Test-riding the Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 remains a fond memory. I loved the bike, but Kiwi buyers ignored it as much as they did the United Future party in the recent election.
Seems we don't quite get supermotos, we love watching their entertaining sideways antics on street circuits such as Whanganui and Paeroa, but ride one ourselves on the road? Forgetaboutit!
Anyway, back to that distant test of the Dorso 750. I said at the time that it would be a hard sell with just a 750cc V-twin to propel it, and a price premium that made it $3000 more expensive than the mechanically similar Shiver 750 streetbike. Maybe Aprilia read the test (yeah, right), for two years later there's now a Dorsoduro 1200 that caters more to our taste for big-bang motorcycle engines. Meanwhile, the outstanding smaller 750 now costs $15,990, $2500 less than it did in 2009. The shift downmarket of the 750 creates marketing space for the new 1200, which lands with a value-packed $21,495 pricetag attached to its handlebars. Both models represent a more concerted twin-pronged attack on the notoriously conservative Kiwi motorcycle consumer. If these Dorsoduros can't stimulate an appetite in our market for Italian-branded supermotos, Aprilia might as well give up on them and concentrate just on importing the bikes that do sell here (notably the wickedly rapid RSV4 sportsbike in both of its guises).
The test of the Dorsoduro 1200 started well. Self-employed blokes in utes kept halting in their business to check it out and take a closer look. Most had a dirtbike in the garage at home, and the idea of a 1200cc roadbike with similar styling and riding position definitely appealed to them. However, the price of the Aprilia seemed to be the deal breaker for most. Why I could get a brand-new Chinese ute for that, remarked one. Indeed, you can, I replied, but would it be as much fun?
For Aprilia has almost doubled the engine capacity of the 750 for the newest Dorsoduro, and the bigger bike is an absolute weapon on city streets, given the huge reserves of accessible torque that the liquid-cooled V-twin supplies. The mid-range performance of the 130bhp engine is as punchy as that of the rival Ducati Hypermotard 1100, and the Aprilia caps it off with a far-stronger top-end hit. It certainly sounds the part too, the bangs of the engine arriving with the same frequency intensity as a drummer's bass drum kicks as he drives the beat of a heavy- metal band. Given that this the cheaper version of the Dorso 1200, without the ABS brakes and traction control of the $22,995 version, those thumps can easily have a levitating effect on the Aprilia's front wheel. For this supermoto likes to wheelie as much as Richie McCaw likes to regain possession of a rugby ball.
Despite being the dumber version in terms of its comparative lack of electronic riding aids, the more affordable 1200 still comes with the choice of three settings for its ride-by-wire throttle - sport, touring, and rain. However, I found sport far too aggressive and rain far too passive, so selected touring for the most of the test period. It's arguable that touring is the setting Aprilia would have selected for the bike if it was only to be sold with a solitary throttle mode.
Like the 750, the larger Dorsoduro is a brilliant city bike, scything through the gridlock with ease thanks to its generous steering lock, superb balance, and a lofty riding perch that makes it easier to spot what's happening ahead in the traffic. Take the bike out on country roads, however, and it doesn't feel quite as at home. For it's a surprise to find that it isn't the sharp- steering supermoto that you expect. The styling certainly makes promises that the Aprilia isn't capable of keeping. It's an enjoyable bike to chuck around, but you really have to put a lot of forearm and shoulder muscle into it to get it to change direction. There isn't the same ability to carve lines through corners like the Hypermotard, any KTM supermoto, or even its little 'bro, the 750. Perhaps Aprilia was worried about stability given the higher speeds the 1200 is capable of, and opted for more conservative steering geometry.
However, the rest of the chassis package feels right up to taking the fight to the Dorsoduro's KTM and Ducati rivals. The brakes are feisty and full of bite, the Dunlop Qualifier radials deal with the lack of traction control on this bike, and the suspension is dynamically competent.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1198cc liquid-cooled dohc 8v 90-degree V-twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 97kW (130bhp) at 8700rpm and 112Nm of torque at 6250rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Steel-tube/cast alloy trellis frame with aluminium swingarm, fully- adjustable 43mm inverted Sachs telescopic forks, and horizontally- mounted rear Sachs monoshock adjustable for spring preload, and compression/rebound damping.
Price: $21,495 as tested; $22,995 with optional ABS brakes and traction control.
Hot: Superb new 90-degree V-twin engine is smoother than narrower-angle V-engines from Aprilia.
Not: Aprilia should have backed up its sportsbike range with an adventure tourer rather than a supermoto.
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