The Italian Job

The Italian Job

Paul Jennison test rides the new Aprilia 1200, a ‘street enduro’ machine built with comfort in mind

In a Line: Odd-looking it might be, but appearances can be deceptive

Quick Spec

MODEL: Aprilia Caponord 1200
PRICE: Standard £10,590 ‘Travel Pack’ version with ADD £12,290
POWER: [email protected],250rpm
TORQUE: [email protected],800rpm
ENGINE: 2-cylinder V90o 8-valve
TRANSMISSION: Six gears, chain drive
SEAT HEIGHT: 840mm
DRY WEIGHT: 214kg; Travel Pack 228kg TANK SIZE: 24 litres
WHEELS: 17″ front/rear tubeless alloy COLOURS: Silver Grey, White or Red

The Italian Job

The review

Over the years I’ve often cast a fanciful eye over a lot of Italian motorcycles. Their styling is usually a thing of beauty and those legendary V-twins emit an exhaust note that can be recognised long before the bike comes into view. On many occasions I’ve thought about having a garage sale to make space for one.

The Ducati Multistrada and Moto Guzzi Stelvio are the better-known Azuri adventure bikes. And then there was the Aprilia Caponord 1000, which was much maligned for its reliability issues but well loved by the few who bought them for not a lot of money; however, I can only recall ever seeing one or two on the road and they never left that much of an impression on me.

I managed to get a quick glimpse of the new Aprilia Caponord 1200 on the internet before leaving for the press launch. It seemed to have a lot to say for itself for a bike that had so far gone unnoticed in the wake of this year’s new big-boy launches, the BMW R 1200 GS liquid-cooled and the KTM 1190 Adventure, which have monopolised the limelight.

So how is this new Aprilia going to stack up to the competition? Well for a start it’s a road bike designed for adventure touring and on paper it does a pretty good job of meeting expectation. Aprilia has reaped much success with its RSV4 superbike over the last couple of years and now the company has set its sights on re-capturing a piece of the adventure bike market with the Caponord. It’s being marketed as a ‘street enduro’ machine; we’ll call it an ‘adventure tourer’, but it basically means the same thing, doesn’t it?

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Spring had officially sprung here in the UK (for all of one day before the temperatures slipped back to sub-zero), so jetting off to the Italian island of Sardinia for the launch was a welcome bonus.

I’d never been to the island before – the second largest in the Mediterranean – but what I did know was that Silvio Berlusconi hosted ‘Bunga-Bunga’ parties at his love shack pad in the north of the island,10 million tourists visit each year to soak up the year-round sunshine and it’s blessed with great roads and stunning scenery. In summary, Sardinia promised to be a great place to get to know the new Caponord.

However, a quick look at the weather forecast confirmed that the predicted calm and balmy Mediterranean conditions were going to be more like a ferocious tropical monsoon, so how much of that scenery would be visible and what the road conditions would be like was open to speculation.

Initial impressions

Seeing the Caponord in the flesh for the first time did remind me of the Multistrada, but something was missing… and then it hit me; the front end. It looks unfinished. There’s no prominent beak that’s synonymous with so many adventure bikes. In its place is a small, snub-nosed spoiler that looks as if it’s been broken off. An Italian beauty? Well it’s no Sophia Loren but it does have a certain appeal, I suppose. The rest of the bodywork is sleek and well styled. The headlight configuration is similar to the RSV4 and gives the front a sporty appearance.

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The screen is height adjustable, which of course is essential for touring at speed to reduce wind blast, and the tank is shapely with narrow sides, so when sitting astride the bike your legs are well protected from the weather by the generous fairing. The handlebars are quite wide and there are large hand-guards, which do a good job of protecting your hands from the elements. The switch-gear is simple and minimalistic with a combined starter and engine kill switch, traditional indicator toggle and a menu button to scroll through the various options on the instrument panel like clock, trip metres and odometer.

On the subject of the display panel it’s an all-digital affair with the rev counter, speedo, fuel level, coolant temperature and gear indicator all made very clear and easy to read at a glance. The selected engine map, traction control setting and suspension mode are also displayed here, but more on that later.

The seat is a wide two-piece unit with firm but deep padding; it looks like it will provide long-distance comfort. The seat height is fixed at 840mm, which is low in comparison to rival machines and should allow a lot of shorter riders to touch down with ease. The pillion squab is not as deeply padded but is shaped well to accommodate a decent-sized backside and has a small raised section between the legs to stop the passenger sliding forwards.

The Travel Pack version of the bike has the full specification, which includes colour-coded side-opening panniers and centre stand. The boxes have a carrying capacity of 35 litres are easy to open and remove and there’s no traditional mounting framework, which would, in my opinion, spoil the bike’s looks.

The Italian Job

And how’s about this for something novel; if you find yourself on the verge of a red mist moment on the twisties the single silencer is height adjustable and can be moved for increased ground clearance – as long as you’re not packing the panniers that is.

The technology

The 90o V-twin 1200cc engine lifted from Aprilia’s Dorsoduro Maxi Motard has been modified to make it more touring friendly. The power has been reduced from 130bhp to 125bhp and the throttle bodies have been reduced in size from 57mm to 52mm. Throw in double injec- tors and twin spark ignition and what you get is a bike with a smoother power delivery and better torque.

The new Aprilia comes with ride-by-wire technology, which offers the rider three power mappings: Touring, Sport and Rain. The Touring and Sport modes use the full 125bhp, but whereas in Touring the delivery is smoother and restrained in Sport mode it’s snappier and, errr, sporty.

Flick the switch to Rain and the horsepower is reduced to 100 for more control and safety in wet conditions. All the modes can be chosen on the move by simply toggling through using the starter switch and observing the display in the instrument panel.

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The transmission is six-speed with a hydraulically operated multiplate wet clutch, which gives smooth and effortless gear changes. This is linked to a chain and sprocket final drive and I can’t help thinking a no-maintenance shaft may have been a better option for a 1200 adventure bike aimed at those riders wanting hassle-free long-distance touring. However, oiling and adjusting a chain is in most riders DNA and isn’t a major stumbling block if everything else about the bike pushes the right buttons.

A modular, tubular steel frame fas- tened to aluminium side plates houses the power plant and is coupled to the swingarm, fully adjustable front forks and the rear monoshock suspension, which should provide precise and stable handling. Having ridden the bike I can certainly confirm this to be the case.

On the Travel Pack version of the bike, the suspension features Aprilia Dynamic Damping (ADD), a semi-active suspension system that electronically manages the compression and rebound of the bike by measuring the energy transmitted from imperfections in the road surface in real time. It then adjusts the suspension ac- cordingly to give the maximum amount of comfort for the rider.

What I like about this is that the ADD automatically calibrates the load the bike is carrying; so if you’re packing a pillion, luggage, and a full tank of petrol the Caponord adjusts the pre-load and compression to suit. It sets the system on the move without you having to do anything about it and it even adjusts as the fuel load reduces. Nice touch. As well as the automatic ADD feature the rider can choose from four manual settings: Solo rider, Solo with luggage, Two-up and Two-up with luggage. But why a manual selection when the auto mode can do it all for you? Personal taste and a perception of being in control, maybe.

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The system also compensates when you’re riding aggressively by comparing the torque, throttle position, speed, rpm, wheel rotation, gear selected and distance from the moon before adjusting the suspension to suit. One of those features I’ve added just for the hell of it but with motorcycle-based technology heading into orbit it’ll come soon enough. Anyway, sat on the saddle and out on the tarmac I can confirm that the Caponord’s ‘brain’ works very well in providing a stable, comfortable and well-mannered ride.

Aprilia’s Traction Control (ATC) is fitted as standard and has three modes to suit various riding styles and road conditions. There’s also the option to disengage the ATC. The modes cannot be changed while on the move, so it’s a case of stopping and engaging neutral before you can have a fiddle. However, unlike most other systems that I’m aware of, when you turn off the ignition it stores the ATC setting and when you start her up again it will retain the last mode used. This is also the case if the ATC is disengaged, and therefore something the rider needs to be fully aware of.

The ATC level three setting is for maximum control, which is ideal for wet and slippery conditions; level two is less intrusive and is better suited to general riding and level one is for when the sun is shining, the roads are dry and grippy and the devil in you wants to cut loose for a while.

An ABS system also comes as standard and it allows the rider to disengaged fully if preferred. In use I found the ABS to be noninvasive, even under intense braking, and it inspired confidence on slippery, wet surfaces.

What I do like is the simple but effective Aprilia Cruise Control. This allows you to set the desired speed you wish to maintain either going uphill or down and can be disengaged by touching the brake or clutch levers. This addition is very useful when covering long distances on motorways as it helps save fuel and reduce fatigue.

The Caponord has a 24-litre tank – a good size for a large-capacity adventure bike, but unfortunately there are no fuel consumption figures available at present. It should, because of the ride-by-wire technology, be able to achieve at least 200 miles tank range under normal riding conditions.

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On the road

The weather as forecast before I left the UK turned out to be pretty accurate. It was pouring with rain when I arrived in Sardinia and this theme continued for the duration of the trip, which made testing the Caponord to its full potential nigh on impossible.

As we gathered for a quick introduction to the bike and its ride modes and controls, it became clear that deciding on an engine map and traction level for this first ride was never going to be a quiz in these conditions. Rain mode and level three was the order of the day such was the amount of surface water already on the roads.

The riding position felt really good and although I could plant my feet flat on the floor with some bend still in the knees, when they were up on the pegs, I didn’t feel cramped in the slightest. The seat is comfortable and remained so all day. I had the screen set at its highest position to get some respite from the rain (which came at me in bucket loads) to the detriment that the wind didn’t clear my visor of rain drops unless I stuck my head up above it. The screen is easily adjusted by two knobs, but this can only be done when stopped.

Riding south and hugging the rugged coastline, the roads were awash to the point where there were small rivers cutting across them. I rarely lack confidence when riding in the rain, although I know my limitations, but the Aprilia had me feeling that I could push the boundaries a little and although I was never going to be scrapping the pegs I was exploring lean angles and pushing the
braking into bends far more progressively than I would normally. Even in these conditions, I was impressed at just how smooth and stable the Caponord felt.

The ADD suspension was set to Solo rider for the day and it was perfect. The ride quality is impressive; I can’t fault the comfort it delivers. Small potholes and speed bumps feel like nothing as the big Aprilia just glides over them. In the more extreme cases, you can feel the road’s imperfections through the bars as the front rides over them but the rear swallows them up and spits them out, seemingly oblivious. This complements the handling, which is solid and confidence inspiring.

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Working with 100bhp in Rain mode, the power is a little bit snatchy below 3000rpm especially when trickling around the small towns in second gear. Get above that though and the big V-twin smooths out. For a short period, I clicked up into Touring mode and with the full 125bhp on tap the delivery is even smoother. It certainly livened things up a bit and climbing up into the hills on a particularly twisty road, the bike was noticeably quicker. As the engine braking had been reduced from the more controlled Rain mode, I was more reliant on the brakes to scrub the speed off going into turns, but not once did it step out of line.

It wasn’t long before I turned it back down. That’s why Aprilia has used three different engine maps, Rain option was the correct one for the day, and besides, I was enjoying the ride with that setting engaged and it was performing well enough.

It would have been good to get some dry conditions to give the Caponord a full work-out, but it just wasn’t to be. Hopefully I’ll get the chance soon and be able to confirm that the bike is as good as it promises to be.

Sardinia has no motorways to test the cruising ability but there are some longish straight sections of decent road and I was able to check out the cruise control for some short distances. As long as the speed and revs are sufficient for the gear the bike is in, it works well and just a quick feather of the clutch or a touch on the brakes is enough to disengage it without any jerkiness.

Conclusion

It was a great shame that the weather was so naff. Not having the chance to fully test the bike was frustrating, but hopefully this will be put right soon.

That said, I’ve seldom enjoyed riding in such bad conditions as much as I did on this launch. The ride comfort and quality from the ADD suspension were better than any adventure bike I’ve ridden before. Potholes and surface imperfections were taken almost as if they didn’t exist.

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The big V-twin engine has a lot of useable torque and the power delivery is quick but smooth and feels strong; I wasn’t going to mention the noise from the exhaust, but if you must know, it’s gorgeous.

The traction control is excellent; the Aprilia never even suggested that it might be struggling on the soaking-wet roads. The ABS was spot on although it never really got the chance to be fully worked.

The combined package is so well put together that it promises to put the Caponord right up there with the competition and is well worth a test ride. It has the perfect mix of sporty performance and handling combined with supreme comfort that will make two-up long-distance touring a joy.

What makes this bike even more appealing is the price. At £12,290 for the full spec Travel Pack version it’s cheaper than the new BMW, KTM and more importantly, the Ducati Multistrada S Touring, which is going to be its nearest rival.

If there’s a downside to be had it’s got to be that front end. It’s never going to win any beauty contests, but it will still turn a few heads.

To conclude, the Caponord is a sporty adventure-style touring bike that is ready to do battle with its Italian counterparts, not to mention one or two others. I am really looking forward to riding the Caponord on some dry, warm roads and checking out the bike’s full potential, although as it stands I really like it – a lot.

Farkles

There are a few accessories already available from Aprilia like replacement gel seats for rider and pillion for even more comfort as well as a low-seat option. A top box is available to complete the luggage set-up and a GPS support designed to take the Tom Tom Rider system.

For those who like to know exactly what the bike is doing beneath them, Aprilia has included a Multi-Media Platform which is iPhone compatible. Through a downloadable app you can store the bike’s data like lean angles, traction control intervention, wheel speed and rpm. There’s even a top yoke mounted cradle to hold your phone and the app is usable when wearing gloves.

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Price comparison

Kawasaki Versys 1000 £9,499
Triumph Explorer 1200 £11,199
Honda Crosstourer £11,475
Yamaha Super Tenere XT1200Z £11,999
Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200NTX £12,432
KTM 1190 Adventure £12,595
BMW R1200 GS Touring Spec £13,815
Ducati Multistrada S Touring £15,550

Running Costs

No service intervals or costs are available at present, and likewise, no accurate fuel consumption figures or tank ranges are available but with the 24-litre tank you should be looking at 200-plus mile range under normal riding conditions.

How versatile is the Caponord…

AS A COMMUTER? It’s as capable as any of the large-capacity adventure-style bikes at being a useful tool for getting around town in the rush hour. The added bonus is the Rain mode, which may help on those wet commutes.

AS A WEEKEND TOURER? Never in doubt. It’s been designed to be loaded up with a pillion and luggage to go off exploring in comfort.

AS AN OFF-ROADER? Not what it was made for, but I dare say that it could handle some gentle fire tracks easily enough.

AS A CONTINENTAL ROAD TOURER? It should certainly deliver 200-plus mile tank ranges. The bike will cruise easily at autobahn speeds all day long and the rider’s seat is comfortable enough for those fuel-stop-to-fuel-stop pushes when you need to get the miles done. Just set the suspension to ‘Auto’ and let the bike’s brain sort the rest for you.

AS A RTW OVERLANDER? I’d be happy to load it up and disappear on a tarmac-based world tour without too much thought. But I’d probably want to see that all the gadgetry had been tried and tested for durability first. At a glance, though, it all looks good.

AS A PILLION CARRIER? With the right suspension setting it will carry the pair of you to just about anywhere. The pillion seat looks comfortable enough for your passenger to be able to relax and enjoy the scenery.