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JUNE 2013 £3.99 ON SALE APRIL 17 MAY 14




AprIlIA CAponord 1200

Aprilia’s hi-tech V-twin brings a new level of sophistication to roadgoing adventure bikes Words Simon Weir


t’s grim outside, a relentless rain soaking southern sardinia. Not the perfect weather for testing the brandnew Aprilia Caponord 1200 travel Pack. this is the flagship of the two models that revive the Caponord name, the one that comes with panniers, cruise control and sophisticated electronic suspension. this Caponord has been built around Aprilia’s 1197cc, 8v 90° V-twin – the engine first used in the dorsoduro 1200, a giant supermoto that might have appealed to bestubbled europeans but never had much impact in the uK. i can’t help wondering if the dorso was a kind of extended test for the motor, as it has to be perfect in the Caponord. this is no niche machine but a critically important bike: it’s Aprilia’s contender in the high-stakes, high-prestige roadgoing adventure bike market. it would be very wrong to think that this is basically the big supermoto with a comfy seat and added plastics. the engine is updated, as are its electronics, the trellis frame with cast side plates has been modified, the steel trellis rear subframe is entirely different, the bodywork – with styling cues and lights from the rsV4 sportsbike – is all new, as are the brakes, the suspension… pretty much all of it. And it looks good, even in grey on a grey day (though the white and red bikes look better). it’s well finished and shows great attention to detail everywhere when you get close. it’s tall and substantial but not heavy – though it’s not super-light. this spec’d up travel Pack bike with panniers and additional components for its electronic suspension weighs 220kg dry – add oil and 24 litres of fuel and it’s all but 250kg. it feels light enough, as it’s very well balanced and, even with that large tank up high, the mass is fairly well centralised. Before riding off i get a quick explanation about how the electronics work. there are lots of them but they’re intuitive and simple to use. First, there are three engine 64 |

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modes: touring, sport, and rain. these change the engine and throttle-response maps, from 125bhp delivered smoothly; to 125bhp and an instant, sporty throttle; to 100bhp and smooth throttle. With the engine running but the throttle shut, a double press of the starter lets you select the one you want (even on the move). glancing at the sky, i select t for touring. there’s a chunky mode button on the left-hand handlebar, but that doesn’t actually change the behaviour of the bike, just sections of the LCd display. it cycles through the two trips, the time, the average speed and the other functions of the on-board computer. those are handled by two buttons to the left of the compact LCd clocks. the bottom one moves you from one system to the next, the top one changes the settings. Pushing the lower button clears the LCd screen completely, apart from the section referring to the system you’re using – the first press offers another way to adjust engine mode. the next press takes you to the traction control system, which has three settings – from minimal intervention (1) to the full babysitter (3) – or it can be turned off completely. it’s wet, so i vote for option 3. then there’s the ABs on/off menu – but i’m not turning it off in this weather. the final option is for the travel Pack’s Add system – that’s Aprilia dynamic damping electronic suspension. this promises to adapt both to the bumps you hit and how hard you’re working the bike – softer for smoother rides or when tackling bumpy surfaces; firmer when ridden hard or when rolling over smooth surfaces. But you don’t select the damping – the system works out what’s needed. You use this menu to select the preload, from the four load options that have become standard for pre-set suspension: solo rider; solo plus luggage; two-up; and two-up plus luggage. However, there’s a fifth option: Automatic, where the bike

Price £12,290 (£10,590 base model) Engine 1197cc dohc 90° V-twin, 8v, l/c Power 125bhp @ 8250rpm Torque 85lb.ft @ 6800rpm Transmission 6spd, chain Chassis steel trellis Tyres 120/70 ZR17, 180/55 ZR17 Wheelbase 1565mm Rake/trail 26.1°/125mm Seat height 840mm Kerb weight 245kg Fuel tank 24 litres

It flows along accurately from bend to bend and feels sporty yet still comfortable FIRST RIDE

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Travel Pack version comes with panniers and upgraded suspension

basically weighs you and adjusts the rear preload to suit – not to one of the four preset positions, but to whatever point it calculates is appropriate. i start with it in solo rider, not because i anticipate it being the best setting for me (at 100kg, i’m probably 20-25 per cent heavier than the average solo rider) but because i want to see if moving to Automatic later on makes a difference. tutorial over and options picked, i set off, cursing myself for having forgotten to pack a clear visor. there is a hint of that lumpy low-rev response that V-twin fans call character, but it’s just a rumble between tickover and moving off properly, after which the engine is remarkably smooth. the Caponord is superbly manoeuvrable, with a good lock and a sensitive rear brake aiding low-speed steering. But this isn’t a bike for pottering around at motogymkhana (though it could be great for that). it’s a bike for riding. on the open road it drives positively, even in touring mode – that ride-by-wire throttle feeling natural and responsive. the gearbox is slick, with fairly tall and flexible gears, though i find it’s hard to get past third gear on very twisty wet roads and in town. 66 |

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despite the conditions, which are now monsoon-like, the Caponord is great to ride. it flows along accurately from bend to bend and feels quite sporty yet still comfortable. there’s plenty of engine braking minimising the need to use the brakes, and acres of thrust on the way out of the corners. the brakes are powerful, backed up by two-channel ABs that monitors front and rear separately. it takes a determined grab to trigger it artificially and it returns control after a single pulse at the lever. When a small car turns suddenly across me and i need an emergency stop for real, control is perfect. shaking that drama off, i carry on. i even switch to sport and the engine feels the same, only faster: it’s muscular, instant, satisfying… and so surefooted, even in this downpour. However, if the traction control is helping, it’s totally unobtrusive. it’s only when crossing one yellow-painted speed hump with a little twist of the wrist that i spot the dash flashing an orange light – the equivalent of the bike wagging a finger and muttering, “Calm down, son.” this Aprilia traction Control (AtC) system is derived from the highly regarded APrC system used in the World superbike

winning rsV4 – though this version lacks a lean-angle sensor and, clearly, is calibrated for the Caponord. Like all traction control systems, it compares wheel speeds and when there’s a sudden difference between them, it intervenes and reduces power until balance is restored. its first step is to close the throttle butterfly, but if that doesn’t do the trick it will also alter the spark timing – not cut the sparks completely, as unburned fuel going into the exhaust could damage the catalytic converter, just alter ignition enough to reduce power. traction is about grip which is also about how the suspension keeps the wheels on the floor. While the base model has fully manually adjustable forks and a shock with rebound and preload adjustment, this Caponord travel Pack has the Add semi-active suspension system that adjusts itself as you ride. the claim is that by matching inputs from the rider to the demands on the suspension from the road, the Add will produce perfect damping for every situation. How does it work? using a pressure sensor on the air gap in the left-hand fork leg and a rotary potentiometer on the

1) Dash crams a load of information in to a small space (2) Semi-active suspension system adjusts preload on the rear automatically (3) Top button sets the cruise control


swingarm to measure the shock’s compression, the system calculates how hard the suspension is working and adjusts its damping in microseconds. It even tracks whether you’re hard on the brakes and throttle or being smooth and steady so it can work out whether you want a sportily firm or a softer, plusher ride. The electronics for the fork compression and rebound damping are all in the left-hand leg, while the right-hand leg has – still manual – preload adjustment. Preload at the rear is electronic and, after a good few miles with it set to Solo rider, I switch to Automatic. This is the clever bit – which Aprilia say makes this an active rear shock. It senses how much load is on the back, then adjusts the preload to keep the attitude of the bike right under all conditions, and it can do this on the move. I do notice the difference: I’m a heavy bloke so the bike sits itself up slightly, feeling a tad more firm at rest. On the road… well, it’s too wet to really see if there’s a difference. I think there is, but in the wet suspension and tyre grip are 90 per cent psychological – but the fact that I believe it to make a difference helps, letting me attack corners with more confidence.



Aprilia have produced a road-focused adventure bike that’s full of character

near the limiter or just off tickover, for instance. And there’s no scope to trim the point at which it’s set, adding or losing a few mph: it’s either on or off and if you set it wrong, you have to cancel (with clutch or brakes) and reset it. That’s a relatively minor grumble, though, on what has been a very good bike to ride in awful weather. I’m confident that, had it been dry, I’d be raving about it – though in this weather I’ve not had a chance to really examine its high-speed handling or performance, nor how comfortable it would be on an extended motorway cruise (important for a bike that will inevitably be used for touring). As it is, I’m still very impressed with the Caponord. Aprilia have produced a road-focused adventure bike that’s comfortable, full of character, easy to ride, fun and crammed with the highest of hi-tech gadgets that really do aid both ride quality and control in poor conditions – and they’ve done it for less than 12 and a half grand? With panniers? It’s a remarkable bike and for anyone considering a sporty adventure bike, definitely worth a test ride. I’d recommend better weather, though.

By now we’re on the inward leg of our test ride. Ironically, as I put the bike into Rain mode, the downpour dwindles to a light enough drizzle to ditch the waterproofs. Rain mode is fine – still responsive, still powerful enough for fast overtakes – but the combination of the traction control and suspension makes me confident enough to put the bike back in Touring, with the extra power delivering more grins. Hitting some long, straight roads back to the hotel, I try to play with the cruise control. The button’s on the right-hand bar and slightly awkward to reach without inadvertently opening the throttle. Hold it in for a few seconds, until a green light flashes on the dash. Then press once and it sets. Easy. But… It doesn’t work in first or second (no using it as a speed limiter in town) and only at certain speeds/revs in each gear – you can’t set it when the bike’s

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Ride Magazine - Aprilia Caponord 1200  

Ride Magazine test of the Aprilia Caponord

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