2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 | Road Test

It’s a Multistrada Turned Down to 8

By Marc Cook, Photography by Tim Sutton
They say: 
“The point of equilibrium between sport and comfort."
We say: 
 “A point definitely biased toward comfort.”

It's our fault. As enthusiasts, we naturally respond to motorcycles that give us a little something extra. Eye-widening performance. Transcendent handling. Character by the 55-gallon drum. For the most part, we like our bikes "turned up to 11," where a twist of the throttle makes you tighten your stomach and press your knees to the tank so you have even the slightest chance of hanging on, and hard braking splatters tears of joy on the inside of your faceshield.

But here's the deal. Bikes that provide relentless, always-on excitement can be less than charming to live with day in and day out—rain, shine, commute. They're like hyperactive puppies and crazy/sexy girlfriends, only with two wheels and an engine. When the gloss wears off, they can be revealed to be temperamental, difficult mates.

It seems to be with this in mind that Aprilia developed the latest Caponord. Clearly targeting Ducati's charismatic and powerful Multistrada, the Capo does much of what Ducati expects of the Multi—provide a sporty, tour-ready ADV-like machine that doesn't completely rule out off-road usage. Even so, let's get real here. You can take a Multi off road—as young staffer Zack Courts did with his long-term bike—and the Capo will tolerate your average gravel driveway. But with sportbike-sized cast wheels, street-only tires and low-hanging underbits, neither the Ducati nor the Aprilia really want to go off road. Either will, but the clanging of gravel on the belly and the growing fear of bending a rim should signal you back to pavement.

Look past the ADV styling because what you have in the Caponord is a tallish sport-touring machine. And that's not a bad thing. With the ADV image you also get a roomy and natural riding position, though a few of us thought the large-diameter aluminum handlebar was a bit wider and taller than necessary. (The bar width helps you keep tabs on the standard hard saddlebags, which are about as wide.) Mounted ahead of the grips are standard hand guards, which stand in for a conventional ST's wide fairing for weather protection. Beneath you is a wide, soft, well-shaped saddle.

Keeping the wind off the rider, the RSV-like, frame-mounted fairing splits the atmosphere cleanly and features a manually adjustable windscreen. As the screen rises, the top edge tilts forward slightly. All of our testers noted a smooth flow of high-velocity air coming off the screen, which is good because there's little turbulence but bad because previously quiet helmets seem loud. Taller riders were less enamored of the setup than our shorties, regardless of windscreen position.

Pushing the Caponord through the wind is a substantially revised version of the 1,197cc liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twin also found in the Dorsoduro 1200. Aprilia has taken steps to improve the engine's efficiency and boost torque. The twin-spark heads are now fed by a double-injector, ride-by-wire fuel system with 52mm throttle bodies. An electronic exhaust valve just before the muffler is said to smooth torque delivery, but we also know it allows this extremely smooth engine to bellow delightfully when hard on the throttle. Other changes include taller overall gearing and a larger, 690-watt generator to power all your junk. And the collection of computers the Capo carries around.

Power-hungry technology is arguably the Caponord's most prominent feature set. Of course there's switchable, two-channel Continental ABS standard—a very good system, though the plumbing is numbing to lever feel—as well as three ride modes for the RBW software. Rain limits the Capo to 100 hp and offers truly gentle, almost gooey throttle response. Sport and Touring both unleash the full 125 horses in residence—107.7 of them make it to the back wheel, according to our dyno—but with different response profiles. At first, Sport feels almost too aggressive, especially on initial throttle takeup, but it's better than many we've tried and is easily accommodated; it gives the Capo a slightly more energetic personality. But you'll probably spend the most time in Touring, where the mellow V-twin picks up really smoothly but further throttle response is precise and perfectly aggressive. Where many RBW systems' "tamer" modes are too easygoing, Aprilia got this just right. Finally, traction control is standard, three levels plus a latchable setting that stays turned off until you say otherwise.

And then you have the Capo's semi-active suspension (see the sidebar, "It All ADDs Up," below). Where you can surely sense BMW's Dynamic ESA working on the R1200GS and would have to be brain dead to miss the aggressiveness of Ducati's Skyhook on the Multistrada, the Caponord's level of active intervention is much more subtle. Instead, the bike feels like it wears fairly soft springs and depends on moderate amounts of damping to keep the wheels in control. You can feel the system stiffening up when you jump on the brakes or grab a handful of throttle. But even at the extremes of activation, the Capo's suspension strokes freely and naturally, and feels considerably less aggressively damped than Ducati's Skyhook. Of course, weight also explains the difference. Comparing actual wet weights with bags in place, we see that the Capo is a massive 50 pounds heavier.

Chubby, yes, but at least you get a smooth, supple ride out on the highway, plus a really pleasant riding position and a soft saddle to make long days on the road feel less so. (Some of us thought the seat was too soft, but there's an optional gel saddle.) Aprilia offset the Capo's mediocre fuel mileage—37 mpg average during our testing—with a 6.3-gallon fuel tank. These strengths join standard luggage, cruise control, long-legged gearing, and an engine that feels relaxed even at triple-digit cruising speeds.

That powerplant is even happier when you hit the back roads and air it out. While low-end and midrange torque is impressive, the engine comes alive from 6,000 rpm to the 9,000-rpm redline, pulling well enough at the top that you're likely to run headlong into the rev limiter. Keeping the tall-geared engine on the boil is easy thanks to one of the best gearboxes we've sampled. Overall, the Aprilia's V-twin is a great combination of grunty and soulful.

If only the chassis were as willing. While the Caponord's steering effort is moderate and its responses to the helm are accurate, the bike's soft suspension tuning suggests you cap the pace at something this side of intense, a hint accompanied by the peg feelers and centerstand feet touching down. Don't misunderstand: You're moving at a pleasurable rate when this happens, but the motor and brakes are clearly up for more. On that: While the Continental ABS on the Capo is effective, the system as a whole has a lot of lost motion and very gentle takeup just as you squeeze the lever. Once activated, though, the brakes are powerful and progressive.

Brake and suspension performance are emblematic of the Caponord's overall personality. It's an utterly likable high-performance ST (that happens to look like an ADV machine) and avoids trying too hard to be a superbike that jumped assembly lines halfway through. And at $15,499 in the Travel Pack configuration (meaning the ADD and standard bags, the only version coming to the US), the Caponord undercuts the Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring by $4,500. Many enthusiasts will see that something extra hard to resist. We really wouldn't blame them.


Off the Record

Zack Courts, Associate Editor

AGE: 30 | HEIGHT: 6’2” | WEIGHT: 185 lb. | INSEAM: 34 in.

You have to respect what Aprilia is doing with the Caponord. Making another 1,200cc V-twin adventure bike in Italy is a bold move, considering what a presence Ducati’s Multistrada is—not to mention that the ADV market is arguably the most competitive genre in motorcycling.

And it’s a nice bike, the Capo; a plush seat, a sensible rider interface, and saddlebags that actually work and look good! The truth is, though, I wouldn’t recommend or purchase this bike instead of a BMW GS, KTM 1190 Adventure, or Multistrada. Yes, those bikes are more expensive, but they’re also better: more power, better brakes, better suspension, and arguably more capability (depending which one you choose). The Caponord does deliver a stout motor, lots of technology, and character that only Aprilias have. If you like the idea of an ADV bike you’re not likely to see going the other way, this is probably the best of the rest.


EVOLUTION

A completely new model sharing only the name with the ETV1000 Caponord, using a Dorsoduro 1200 engine.

RIVALS

BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multistrada S, KTM 1190 Adventure, Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX, Suzuki V-Strom 1000, Triumph Explorer, Yamaha Super Ténéré

Tech SPEC

Price $15,499
Engine type l-c 90º V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 1197cc
Bore x stroke 106.0 x 67.8mm
Compression 12.0:1
Fuel system EFI, ride by wire
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Measured horsepower 107.7 hp @ 8100 rpm
Measured torque 74.3 lb.-ft. @ 6900 rpm
Frame Steel-tube trellis, cast aluminum
Front suspension Sachs 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brake Brembo single-piston caliper, 240mm disc with ABS
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart
Rear tire 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart
Rake/trail 26.1°/4.9 in.
Seat height 33.0 in.
Wheelbase 61.5 in.
Fuel capacity 6.3 gal.
Fuel Mileage (hi/lo/avg.) 45/33/37 mpg
Weight (tank full/empty) 592/554 lb.
Colors Formula Red, Glam White
Available Now
Warranty 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact apriliausa.com

VERDICT 4/5

Aprilia’s entry in the street-biased ADV market is a comfortable, long-distance running mate that offers high technology and superb value.


It All ADDs Up

Aprilia's Take on Semi-Active Suspension

Debuting on the Caponord is Sachs-built electronic suspension called ADD, for Aprilia Dynamic Damping. The general components are familiar if you've been watching this technology. A 43mm inverted fork features a spring pack with manually adjustable preload in the right leg, while the other one features some pretty trick pieces. First is a servo system that can electronically adjust both rebound and compression damping in 10 milliseconds, according to Aprilia.

At the back, a linkless Sachs monoshock features electronically adjustable damping—through servo-operated conventional needle valves—to skew compression and rebound damping from the baseline settings. The shock has another trick to show off, too; because Aprilia has fitted the Caponord with suspension-travel sensors, it's possible to do auto leveling. When you select the Auto mode for loading in ADD, the system reads rear suspension sag and drives the preload adjuster to obtain an "ideal" setting. You can also manually select one of four static preload settings.

One of the patented aspects of ADD is the ability to read front-suspension travel as well, but how? This is really clever. In the left fork cap, there's a simple temperature-compensated pressure sensor. As the fork compresses, the pressure of the air above the oil rises, and ADD interprets changes in pressure as fork movement.

ADD has no user adjustments besides load and manual front preload. Damping rates are scheduled based on rider input—acceleration, braking, steady state cruising—and actual wheel response. The system is always seeking settings to reduce chassis movement while increasing damping during aggressive maneuvers to minimize chassis pitching and other disturbances that could compromise traction or make the bike feel loose.

—Marc Cook

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