2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Test | Lost at Sea in Sardinia

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Touring Test | Lost at Sea

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Review

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Touring Sardinia
2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Lost at Sea in Sardinia

Welcome to Italy’s island lost at sea – Sardinia. Scratching its Northern shores is the French Island of Corsica. To the south is Africa’s Tunisia, and to the right over the Tyrrhenian Sea is the Italian mainland, with Rome just to the Northeast.

But unlike Rome’s maddening hubbub, Sardinia, which is the second largest island in the Mediterranean behind Sicily, has just a vague scent of modernity.

Roughly the size of New Hampshire, Sardinia was traveled in the early 20th century by D. H. Lawrence, one of my favorite writers. While living in Sicily during exile from his home country of England due to literary obscenity — though nowadays more absurdity is viewed on a reality show — Lawrence traveled Sardinia, eventually penning “Sardinia and Sea”, a short novel from his equally short time there.

Lawrence’s last visit to Sardinia was in 1921, and many say the island has changed little since. In “Sardinia and Sea”, Lawrence writes the island is “without trees, without cover, rising rather bare and proud, remote as if back in history, like a town in a monkish, illuminated missal.”

Words like those pique an interest to one who loves travel, and what better way to explore Sardinian culture than via motorcycle? Better yet, how about an Italian adventure bike such as the 2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally?

The new Rally is the perfect two-wheel weapon for both Sardinia’s paved roads and loose gravel/sandy roads — something the standard Caponord struggles with due to its sport-touring design.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 RallyThe Rally takes the standard Caponord 1200, designed by Miguel Galluzzi of Ducati Monster fame, and adds all vitals a true ADV rider seeks, including wire 19-inch front/17-inch rear wheels over the base-model’s cast 17/17 setup, engine protection, auxiliary LED lights, a larger adjustable windscreen, and the boxy panniers that are all the rage in the ADV world.

Due to the larger front wheel, front-end geometry was also changed over the standard Caponord. The triple clamps on the Caponord 1200 Rally were offset to fit the bigger wheel, creating 27.4 degrees of rake (up 1.3 degrees over the standard) and 4.6 inches of trail (down 0.3 inches from the standard version), while the wheelbase was stretched three-quarters of an inch for the Caponord 1200 Rally. These changes ease turning while increasing straight-line stability.

The Rally’s setup was optimal for the more than 200-mile tour of southern Sardinia, which began at the gorgeous Is Molas Resort just outside Pula, and took me on a clockwise loop that captured the personality of the opaque blue waters of the Mediterranean, through sleepy towns like Teulada, Santadi, and Nuxis, to the most-modern city of Cagliari. It was all on sticky, winding tarmac and a few off-road passes with bubbly river crossings. It’s worth noting that Sardinia is the only region in Italy without an Autostrade — a motorcyclist’s paradise.

Riding in southern Sardinia under the guidance of the Italian-based Guida Dinamica Sicura Su Strada (GSSS) riding school, I was truly able to explore the soul of the Caponord 1200 Rally – the 1197cc, 90-degree V-twin that once powered the supermoto Dorsoduro 1200. This engine is the same as the base Caponord, but features a new exhaust resonator with added volume. The ECU was tweaked, and strength increased in the low- and mid-range rpm bands; horsepower remains the same at 125 at 8000 rpm, as does torque at 85 ft/lbs at 6800 rpm, yet the powerband is just much more appealing.

Aprilia left the superb electronics package identical to the standard, including the three-level Aprilia Traction Control with shut-off capability, Ride-by-Wire with three maps (Sport, Touring, Rain), two-channel ABS with shut-off capability, and Aprilia Cruise Control (aCC). However, the genius of all electronics resides in the magnificent Aprilia Dynamic Damping (aDD) suspension system.

aDD is a semi-active system, protected by four patents, with the rear-shock 100-percent active—the first fully active shock offered on a motorcycle, Aprilia claims. Aprilia says aDD uses a “comfort-oriented” algorithm that combines the principles of the popular Skyhook and acceleration-driven damping algorithms.

In real time — every 100th of a second — aDD adjusts fork calibration on the 43mm Sachs unit on the Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally, and the Sachs shock absorber’s rebound and damping. The aDD uses an exclusive pressure sensor in the fork, while an angular potentiometer out back helps read the rear shock so the system can make automatic adjustments; the latter technology is borrowed from the auto industry.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Touring Test Off-RoadaDD features five preset modes: Rider; Rider and Passenger; Rider and Bags; Rider and Passenger and Bags; and Active Shock Absorber. The Active mode is the jewel of aDD. When set on Active, which Aprilia engineers recommend, the Rally gets the optimal suspension setup, regardless of road conditions, passengers, cargo content, or riding styles.

Throttle cracked, aDD in Active mode was hands down the best electronic-suspension setup that I have ever experienced on an adventure bike. Regardless of the type of situation Sardinia presented, from rocky sand to miles of switchbacks to leisurely highway rides, the Active mode never mistreats — talk about a bike with multiple capabilities.

While leaning off the Caponord 1200 Rally and loading the front tire under heavy braking, the chassis provides precise damping. This allowed the Rally to remain planted while under maintenance throttle throughout hundreds of hairpin and increasing-radius corners flowing throughout the Sardinian countryside, which eerily looks like Northern California.

As for riding modes, I loved the snappy throttle of Sport, but Touring worked well when riding on the conservative side. I tried Rain mode in the off-road section that was wet, but quickly switched back to sport to slide the back around.

Unlike some of its competitors, not all electronics are adjustable while riding. Only the riding modes can be switched on the fly. Simply keep the throttle closed and press the starter button to choose the selection. All others — aDD, aTC, ABS — require a stationary bike for changes.

Traction on the grippy Sardinian tarmac was never-ending. If the Metzeler Tourance Next tire pressures were lower than the recommended Aprilia settings, knees would be scraping. The aDD/Metzeler Tourance Next combo also impressed in the dirt. The Rally—using street pressure—attacked with pure defiance. Lower tire pressure would have helped, but for basic fire roads, the Tourance Next shoes are more than capable.

The larger 19-inch front rim also assisted in the Rally’s off-road potential, along with the lightweight wire wheels. These wheels use a unique design—spokes attach to the outer rim— that dates back to the 2001 Caponord.

Considering competitors such as the new Ducati Multistrada 1200 produce 160 horsepower, the Rally’s 125 horses may seem short-winded. However, the Rally’s output is equivalent to the world’s most popular big-bike enduro — the BMW R 1200 GS — as is its weight. More horsepower is always welcomed, of course, yet this was enough for the Caponord 1200 Rally to pull power wheelies in the two lowest gears.

The Caponord’s fueling was flawless, never hiccuping in any situation. The six-speed transmission’s gearing proved perfect for all conditions, from low-speed, clutch-slipping in the dirt, to 130 mph on stretches of the highways, and even while bouncing rev limiters for fun in a few spots.

The low fuel light came on after about 200 miles, though 1.3 gallons were in reserve. In normal situations, the Caponord’s 6.3-gallon fuel tank should provide a range of up to 250 miles.

To slow the Rally and load the front suspension for southern Sardinia’s frequent hairpins, Aprilia wisely chose the world standard — Brembo. The Rally features dual 320mm front discs squeezed by four-piston calipers, and a single 240mm disc modu- lated by a single-piston caliper.

Feel is smooth at both the front lever and foot pedal, and even when ABS was in its more invasive Stage 2 setting, intervention was only slightly noticeable. Aprilia also tweaked the Rally’s ABS for better performance in the dirt thanks to less interaction up front.

The Caponord 1200 Rally has Aprilia Cruise Control (aCC) as standard equipment, and it performed flawlessly. To activate, hold the cruise control button in (located on right controls) for three seconds. Once activated, the aCC then needs to be engaged by holding in the button for another three seconds. It automatically shuts off when any of the following are used—front brake, clutch, or rear brake.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Touring Test | headlightsWhen developing the Caponord 1200 Rally, Aprilia performed many wind- tunnel tests, which helped designers create aerodynamic bodywork that also provides much protection at higher speeds. I experienced some rain near the end of the Sardinian tour, and the Rally kept me protected from the harshest elements.

The Rally enjoys a larger windscreen that is manually adjustable up and down about three inches through two large grommets. Like the cruise control, adjustment was more effort than it should be—an electronic unit would be welcomed.

While in the tallest position at moderate speeds, the windscreen provided better buffeting than the standard Caponord. Buffeting was severe at highway speeds over 100 mph, but most of this was due to my Arai XD4’s peak; I’m sure gripes would be less if I had donned a street-only helmet.

Ergonomics are perfect for my nearly six-foot body; the rider triangle keeps me upright while cruising. The handlebars have a wide reach, which helps ease aggressive steering inputs, and they are also tall enough for comfort while standing. The 33-inch high seat is roomy, allowing for movement during long stretches on the highway and quick transitions while riding at a rapid pace. For shorter riders, a lower seat is available as an accessory.

The new panniers, covered in aluminum, hold a combined 35 quarts — up four from the standard Caponord. The Rally’s panniers’ open like a book for full access, but can also be accessed through the top for quick storage of items such as gloves. The skinny panniers keep the rear-tail horizontal profile 36 inches wide, which is great for tighter situations such as trails and lane splitting. There is also an accessory 54-quart top box that will accommodate two full-face helmets. Additional options include an Arrow exhaust, heated grips, off-road footpegs, and aluminum mirrors, to name a few.

Sardinia may not be fashion forward like Milan, but this changes when the Caponord 1200 Rally is present. Its triple-headlight design gives it an aggressive look like no other, and the functionality keeps you safe at night. The Rally also has ADV-craved LED auxiliary lights.

From a rider’s perspective, the Caponord’s digital gauge layout is clean, and features an easy-to-read speedometer, tach, two tripmeters, fuel level, coolant temperature, and all electronic settings. The lights signifying active TC or ABS are bright, but not annoying. The same can’t be said for the high-visibility cruise control light; the blinking is intentionally distracting when the aTC is activated but not engaged.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Touring Test on Sardinia roadsThe Caponord 1200 Rally also gets Aprilia’s Multimedia Platform (aMP), which allows for Bluetooth pairing to smartphones. I used it with an iPhone 6, and the aMP provided some entertaining visual content that sometimes took my focus off the road and countryside. The content includes instantaneous engine power and torque, lean angle, longitudinal acceleration, instant and average fuel consumption, average speed and battery voltage. It also features a bike manual, and GPS.

Aprilia is now seriously in the game of big-bike ADV, and its Rally enhanced the beauty of Italy’s island lost at sea. I look for- ward to riding again in Sardinia, and I hope that D. H. Lawrence’s words stay true, and the island continues to be “remote as if back in history.”

Nothing beats an archaic locale paired with a motorcycle that’s embedded with the latest technology, and Sardinia and the 2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally deliver this. Together, they elicit emotions that are indescribable — ones of which only the Italians are capable.

Photography by Milgaro

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Test Riding Style:


Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally Photo Gallery