Aprilia – Dorsoduro 1200 tested

Words: Steve Bond. Pics: Steve Bond unless otherwise specified

Please bear with me for a moment as I have to call my doctor. Riding Aprilia’s Dorsoduro 1200 has side effects similar to the warnings you hear on TV for male enhancement medication. And the (ahem) physiological benefits persist for WAY more than four hours.

In fact, it’s oh-so appropriate that “Dorsoduro” literally translates to “hard ridge.” And, after clarifying that this is actually a district in the Italian city of Venice, we will speak of this no more.

The Dorsoduro has a stiff clutch, a hard seat, guzzles gas like a 747 on takeoff, is almost unrideable when in “Sport” mode and there’s no way to fit a tail bag, tank bag or lunch bag. It’s rowdy, raucous, totally impractical and after 15 minutes I’d made up my mind.



1197 cc of happiness. Pic: Aprilia

At $12,595 the Dorsoduro is thousands less than its maxi-motard competition. Under the hood, you’ll find an 1197cc, 90-degree V-twin engine pumping out 130 horsepower and 85 ft lbs of torque. The usual EFI, DOHC and four valves per cylinder are fitted, but the cam drive is a unique combination of gears and chain.

A fly-by-wire throttle hooks up the loud handle and the Aprilia’s three power modes are accessed via the start button once the engine is running. “Sport” is the full yahoo setting with maximum power and incredibly sharp throttle response. “Touring” still dials up full power but with a softer, more manageable delivery, while “Rain” feels as if the airbox is stuffed full of dirty sweat socks and the Aprilia accelerates like it’s towing a large Airstream trailer.

The chassis is fairly conventional – steel frame with an aluminum swingarm and removable aluminum subframe. Fully adjustable Sachs 43 mm USD forks hold up the front end while a fully adjustable Sachs laydown shock (mounted asymmetrically ala the 650 Ninja) controls the hind end. Wheel travel is a generous 160 mm up front and 155 mm at the rear.

20 km/h?

Like most motards I’ve ridden, any kind of braking caused the front end to dive like a Swedish hockey player, but cranking in some compression damping and front preload stiffened up the forks without compromising steering or ride quality.

Braking is excellent.

Overall, the suspension was top notch with spring and damping rates well matched to the motorcycle.

Braking duties are ably handled by a huge pair of 320 mm stainless floating discs squeezed by Brembo four-pot radial calipers and stopping power, feel and feedback were excellent. ABS is an option but it wasn’t on my press unit.

Kinda wish it had been. (Foreshadowing of something about to go “all CMG?” Read on).

The Dorsoduro checks in at 222 kg (488 lbs) with the 15L tank full. Surprising because, not only doesn’t it look that lardy, it doesn’t feel like it either. Even at slow speeds, the generous steering lock and abundant low end torque make it easy to maneuver.

You must be THIS tall to get on this ride

It's a tall ride.

The Aprilia’s seat is a good news / bad news scenario. The bad news is that it towers 870 mm (34.3 inches) above the pavement, which makes it fine for Editor ‘Arris and Your Obedient Servant with our stork-like inseams, but those without NBA aspirations may have difficulty climbing aboard.

The good news is that it’s actually quite comfortable. Most motards have seats so hard they qualify for their own Rockwell number but the Aprilia’s is quite civilized. If it were just a bit wider and didn’t have a forward slope, it would be all-day comfortable.

One day trip up in cottage country netted out at around 500 km – not Iron Butt mileage but more than enough to have me begging for mercy on most bikes of this genre. However, the lofty perch is also great for looking over other vehicles when in traffic.

Power to the people

If you like this, you'll like this!

With 130 horsepower on tap, the Aprilia is well muscled but I found the power delivery in “sport” mode shockingly aggressive. Give the throttle a wee crack in first or second and the front wheel reaches for the sky.

Even though having a wheelie machine is amusing at first, it quickly grows tiresome. Especially here in the People’s Republic of Ontario where, if a gendarme sees such an exhibition, you’ll be outside the compound yard in no time, wondering where your motorcycle (and your Constitutional Rights) went.

Touring mode is ideal for daily riding. You still get the full 130 horsepower pop with ferocious acceleration, but it’s quite manageable and you can still annihilate every speed limit in the country in second gear.

The digital speedo is conveniently located in the LCD info center to the right of the large analog tachometer. Near the speedo, you’ll find a handy gear position indicator, a clock, temperature gauge and functions you can cycle through such as fuel consumption, elapsed time, tripmeter, odometer, and top speed reached (let the games begin).

Clocks are well laid out.

The downside is that resetting one of the functions resets them all, thereby wiping out the tripmeter and your fuel consumption info.

Speaking of fuel consumption, it is, simply put, dreadful, but that’s the price you pay for a high performance motor and a chassis that encourages you to use it. Even at 100 km/h and a relaxed 3,800 rpm, the on-board computer showed the Aprilia guzzling 93 octane at the rate of 5.7L/100km or 49 miles per Imperial gallon.

Normal riding yielded 6.5 – 6.7L/100 km while one tank of fairly (ahem) vigorous riding returned an SUV-like 8.1L/100km or 34 mpg. And the small, 15-liter tank means you’ll soon be on a first name basis with your friendly gas station attendant.

It's not a bad looking bike by any means.

Aprilia recommends premium fuel and they mean it. I tried one tank of regular and it was pinging more than a nuclear submarine on maneuvers in the North Atlantic.

Side mounted rear shock.

Aprilia squeezed a really nice exhaust note from the twin, upswept pipes – it’s raspy and fierce without being offensive. And, in case People Against Everything think you’re totally irresponsible, the Aprilia incorporates a three way catalytic converter and oxygen sensor to take care of nasty emissions.

With only 250 km on the odometer, my press unit’s gearbox initially felt notchy and stiff, although it loosened considerably as I racked up the kilometers. The throw is short and neutral was easy to find, even at a stop. The hydraulic clutch is on the heavy side but is linear and progressive. Surprisingly on a serious, liter-class motard, there is slipper clutch.

The Dorsoduro is a thumb in the eye to responsible citizenship, a direct affront to sensible motorcycle ownership and flips the bird at those who are against anything fun. It impressed me with its affordable pricing, huge acceleration and corner carving abilities. It’s also the most comfortable motard I’ve ever ridden and just needs a better seat and some wind protection, to make it a great daily rider. Um, except for pesky fuel consumption issue.

But Dorsoduro owners likely won’t be overly concerned with fuel economy as they’ll be too busy trying to wipe the smiles off their faces – or at least wait until the Hard Ridge goes away.

2012 changes

Bring out the inner hooligan! Pic: Aprilia

Where it went all CMG….

If you squint you ... ah, bugger it.

While on my fifth or sixth pass for photos on a one lane cottage-country road, I readied for yet another feet up U-turn and ventured too close to the edge of the pavement. The front wheel washed out at about 1 mph and before you could say, “It all went horribly CMG,” I was face down aboard a pancaked Dorsoduro.

Fortunately, the damage was limited to the edge of the left leverguard and a scuff on the sharp edge of the plastic fuel tank cover. Oh, and my pride when I had to inform Piaggio that their brand new Dorsoduro (the first one in Canada) was now slightly used.


Bike Aprilia Dorsoduro 1200
MSRP $12,500
Displacement 1197 cc
Engine type Longitudinal 90° V-twin, liquid cooled, double overhead camshafts with mixed gear/chain timing
Power (crank)* 130 HP @ 8,700 rpm
Torque* 85 ft-lbs @ 7,200 rpm
Tank Capacity 15 litres
Carburetion EFI
Final drive Six speed, chain drive
Tires, front 120/70ZR – 17 radial front
Tires, rear 180/55ZR-17 radial rear
Brakes, front Dual 320 mm discs with four-piston calipers.
Brakes, rear Single 240 mm disc with single-piston caliper.
Seat height 870mm (34.3 in.)
Wheelbase 1582 mm (62.3 in.)
Dry weight* xxx
Colours Glam White and Competition Black
Warranty n/a
* claimed


  1. What a great read and I had a proper laugh at the fuel attendant comment! LOL!
    Looking to buy one of these so hope all goes well. Cheers

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