Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200 | First Ride

Serious competition for Ducati's Hypermotard

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

My first impression of the new Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200 was not what I was expecting. It functioned well in all respects and was quite quick and wonderfully controllable, but as we motored away from the bike's launch base in southern Spain, I couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed. The engine wasn't hitting with the brute force I'd hoped for, and when I tried to wheelie it the traction control intervened in a way that seemed wrong for a big supermoto.

Looking down at the tidy data display, I noticed I was riding in Touring mode and that the ATC (Aprilia Traction Control) was set to the highest of its three levels. I dabbed the appropriate buttons to switch into Sport mode and turn off the traction control, and voila, the Dorso was instantly transformed into a thunderous, hard-charging hooligan. It wasn't remotely sensible anymore, but it sure was fun!

To be honest, "sensible" is not an adjective that you'd expect to use when describing a supermoto. After all, most of the breed combines an upright, barely protected riding position with an impractically small fuel tank, unnecessarily long-travel suspension and a seat best suited to basketball players.

Those drawbacks haven't prevented supermoto streetbikes from gaining a strong following, and after the popularity of the Dorsoduro 750 it's easy to see why Aprilia decided to make a big-bore version. The inspiration for Aprilia's 1197cc powerplant is equally easy to comprehend. The engine's 106 x 67.8mm dimensions are virtually identical to those of a certain rival Italian marque's DOHC, eight-valve, liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twin. At least the newcomer has the decency to operate its eight valves via conventional methods rather than belt and desmodromics.

The new engine is commendably light and compact. In typical Aprilia style it's controlled by ride-by-wire electronics, with a choice of three power maps. The first two give alternative throttle response while still utilizing the bike's claimed 130 horsepower. Rain mode drops peak power down to that of the 750.

The 1200 looks very similar to the 750, but appears slightly more muscular due to the broader radiator surround and tailpiece. At 4 gallons the gas tank is bigger than the 750's 3.2-gallon job, but still hardly generous. Seat height remains a tallish 34.3 inches, so it's tricky for shorter riders.

As for what the 1200 is like to ride, that very much depends on which of its personalities you choose. In Touring mode-which I suspect most riders will use most of the time-the 1200 feels similar to the 750 but with more torque. There's no particular kick in the power delivery, rather a steadily growing wave of grunt dispensed in admirably well-metered fashion. The 90-degree V-twin is smooth with a relaxed lope down low and exhibits only slight buzzing near redline. I'd normally shift well before max revs anyway, except for a couple of quick blasts on the motorway where the Aprilia charged to over 130 mph with more to come while I made a not totally successful attempt to hide behind the flyscreen.

The only drawback to Touring mode was that the Dorso didn't feel particularly frisky, but that changes with the touch of a button. Sport mode certainly livens the bike up and is great fun on the right roads, but I wouldn't want the bike like that all the time, which is the beauty of the selectable power modes.

The Aprilia's new traction-control system was well worth having, although it's not the sophisticated system of the RSV4 Factory Special Edition. All three settings have their purpose, but they all insist on keeping the front wheel grounded, which is a shame. American riders won't have to worry about the wheelie nanny since the Dorso won't be equipped with ATC when it comes stateside this spring.

Chassis performance is perfectly adequate, limited more by the general supermoto layout, with the long-travel suspension inevitably feeling a bit vague when you start pushing the pace. At least the Sachs fork and shock are adjustable, and give a reasonably firm, well-damped ride with plenty of potential for fine-tuning.

The 1200's slight disadvantage compared to the 750 is that its lazier steering geometry means it's not as agile. All the key geometric measurements have been increased to improve stability at the higher speeds this bike will assuredly attain. As such, the 1200 needs fairly firm inputs to bend it into a turn, especially if you haven't compressed the long-travel fork sufficiently using the brakes.

Even so, the Dorso could be hustled along at a respectable rate, making good use of the grip of its Pirelli Diablo Corsa III tires and its near-limitless cornering clearance. Four-pot radial Brembos slow the bike efficiently, especially as they were plumbed with the ABS system that's an option on European bikes but won't be available in America.

Our launch route ended with a fabulously twisty section of road where the Dorso impressed with its slingshot acceleration and firm stopping power. On a ride like that, it was easy to understand the appeal of a big, torquey supermoto V-twin, especially as an Aprilia tech had topped up the tank during the lunch stop so the likely range of about 100 miles wasn't an issue.

Practicality will never be a supermoto's strength, but this Aprilia has plenty of appeal for town and back-road riding. In the future, the 1200 engine will surely be shoehorned into more versatile models, but for now the Dorsoduro is leading the way with a blend of style, functionality and performance that justifies its "nothing but pure fun" advertising line.

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