Three’s Company | 2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test

Testing the Aprilia Caponord 1200, BMW R 1200 GS and Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring during a 1,400-mile trek to Utah

2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test

If you could ride anywhere, with anyone, and on the motorcycle of your choice, where would you go and what would you ride?

If you had asked me these questions a month ago, I'd have had an answer to two of them: The destination is, without question, Utah, and my co-pilots/entertainment would be the two people who I share my passion for two wheels with, my dad and grandpa. That only leaves the question surrounding bikes up in the air, though to be frank, I'd have quickly decided on an adventure-touring bike (kudos to you long-haulers riding a GSX-R1000 with saddlebags; that's just not for me…or my dad's back). But is the answer to the last question that easy?

Delve deeper into the modern-day ADV category and you'll notice that, as a result of the recent push within that segment, there are more worthwhile mounts than ever before: Aprilia Caponord, BMW R 1200 GS, Ducati Multistrada S Touring, KTM 1190 Adventure, and Suzuki V-Strom 1000 are all prime examples. And so the question compounds: If you could ride any ADV bike, which would it be?

2014 adventure-touring bikes on the dyno

For this comparison, we've taken the three bikes with the most technological advancements (semi-active suspension being the pinnacle of performance) and made my dream trip a reality. Would 110-degree weather, 1,400 miles in the saddle, and a Motel 6 stay with my dad and grandpa have me changing my answer to the first two questions? Likewise, would three days of riding through four different states enable me to finally answer the last of those questions, essentially crowning a king of the do-it-all ADV class?

The Adventure Begins
Although my dad and grandpa are proud owners of Honda Gold Wings, their motorcycling preferences pair well with the specifications of a contemporary ADV bike. Both put marked emphasis on performance but appreciate comfortable ergonomics and various technological accoutrements like GPS and, when my grandpa can figure it out, cruise control. My preferences don't fall far from the tree, though at 25 years old, I place just a bit more emphasis on adventure and wherewithal on a tight canyon road.

To that end, the Aprilia is a bit of a disappointment.

Throw a leg over the Caponord 1200 and you’ll notice that it’s got the softest seat in the group, one that begins to feel too soft as the tripmeter clicks over to 100 and beyond. The windshield isn’t befit for long stints on the interstate, as it tapers toward the top and makes for a loud, turbulent ride. Adjusting the screen isn’t all that simple due to screws at either end that must be backed out then retightened once you’ve adjusted the screen to its new position. Exerting the energy is almost a waste, as the airflow changes very little regardless of screen position. “The screen looks like it was made more for form than function,” my dad concludes.

2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test

If the Caponord’s fairing has your mind wandering off into visions of an RSV4-culled V-4 engine with boatloads of torque and whimsical exhaust note, then step back into reality and realize that the Capo actually uses a 90-degree V-twin more similar to the powerplant in the no-longer-available Dorsoduro 1200. There is a modest amount of torque at lower rpm, but midrange and top-end performance is best described as lackluster. Tall gearing (presumably for engine smoothness or preservation on the interstate) makes the Aprilia feel more like a weak puppy than an attack dog, “and it sounds like a damn Briggs & Stratton,” my grandpa adds, very clearly disappointed by the Aprilia’s powerplant.

The Caponord 1200 is the first Aprilia to be outfitted with semi-active suspension, its ADD (Aprilia Dynamic Damping) setup offering varying levels of performance in each of the three riding modes—Touring, Sport, and Rain—and adjustable spring preload in the rear (via switches, front is done manually). Unfortunately, Aprilia has missed the mark on its first go-round, ultimately endowing the Capo 1200 with springs that are too soft and an internal damping spec that’s too firm. This imbalance gives the Aprilia a mushy feel under load but rigid sensation over sharp-edged bumps. The bike is relatively light handling thanks to proper geometry and chassis spec, but you can never really take advantage of that steering trait as the bike gets out of shape the second you try to ride aggressively through a set of corners. Changes to the riding modes provide a small jump in suspension feel, but the steps aren’t as large as they are on the Ducati or BMW and modify the problem rather than solve it.

2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test

The Capo’s 320mm Brembo front brakes provide very little feel or power when compared to the brake setup on the BMW or Ducati, and adjusting the electronic rider aids gave my grandpa a larger headache than either of the other systems; switches on the handlebar manage cruise control, heated grips, riding modes, and tripmeters, but you have to reach for two well-concealed buttons on the dash if you want to get into the main menu and adjust suspension, traction control, or ABS. Making matters worse is a cruise control system that’d jump from a set speed to plus or minus 3 mph then eventually quit working. Probably for the better, as setting the speed was a pain in the first place.

Discovering The ADV Category's Sportier Side
Our family suffering started with a 600-mile freeway run from Southern California to Utah but quickly moved into a full day of touring Utah's backcountry and the National Park that put spurs to our trip: Zion. Here, on tighter roads winding through landscape that pictures hardly do justice, is where the key to the Ducati Multistrada S Touring began to become surprisingly popular. In fact, the Multistrada feels a lot like the bike Aprilia wanted to build but didn't; it's sporty yet versatile, with taut chassis, great power, and aggressive suspension settings that enable it to handle tighter sections of road with the prowess of a superbike-turned-tourer.

2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test

The Multistrada’s engine is a nice step in performance over the Caponord, with great torque through the midrange and decent peak power (130 hp at 9,300 rpm). It makes a scary amount of mechanical noise, according to my grandpa, and chugs a bit if you let the rpm drop, but gearing is good, and the transmission just a step behind the Aprilia’s.

The Ducati’s seat is firmer than the saddle on the Aprilia or BMW, and the bike doesn’t have cruise control, but highway stints aren’t as bad as these points would lead you to believe thanks to a rearward-swept windshield that’s easy to adjust and provides good air protection. Mirrors are nice and wide, which delivered a good view of the Utah scenery that’d passed, but they also buzzed out at higher rpm, making it a bit of a challenge to spot my grandpa, who was almost always too busy enjoying himself and the scenery to keep up with the group. Actually, I’m not too sure what he was doing back there—probably picking dragraces with tourists or something…

Semi-active suspension on the Multistrada is referred to as Skyhook, and in most riding scenarios we were happy with the performance of this setup. There’s a nice jump in performance between settings, plus each of the riding modes are customizable, so you can custom-build a mode for the various types of riding you’ll do (highways on the weekdays, canyon roads on Saturday, and fire roads on Sunday). The bike never felt as compliant as the Aprilia or BMW, regardless of how soft the setting we chose for the suspension, which made freeway stints a bit of a tough sell for those who’d forgotten to use the restroom at the last fuel stop. However, those same settings work with the chassis to provide great stability through a tight section of road, and as a whole, the bike feels very balanced and easy to ride at a quick pace.

2014 adventure-touring bikes on the dyno - Aprilia Caponord

Aprilia Caponord

Brakes on the Ducati are the most aggressive, with tons of power and a strong initial bite that takes some time to adapt to. Electronic rider aids and tripmeters are easy to adjust using Ducati’s conventional switch setup on the left side of the handlebar, though not as easy as the same adjustments on the BMW. Lastly, the Ducati’s bags can be a pain to mount and dismount, but they are also the only ones with safety latches on the side that almost guarantee the bag won’t blow open in the event of a…uh…mishap. For that reason, we trusted our more-important cargo to the Ducati’s luggage but played rock-paper-scissors to see who had to take them off at the end of the day.

Putting The Adventure In Adventure-Touring
Planning our trip was pretty simple because, well, we didn't make a plan. I had a destination in mind (southwestern Utah) as well as a general idea of what I wanted to do while we were there (some backcountry riding, fire-road adventures, and a swim in whatever freshwater stream or lake we stumbled across) but wasn't tied down to a specific route or any particular pit stop. This meant long days in the saddle, the possibility of getting lost, and a huge mix of roads. And for that reason, the key to the BMW R 1200 GS, now equipped with optional GPS, was becoming increasingly popular between my grandpa and dad.

2014 adventure-touring bikes on the dyno - Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring

Redesigned last year, the R 1200 GS now features a mostly water-cooled opposed-twin engine that doesn’t have the same bottom-end grunt as GS models from yesteryear but exceptionally linear power delivery, great midrange, and plenty of power up top. The engine is smooth, sounds fantastic under acceleration, and doesn’t toast your thighs with adverse amounts of heat, as the Ducati and Aprilia powerplants do—the Aprilia more than the Ducati, by a long shot.

Aerodynamics and ergonomics on the BMW are near perfect too. Wind buffet is basically nonexistent, the screen is easy to adjust to multiple heights, and the seat is “one of the best motorcycle seats I’ve ever sat on,” my grandpa claims. As if that weren’t enough, the BMW has the most legroom, perfect for our family of 6-foot-plus giants and long days in the saddle.

2014 adventure-touring bikes on the dyno - BMW R 1200 GS

BMW R 1200 GS

The R 1200 GS standard model’s 582-pound wet weight will lead you to believe the bike is a handful on anything other than straight sections of road, yet BMW has managed to conceal the bike’s weight so well that you’ll hardly notice the heft once the road tightens up. Similarly, a tight steering radius and light clutch pull make the bike feel easy to manage when cutting through parking lots and traffic.

Brakes on the R 1200 are a perfect balance between feel and power, ultimately providing the stopping power of the Ducati but with a lighter initial bite that helps you set your speed with more composure. And as you dip into a corner, the bike feels more settled than any near-600-pound bike should, a combination of great suspension and chassis geometry.

2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test

The electronics are just as good, with the various mode switches allowing easy modifications to cruise control, power mode, or suspension settings. “The rider interface is just perfect,” my dad says after realizing the true potential of BMW’s newest adventure-touring bike and almost simultaneously stealing the keys from my grandpa.

From that point on, my dad would lead the way, playing with the Nav V and handlebar-mounted controller, which enables you to control the unit without taking your hands off the bar—genius. Aprilia had mounted its optional Aprilia Multimedia Platform (AMP) Engine Control Unit to the Caponord, which allows you to pair the bike to your phone and use it for navigation, plus track things like parking location, trip, fuel average, acceleration force, roll, thrust, and much, much more, but that $199.95 system (plus $59.95 for installation kit) is nowhere near as advantageous as the $799 Nav V on the R 1200 GS. The BMW’s system is, without doubt, worth the money.

2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test

So too are the Vario side cases ($1,008 per pair), which are affixed with an internally mounted lever that grows the bag by at least 2 inches when flipped down; my grandpa forgot we weren’t taking his Gold Wing on the trip and packed half his closet in a carry-on bag, but even that wasn’t enough to stress the Beemer’s bag. The latch mechanism and mount/dismount setup is a great deal easier than the systems on the Aprilia or Ducati too.

And With That, The Fun Is Over
It might sound like we had a hard time finding anything to discredit the BMW for, and, well, that's because we did. As my dad puts it, "There is not one thing that the other bikes do better than the BMW. Not one thing."

If you ever decide to make a trip to the destination of your choice and on a motorcycle that won’t disappoint, regardless of the route you take, you’d be doing yourself a favor to visit Utah and to make the trek, or any trek for that matter, on a BMW R 1200 GS. It is, hands down, the best ADV bike money can buy.

2014 adventure-touring bikes on the dyno - Aprilia Caponord

Aprilia Caponord

Test Notes: Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS
+ Awesome price
+ Great RSV4-culled styling
- Engine heat
- Front brakes lack feel/power
- Suspension is too soft
- Poor aerodynamics
= Great for the price but not great overall

2014 adventure-touring bikes on the dyno - Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring

Test Notes: Ducati Multistrada S Touring
+ Composed chassis with sporty handling
+ Great brakes, just overly strong initial bite
+ Superb feel from TC and ABS
- Stiff suspension
- No cruise control
= A lot of performance; not a lot of compliance

2014 adventure-touring bikes on the dyno - BMW R 1200 GS

BMW R 1200 GS

Test Notes: BMW R 1200 GS
+ Great aerodynamics and ergonomics
+ Front brakes
+ Ease of use with electronics
+ Great fuel mileage/range
- Price
= If not the best bike money can buy, then the most versatile

Sport Rider Opinions

Bradley Adams
Age: 25
Height: 6'3"
This month's trip to Utah could have been a huge success or failure, and I think the reasons it veered toward the better of those options is a result of the bikes beneath us. Aprilia, Ducati, and BMW have a clear idea of what the ADV consumer is looking for—a mix of versatility, comfort, and performance—and brought into this comparison some really impressive motorcycles.

Unfortunately, the Aprilia isn’t the exciting, performance-based bike its design led me to believe it was, nor is the Ducati the plush mount I needed when the highway went straight. The BMW is just perfect though; it’s a bike I’d undoubtedly recommend to anyone who’s in search of adventure but looking to connect the dots on his map with twists and turns.

Curtis Adams
Age: 52
Height: 6'6"
What's the matter with my son? He invited me on a test with him, knowing all the motorcycles I've crashed, blown up, or just plain messed up in my day. I'm somewhat aggressive with motorcycles I ride; to me a motorcycle is an accumulation of parts (I can build another just like the last). Nonetheless, off to Utah we go.

The bikes for the trip were good but not all great. Did Aprilia know the benchmark for this category? The Capo is slow, noisy, and with the electronic options difficult to operate… No thanks. The Multi handles great, has good power, and I like the diversity in electronic suspension, but engine heat is excessive, and the bags are a pain to install or remove. Aaah, then there’s the R 1200 GS. This BMW is not an acclimation of parts; it’s a well-thought-out, hugely refined piece of equipment. That will do wheelies.

Ray Adams
Age: 70
Height: 6'1"
Did I have expectations going into this trip? Yeah, but to be honest my expectations weren't really that high. Usually a ride that's as long as the one we had planned, on a bike that's not like my Gold Wing, it's usually not that good of a ride. It's just pretty hard for you to do and be comfortable. But, hell, we made it, and I'd do it again tomorrow if Bradley asked me to. Assuming we had three BMWs…

Hands down the BMW is the best. The other bikes were okay, but the Aprilia seat didn’t do my 70-year-old backside any favors, and the Ducati wasn’t any easier on my wrist without cruise control. Both of those bikes just don’t feel like bikes you want to ride for a long time.

I always thought BMWs were just a rich man’s toy, but now, I’d seriously consider buying one.

Specifications

Bike Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS BMW R 1200 GS Ducati Multistrada S Touring
MSRP $15,499 ($15,959 as tested) $19,020 ($20,827 as tested) $19,995
Engine
Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC V-twin; 4 valves/cyl. Liquid-cooled, DOHC opposed twin; 4 valves/cyl. Liquid-cooled, DOHC V-twin; 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement 1197cc 1170cc 1198cc
Bore x stroke 106.0 x 67.8mm 101.0 x 73.0mm 106.0 x 67.9mm
Compression ratio 12.0:1 12.5:1 12.5:1
Induction EFI, 52mm throttle bodies , dual injectors/cyl. BMS-X EFI, 52mm throttle bodies,
single injector/cyl. Mitsubishi EFI, Mikuni elliptical throttle bodies equivalent to 56mm diameter, dual injectors/cyl.
Front suspension 43mm Sachs fork w/ ADD, adjustable for spring preload; 6.7 in. of travel Sachs shock w/ D-ESA; 7.5 in. of travel 48mm Sachs fork w/ Skyhook, adjustable for spring preload; 6.7 in. of travel
Rear suspension Sachs shock w/ ADD, adjustable for spring preload; 5.9 in. of travel Sachs shock w/ D-ESA, adjustable for spring preload; 7.9 in. of travel Sachs shock w/ Skyhook, adjustable for spring preload; 6.7 in. of travel
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Tourance EXP 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rear tire 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier 170/60ZR-17 Metzeler Tourance EXP 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rake/trail 26.1°/4.9 in. (125mm) 25.5°/3.9 in. (99mm) 25.0°/4.3 in. (109mm)
Wheelbase 61.5 in. (1562mm) 59.3 in. (1506mm) 60.2 in. (1529mm)
Seat height 33.0 in. (838mm) 33.5–34.3 in. (851mm–871mm) 33.5 in. (851mm)
Fuel capacity 6.3 gal. (23.8L) 5.3 gal. (20.1L) 5.3 gal. (20.1L)
Weight 590 lb. (268kg) wet; 552 lb. (250kg) dry 582 lb. (264kg) wet; 550 lb. (250kg) dry 546 lb. (248kg) wet; 514 lb. (233kg) dry
Fuel consumption 35–47 mpg, 39 mpg avg. 42–52 mpg, 46 mpg avg. 41–50 mpg, 44 mpg avg.
Performance
Roll-ons 60–80 mph/4.0 sec. 60–80 mph/3.2 sec. 60–80 mph/3.7 sec.

Sport Rider Ratings

Bike Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS BMW R 1200 GS Ducati Multistrada S Touring
Fun to ride 7 9 8
Quality 8 10 9
Instruments & controls 7 10 9
Ergonomics 8 10 9
Chassis & handling 7 9 9
Suspension 6 9 8
Brakes 6 10 9
Transmission 9 8 8
Engine power 6 9 8
Engine power delivery 7 9 8

Related articles:

2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Aprilia Caponord 1200
The Caponord 1200’s fairing has your mind racing with thoughts of an RSV4-esque ADV bike, yet Aprilia’s V-twin-powered adventure-tourer is anything but.
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Aprilia Caponord 1200
The Caponord’s switches aren’t as intuitive as the switches on the BMW or Ducati and look a bit cheap. Cruise control would jump plus or minus 3 mph, yet the BMW’s would stay dead even.
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Aprilia Caponord 1200
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Aprilia Caponord 1200
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test -BMW R 1200 GS
The R 1200 GS ’s electronic rider aids, riding modes, and semi-active suspension are easy to adjust thanks to well-positioned switches that are easy to trigger.
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test -BMW R 1200 GS
The windscreen on the BMW is easy to adjust and shaped so there’s no turbulence or wind noise. Sitting on the plush seat, behind this perfectly tailored screen, is nirvana.
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test -BMW R 1200 GS
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test -BMW R 1200 GS
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring
The Ducati’s brakes are the most aggressive and the Skyhook suspension the stiffest, regardless of setting. This exemplifies the bike’s sportier persona, great for back-road riding scenarios.
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring
The Multi fires up with a push to the ignition button, so long as the key is nearby. My 70-year-old grandpa was admittedly perplexed by this technology, but the setup works flawlessly.
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring
“We’re gonna go this way. No, that way.” My dad overcompensates for our lack of direction with a few too many maps.
How cold is a lake sitting 9,000 feet above sea level? Not cold enough to put the kibosh on a father/son bonding experience.
The Ducati Multistrada S Touring and Zion National Park: One of these is worth the price of admission. The other would take a little convincing.
Zion: a place better viewed outside the lens of a camera. Unfortunately for us, our demanding art director loves photos.
An errant condor picked a fight with the BMW R 1200 GS. The BMW won.
2014 Adventure-Touring Comparison Test - Ergonomics
The Aprilia Caponord’s riding triangle may look the most appealing, but an overly soft seat and poor aerodynamics make it a less-than-ideal mount for longer stints. The BMW appeases for the exact opposite reasons.
2014 adventure-touring bikes dyno - horsepower

2014 adventure-touring bikes dyno - horsepower

2014 adventure-touring bikes dyno - torque

2014 adventure-touring bikes dyno - torque