Aprilia's ground-up overhaul of its range is nearing completion, and now - after establishing its middleweight 750cc V-twin range over the past three years - it's time for Aprilia to step up in capacity as well as performance with the first of its more mainstream large-capacity models, the Dorsoduro 1200. At least five different variants based on the same platform are known to be ready to enter production, so the chance to ride this Supermoto streetrod - what Italians term a maxi motard - in the hills of Andalucia east of Jerez, opened a window on Aprilia's brave new world. The Dorsoduro is named after one of the sestiere districts of Venice. It's a student area, home to Venice University as well as more bars than anywhere else in the historic maritime city, and the general vibe is artistic, youthful and chilled - a bit like the image Aprilia aims to present with its sharply styled new range of bikes. But Dorsoduro in Italian also literally means "hard back" (as in "I'm a survivor, baby!"), an appropriate name for this go-anywhere maxi motard.
Costing $11,999 complete with ABS and ATC traction control as standard on the European model (the U.S. version will not have either the ATC or ABS, as Aprilia USA feels that American buyers won't want or need those items), the new Aprilia is competitively priced against less-potent rivals like the KTM 990 Supermoto duo or the Ducati Hypermotard and even the Streetfighter, which are its direct competition in the showroom. As such, it's quite a lot of bike for the money, featuring radial brakes, adjustable levers, a hydraulic clutch, a programmable Matrix dash featuring a digital speedometer matched to an analog tach and a high-end electronic package as standard. This includes ABS, ride-by-wire throttle, three-stage ATC traction control incorporating an anti-wheelie program and a choice of three different engine maps.
While it seems little different in stature parked next to its 750 kid sister on a show stand, when you straddle it in action there's no getting away from the fact that the Dorsoduro 1200 is a BIG bike, bigger all round than the 750, and quite a bit more physically imposing than, say, the 35-pound-lighter but also 15-horsepower-less-potent KTM 990 Supermoto R that's arguably its main rival. Thumb the starter button and the Dorsoduro rumbles into life instantly, settling to a smooth, lilting idle marked by a fruity note from the distinctive-looking silencers exiting under the seat. These are quite high-set, and the only real drawback to the Aprilia is throwing a leg over it in any kind of hurry, for the tall 34.3-inch seat height is pretty challenging for all but taller riders, making it best to step on the left footrest to hop on. Once you're ensconced at the controls grasping the nicely pulled back taper-section Accossato aluminum handlebar, you'll realize the hard, narrow seat is aimed more at looks rather than comfort, though it's narrow where it matters most, allowing a 5-foot-11 rider to put a foot down easily at traffic lights - anyone much shorter will find it a tiptoe job, though. The riding position is good, with that handlebar delivering a great upright stance, and the grips protected by vestigial handguards. But I didn't care for the heat emanating from the right side of the bike onto my legs, which even while wearing leathers soon became noticeable - I wouldn't like to ride this bike in jeans, and I doubt the offset shock nestling inside my right foot worked any better when exposed to all that heat. Aprilia has apparently recognized this is enough of a problem to supply a pair of side panels that clip on to the subframe, to act as insulation against the heat from the exhaust.
The engine is the main event as far as I'm concerned on the Dorsoduro, with a fluid, torquey power delivery that'll let you pull away from as low as 1500 rpm on part throttle, with barely a touch of the smooth-action gear lever before it hits its stride from 3000 rpm upwards. The six-speed gearbox has a clean, crisp, shift action with well-chosen ratios. Once on the move you don't need to worry about using the clutch to change gear in either direction, so perfectly precise and positive is the shift action. When you do ever use it, the light-action clutch is smooth and predictable in its bite, but in fact you don't need to work it very hard to get meaningful motion, with the Dorsoduro accelerating wide open without transmission snatch from 3000 rpm all the way to the 9500-rpm rev limiter. But in fact, you should already have changed gear by then, because the Dorsoduro's happy zone is from 4000 rpm up to the seven-grand mark, complementing the extremely flat torque curve. While the counterbalancer-free motor is very smooth low down, there's some residual vibration through the footrests from just under 4500 rpm, all the way to 8500 revs, but only under load, so cruising a highway at 75 mph/4500 rpm on part throttle thankfully isn't affected.
The Dorsoduro's 1200cc V-twin powerplant shares little with either the 750cc Shiver/Dorsoduro engine or the 850cc Mana engine. The 1200 is tilted 30 degrees rearward in the chassis compared to a Ducati L-twin layout, and bore and stroke are identical to the 1198R at 106 x 67.8mm. Note dual-plug cylinder heads and the hybrid gear/chain cam-drive system that is similar to the 750's. The exhaust cam timing is different between the two cylinders to account for different exhaust pipe lengths.