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.
The Aprilia’s all-new 1197cc...
The Aprilia’s all-new 1197cc 90-degree V-twin has its cylinders rotated 30 degrees rearward for a more compact engine. Broad, flat torque curve provides ample acceleration.
Like nearly all of Aprilia’s current motorcycle lineup, the Dorsoduro 1200 comes equipped with three engine modes (unfortunately, the U.S. model does not include the ABS and three-level traction control that come standard on the European version), consisting of Rain, Sport, and Touring settings for the ride-by-wire throttle. We found the Rain mode to pull back a bit too much power, making both the throttle response and acceleration a little too anemic, even considering if the pavement was wet. Touring mode provided linear throttle response, but only after throttle rotation reached 30 percent — we didn’t like the lag that was present up to that point. Sport mode provided the best throttle response, although it was noticeable how quickly the throttle plate movement changed over the course of the actual throttle’s rotation; the throttle plate movement seemed to be linear up until the quarter-throttle mark, where it suddenly opens up fairly aggressively in relation to throttle rotation, providing a good dose of acceleration. While the throttle response is nothing that could suddenly spin the rear tire out from underneath you, we discovered that it tended to make highway cruising a little too frantic, as the throttle would be right at the aggressive opening point, and bumps or a wind gust would often cause some unintended acceleration.
In fact, that acceleration is partly due to its accessibility from nearly any point in the Dorsoduro’s powerband. The 1197cc V-twin has an impressively wide and flat torque curve, and coupled with its fairly quick-revving nature, provides healthy acceleration at any twist of the throttle. Passing highway traffic is ridiculously easy, with the moderately tall gearing meaning you’re not screaming the engine to run at those speeds. Granted, the 114-horsepower peak is nothing to write home about, and quite frankly we were expecting a little more from such an oversquare engine; but again, outright top-end power was not in the Dorsoduro’s design brief, and the powerplant’s beefy torque curve easily provides more than adequate steam for its intended purpose.
Headlight throws a surprisingly...
Headlight throws a surprisingly decent beam ahead at night. Small clear flyscreen beneath the headlight cowl looks like it’s adjustable for height, but isn’t — hint, hint, Aprilia.
Overall handling is reasonably agile, with the wide handlebar giving you plenty of leverage to flick the bike without much effort into a corner. Yet stability was thankfully present in spades without any steering damper, surely due to the steering geometry’s generous 114mm trail and surprisingly long 60-inch wheelbase. In fact, once banked into the corner, we found that the Aprilia needed a lot of lean angle to carve tight lines, which is definitely a byproduct of that long wheelbase. Thankfully, overall grip from the stock Dunlop Qualifier II rubber (a European Dunlop sport tire that is not related to the Dunlop Q2 found in the U.S.) was excellent at all lean angles, although wear rates were a bit on the high side.
Suspension action from the fully adjustable Sachs components front and rear was more than up to anything the Dorsoduro could dish out on the road, providing good wheel and chassis control despite offering more than six inches of travel on both ends. The 43mm inverted fork utilizes the latest trend of separating the rebound and compression damping circuits into one fork leg, with rebound on the left and compression on the right. We also like the easy accessibility of the rebound and compression damping adjusters (and spring preload) on the rear shock, which is offset to the right to provide clearance for the rear cylinder’s exhaust header.
The Aprilia can generate some serious speed down a canyon road, so the braking system is equipped to handle the task. Standard Brembo four-piston calipers may lack the flash of the increasingly common monobloc items found on other bikes, but combined with the 320mm discs, provide more than enough stopping power, with excellent feel and modulation. The Dorsoduro’s front Brembos tread that elusive fine line between aggressive response and power to provide superb stopping capability, without being overly responsive enough to overpower the front tire or suspension without provocation. Because of its more upright ergos and different weight distribution than a sportbike, the rear brake plays more of a role in stopping, and here the 240mm disc/single-piston caliper also provide excellent feel and modulation.
The seat is narrow in the...
The seat is narrow in the front where it needs to be, yet is wide and flat for good support just behind, making the Dorsoduro 1200 better than most supermoto bikes at longer rides.
Footpegs are equipped with...
Footpegs are equipped with thick vibration dampers for street use, but they can be removed to expose a serrated footpeg for supermoto duty.
The Dorsoduro thankfully retains...
The Dorsoduro thankfully retains Aprilia’s same easy-to-read analog tach/LCD digital information display. Wide aluminum handlebar is comfortable and provides plenty of leverage.
That braking capability is probably a good thing, because although it isn’t really noticeable until you really start aggressively flinging the bike through a tight canyon road, there’s no getting around the Dorsoduro 1200’s surprising heft. At 487 pounds fully fueled, the Aprilia definitely isn’t among the lighter bikes out there — and most especially those of the supermoto variety. The wide handlebar and sharp steering head angle combine for easy directional changes that mask much of the weight; but when the pace really heats up (especially over a tight canyon road that has lots of elevation changes), you can occasionally feel there’s a substantial amount of mass beneath you. Granted, most riders will never notice this; but we’d still like to see the Dorsoduro 1200 lose a little weight.
Those looking to replace the...
Those looking to replace the license plate bracket will need to find a solution for the keyed seat release switch located just below the right turn signal.
And lastly — as seems more common with the majority of supermoto-style bikes we’ve tested — if you’re planning on riding any distance, you’d best plan your gas stops carefully. Despite the engine’s healthy torque curve and rev limit of 9500 rpm, it still is a rather thirsty powerplant. We were hard-pressed to average 33 mpg under the most mellow of commuting environments in Touring mode, which means that with the 4.0-gallon fuel tank, your average range with the Aprilia would be around 130 miles max. Luckily the tripmeter goes into reserve tripmeter display mode when the fuel level reaches a gallon left (a good thing, because the low fuel warning light is barely noticeable in daylight), so you have ample warning of the need for a gas station.
Practical? No. Fun? Yes!
Supermoto-style machines like the Dorsoduro 1200 have a unique appeal. They’re definitely not for the masses — and especially the masses in the U.S., who usually need their motorcycles to fill multiple roles, including traveling distances longer than 130 miles. While the supermoto craze undoubtedly made its mark in Europe, it’s never really caught on in America, despite the best efforts of the sport’s enthusiasts. But there’s no denying that supermoto bikes are an absolute blast to ride, and the Aprilia provides much more fun than most bikes of this genre. Is it enough fun to justify its limited riding scope and $12K asking price? A lot of that depends on you and your needs. After the smiles it left on our faces, we’d like to hope so. sr
Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200
Standard Brembo four-piston...
Standard Brembo four-piston calipers may not be as flashy as the latest monobloc units, but their power and feel more than make up for that. Steel-braided brake lines are stock.
Strong, flat torque curve
Fairly nimble yet stable handling
Needs to lose some weight
Shorter wheelbase would help
A little more fuel range, too
Serious fun, but not for everybody
Suggested Suspension Settings
spring preload — 4.5 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping — 12 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height — one line showing on fork tube
Spring preload — 20mm thread showing; rebound damping — 15 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping — 1 turn out from full stiff
|Specifications 2011 Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200
|Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree V-twin
|Bore x stroke: 106.0 x 67.8mm
|Compression ratio: 12.3:1
|Induction: Magneti Marelli EFI, 57mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
|Front suspension: 43mm Sachs inverted fork, 6.3 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
|Rear suspension: Single Sachs shock, 6.1 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
|Front brake: Dual 320mm discs, radial-mount, four-piston Brembo calipers
|Rear brake: Single 240mm disc, single-piston caliper
|Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
|Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
|Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Qualifier II
|Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Qualifier II
|Rake/trail: 27.3 deg./4.7 in. (118mm)
|Wheelbase: 60.2 in. (1528mm)
|Seat height: 34.3 in. (870mm)
|Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal. (15L)
|Weight: 487 lb. (221kg) wet; 463 lb. (210kg) dry
|Instruments: Analog tachometer, multi-function LCD screen with digital speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, coolant temperature, gear indicator, clock, low fuel tripmeter, fuel consumption average, mph average, engine mode
|Quarter-mile: 11.11 sec. @ 122.33 mph
|Roll-ons: 60-80mph/3.08 sec.; 80-100mph/3.75 sec.
|Top speed: NA
|Fuel consumption: 28 to 34 mpg, 33 mpg avg.
Note to self: Don’t ride any other supermoto bike after riding the Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200. When Kento told me I would be riding the Dorsoduro, I thought “Great, a twitchy, high-strung supermoto bike on steroids. That sounds fun — not.” Walking up to the bike, it’s clear it’s big. Once you’re riding, that’s not quite as noticeable; what is noticeable is that this is not your typical supermoto. On the highway, the bike was amazingly stable; I wasn’t fighting to keep the thing in my own lane. The gearing is great as I didn’t feel like I was sitting on a screaming grenade ready to blow at any minute; actually, it was smooth and fairly comfortable. One thing the bike definitely doesn’t lack is power! This bike was a blast to ride, canyon roads, highway — it does it all. The ergos are great too. The only real downside I could come up with was its price tag of almost 12K.
It’s amazing the array of bikes I have had the opportunity to ride in the past few months. The list includes everything from 170-horsepower superbikes to sub-100-horsepower naked bikes. And finally, I had my first opportunity to throw a leg over a supermoto bike, the Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200. The Aprilia was just about as much fun as I expected it to be, too. In the canyons, the V-twin engine has plenty of power and enough torque that you can get lazy with the shift lever. The seating position was at first hard to get used to, and the bike seems to carry its weight pretty high, but it still handled well, with the bars providing enough leverage to get the thing steered quickly. Match that with the potent Brembo brakes and you have yourself quite a fun motorcycle.
There’s no doubt the Dorsoduro 1200 has the power that supermoto bikes have needed from the start to make them anywhere near a viable choice in the U.S. Ducati’s Hypermotard had the right idea, but the air-cooled two-valve engine didn’t quite have the upper-end steam to win me over. The Aprilia has good power on tap everywhere, enough to nearly do a 10-second quarter-mile. What I didn’t like was the Dorsoduro 1200’s size and heft. A 60-inch wheelbase helps with stability, but the steering already has tons of trail for that. And even though you don’t feel it much, 487 pounds is way too heavy for any real sportbike, much less a supermoto machine. Imagine how the Aprilia would fly if it lost at least 40 pounds?