On the road: Aprilia 1200 Dorsoduro
Aprilia boss Ivano Beggio has never been afraid to build - and market - extreme motorcycles, but we reckon this one would have made Soichiro “You meet the nicest people on one of my motorcycles” Honda wet himself.
In full-tilt boogie mode the Dorsoduro* 1200 is almost unrideable in traffic, with the traction control switched off it wheelies every time you sneeze, and the rest of the time it radiates so much attitude nobody will ever believe you're a nice guy - no really…
It's the biggest, most rambunctious motard we've yet ridden, the crème de la crème of hooligan tools - yet it's built to world-class standards, with fit and finish, features and attention to detail worthy of a Bavarian bike.
But this bike is really all about its engine - which is not, as you might expect, a punched-out version of the Rotax-built 60-degree V-twin from the superb RSV Mille. Instead, it's an all-new, 90-degree unit designed and built in-house by parent company Piaggio, radically oversquare at 106 x 67.8mm and running a stratospheric 12:1 compression ratio.
RIDE BY WIRE
Each pot has two cams, four valves and a gaping 57mm throttle body; peak power is 96kW at a conservative 8700rpm, with max torque (115Nm) only 1500rpm further down the scale.
Those throttle bodies, however, are looked after by Marelli's 57M ride-by-wire electronic engine management system, and that's where it gets interesting. A press on the starter button (while the engine is running) will swop the mapping from R (rain) to T (touring) or S (sport). The default R setting caps power output at a still-muscular 74kW, while keeping the throttle response smooth and (almost) linear.
Apart from a weird hesitation around 4500rpm, the bike will pull strongly from 72km/h in top gear at less than 3000rpm to a thoroughly naughty 210 at 8700, with sufficient precision of control that the bike can be ridden safely on wet cobblestones.
Sport mode, by contrast, unleashes the animal in the machine; throttle action becomes light-switch quick, the bike becomes jerky and rather unpleasant to ride even when you have the space to deal with its hair-trigger response, and a real liability in traffic.
Great for track days, sure, but not for the road.
The middle (T) mapping, however, gives you all the power with a minimum of drama and superbly modulated throttle action so, except for top-speed testing, that's where we left it for the five days we had the bike.
On a flat-out run the revs will gently kiss the rev-limiter at 9600rpm with the rider flat on the tank, for a true 242km/h with 255 showing on the digital speedometer.
The rest of the drive-train is motard at its best, with a light, smooth-acting clutch and a crisp-as-breaking-glass, short-throw gearshift.
Just remember to find neutral before you stop, or the little green light can become elusive.
The Mode switch on the left handlebar allows you to set the anti-lock braking (all or nothing) and the traction control (three levels or off altogether). The two are in any case part of the same system; rather than using a gyro, the Dorsoduro's traction control simply measures the difference in rotational speed between the front and rear wheels and cuts back the engine power if it exceeds a set level.
That means, if you want big wheelies and potent rear-wheel slides, you need to switch it off altogether. We didn't.
By motard standards the Dorsoduro is a big bike at 203kg dry with a rangy 1528mm wheelbase, but its wide handlebars and basically off-road architecture make it incredibly agile, and give it a remarkably tight turning circle - it's the only litre-plus sports bike we've tested that can turn around in my (seven-metre wide) driveway.
But they also induce a mild front-wheel shimmy on long sweepers and at very high speeds in a straight line; the cure, as always, seems to be to hold the 'bars with just your fingertips - which is a little intimidating on a naked motorcycle!
Nevertheless, the Dorsoduro is at its best being hammered up to corners, stood on its nose (thanks to radial-mount Brembo monobloc stoppers) and being flung on its ear before out-pulling almost any litre-class sports bike on the way out. Ground clearance is effectively limited only by the tyres and insane lean angles are the order of the day.
The firm but supple suspension by Sachs - tuneable for everything except ride height - soaks up everything the urban jungle can throw at it without transferring the ill effects to either your spine or the steering.
As befits a motard, the bike is tall (seat height is 870mm - not for the vertically challenged) and narrow, with a slightly cutaway seat that places the rider well forward over the front of the bike with elbows akimbo.
The front seat is also narrow and firm in true motard tradition and I wasn't sorry when the reserve light came on after only 145km and we had to head for a pit stop – although I discovered when I scooted back for the top-end runs that the pillion section of the spoon-shaped dual seat is a lot more comfortable.
Aprilia's build quality these days is breathtaking; the complex and beautifully finished body panels fit perfectly everywhere, and quality touches, such as a waterproof cover on each and every connector in the electrical system, abound.
The electronics are superb, its agility electrifying, but the overall impression is still of a concept pushing the envelope; for most riders, this is about all the motard they can handle. Respect.
Price: R119 995.
Bike from: Aprilia South, Cape Town.
Engine: 1197cc liquid-cooled 90° V-twin.
Bore x stroke: 106 x 67.8mm.
Compression ratio: 12.0:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 96kW at 8700rpm.
Torque: 115Nm at 7200rpm.
Induction: Marelli digital electronic fuel-injection with two 57mm throttle bodies and triple-map (Sport, Touring and Rain) ride-by-wire engine management system.
Ignition: Digital electronic ignition integrated with injection system.
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted Sachs cartridge forks with adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear Suspension: Offset Sachs gas-charged monoshock with piggyback reservoir adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 320mm floating discs with Brembo four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers and ABS. Two channel Continental ABS with Aprilia Traction Control.
Rear brake: 240mm disc with single-piston Brembo floating calliper, ABS and traction control.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 180/55 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 870mm.
Kerb weight: 203kg.
Fuel tank: 15 litres.
Top speed (measured): 242km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 7.9 litres per 100km.
Price: R119 995.
Bike from: Aprilia South, Cape Town.
* No, Cyril, it doesn't mean “Hard-Ass” - Dorsoduro is a suburb of Venice.