2011 Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200 Review [Video]
A good hooligan machine just got great
“How much is my license worth?” That’s the question I’m continually asking myself when riding this bike. As the front wheel is involuntarily pawing the sky and the rear is begging to be kicked sideways, I can’t help but answer, “apparently not much.” But I don’t care, because riding the new Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200 is worth it.
Even though I know better than to ride like a moron (usually), certain machines are still able to entice me into riding for the pure joy of being silly. Models like the Ducati Hypermotard 1100 and 796 have been around for a few years now, begging to tempt its rider into acts of hooliganism. Aprilia, too, has thrown its hat in the ring with the Dorsoduro 750. And now with Aprilia’s 1200cc Dorso variant, the company from Noale has taken a modest platform for supermoto-inspired fun and blown the doors off the category.
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Despite outward appearances, the Dorsoduro 750 and 1200 actually share very little in the way of common parts. Instead of simply enlarging the 750’s engine to achieve the 1200cc displacement, all-new cases were designed to support the massively oversquare dimensions of the 1200. Bore and stroke dimensions are 106.0 x 67.8mm, respectively, making for an engine that technically has 1197cc of displacement. But in order to keep outward dimensions of the 1200 engine as minimal as possible, Aprilia switched the position of the connecting rods on the crankpin compared to the 750. The result is an engine that Aprilia claims is as narrow as its little brother. Otherwise, the 1200 is still a 90-degree V-Twin that retains its dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and a mixed gear/chain timing system, similar to that used on the 750.
The result of this rearrangement of parts from Aprilia is an engine with a torque “curve” that is practically flat starting at 4000 rpm. That means you get at least 70 ft.-lbs. of torque from the moment you start rolling all the way to redline, no matter what gear you’re in. That’s the kind of performance you feel from the saddle.
When the V-Twin is wound out, it produces 73.9 ft-lbs of torque at 7400 rpm before peaking at 8900 rpm with 115.1 horsepower, according to the Superflow Dyno at Gene Thomason Racing.
Supporting this engine is a steel trellis frame that has been strengthened in key areas compared to the 750. Aluminum side plates are used for reinforcement and as mounting points for the engine. Because the frame is a little beefier to cope with the power, it’s also slightly heavier than that on the 750 as well, though to help compensate Aprilia has lightened the subframe.
Keeping the wheels on the road are Sachs components front and rear. A 43mm fork is adjustable for rebound and compression damping, as well as spring preload. The rear shock features the same adjustability and is mounted directly to the swingarm without the use of linkages. As you’d expect on a pumped-up motard, suspension travel is quite generous — 6.3 inches (160mm) in front and 6.1 inches (155mm) in the rear. Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier tires make contact with the pavement, but we’re slightly surprised to see a 180/55-17 rear tire fitted to the six-inch wide wheel instead of a 190. Up front lies a conventional 120/70-17.
European sportbikes are known for incredible stopping power, and that’s not lost on the Dorsoduro 1200. Dual 320mm rotors up front are clamped by four-piston, radially mounted Brembo calipers that are fed fluids via steel-braided hoses. Out back is a 240mm disc and a single-piston Brembo caliper, also with a steel line.
Aprilia offers ABS as part of its Aprilia Traction Control (ATC) system on the Dorso, though it isn’t as sophisticated as the system seen on the RSV4 APRC models, using only wheel-speed sensors to modulate the amount of intervention. That point is moot here, however, as our test bike wasn’t equipped with ATC.
The Roads Are A Playground
MO’s European correspondent, Tor Sagen, spent some time aboard the Dorsoduro 1200 during the model’s European introduction. Judging by his glowing initial reaction to the bike, it’s pretty clear the Dorso 12 is just as much of a riot on the other side of the pond as it is here.
But first things first: Tor is a little taller than the usual crew here at MO, and the Dorso’s high seat feels every bit its claimed 34.3-inch height. With my 5-foot, 8-inch frame and 30-inch inseam, the tips of my toes were just grazing the tarmac. “The Dorso’s seat is taller than just about anything without an MX nomenclature, so short riders who are tentative won’t enjoy riding it around town,” says 5-foot, 8-inch Duke. Another reason it’s not a fun “around-town mobile” is because of its fairly heavy clutch lever. After repeated clutch work through town, even strong hands will start to get tired.
That’s a small price to pay, however, for a machine that actually makes riding through town an otherwise enjoyable experience. If you’re like us, you may be tempted to hop a few curbs as you slice through some traffic, but isn’t that the beauty of a motard? As typical for this supermoto sub-class, the Dorso’s seating position is rather upright and relatively comfortable. Its anodized and tapered bars are up high and wide and give the rider plenty of leverage to maneuver pretty much anywhere. The pegs are positioned rather low, and the seat is cushy enough, though it borders on the narrow side.
While a machine like the Dorsoduro 1200 can ably carve its way through town, a bike like this thrives on tearing up tight roads. With its fly-by-wire throttle, Aprilia is able to equip the Dorso with three different ride modes to suit the rider and/or conditions. It’s adjustable by pressing the engine start button with a closed throttle and then toggling through the modes.
In Sport mode all 115 horsepower and 73.9 ft-lbs are readily on tap with sharp throttle response that borders on being too aggressive. This is fine for experienced riders with a deft throttle hand, but we actually preferred the slightly less sensitive throttle response offered in its Touring mode, which still delivers the same amount of peak power. Even though power delivery in the lower gears is a little more relaxed, there’s still plenty of grunt to squirt you out of sticky situations or paint a smile on your face. Or, to put it in terms hooligan types can better understand, Touring mode lets you modulate power wheelies easier.
The system’s Rain mode considerably softens its power delivery, neutering an otherwise exciting ride. Perhaps it would be appropriate in super-slick, wet conditions, but it’s of no use in the dry. And if your skill level is such that you’d consider using Rain mode when it’s not wet outside, then the Dorso 12 is probably the wrong bike for you anyway.
After seeing Tor wax poetic about the Dorso 12 from its press launch, I wondered to myself if his excitement was warranted. The answer is a clear “Yes.” With torque readily available from the V-Twin engine, twisting the throttle is not only met with a rush of speed, but also a throaty and muscular exhaust note. Despite being a knee-down sportbike guy at heart, I couldn’t help but stick my leg out when attacking corners on the Dorso. It exhibits a sure-footed nimbleness despite its rather heavy claimed dry weight of 457 lbs, which will likely push the 500-lb mark with it full of fluids. Credit for its responsiveness is due to its wide MX-style bars providing plenty of leverage and an agility-enhancing 180 rear tire.
One difference between this maxi-motard and its sportbike cousins is that the long-travel suspension helps to absorb bumps and imperfections in the road that would otherwise be unsettling on a sportbike. The downside, however, is that “sportbikes with tall suspensions can sometimes steer and handle oddly,” notes Duke. “But the Dorso turns in very neutral and responds just as you intend.”
Yep, the Aprilia is surprisingly nimble on its toes for such a heavy motorcycle. Both suspenders do a fine job of keeping the bike arcing along whatever line the rider chooses, and should the rider want to modify their line mid-corner, it’s fine with that, too. What’s more surprising is that the Dorso’s geometry numbers wouldn’t suggest such a nimble machine. With a 27.3-degree rake, 4.6 inches of trail and a 60-inch wheelbase, on paper it’s supposed to react much lazier. Good job, Aprilia. The only small niggle comes when sustaining big lean angles, like in fast sweepers. It’s here that the front Dunlop exhibits a sensation as though the carcass is flexing.
Of course with big discs up front and Brembo calipers biting on them, stopping the Dorso 12 is hardly a problem. The Brembos may not be monoblocs, which are all the buzz these days on sportbikes, but it doesn’t matter. They offer “the difficult combination of a firm, immediately acting lever without an over-abundance of initial bite,” says Kevin.
A One Way Ticket To... Fun!
By now you’ve probably guessed that we’re fans of the big Dorso. It’s such a hoot to ride that we can only ride it in small doses for fear of losing our licenses. That being said, we weren’t always goofing off during our time on board. We rode it in a wide array of environments, and one area we were not expecting it to shine was on the freeway. With a lack of obvious wind protection, save for a rather minuscule flyscreen up front, our testers were expecting to become sails at highway speeds. Surprisingly, the parachute effect wasn’t a major concern, even at speeds up to 80 mph, though your mileage may vary if your preferred helmet is an off-road lid and goggles.
Speaking of miles, don’t expect to get very many of them between gas stops. The Dorsoduro 1200 is a thirsty machine — we averaged just 30 mpg during its throttle-happy time with us. And with just a 4.0-gallon tank, you won’t get much past 100 miles before it runs dry. Being aware of gas station locations is mandatory.
Stylistically, the big Dorso is impressive to our eyes. “Aprilia really nailed the maxi-supermoto mold with this one,” Duke observes. “It looks butch and bad in its black cloak, and its slick componentry shows terrific attention to detail.”
At $11,999 ($2000 more than the 750), you have to be nearly positive the “motard-on-steroids” category is the one for you, since the Dorso resides well within conventional sportbike territory. But if you’re looking for sportbike performance without the back-aching ergonomics, the Dorso should be on your short list of bikes.
Then again, perhaps you’re in the market for a machine like the Ducati Multistrada but can’t afford the $2500 premium for even the base model’s $14,495 MSRP (and that’s without bags). With an engine that provides very similar performance, all one would have to do is spend a little coin on an aftermarket windscreen and saddlebags for the Dorso, and you’ve got the poor-man’s version. Then you can use the savings on gas.
Whichever direction you decide to take, the smiles-per-mile ratio on the Dorsoduro 1200 will be quite high.