2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack - Riding Impression

A fantastic touring bike that works amazingly well on the track.

2014 Aprilia Caponord track action shot

I first rode the Aprilia Caponord 1200 in March of last year. It was a rough day for a test because the roads of Sardinia were turned into swimming pools by a strong thunderstorm. But this ADV-style bike, based on the Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 and 1200 naked bikes, tamed the adverse weather in great style, thanks to its well-balanced chassis and one of the most competent electronic suites in the class. Simply put, Aprilia has the most refined and functional electronics available, which makes for a safe, relaxed, and comfortable ride.

The superior electronics and technical expertise from Aprilia's SBK racing have been poured on all major Moto Guzzi and Aprilia, including the strategically important Caponord 1200 tested here. On that first ride in Sardinia, I had plenty of opportunity to sample the three-mode ride-by-wire software. The Rain setting smoothed throttle response and teamed perfectly with the traction control. But what I loved most was the ability of the Sachs suspension. The fork and cantilevered monoshock coped well with the tough environment, helping to keep the Caponord straight and surefooted, even at speeds above 100 mph.

About one year later, Editor-in-Chief Mark Hoyer, Road Test Editor Don Canet and Contributing Editor Ryan Dudek all tested the Caponord and agreed with my conclusion that it offered an all around very good ride. Then, in July of this year, European media had a chance to ride a Caponord 1200 from the sunny beaches of the French Riviera (the Cote d'Azur) to the top of the Col de la Bonette, deep into the Maritime Alps. This was a serious two-day ride of about 550 miles, from sea level to 10,000 feet high on one of the best mountain roads in Europe, the Route Napoleon (anything worthwhile in France is called "Napoleon" but in this case the name is fully deserved).

The Alps at 10,000 feet and our road in the background

INTO THE MARITIME ALPS

Heading inland from Nice, the traffic thins out rapidly. Just past Saint Paul de Vence, the road unfolds almost perfectly. The pace is fast because the road is wide, and we gently wind our way through a sequence of fast bends. All Aprilia Caponord 1200s are equipped with the Travel Pack, plus heated grips to complement the handguards, both of which were appreciated as we soared past 3000 feet into the thinner and colder air. Fortunately, the weather stayed sunny and dry, which was good because the road got narrower and tighter. At that point, I started appreciating the Caponord chassis. The semi-active Sachs suspension was set on “automatic,” which is totally logical because the ECU, as well as all the sensors, software and actuators, work too well to be outsmarted.

At 34.0 in. above ground, the Caponord seat is just right for my 5-foot-10 height; anything higher forces me to tiptoe when standing. Among the dealer-installed accessories, there is a gel-padded seat that is an inch lower. I would have loved to try that on my bike—not because of an easier reach to the ground, but because I love to bring my personal center of gravity closer to that of the bike. That way, the whole bike/rider ensemble has a nimbler dynamic response.

The hard bags that are part of the Caponord’s Travel Pack did a great job carrying the extra riding gear needed to cope with the drastic changes in weather. During the final 150 miles, the roads were narrower yet, and full of hairpins. In the thinner air that reduced horsepower, the engine pulled strongly. I had set the throttle to Touring, because that mode takes away the sudden surge at throttle opening but delivers all the power at the top. At altitude, though, I switched to Sport for a more immediate response.

2014 Aprilia Caponord static angled view

Aprilia provided us with their Multimedia Platform and related Smartphone. In reality, we didn’t need nav because there was only one road to the top. Nevertheless, the system is highly sophisticated and I could select lots of additional information such as torque delivery (which decreased with altitude because of the thinner air). I could also check real-time fuel consumption, actual speed, wheel slippage, the whole lot. The competent motorcycle tourer can take full advantage of this Multimedia Platform by selecting the kind of information that he regards as a priority for the safety and the pleasure of the ride.

Through this long climb, I came to appreciate the excellent response of the 90-degree Aprilia 1200 V-twin, but even more rewarding were the comfortable ergonomics, excellent agility and reassuring surefootedness of the Caponord chassis. Quick into line, perfectly neutral, solidly responsive, and stable, the Caponord let me scoop up about 300 miles of corners of all kinds with great pleasure and confidence. The bike proved easy, inviting extra lean angle. And the long-stroke Sachs suspension worked wonders.

The next day, on the ride back to Nice, we took a different and shorter route. Except for the first 30 miles or so, the road was less demanding before we finally hit the highway going south and turned east into Nice. All told, the Caponord felt great at high speed on the highway, and a brief shower did not dampen my enthusiasm for the machine.

2014 Aprilia Caponord action shot

ONTO THE TRACK

At the end of this gorgeous ride through the French Maritime Alps, I came up with the idea of bringing the Caponord to a racetrack and finding out if that “sporty” fee of the chassis was for real. It took some bargaining with the Piaggio people, but in the end they realized that they had nothing to lose. I arranged a test at the Pirelli test track, and on one September morning an Aprilia Caponord 1200 Travel Pack was waiting for me there, appropriately shod with Pirelli Diablo Rosso radials.

There is nothing like a ride on a racetrack. You’re perfectly relaxed. No truck will pop up around a blind corner. No old lady will suddenly cross the road with her bag full of eggs. No soccer ball will zap out from nowhere. Early in my two-hour test, I started grinding the feelers at the end of the pegs around a second-gear corner. It only happened a couple of times during the mountain ride, but here it was happening at every lap and stole some of my confidence because it felt like it might upset the composure of the bike. Then I started grinding them in third- and fourth-gear corners. That immediately smoothed out the problem because the higher speeds simply took care of the feelers.

With confidence fully restored, I started getting the best out of that beautifully balanced Caponord chassis. The bike responded beyond expectations, allowing kneepad-scratching lean angles with absolute elan. With traction control set to minimum, suspension on automatic, and the throttle in Sport, I never had a loss of traction when powering out while leaned over. The engine is strong, but it’s also smooth and progressive. But I did notice one problem: In right-handers, lean angles caused a funny feeling that was more than just pegs grinding. It turned out that I was grinding the muffler, which must be adjusted to a lower position when bags are installed. Nevertheless, the Caponord was even more fun on the track than it was on the road. It’s a great chassis that could handle 150 horsepower with ease. And the engine is capable of that, insiders told me. Go for it, Aprilia!

Check out our full road test of the Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack, complete with specifications, prices and test results.

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Static right-side view.

Static angled front view.

Static front 3/4 left-side view.

Static angled rear view.

Static angled left-side view.

Static right-side view.

Sachs semi-active front fork ABS assisted Brembo brakes.

Adjustable windshield.

Aprilia Multimedia platform.

Aprilia multimedia platform showing speed on left and revs on right.

Aprilia multimedia platform in navigator mode.

Engine.

Swingarm.

Adjustable exhaust.

Rear mudguard.

Double-stitched seat.

At the top of Col de la Bonette.

The Var river.

Route to the top.

Route to the top... sheep and all.

The Alps at 10,000 feet and our road in the background.

The Alps are full of blue water reservoirs.