2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200 | First Ride

A Motorcycle Made to Multi-Task

They say: "Your daily adventure."
We say: "Beats your daily grind."

Modern adventure-touring motorcycles are expected to be, above all, versatile: jack-of-all-trades and master of each, so to speak. Aprilia is somewhat late to the ADV party with its new Caponord 1200 (replacing the original 1000cc Caponord discontinued back in 2008), but given the recent sales figures in that market segment, late is better than never. Powered by a retuned version of the 1197cc, 90-degree V-twin from the Dorsoduro megamotard, the Capo is a tarmac-biased “tall-arounder” bristling with the latest adventure tech, including traction control, variable ride modes, and even semi-active suspension.

Dubbed Aprilia Dynamic Damping (ADD), Aprilia’s optional electronic-assist suspension features a Sachs fork and shock that are electronically adjustable in four pre-defined settings (rider, rider and passenger, or both plus luggage), or can be left in an automatic mode that alters damping response on the fly. Multiple engine maps (Sport, Touring, and Rain), switchable, two-channel ABS, and three-level-adjustable traction control are standard equipment.

Riding under decidedly iffy conditions during a press launch on the normally sunny island of Sardinia allowed me to make the most of these rider safety aids. And when the precipitation paused momentarily, I was briefly able to exploit the benefits of the electronic suspension, too. In the auto setting, ADD electronically adjusts compression damping (rebound remains hydraulically controlled) in real time in response to bump energy transmitted to the bike. The system monitors vehicle acceleration, throttle position, braking input, fork and shock extension speeds (measured via patented, automotive-inspired pressure sensors), and more, and then adjusts the damping in response. The ride quality is uncannily good, reminding me of the old cliché about a magic carpet ride. You can see the bumps and junior potholes in the road surface, but you barely feel them as you ride across—all without sacrificing feedback, which remains quite good.

The Caponord architecture is very clever, with a two-piece saddle that gives passengers plenty of legroom and a narrow front section that provides shorter riders an easier reach to the ground. This, plus deep indents in the tank that let your knees tuck in tight, makes the Aprilia seem smaller and more maneuverable than its competition, especially along fast, twisty roads. A wide Accossato handlebar on 51mm risers lets you enjoy sweet steering and agile handling that belies the conservative steering geometry, while a long wheelbase improves stability both at high speeds and while taking advantage of the powerful Brembo braking system. Wheels are 17-inchers on both ends, wrapped with sportbike-spec Dunlop Qualifier 2 tires; a right-sized 180/55 rear width turns in more quickly than a fatter tire would. This was a smart choice.

The short-stroke V-twin engine feels more refined here than it does in the Dorsoduro application. Fluid torque delivery lets you pull away smoothly from as low as 1500 revs and power builds without interruption across the rev range, with the happy zone between 4000 and 7000 rpm (against a 9500-rpm rev limit). Ratios inside the crisp-shifting, six-speed gearbox are well-chosen: first gear is quite long, followed by three close ratios to optimize acceleration and two top ratios spaced for relaxed cruising. The hydraulic clutch is light and predictable, but you hardly have to use it—the gearbox is so smooth you can shift without clutching in either direction and not crunch gears. The Caponord emanates less engine heat than the Dorsoduro, and noticeably less vibration at all revs, too.

Three different engine maps can be changed on the go by thumbing the starter button—only after the engine is running, of course. The Rain map, which I sampled extensively, delivers a claimed 100 horsepower and maximum TC response for heightened confidence in poor conditions. Touring and Sport modes both deliver the full 125 bhp (claimed), but with engine response and TC intervention varying accordingly. Touring uses TC level 2 (of 3) and I could often feel it acting predictably and reassuringly on the exit of damp turns. Sport displayed much more aggressive throttle response, but I wasn’t able to fully exercise this setting in the miserable conditions. Traction-control settings and ABS sensitivity can also be altered separately but only when the bike is stopped, which is annoying—more annoying, you can’t increase or decrease the cruise control speed without switching it off and selecting a new speed, which is hugely inconvenient.

The Caponord is a lot of bike for the money, especially considering its technical sophistication. (U.S. prices have not been set. In Europe, it sells for the equivalent of $17,600 base/$20,700 fully optioned.) I can’t wait to try the Caponord in properly dry conditions, especially since, with its road-oriented bias, sport riding is where its strengths will really allow it to shine. If this bike works nearly as well in the dry as it did in the wet, it will be a most welcome addition to the adventure-touring category.

Tech Spec

The bones and beating heart of Aprilia’s Dorsoduro megamotard, dressed up as an adventure bike and topped with electronic suspension technology.
BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multistrada 1200, KTM 1190 Adventure, Moto Guzzi Stelvio, Triumph Tiger Explorer, Yamaha Super Ténéré
Price n/a
Engine type l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 1197cc
Bore x stroke 106.0 x 67.8mm
Compression 12.5:1
Fuel system EFI, ride-by-wire
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 125.0 bhp @ 8250 rpm
Claimed torque 78.6 lb.-ft. @ 6800 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension Sachs 43mm fork with electronically adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Sachs shock with electronically adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brake Brembo one-piston caliper, 240mm disc with ABS
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Qualifier 2
Rear tire 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Qualifier 2
Rake/trail 26.1°/4.9 in.
Seat height 33.1 in.
Wheelbase 61.6 in.
Fuel capacity 6.3 gal.
Claimed curb weight 510 lbs.
Color n/a
Available Fall 2013
Warranty 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact www.apriliausa.com
Verdict 4 out of 5 stars
Superlative street performance, exceptional comfort, and lots of useful technology make the Caponord a great choice for on-road adventuring.

Aprilia Caponord 1200

Aprilia Caponord 1200
The optional Travel Pack includes a centerstand, cruise control, and hard luggage with clever mounting hardware that’s virtually invisible when the bags are removed.
Aprilia Caponord 1200
The Caponord’s wind tunnel-tested screen gives good protection but is finicky to adjust, requiring you to stop and twiddle two separate knobs to raise or lower it.
Aprilia Caponord 1200
A high-quality programmable dash commands the cockpit, displaying a digital speedo, engine map, gear selection, suspension settings, and more.