanted to be doing after riding MV Agusta's '07 model sport bike. I don't even like cigarettes, but there's something about a tach topping out at 17,000 rpm that makes a girl want to light up.

The new F4 is freakishly fast. For 2007, MV Agusta has eked an extra seven horsepower from its 16-valve system and shaved 8 1/2 pounds from its wheels, chassis and electrics. It now boasts a maximum, out-of-the-box speed of 187 mph and horsepower of 174 -- a feat MV Agusta hopes to exploit if the American Motorcyclist Assn. approves its entry into superstock racing next year.

Until 1980, when the Italian manufacturer put the brakes on motorcycle production, MV Agusta was the bike to beat. It had claimed 75 world championships and 275 grand prix victories with Giacomo Agostini and other legends at the controls. Almost 30 years later, the recently reincarnated MV Agusta Motorcycles has set its sights on reclaiming the brand's title as manufacturer of the winningest bikes in the world with its newest F4-1000R. During the 58th annual Bonneville National Speedweek in August, the bike reached the highest recorded speed for a production class 1000cc motorcycle: 187.726 mph.

That was on unmodified showroom stock -- the same model that's available at dealers and that will, at some point, be scraped from the pavement on suicide corners throughout the country. The warning sticker on the tank doesn't say it, but I will: The F4-1000R is for experienced riders only, preferably ones with a racing pedigree.

The F4-1000R's power band is like a stick of dynamite. It's all fuse until about 5,000 rpm, when it completely explodes. It wasn't until 10,000 rpm that I'd reached maximum torque and 11,900 that I'd maxed out my horsepower, which was tweaked for '07 with a state-of-the-art, flashreprogrammable ECU fuel injection system to control each cylinder individually instead of two cylinders at a time.

As I rocketed toward Angeles Crest Highway on California State Route 2, I attempted to test the gear ratio, but I didn't get far. MV's specs said I'd be able to reach 78.5 mph in first gear at 13,000 rpm. I managed to hit 74 at 12,500 before the rev limiter flashed red. I clicked into second, and cracked 100. The bike wasn't sweating, but I was. As for hitting 129 mph in third, 153 in fourth, 174 in fifth and 187 in sixth, I'll have to take MV Agusta's word for it. Needless to say, I spent most of my time in first gear as I turned Angeles Crest into an unofficial racetrack on a recent weekday.

Lest the horsepower fool you, the F4 isn't a one-trick pony. My friend Flicka was more than agile in canyon country. In addition to reducing the diameter of the tubing in the chassis trellis to save weight, MV Agusta improved maneuverability by reducing the bike's rotating mass and unsprung weight. It put the wheels on a diet for '07, slimming each by 2 pounds with ultra-light, forged-aluminum Brembos and spokes that narrow to the diameter of a pencil.

The chrome-moly frame and 50-mm front fork -- the largest diameter fork of any production motorcycle -- also did their part, improving stability and control by increasing rigidity. With antifriction coating smoothing movement and anti-top-out springs helping on the rebound, the top-of-the-line Marzocchi was especially helpful accelerating out of corners. Rather than making me look like a failed tryout for the StarBoyz stunt crew, it kept my front end planted.

There are reasons the F4-1000R has been dubbed the Ferrari of sport bikes -- reasons that extend beyond a shared Italian heritage, commitment to high style and racing legacy. Ferrari engineers inspired the radial valve design that's become a hallmark of the new MV Agusta. Radial valves allow the engine to breathe in and out of the combustion chamber more effectively, especially at higher rpms. For the '07 F4-1000R, the longitudinal distance between the valves was increased by a seemingly minuscule 2 millimeters, but the increased intake valve angle allows better tumbling of the gases into the cylinder for a bigger bang of power.

The legendary sports car maker was also the inspiration for the F4's exhaust. By ripping apart a Ferrari, designer Massimo Tamburini came up with the idea to route the F4's pipes under the seat, with a four-intotwo-into-one system routed back into two into four. Tamburini first routed the pipes under the seat on the other legendary sport bike he designed -- the Ducati 916 -- but he's tweaked it with the F4, not only for aesthetic appeal but to help MV Agusta create its own immediately recognizable and appealing exhaust tone, a la Ducati and Harley-Davidson.

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