Ollie Rooke travels to Sardinia for the international launch of Aprilia’s highly-anticipated new adventure bike, the Tuareg 660
I was at a motorcycle show recently when I overheard a guy point out a new and pretty damn exciting adventure bike to his mate.
“I’d be happy with one of those in my garage,” he said. “It’s nice,” came the reply. “But I’m not old or boring enough for an adventure bike just yet.”
What the hell? It was all I could do to restrain myself from berating him there and then. How could anyone think adventure bikes are boring?
I mean, sure, in comparison to sports bikers, we do ask a lot of our motorcycles. They need to be comfortable enough to cover hundreds of miles in a day, powerful and torquey enough to haul us, luggage, and a pillion over mountain passes, as well as being capable of tackling gnarly trails.
It’s a hefty bill of demands, so I suppose manufacturers could be forgiven for not delivering Ducati Panigale-esque thrills with every new release?
And yet, more often than not, they do. I’ve watched a BMW R 1250 GS keep up with sports bikes in the twisties. I’ve seen ABR editor James come back to the office beaming from ear to ear after a blast on the rocket-powered Ducati Multistrada V4.
And, most recently, I had an absolute hoot at the launch of a brand-new bike that comes with knobblies, long-travel suspension, but was also thrilling to ride on the road.
The bike I’m talking about is the new Aprilia Tuareg 660, and I was lucky enough to put it through its paces at the bike’s international press launch on the Italian island of Sardinia.
The new-for-2022 Tuareg may represent Aprilia’s first foray into the adventure bike market since the Caponord ceased production in 2016, but it’s actually a name steeped in motorcycling heritage.
The first production Tuareg appeared in 1985, inspired by Aprilia’s Dakar Rally bikes. The name went on to accompany a range of lightweight single-cylinder dual-sport machines until production ceased in 1994 when the line was put to pasture by the Italian manufacturer.
In more recent years, Aprilia would have watched with interest at the re-birth of a number of Dakar-inspired dual-sport motorcycles with names rich in biking history, like the Honda Africa Twin and the Yamaha Ténéré 700.
And, with those machines proving hugely popular with motorcycle buyers both at home and abroad, Aprilia decided it was time to dust down the Tuareg name and enter the adventure biking fray once again with its own machine inspired by the manufacturer’s Dakar heritage.
As I walked out of my hotel in Cagliari on the morning of the press launch, I got my first look at the Tuareg in person. It was immediately clear that it is an off-road-focused adventure bike. And while it’s no catwalk model, there’s something compelling about its stripped-back, oversized dirt bike looks that made me want to jump on board and hit the trails immediately.
Those first impressions were reinforced during the pre-ride briefing, when Aprilia’s designers stressed that they had prioritised function over form with the Tuareg, focussing on keeping the weight low rather than bolting on attractive fairings. However, the sparse looking front end, which rises steeply to the LED headlight unit, is crying out for the addition of a beak to make the bike look more complete.
Tuareg buyers can choose from three colourways which were all on display as the assembled journalists gathered outside the hotel after the briefing, ready to begin the day’s ride. There was the Africa Twin-esque Indaco Tagelmust (red, white, and blue in plain English), Acid Gold, and Martian Red.
The Tagelmust is the best looking by far, although whether the colour scheme is worth the extra £500 it’ll cost you will be down to personal taste. Unsurprisingly, it was the most popular among the press pack, and I missed out bagging one in the initial rush to claim a bike for the day.
Instead, I swung my leg over an Acid Gold model and was pleased to find that, at 6’ tall, I could flat foot the ground with some knee bend to spare on the Tuareg’s 860mm seat.
The day started with a slow crawl to the main road as a dozen or so riders jockeyed for position around me on the hotel’s long drive. I was instantly at home on the Tuareg. The clutch was light, the throttle response smooth, and the bike felt well-balanced at low speeds.
When we finally pulled out onto the main road, I cranked open the throttle and let the full force of the Tuareg’s 659cc twin-cylinder engine rocket me up the road.
The powerplant found in the Tuareg is the same one used in Aprilia’s RS 660 sports bike and Tuono 660 naked, which are both road-focused machines aimed at riders looking for peg-scaping thrills.
That’s a world away from the Tuareg’s adventure touring and trail riding credentials, so Aprilia has brought down the power and increased torque, particularly at lower revs. It produces 80bhp and 70Nm of torque, 75% of which is available at 3,000rpm.
But don’t let this fool you into thinking this is a toothless bike. On the road, the Tuareg is more than capable of relaxed cruising at motorway speeds, but it’s also noticeably snappy and lively when you go searching for the powerband. So much so that the front end got disconcertingly light when I gunned the throttle in third to overtake a dawdling driver in front of me.
Overtake done, I relaxed into a cruising speed and shifted up to sixth with the assistance of the quick shifter. It’s an optional extra which felt a little clunkier than some quick shifters I’ve used in the past that sweetly snick up the gears, but it did the job.
A rider aid that comes as standard is cruise control, which is a nice touch, and I used it as I hunkered down behind the bike’s ample screen. It isn’t adjustable but it was wide and tall enough to throw turbulent air over my shoulders and helmet.
The one-piece saddle is also comfortable, and the riding position felt natural and comfortable for my 6’ frame, with an easy reach to the bars and a relaxed knee bend.
Take the coast road
Sardinia’s coastal roads are sensational and the reason so many motorcycle press launches are held on the island. Even the near-constant drizzle couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm as I flung the Tuareg into a succession of flowing bends and tightening hairpins.
Aprilia has a reputation for producing excellent sporty road-based bikes, and that accumulated knowledge and experience shines through in the 660. It’s an absolute joy to ride in the twisties.
The steering is precise and nimble, flicking easily into the bends and holding its line without requiring mid-turn inputs. This is impressive considering the off-road focussed 21” front and 18” rear wheels, which are tubeless and clad in knobbly Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres.
And I was also particularly impressed by how well the powerful Brembo brakes performed. The dual 300mm discs up front and single 260mm disc at the rear were more than capable of smoothly reining me and the bike in when I overcooked the odd deceptively tight turn.
The performance of the leggy suspension on the road was another pleasant surprise for me. With a massive 240mm of travel offered front and rear by the off-road friendly Kayaba setup, I was expecting at least some dive and wallowing in the corners, but there was only a hint of dip under heavy braking.
As we rolled into a layby for a photo stop, I could barely contain my enthusiasm, and I wasn’t the only one in our group to be sporting a big smile.
While I waited for my turn to ride past the cameras, I busied myself by scrolling through the attractive 5” TFT screen to explore the comprehensive selection of rider aids the Tuareg offers.
There’s a choice of four rider modes: Explore, which gives you full power, Urban mode, which reins things in a little, Off-Road, for hitting the trails, and a fully customisable individual mode.
This allowed me to play with the four-level adjustable traction control, which can be completely turned off, as well as the three-level adjustable engine braking, and three different engine maps. Throw in the cruise control and TFT dash and you have a tech offering that rivals the likes of the Triumph Tiger 900 and KTM 890 Adventure in the mid-sized adventure bike market.
Whether all this technology is a good thing will be down to personal preference, but I’m a fan, particularly as the rider modes substantially altered the character of the bike, which proved ideal as the Sardinian rain got heavier and the roads got slicker.
While the one-piece saddle was proving comfortable and allowed for plenty of movement while I rode, I did notice there wasn’t much room for a pillion. And I was puzzled to discover that there weren’t any grab rails either, particularly as Aprilia had emphasised the 660’s substantial 210kg load capacity during the morning briefing.
It felt odd that I’d have to splash out on optional grab rails to make use of it. Passenger comfort aside, the lack of grab rails at the back will also make it tricky to lift the Tuareg up if you drop it.
And, if you needed another reason to avoid dropping your brand-new Tuareg, the rear subframe is welded, rather than bolted on. This is a feature that’ll make keen off-roaders think twice, as a relatively low-key spill risks twisting the subframe and writing off the bike.
With photos in the bag, it was time to see how the Tuareg performed off the tarmac, and we left the coastal road behind as we hit Sardinia’s network of unpaved trails. I thumbed the bike into Off-road mode, which turned off the rear ABS (something that can be done on the fly), stood up on the pegs, and instantly felt at home.
The standing position was relaxed and natural with enough of a lean to position some of my weight over the front end of the bike to aid traction, but not enough to channel any undue stress through my wrists.
While I enjoy a spot of greenlaning, I’m no Chris Birch, so I was pleased to discover that Aprilia has struck a compromise between an unintimidating adventure bike and a genuinely capable off-roader.
The Tuareg never once got out of shape when conditions became tricky, including deep rain ruts and slippery sections of mud, and it felt like there was a lot more to give when the trails opened up and I could really crank the throttle. That’s down to a combination of a svelte wet weight of 204kg, powerful brakes, grippy tyres, and very good suspension.
For a setup that works so well on the road, I was equally impressed with its performance off it.
Plenty of travel, alongside good damping and rebound, ensured the forks soaked up the various lumps and bumps of the trail with ease, and there was no pogoing around or jerky steering when I hit rocks and larger stones.
By the time we arrived at our lunch stop, the Tuareg had proven extremely capable both on and off-road. By now the drizzle had to turned to rain. I welcomed the chance to get some shelter while enjoying an espresso and a selection of cured meats.
The return leg
Our route back to the hotel was even better than the morning’s coastal ride, and the rain had thankfully been replaced by blazing sunshine. Faced with sumptuous curves, dry tarmac, and my final hour on a peach of a bike, I knocked it into Explore mode and allowed my inner hooligan a rare outing.
Despite what the misguided may say about adventure bikes, the Aprilia delivered a thrilling ride. I can think of few bikes I’ve ridden that combine such a punchy engine with nimble steering, comfort, and off-road ability.
By the time we arrived back at base, I was half-tempted to simply miss the turning and ride the 250 or so miles that the 18l fuel tank would deliver.
Instead, reluctantly, I pulled into the hotel and handed the keys back to a nice man from Aprilia. The Italian manufacturer has produced an exceptional adventure bike in the Tuareg 660.
It cruises comfortably at high speeds, it’s unflappable in the rough stuff, and provides a feisty and nimble ride in the twisties. If liking that makes me an old man, then I am more than happy to grow old ungracefully.