First Ride Review
Not that long ago, back when only a select few knew how to get the clock on their VCR to stop blinking after a power outage, all you had to do was get on a motorcycle and ride it. You didn’t need a PhD in engineering (or the computer skills of today’s average 16-year-old) to figure out how to set the suspension, change the engine output, adjust the traction control, turn off the ABS, crank up the grip heaters or zero the tripmeter. Nope, way back in the early 2000s, all you had to do was turn the key, hit the starter, drop it into first and ease out the clutch while rolling on the throttle.
Last week I was assigned to test Aprilia’s all-new Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack, an adventure tourer that’s nearly as complex as its name. It’s equipped with RbW, ABS, ATC, ACC and ADD, compact acronyms for a full suite of electronic rider aids: ride-by-wire, anti-lock brakes (the old timer of the bunch, having been introduced on motorcycles by BMW back when Reagan was still in office), Aprilia Traction Control, Aprilia Cruise Control and Aprilia Dynamic Damping.
On a Sunday afternoon, I rolled the Caponord out of Rider’s warehouse when no one else was around. Clem had attended the Caponord intro, and Oh-Bereted-One Salvadori absconded with the press kit. There I was, left to my own devices with a technologically advanced Italian motorcycle. A couple of years ago I tested the Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC, those last four letters referring to Aprilia Performance Ride Control, an electronics package with 8-level traction control, 3-level wheelie control, 3-level launch control, three power modes and a quick shifter. I never did figure out how to change wheelie control and launch control, and apparently I’m not alone.
Turning the key on, the Caponord’s fully digital LCD instrument panel informed me that the bike was in Touring mode (ECU: T), traction control level 1 and suspension preload set for a solo rider with luggage (single icons for helmet and suitcase). Perfect. I fired up the bike and rode home. Except for ABS, which I consider a “need to have” feature on modern, powerful street bikes, all of the other electronic riding aids fall into the “nice to have” category. They’re there in the background doing their thing while I’m savoring the experience of my first-ever ride on a brand-new Italian V-twin.
Like other adventure bikes, the Aprilia Caponord treats the rider to a neutral riding position with ample legroom and an easy reach to the wide handlebar. The wide, flat seat is 33 inches high, fine for my 34-inch-inseam legs but a stretch for those of average or lower height. Standard hand guards and a small, height-adjustable windscreen provide decent wind protection, but I felt turbulence around my shoulders and helmet.
Twisting the Caponord’s throttle doles out generous grunt—Aprilia claims 125 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 86 lb-ft of torque at 6,800 rpm from it’s liquid-cooled 1,197cc 90-degree V-twin, which has chain final drive and a slick-shifting 6-speed transmission. There’s just enough rumble from the engine and roar from the exhaust to be entertaining but not overwhelming. While stopped with the engine running in neutral, I started playing with buttons. The Mode button on the left handlebar scrolled through the computer functions (tripmeter, clock, average speed, max speed, etc.). Fiddling with the small buttons next to the instrument panel allowed me to adjust settings for traction control, preload and ABS. The starter button doubles as the kill switch, and flicking it toward me cut the engine. I fired it up again, and another quick tap on the starter made the ECU icon on the instrument panel flash, and another selected the next mode. Engine/ECU mode can be changed on the fly, but the throttle must be closed for the new mode to take effect. There are three modes: Sport – full power with quick throttle response; Touring – full power with mild throttle response; and Rain – limited power with mild throttle.
Cruising along for 300 freeway miles to get from Ventura to Vegas for an event, the Caponord was smooth, fast and comfortable, though at high speeds I wished for more wind protection. I returned home by way of a 550-mile backroads route that took 11 hours instead of five. Doubling the distance or time it takes to get from Point A to Point B just because I can, especially when I’m on my own and can take whatever roads strike my fancy, is one of the true joys of motorcycle touring. On an uncomfortable, loud, hot, buzzy or otherwise compromised motorcycle, I would have made up excuses about why I had to get home sooner rather than later, but on the Caponord I would have gladly added a few more hours to my journey if I had the daylight to do so. Nary a complaint about the seat or engine response or handling popped into my head during the long, meditative, curve-laden ride. The Aprilia’s torquey engine turned every corner exit into an amusement ride, and its semi-active suspension system (with a patented “comfort oriented” damping algorithm) turned every road imperfection into a triviality. Lightweight, 17-inch wheels with Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier tires hugged the road like a sticky-toed gecko. When it came time to throw out the anchor, a pair of Brembo M432 radial monobloc 4-piston calipers seemingly froze the landscape. And the 6.3-gallon tank provided good touring range, with my average of 36 mpg yielding 227 miles.
With nearly 1,000 miles under my belt, the Aprilia Caponord has proven itself to be a very capable sport tourer in adventure-bike clothing, with the styling, ergonomics and long-travel suspension of a big dualie, but none of its dirt-worthy pretensions. Although it has plenty of complicated technology, the rider-bike interface makes it easy to use, or simply set up and ignore. In Travel Pack trim—the only version available in the U.S.—it comes with a centerstand and 29-liter, color-matched hard saddlebags. A top trunk, tank bag, heated grips and other touring accessories are also available. Perhaps the biggest surprise about the Caponord, especially given its high level of specification, is its $15,499 price, which is $4,500 less than a comparably equipped Ducati Mulistrada 1200 S Touring. Bravo, Aprilia!