2008 Aprilia 750 Shiver: Molto Buono

Aprilia puts the style back in styling

If the Italian matinee idol Marcello Mastroianni was in his prime these days, and inclined toward two-wheeling, no doubt he'd have multiple motocicli. For photo shoots and red carpet events, he'd probably have something like a Ducati 900 SS from the '70s, transported by trailer. But to get himself from il caffè to the photo shoot, he'd ride his Aprilia. Without a helmet, silk jacket fastened with one button, casually holding a French cigarette behind the right-side mirror in such a way that the breeze blew no ashes onto him or his beskirted and sunglassed passenger, riding sidesaddle behind.

Aprilias are somehow simultaneously sexy and mechanically impressive; aggressive yet understated. It's easy to imagine some happy go lucky Prius-owning chap strolling past a Tuono 1000 R parked curbside, and feeding the meter to impress onlookers. The bomb, of course, is that they ride as beautifully as they look.

Ultimate Toys Motorsports, dealers of Aprilia, Victory, and Suzuki, is located right at the intersection of Kingston Pike and Canton Hollow Road, near Farragut. Canton Hollow leads to Fox Road, which connects to Westland, which puts you on Pellissippi Parkway. The menu is curves, hills, river, train tracks, and speed. The Aprilia 750 Shiver dined heartily and graciously, the perfect companion.

The motorcycle with which I am most familiar, and which has most shaped my personal prejudices, is the 1971 BMW R60 I rode for 15 years. You can start it with a nail. Sans tools, its carburetors are easier to get into than most child-proof prescription containers. And if you extracted its wiring harness—much of it insulated by quaint, waxy fabric—and arranged it on a table, you could easily demonstrate to primary schoolers the most important achievements of Thomas Alva Edison. With regard to speed and performance, it's basically a two-wheeled riding lawnmower. But there is comfort in knowing that the paper clip that holds your insurance card to your registration beneath the seat is capable of bypassing almost any electrical malfunction, at least long enough to get you home. So you'll pardon my disdain for advertised circuitry- and computer-enhanced performance—or even safety—features on modern bikes.

I fell in love with the Shiver's "Ride by Wire" system because I experienced it before I read about it. In the interest of fuel efficiency and performance, ignition and fuel delivery are electronically regulated based on perceived circumstances. In traffic, going from light to light, the bike is polite, calm and quiet. But when you wish to maintain speed on a grade, or maybe drop some threatening semis from the rear-view, the power is right there, instantaneously. It's as if a prairie farm widow had endured one too many insults in the presence of Kung Fu's Kwai Chang Caine, and the beast goes from monk to mutha. And when it does open up, the Shiver doesn't whine like a campus crotch-rocket. Rather, it's that deliciously accelerating popping that sounds like silk being ripped, or a vintage Alfa Romeo cornering on a test track. Worth mentioning: When accelerating, frame and drivetrain direct all that power into forward motion. The front end bucks not a bit.

If you're considering a career as a Monte Carlo cat burglar, the Shiver is recommendable; all but silent among the alleys and aqueducts, the exhaust laughing uproariously, "Catch me if you can!" through mountain slips back to Italy.

The bike handles like a dream. I'm not condoning either, but not only could someone like Mastroianni light a cigarette while driving it, his girlfriend could drink champagne on back. I specifically mentioned the route I took, because you may be aware that it includes an abrupt 90-degree turn on a train crossing. You don't see it until you're right upon it. On almost any other bike, I would have half-stood to let my legs absorb the shock, and idled over it. The Shiver and I had come to terms en route to this crossing. I braked by down-shifting into second, and leaned hard into this pocket-size curve. It was a non-event. I don't know if there's another chip that allows the inverted forks to talk to the rear swing-arm, but the effect is pretty much magic carpet.

The Shiver also allows the rider to choose between three travel "modes," even on the fly. Adjusting acceleration, torque, and fuel economy in ways you'll surely comprehend, you can choose between "TOURING," "SPORT," and "RAIN." I stayed in sport, but would have trusted myself to Aprilia's engineering if a cloudburst had occurred.

Difficult to imagine, but if I have an anonymous benefactor out there who happens upon this, the Aprilia I'd most like to find in my driveway with a bow on it is not the Shiver, but the 850 Mana. (Gray.) The Mana may truly be the intelligent motorcycle of the future. The gas tank is beneath the seat, and what looks like a gas tank is lockable cargo storage—large enough for a full-face helmet, and champagne. The Sportgear transmission is clutchless, and can run full auto, or be shifted by foot or from the left-side grip. It has a parking brake. So Italian.

Shiver. The choice of names is understandable for what amounts to a thinking-man's sportbike. I've attempted to find out what they call it in Italy, with no luck. But the Shiver impresses me as a bike that's engineered, ultimately, for safety; functional features geared not toward hot-dogging but real-time problem solving. It brings to mind what émigrés sometimes notice about a difference of mindset between Americans and Europeans: It often seems that Americans drive SUVs because they consider accidents unavoidable and wish to survive them via armor, whereas Italians drive light and nimble cars like Fiats and intend to survive accidents by avoiding them.