World's fastest chook-chaser?

PETER LOUISSON
Last updated 13:57 17/02/2012

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Sometimes more isn't always better. In the world of motorcycles, however, this seldom applies. And in the world of V-twin motorcycles that's especially true.

We liked the 750 version of Aprilia's Dorsoduro (literally means 'hard back') but bemoaned the fact it had the typical issues of a motard: a small tank and a wooden bench for a seat. Not cheap, either. However, we genuinely admired its 'outer space' looks and the 'duka duka' soundtrack of the 90-degree 750cc twin. Its performance didn't disappoint, as the twin-cam, liquid-cooled midsizer could outrun the bigger-displacement Hypermotard 1100, pulling away from it comfortably in a straight-line sprint. Revs and power will beat size and torque most days, even when there's a weight disadvantage.

So where to go from there for the hard-to-spell and harder-to-pronounce Dorsoduro? Match its displacement with the Hypermotard, of course. Would this mean even more rooster tails of sand in the Ducati's beak? Er, yes, because Aprilia went a step further and created an even bigger 1200cc twin-cylinder engine. Is bigger better in this instance? Very much so, yes indeedy: this is the king of the supermotards.

Naturally, the bigger engine delivers larger lumps of power and torque, the former rising from 92 to 129bhp. The engine is just a ripper of a thing, and you can expect it to power other Aprilias in the not-too-distant future; an adventure bike is evidently on the cards, yet another to take on the all-conquering BMW 1200GS. Triumph is in the throes of doing the same thing, too, and is about to launch its 1200cc Explorer triple. The fact is, adventure bikes are in favour at the moment. Motards? Not so much. Adventure bikes are the SUVs of the dual-tracker world: ready to go off-road, they almost never do.

Anyway, a 1200cc motor is necessary for a full-scale assault on the grand-motard sector, and here is surely an effective one, all 96kW and 115Nm of it. While most V-twins don't appreciate lugging around at low revs in town, this is a bit different, and will pull cleanly from as low as 2500rpm. You find yourself cruising in third gear to work, as fourth is a bit tall at 50km/h.

Once again, Aprilia has come through with a soundtrack that's deserving of recording to disc and selling, which helps to make the bike as emotionally satisfying as it is exciting to ride. And there's an enormous amount of excitement on tap, especially in Sport mode, where the response of the by-wire throttle is super-sharp. Even at modest throttle openings, there's a gasp from below as the intake struggles for sufficient air, and from out the back comes a noise that will make even Ducatisti wistful. Who needs stimulants when there are motors like this around?

Though a supermoto, and a powerful one at that, the Dorsoduro is somewhat less prone to wheelying than you might imagine. Naturally, it climbs up on its back wheel stupidly easily in first gear, so you'd think it would require kid gloves to get its best 0-100km/h performance. These types of bikes are usually just as eager to accelerate vertically as they are horizontally, but the DD is a bit different: its raked-out front end and almost even weight split encourages it to jump out of the blocks meaningfully without flipping. The 750 raced to 100km/h in just under 4.0 seconds but its bigger bro wasted it, ending with a best of 3.48, not that far adrift of the current crop of superbikes. At 1.60 seconds, its overtaking time was fully a half-second quicker, pretty much the figure we extracted from the Speed Triple. It ain't no laggard.

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With a V-twin, expect a few vibes at higher revs, but there's very little need to use more than half revs most of the time. You find yourself short-shifting in town at around 4000rpm, while on the open road there's often no need to downshift when overtaking. It positively slingshots you forward each time you crack open the throttle. Even from 100km/h (3500rpm) or so in sixth, the induction tract gulps and the popgun exhaust 'duk duks' away - all exciting motard stuff.

Handily, the DD features three engine maps. Sport mode is pretty hyper and is best reserved for curing bouts of depression; Rain mode is appropriately tame, while 'T' for Touring is where most riders will leave it the majority of the time. This is quite telling: while most supermotards are designed as ultimate two-wheeled thrillers - acrobats with engines - this doesn't feel quite so loopy. It's almost sane on road, and with its open, tall and upright riding position, it's a snip to ride, especially with its slick-shifting transmission. Where Ducati's Hypermotard truly is light enough and has sufficient midrange torque to power the front wheel up off the throttle in third gear, the DD feels much more grounded, and at 223kg wet, is indeed 26kg heavier. It doesn't turn at the mere sniff of a camber change like the Ducati, though direction changes are still easy; you can get it on its side by just weighting a peg. Nonetheless, it turns more deliberately than you'd expect of a motard.

The impression of a bike set up for stability and easy cruising is underscored by the suspension tune, which borders on plush. With their generous travel, the Sachs inverted forks up front and lay-down monoshock subdue everything lumpy in the DD's path. As braking and downshifting into corners can result in dive, it's best just to shift after braking, or slow it from the rear as you downshift before laying it over. There's a huge amount of ground clearance, so you won't be scraping the pegs very readily.

Note, however, that this bike will not suit the vertically challenged. At six feet in old coinage I'm on tip-toes astride the DD, with its 870mm seat height. Even swinging a leg over requires a bit of a stretch. And because of the upright riding position and the lack of wind protection, choose still days for that weekend blast.

Like most motards, the DD has limitations when used for longer journeys. Its 15-litre tank suggested upwards of a 250km trip was on the cards, especially as 110km/h uses up just 4000rpm in sixth, and the trip readout indicates fuel use of under 5L/100km at this pace. Ride with any exuberance, though, and you'll not better 150km; we certainly didn't.

The seat, too, is a limiting factor. On some motards all you get is a strip of vinyl with an XLO sponge cloth beneath. This is vastly better, except the pillion grab strap rests directly under your sit bones, and soon has you squirming for a better possie - which you won't find.

The ancillaries are well done. The radial-mount Brembos have genuinely solid stopping power, and the span of the lever is adjustable. The rear brake is a more-than-useful adjunct, too - and good for backing it in, if you're a talent.

At $21,495, the DD 1200 undercuts the competition, Ducati's Hypermotard 1100 Evo and the KTM 990 Supermoto, by around $2000. That said, ABS and traction control add $1500 to the bottom line.

If you're a supermoto purist, the lighter, wieldier machines are more likely to appeal, but if you want the look more than the mania, and like a little more comfort and sanity in your big motard, then the Aprilia's the better choice. 

MODEL: Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200.
PRICE: $21,495.
ON SALE IN NZ: 2011.
ENGINE: 1197cc, 96kW@8700rpm, 115Nm@7500rpm.
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed, chain final drive.
VITALS: 3.48sec 0-100 km/h, 223kg.
RATING:
 8/10.

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