EXCLUSIVE ROAD TEST: 2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack

This secret sport-tourer is an asphalt-adventurer at heart. With full test results and a dyno video!

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack action shot

Gaze across the parking lot at the 2015 Aprilia Caponord and it will likely trigger fantastic dreams of pulling up to a bar in Morocco for a taste of mint tea after a long slog across nearly impassable roads and seemingly endless expanses of nothingness. That's the point of adventure bikes and that "out there" styling.

And like with many adventure machines, it’s just a bit of a fib. But don’t hold it against the Caponord or any of its other not-so-dirt-ready brothers. They’ve stepped in as the new versions of lighter-weight sport-tourers, only with standard-bike ergonomics and typically longer-travel suspension. They are a blessing for motorcycle travelers.

The market is foul with such machines. We've been riding overtime just to get them all stuffed in the pages of CW. You probably read about the new Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS in our exclusive first test last month, and saw that it fared pretty well against its more expensive European competition—the BMW R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adventure, although the latter proved the class of the field in that showdown. Enter the $15,499 Caponord, which fits between the budget-conscious Suzuki and those other topline Euro machines.

Once upon a time, Italian bikes were all filed under the "quirky" category. But those days are mostly over, except where quirky is an appropriate product attribute (See: Moto Guzzi).

The Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack tested here is pure refinement and a complete, engineered whole.

2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack dyno chart

Ergonomics are beautifully composed, with a wide, leverage-friendly handlebar and an exceptionally comfortable seat that reminded us of the 2001-04 Aprilia Futura sport-tourer's nearly perfect perch. Said an Aprilia factory insider: "Our testers have the finest butts capable of identifying the best compromise between style and comfort." Okay, he was being a little tongue in cheek, but we're serious. The Caponord is a great place to sit.

And a great bike to ride. While the RSV4-inspred front-end styling suggests the Caponord might be a V-4, the bike is actually a cousin to the Dorsoduro 1200 V-twin right down to some of the frame elements.

This revamped 1,197cc engine features a 90-degree vee, with a mixed gear and chain drive for its four cams to keep the heads more compact. The 52mm throttle bodies are downsized from the 57s used on the big Dorsoduro, and overall power character is tuned to emphasize broad torque. Output on the CW Dynojet dyno was 106 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque. The story here, though, is that more than 60 pound-feet is available below 3,000 rpm. Combine this with an absolutely excellent clutch/six-speed gearbox and leaving the line is a pure pleasure, either gliding away at part throttle or launching hard. It pulls as smooth and creamy as the finest espresso with a full-bodied kick that leaves you cheerful for hours.

Get on the gas hard and one or more of the Caponord’s many rider aid systems may intervene. This fully loaded Travel Pack bike (the only version coming to the US) is a rolling showcase for Better Living through Electronics: Ride-by-Wire throttle modes, ABS, traction control, semi-active electronic suspension, cruise control, and more.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack action shot #2

Nice thing about the throttle modes is that all three are actually useful. The Caponord’s Sport, Touring, and Rain modes carry typical names, but with many bikes they could often be called Crap, Stutter, and Adequate. Not here. Sport does border on abrupt, but it generally delivers dynamic, fun engine response. Touring is the best all-around mode (gentle, yet firm) and Rain actually is useful in wet conditions, offering smooth, traction-friendly initial response and max output limited to 100 claimed horsepower, 25 down on the factory-stated peak.

Aprilia Traction Control is the same as that used on the RSV4 but without the launch-control and anti-wheelie programs. It was surprisingly active in its intervention even on setting 1, the sportiest of the three. And without actual wheelie-control, ATC cuts output very hard when the front end pops up, since the system interprets the wheel-speed differential as rear spin. Turn it off if you want to wheelie. I was happy to have setting 2 in some very poor conditions, which Aprilia says is for “normal use.” Setting 3 caused the “I’m working!” yellow light to flash when actual wheelspin didn’t seem possible.

Two-channel Continental ABS works with the Brembo Monoblock front calipers and the single-piston rear to provide great braking performance. And, like with ATC, ABS can be turned off independently of the other systems.

The best is last: Aprilia Dynamic Damping. One ride and you won't think its "ADD" name is funny. As with systems available from Ducati and BMW, there are "manual" settings available for various loads, but the Aprilia's Automatic setting is the way to go and what differentiates it from the competition. In this mode, damping and rear preload are altered on the fly. Via a dedicated ECU, suspension position and its rate of position change are constantly measured. Those values are combined with front and rear wheel speeds, twistgrip position and front brake application information to set the damping curves for the Sachs suspension units front and rear. Aprilia has four patents on this semi-active system, which uses proprietary software. Why semi-active? Because it doesn't rapidly alter front and rear spring preload based on immediate road conditions and how you are riding the bike.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack rear suspension

"The suspension delivered superb ride comfort on the freeway and the chassis maintained very good composure when I hit the twisties," said Road Test Editor Don Canet. "The Caponord is very stable and slightly heavy in steering feel, although the wide bars reduce effort to a nice degree. I like the steadfast, flowing feeling when cornering."

And, in Automatic setting, the bike maintains this feeling whether you throw on a passenger or load the reasonably sized color-matched hard bags.

Strangely, although the Caponord has standard cruise control, it did not function on the particular bike we tested. Also, our 1200 wasn’t fitted with optional heated grips, which meant that the button on the right handlebar control pod did nothing but remind us of how toasty our hands could have been.

On a more positive note, wind protection on the Caponord is good, courtesy of that big front end and adjustable windscreen (same mechanism as used on the Guzzi Stelvio). Screen up or down, the level of windblast at helmet level is about the same, noisy but not turbulent. Standard handguards are a nice touch in foul weather. If you hit some really bad stuff, be glad the Caponord has a 690-watt alternator, which means you can run your heated vest, your GPS or most other typical electrical accessories with no worries. (Get the Triumph Tiger Explorer XC with its 950-watt setup if you think you’ll need a microwave or to do any trailside welding…)

If you’re thinking about the Darien Gap or even a muddy trail, consider the standard tires: 17-inch Dunlop Qualifier IIs, about as sporty-asphalt as you can get.

Yes, the Caponord is much more like the Ducati Multistrada 1200 than either the BMW or KTM adventure-bike offerings. It's a sporty road-going machine that can wander down a well-groomed dirt road without too much trouble. You may not end up in Morocco for mint tea on a Caponord, but you probably wanted a good espresso, which you can really only get in better paved parts of the world anyway.

SPECIFICATIONS
2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack studio side view

| |GENERAL| |LIST PRICE|15,499| |IMPORTER|Piaggio Group Americas, Inc. 257 Park Ave. South, 4th Floor New York, NY 10010 www.apriliausa.com| |CUSTOMER SERVICE PHONE|212/380-4400| |WARRANTY|24 mo./unlimited mi.| |ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN| |ENGINE|liquid-cooled, four-stroke V-twin| |BORE & STROKE|106.0 x 67.8mm| |DISPLACEMENT|1197cc| |COMPRESSION RATIO|12.0:1| |VALVE TRAIN|dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment| |VALVE-ADJUST INTERVALS|12,427 mi.| |FUEL INJECTION|(2) 52mm throttle bodies| |OIL CAPACITY|3.5 qt.| |ELECTRIC POWER|690w| |BATTERY|12v, 12ah| |CHASSIS| |WEIGHT:|| |TANK EMPTY|559 lb.| |TANK FULL|599 lb.| |FUEL CAPACITY|6.3 gal.| |WHEELBASE|61.7 in.| |RAKE/TRAIL|26.1º/5.0 in.| |SEAT HEIGHT|34.0 in.| |GROUND CLEARANCE|6.8 in.| |GVWR|1042 lb.| |LOAD CAPACITY (TANK FULL)|443 lb.| |SUSPENSION & TIRES| |FRONT SUSPENSION:|| |MANUFACTURER|Sachs| |TUBE DIAMETER|43mm| |CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL|6.6 in.| |ADJUSTMENTS|compression and rebound damping| |REAR SUSPENSION:|| |MANUFACTURER|Sachs| |TYPE|single shock| |CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL|5.9 in.| |ADJUSTMENTS|compression and rebound damping, spring preload| |TIRES:|| |FRONT|Dunlop Qualifier II 120/70R17| |REAR|Dunlop Qualifier II 180/55R17| |PERFORMANCE| |1/4 MILE|11.22 sec. @ 117.49| |0-30 MPH|1.2 sec.| |0-60 MPH|2.9 sec.| |0-90 MPH|5.7 sec.| |0-100 MPH|7.3 sec.| |TOP GEAR TIME TO SPEED:|| |40-60 MPH|3.4 sec.| |60-80 MPH|4.0 sec.| |MEASURED TOP SPEED|134 mph| |ENGINE SPEED @ 60 MPH|3670 rpm| |FUEL MILEAGE| |HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE|TK| |AVG. RANGE INC. RESERVE|TK| |BRAKING DISTANCE| |FROM 30 MPH|30 ft.| |FROM 60 MPH|116 ft.| |SPEEDOMETER ERROR| |30 MPH INDICATED|29 mph| |60 MPH INDICATED|56 mph|

EDITOR'S NOTES

Ryan Dudek headshot

Ryan Dudek

Contributing Editor

If red is the new black and 30 the new 20, I like to think adventure-touring is the new sport-touring. This Aprilia is a perfect example. It has adventure written all over it yet it performs better than any “sport-touring” sled I’ve ever ridden. The front wheel sticks like a sportbike’s coming into a sweeping corner, and the dynamic semi-active suspension provides the comfort and feedback that suit my riding style. Wait, it has seamless electronics, which means we can do some light off-road riding? How did we get here!?

Don Canet headshot

Don Canet

Road Test Editor

The Capo’s well-padded and nicely shaped saddle pampers my boney butt better than most, and it has very good legroom and a nice relaxed reach to the bars. All this, combined with the intelligent suspension, means the Caponord delivers superb ride comfort on the freeway, yet perfectly transitions to more sporting suspension action when needed. The chassis is very stable if slightly deliberate in steering feel, although the wide bars reduce input effort to a nice degree. Well done, Aprilia, you’ve twisted my arm.

Mark Hoyer headshot

Mark Hoyer

Editor-in-Chief

My personal taste for dirt-centric adventure-touring has become an ADV-equipped Yamaha WR250R. So the Caponord’s asphalt focus makes it the perfect streetbike for me, since I won’t need it to scale goat trails or cross miles of desert sand. The most charming thing about the Caponord is its wonderful balance of power, handling and comfort backed by its mostly transparent electronics. It’s a bit like a lighter-feeling BMW R1200RT, which, coming from me, is a very high compliment.

On road action shot #1

On road action shot #2

On road action shot #3

On road action shot #4

On road action shot #5

On road action shot #6

Static right-side view.

Static front 3/4 left-side view.

Static left-side view.

Static rear 3/4 right-side view.

Static front 3/4 left-side view.

Front wheel / brake.

Nose section / headlights.

Nose section side view.

Aprilia name badge.

Aprilia Caponord name badge.

Rear suspension.

Rear suspension close-up.

Exhaust pipe.

Saddlebag.

Rear section (CAD illustration).

Forks (CAD illustration).

Studio right-side view.

Dyno chart.