Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally –  Travel Review, Sandstorm, and Rant

Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally | Best Unknown Italian Bike Visits Death Valley
Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally

It’s spring and that means the gang will take its annual three-day ride to Death Valley. The weather forecast looked like rain while traveling, and sun while there, which proved to be true, so an ADV-style bike appeared to be the best choice.

Last year I took our gang’s annual Death Valley ride on a Moto Guzzi Stelvio, and I decided that this year I would follow it up with 2016 Aprilia’s Caponord 1200 ABS Rally. This is a bike that has received many nice improvements since I rode it at its launch in Prescott, Ariz., in 2014.

The most obvious change, excluding paint and new panniers, is the much-improved ADD (Aprilia Dynamic Damping) suspension that I was able to set and forget for the 2,400 miles that I rode the machine. The ride is smooth and supple, yet offers firmness when ridden hard.

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No, the Aprilia’s not perfect, and there were times, especially when chasing a fast pack, that I longed for conventional suspension dialed in carefully to my requirements (and a bit more horsepower). The trade-off? While I enjoyed a smooth ride over most all road types my companions got hammered along many rough roads that the Capo simply devoured. It delivered lots of speed with an all-day-comfortable ride and nary a kidney shot to be had.

Rain, Wind, Sandstorm, Flowers

2016 Aprilia 1200 Rally TestRain was, indeed, predicted and, even here in Southern California, we got our share and much more. We ran the back roads hard out of Los Angeles with dark clouds in our wake over the hill we had just crested. The storm was right behind us, and Doppler radar photos on our smartphones showed its trajectory matched ours.

Anyone who has taken a long ride while trying to outrun or maneuver around weather can probably relate to our plight. We made our usual fuel stop in Tehachapi, but cut it short when we saw the pesky cloud system over our shoulders. From Tehachapi we rode hell-bent-for-leather over Caliente-Bodfish Road.

If you’ve never ridden this delicious and challenging ribbon of moto joy, then put it on your short list immediately. Our goal was the usual lunch stop in Lake Isabella and, so far, we have kept ahead of the rain.

Once fueled, and ready to go the mile or two to the restaurant, rain drops were felt and the gang agreed that we would forego lunch here and sprint the 90 miles to Olancha and the Ranch House Café, a favorite, and usually the place we take lunch on the way home.

We take on more fuel here as some of our group like to tour on pure sport bikes, with soft luggage, and call them sport touring machines. I laugh. My Capo has a 6.3-gallon tank giving me about double the range of these pipsqueaks. But I digress as the fun is about to start. We ride to the parking lot of the Ranch House, pull off our helmets and the rain starts gently.

We have a decision to make. Feed 15 growling stomachs, with little hope that the storm will abate while we are eating, or make haste for the last 50-mile leg on Highway 190 into the west side of Death Valley where we predict we will be protected from the storm. This turns out to be true, but getting there was a challenge. It took about 15 seconds for all of us to agree to beat feet. We faced 35-40 miles of well-exposed two-lane that climbs to the peak of the Panamint Mountains before we reach protection from the storm.

Within one mile the rain came down in earnest Biblical proportions and the wind whipped up into a fury. And because the rain did not yet have the time to soak into the sand along the road a sandstorm ensued. Honestly, this was Lawrence of Arabia stuff. I estimate crosswinds and gusts in excess of 50 mph – and the worst part was that they constantly changed direction 180 degrees. While I watched the rider ahead of me riding straight ahead but carrying about 20-25 degrees of lean into the wind, the wind direction would change and he would quickly make corrections that had him in the same attitude but in the other direction.

The wind was murderous. Sand was piling on the road then blowing away and the rain pelted us mercilessly. It was pretty scary but I remember the smile I had on my face as we pressed through. This storm did not abate until we were far into the notch that took us into the valley. In true form, as predicted, once we descended into Death Valley the storm ended as though it had never happened. It was clear and sunny as we dropped into Panamint Springs for the rest of the weekend.

Oddly, some of the bikes escaped undamaged yet others had fogged headlight lenses and some paint scuffing-type damage from the blown sand. It was epic! The Caponord went unmarked and unscathed.

Some of the noteworthy parts of the Capo begin with ADD, and the next most obvious are the panniers, which I liked a lot. They are banded, well made, and open in typical clam-shell style, but allow the rider to flip a couple of clips and then only the top 4-5 inches of the outside cover opens, leaving the rest of the cover shut. This is perfect for my style as it allows me to unclip the cover and reach in for things I need on the road without opening the whole deal.

Fit and finish of the Caponord 1200 Rally is excellent, and everyone seems to like the green paint job. I like the fact that it is very quick and handles like a sportbike, even with the 19-inch front tire and wire wheels. The bike just works and helps melt the miles away without much thought. The gearbox is smooth, as is the clutch action, and the Brembo monoblock brakes can undo anything the engine can.

Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally vs BMWAt about 550 pounds, the Capo is fairly svelte for a fully equipped ADV-style bike, and its 1197 cc V-twin engine that produces 125 horsepower and 85 ft/lbs of torque  is more than capable of going faster than you care to go.

There is more than enough juice to motor at 100mph+ for an hour or two at a time, and the bike is rock-steady at that speed making high-speed, long distance crossing easy. Don’t ask how I know this.

The dashboard is comprehensive and the cabin yields all-day comfort. Combined with Traction control, its semi-active suspension by Sachs and a solid tubular steel frame, this bike is capable of traveling any paved road and a few fire roads – which I proved later on Figueroa Mountain – for as long or far as you care to take it.

This Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally has everything a serious adventure rider might want. The Capo is MSRP priced at $16,199 fully equipped, and we should be seeing more of them around. Buyers who are ready to travel in style and comfort and almost any speed needn’t do a thing to them but add fuel. They have everything a rider might want at a great price when compared to, say, a Ducati Multistrada or BMW R 1200 GS. I’ve ridden this new bike well over 2,400 miles and love it yet I’ve only seen one other Caponord Rally on the road since 2014 when they arrived in the US.

Aprilia Rant

My regular riding gang numbers 18 riders at this time. We are all friends for many years, if not decades. Of the 18, five ride 2016 Aprilia Tuono Factory models, with a smattering of RSV4s as well. That’s a substantial percentage for a brand that most people don’t recognize or know. Oh sure, you, our readers, may be in the minority.

I’ve worn an Aprilia t-shirt and had many people, including bikers, ask, “What’s an Aprila (sic)?” Given that the Noale, Italy-based marque owns over 50 world championships, has been in business since just after WWII building bicycles and, since 1968, has produced some of the finest moto hardware extant, why don’t more people know who they are or buy their offerings?

According to Wikipedia, “On 15 August 2010, Aprilia became the most successful motorcycle racing brand in history, surpassing fellow Italian MV Agusta with a record 276th victory.” Yet with all these victories, fine hardware and amazing riding experience, the average person, rider or not, knows that one other Italian brand but not Aprilia. I’m having a hard time resolving this conundrum.

Our moto hangout is at the Rock Store in Cornell (near Malibu), Calif. Here, one can see just about every type of bike made and there are a great number of Aprilias in the parking lot. But the Rock Store, at least as far as sport bikes are concerned, is frequented by a fairly well-heeled and experienced group of riders, in a geographical area that is a hotbed for moto, thus the great-than-usual Aprilia turnout. Most everywhere else, not so much – if at all.

2016 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally ReviewI’ve given some thought to the efficacy of Aprilia’s, and parent company Piaggio’s, public relations efforts but, while they are not at the level of some other manufacturers, the word is getting out. Why do non-riders stop at Harley, Triumph and Ducati shops to buy a t-shirt, but not at Aprilia whose track record eclipses all others? Perhaps it is a marketing problem because it, to me, does not seem to be a problem with the product. Au contraire.

In this day and age where editorial review is trumped by influencers and those with lots of likes on social media, the world of advertising is turned on its head. And if advertisers are not connected to those channels, then they aren’t as effective as those who are.

It seems some riders prefer buying what their celebrity likes rather than doing some homework and reading reviews written by experts who actually know what they are experiencing – and how to write about that experience. Hey, there’s one manufacturer, who shall remain nameless, from whom we have trouble borrowing bikes, yet they loan many to stars and bloggers. This is a story for another day yet those who actually ride Aprilia motorcycles need no validation from bloggers to pick their model and love their bikes.

I’ve never ridden the Aprilia Dorsoduro or Shiver, nor have I ever seen one in the wild. The RSV4 and Tuono series are some of the finest performing, best sounding and well-made bikes in the world for track and sport riding. Arguably, there are none better, yet I see them only in areas frequented by elite riders who are exposed to all high-end brands.

Certainly, this can be partly attributed to a limited network of dealers. But even in Southern California I know a dealer who told me he still has the one Caponord he brought in to sell in late 2015. I don’t expect everyone to resonate with the marque but, certainly, more than I’ve witnessed to date. Why? I don’t know.

All said, perhaps the problem is with people who need to be told what to do instead of being able to come to valid conclusions using their own brains. Perhaps this is another sign of why people are different now as compared to a decade or more in the past. I’m no marketing guru but perhaps influence-marketed items sell because buyers lack the confidence, brains, and know-how to make choices on their own.

To them I say, buy an Aprilia and give it a try. See why experts are doing the same thing even though I didn’t need to tell them. </end_rant>

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