2018 Aprilia Dorsoduro 900

The last time I rode an Aprilia Dorsoduro, way back in 2009, I got a speeding ticket, so I’m relieved to have avoided paying another hooligan tax during my 60-mile test ride on the new Dorsoduro 900. This time I was smarter, if not less restrained, flogging the slim-waisted, Italian-made supermoto on deserted back roads rather than on city streets. Knowing when and where to play is half the battle.

Sharing a platform with the Shiver naked sportbike, the original Dorsoduro was powered by a liquid-cooled, 750cc 90-degree V-twin carried in a hybrid aluminum spar/steel trellis frame. For 2018, the Dorsoduro-Shiver duo’s V-twin gets a longer stroke (67.4mm, up from 56.4mm; bore is 92mm) and now displaces 896.1cc, boosting claimed horsepower from 92 to 95 at 8,750 rpm. The big payoff with the longer stroke is more torque, which jumps from 60.5 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm to 66.4 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm and stays above 60 lb-ft from 4,000 to 8,500 rpm (claimed, at the crank). Updates to the pistons and crankshaft reduce friction and weight, a new high-pressure double-jet injector improves fuel atomization and a Magneti Marelli 7SM ECU gives the bike more brainpower. Revving up faster and more smoothly than the 750, you don’t have to wring the 900’s neck quite so much. There are the same three engine maps—Sport, Touring and Rain—with Sport less unruly than before, Touring continuing to be the happy medium and Rain being appropriately dull for slick, dreary conditions. Even though horsepower and torque are the same, the Dorsoduro has more aggressive engine mapping than the Shiver, which was obvious after back-to-back rides.

Other changes were aimed at sanding off rough edges and reducing weight. A redesigned hydraulic clutch and a wider primary gear ratio reduce clutch lever effort by 15 percent, and the bike’s 6-speed transmission is now a slick shifter. Eliminating the throttle-by-wire cables and replacing the adjustable, upside-down 43mm Kayaba fork with a 41mm unit saves 3.1 pounds, and running the same lightweight, three-spoke wheels as the RSV4 RR reduces unsprung weight by 5 pounds. But even after the Slim Fast plan, the Dorsoduro’s 467-pound curb weight is still heavy for this class of bike.

With race livery shared with the hair-on-fire RSV4 and Tuono sportbikes, and supermoto must-haves like a high front fender, a motocross handlebar with hand guards, a dirt bike-style seat perched 34.3 inches high, underseat exhausts and cleated footpegs, the Dorsoduro’s mission statement appears to be “ride fast and don’t get caught!” On a smooth, winding road, the shorter final drive ratio, firm suspension, strong radial-mount front calipers, sticky Dunlop Qualifier tires and generous lean angle are just the tools you need to keep up a brisk pace, and switchable ABS and traction control help keep you out of trouble, though not necessarily with the local constabulary.

But when you get down to it, the Dorsoduro is an opportunity missed, a promise unfulfilled. For a bike that looks like you should be backing it into every corner and lofting the front wheel on the way out, the Dorsoduro is too long, too heavy and its engine and exhaust note are too dull. This bike should feel light and nimble, but its steering is slow and hustling it back and forth requires effort. The bump in displacement gave the Dorsoduro more power and torque, but its claimed at-the-crank numbers fall well short of a bike like the 847cc Yamaha FZ-09, which makes 105 horsepower and 60 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel (and is also 50 pounds lighter and costs $3,000 less).

This isn’t a comparison test, of course, and Italian and Japanese bikes are like chocolate and vanilla—different flavors that appeal to different people. Aprilia certainly nailed the styling on the Dorsoduro, especially those sexy underseat exhaust pipes, the red trellis frame and matching valve covers and rear shock spring. Tucked behind the small flyscreen is a new full-color, 4.3-inch TFT display that has to be the easiest-to-read instrument panel on any bike today, and its parallel series of shift lights across the top look like an airport runway at night. Big, bold, crisp graphics display all of the pertinent info…except fuel level. C’mon, Aprilia, this bike carries a premium price and it doesn’t even have a fuel gauge? Having to depend on a tripmeter and a low-fuel light is a recipe for range anxiety, especially with a 3.2-gallon fuel tank.

Although the Dorsoduro 900 is solid, sporty, nicely refined bike, it’s expensive and doesn’t stand out in any particular way. It still looks the part, but much of its hooligan spirit is gone.