Sardinia, Italy—When I first saw the Caponord at the EICMA show, I quickly dismissed it as a smart, full-dress evolution of the Aprilia Dorsoduro, a bike conceived to snatch a slice of the growing adventure-touring pie from the iconic BMW R1200GS. However, after riding the Aprilia Caponord 1200 on some secluded and twisty roads on Sardinia, I must apologize to the Aprilia technical team: The new Caponord is actually a smartly conceived and very efficient street-biased adventure-tourer that only looks inspired by the Dorsoduro when seen from afar.
In reality, it’s a completely new bike. The test ride, on roads soaked by a strong storm, underscored the efficiency of the Caponord, which has the most advanced electronic suite ever installed on a bike, aiding rider safety, comfort and pleasure. The following is a list of the electronic systems on the bike, which reveals the company’s leadership in this domain:
RBW: The ride-by-wire electronic throttle control has three selectable responses—Touring, Sport, Rain.
ABS: A double-channel system from Continental individually manages the latest Brembo radial-mount, monoblock calipers and twin 320mm front disc brakes, plus the floating single-piston rear with 240mm rotor. The ABS is integrated with the ATC system, but can be switched off independently.
ATC: Aprilia Traction Control, likely the most advanced and effective today, has three settings: Level 1, for a pure sport-riding experience; Level 2, for everyday use in the city and in touring; and Level 3, for enhanced safety on low-grip surfaces. ATC can be switched off, and is capable of self-calibrating when fundamental components of the rolling gear, such as tires, are changed.
ACC: Aprilia Cruise Control is part of the Travel Pack, the grand touring Caponord.
ADD: Aprilia Dynamic Damping goes well beyond the ESA-type adjustable suspensions operated via a handlebar-mounted switch. The Sachs suspension units, front fork and cantilevered rear shock, have damping managed by a dedicated ECU with proprietary Aprilia software and related actuators. They essentially “read” the riding conditions and riding style via specific sensors. Skyhook, from the automotive world, handles the low-frequency loads, whereas an acceleration-driven system handles the high-frequency loads. Together, the two systems ensure higher comfort and superior dynamic performance. Since neither can modify the spring load, they are considered semi-active, not fully active. The rear shock absorber, however, can modify its spring preload based on signals coming from a sensor monitoring the angle of the swingarm in relation to a fixed point on the frame. This active system resets the correct angle by preloading the shock absorber spring, via a step motor, on the basis of four pre-set mappings (rider only, rider with passenger, rider with panniers, rider and passenger with panniers).
Stepping away from the electronics and into the world of internal combustion, the Aprilia 1200 90-degree V-Twin has been retuned to 125 hp at 8250 rpm RPM, which is down a bit from the Dorsoduro’s 130 hp at 8700 rpm, but has a broader torque curve. Peak torque now is 84.4 ft.-lb. at 6800 rpm, instead of the Dorsoduro’s 84.9 at 7200 rpm. The engine has undergone extensive modifications, beginning with 52mm throttle bodies in place of the 57mm units of the Dorsoduro engine. To improve flexibility and smoothness of response, two injectors are fitted to each throttle body, and an oxygen sensor is included downstream in each exhaust port for a perfect calibration of the injection as well as reduced fuel consumption and lower exhaust emissions. A 690-watt alternator supports all the complex electronics and the rest of the electrical components, including the new and more powerful lighting system and the optional heated grips.
The frame retains a composite structure, with cast aluminum claws that clamp the rear mounts of the engine and solidly locate the swingarm pivot. A tightly triangulated section of steel tubing bolts to the aluminum elements and to the additional engine mounts. The trellis is well structured using the same steel tubing of the Dorsoduro. The frame, with revised steering geometry, has had its rake reduced from 27.5 degrees back to the 26 of the previous Dorsoduro 750, but the trail has gone from 118mm to 125mm courtesy of triple-clamps offset by 25 mm. The wheelbase of 61.6 in. is a 1.45 in. increase over the Dorsoduro 1200’s, thanks to a longer swingarm and a slightly advanced steering head.
As one might expect, the Aprilia Caponord 1200 comes well equipped for touring, with a comfortably profiled seat for two, a protective fairing with an adjustable windshield and handguards that keep the cold and wet away from your gloves, which was much appreciated in the stormiest part of my test. Though a seat slightly lower than 33 inches would be welcome, the problem disappeared once aboard the bike. The riding posture is one of the most ergonomically correct I have experienced, and the reach to the handlebar feels natural, with arms properly flexed and able to apply all the force needed to control the bike, even under extreme conditions. Similarly, the legs and back are not stressed at all, and the fairing does an excellent job.
From 4000 rpm, the engine pulls beautifully with very little fuss and almost imperceptible vibration. Below 3500 rpm, it shudders a bit. The chassis is better balanced and immensely more neutral than that of the Dorsoduro. Steering response is precise and quick, and the bike feels stable at speed, even on a soaking wet road at 100mph, a speed the Caponord can maintain with ease for a long time. The engine has much higher potential than 125hp, or the 130hp of the Dorsoduro. Top speed is limited to 135 mph.
All told, the new Caponord chassis has superb dynamic qualities, and it’s far more agile and surefooted than most adventure-tourers. On top of this, the semi-active Sachs suspension makes the bike comfortable and controllable in a variety of riding conditions. With its stability on uneven tarmac at speed and excellent comfort, the Caponord offers a combination that’s hard to beat. And when the weather turned dry, the Caponord further proved its dynamic virtues on the twisty mountain roads. The bike also proved quite versatile, perfectly adequate for long hauls on the highway yet fine for everyday commuting.
In Italy, a fully dressed Caponord Travel Pack sells for 15,900 euros, with the basic model starting at 13,500 euros. At current exchange rates, that’s approximately $20,500 and $17,500, respectively. Look for the Caponord 1200s to arrive in the U.S. later this year.