During Aprilia’s headier days in the latter part of the ‘90s and the beginning of the millennium, its 60-degree V-twin engine designed and built by Rotax was doing wonders for the company. It was powering numerous models, including the RSV1000 superbike that was making a name for itself in both racing and sportbike comparisons in magazines worldwide. Aprilia was at one point the largest-selling manufacturer in Europe, and appeared to be on the cusp of becoming a major player among the motorcycle manufacturers.
The collapse of Italy’s scooter market in 2001 nearly spelled doom for Aprilia, however. The drop in cash flow coupled with the debt incurred by the company’s rapid expansion forced company president Ivano Beggio to sell Aprilia to rival scooter manufacturer Piaggio in 2004. Piaggio management dismissed the idea of having to purchase complete engines from an outside contractor, and immediately put plans in motion for a new V-twin engine that would be designed and built completely in-house.
The Dorsoduro 1200 is the first Aprilia to utilize this latest powerplant, which owes nothing to the Mana 850 (“Mistaken Identity”, April 2009) or Dorsoduro 750 (“Urban Brawlers”, September 2009) V-twin engines designed and built by Piaggio that came before it. Our European correspondent Alan Cathcart gave us his impression of the new Dorsoduro 1200 in the April 2011 issue (“Maxi-Motard”), but this time we had the chance to try out the U.S. version on our own roads.
Although the 1200 engine looks outwardly very similar to the Dorsoduro 750 mill, the only thing they share is the DOHC 90-degree V-twin basic architecture. The engine was designed by Federico Martini, head of Powertrain Engineering at Piaggio and a man with an illustrious resume that includes stints at Ducati, Bimota, and Gilera. “I was determined to make sure that the 1200 was designed properly, so we started with a clean drawing board to create it,” said Martini.
Martini’s design uses the same 106.0 x 67.8mm bore/stroke configuration as the Ducati 1198, but utilizing a twin-plug ignition for better low-end response. Unlike the Ducati 90-degree L-twin however, the cylinders are rotated backward 30 degrees in the crankcase compared to the desmo engine, allowing the engine to be more compact. The engine also uses a hybrid chain/gear cam drive similar to the 750, and is actually 2mm narrower than the 750, although it is nearly nine pounds heavier, coming in at 163 pounds with the 57mm Magneti Marelli throttle bodies mounted. Valve sizes are fairly conservative for the bore size (41.5mm intake/25mm exhaust, compared to the Ducati’s 43.5mm intake/25.5mm exhaust setup), but outright horsepower wasn’t the design brief behind the Aprilia engine. As such, although the 12.3:1 compression ratio forced by the forged three-ring pistons is fairly high, it’s not in the 12.7:1 range of the 1198.
The Dorsoduro 1200’s tall 34.3-inch seat height is normal for supermoto-style machines, so it’s a bit of climb into the saddle that’s thankfully narrow in the midsection to offer both ease of getting your feet on the ground at a stop and a small, agile feel to a motorcycle that is actually quite large by supermoto standards. The Aprilia thankfully keeps the standard analog tach/LCD info panel dashboard found on all of the company’s machines for easy and quick recognition of various vital numbers, instead of bowing to styling trends with a barely readable all-LCD instrument panel. The same could be said of the mirrors, which actually show a decent rearward view despite the images getting a little fuzzy at highway cruising rpm.
Overall ergos are standard supermoto fare, with the wide aluminum handlebar setting your torso in an upright position, and the long, flat seat offering plenty of room to scoot back for taller riders. There’s also plenty of legroom, and the serrated footpegs have thick rubber vibration pads that can be removed for those looking to take the Dorsoduro’s styling in a more serious intent.