First rides: Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 and Shiver 900

Photos: Kevin Wing & Brian J. Nelson

Aprilia introduced the new Shiver 900 and Dorsoduro 900 at last year’s EICMA show, and then … nothing. The bikes didn’t show up in North America at the start of the 2017 riding season, and we wondered if we’d ever get a chance to ride the new naked Italians, if you know what we mean.

Turns out the bikes were indeed coming to our market, just a few months later than expected.

Aprilia decided to bring the bikes in for 2018 instead of 2017, and to kick off their introduction to North America, invited us down to California to ride them. Deal!

The updates

The Shiver and the Dorsoduro start from the same base (the 896 cc liquid-cooled V-twin, with DOHC four-valve head). They also share very similar suspension (same components, different configuration). But despite their shared parts and sporting intent, the bikes are quite different. Aprilia says the Shiver 900 is an all-rounder naked bike, particularly aimed at urban environments. The Dorsoduro is an oversized supermoto, aimed at more aggressive hooligan riding.

The Dorsoduro (L) is a hooligan bike, a supermoto on steroids. The Shiver (R) is a more conventional naked bike.

The most noticeable update is the new engine. Aprilia has stroked its 750 powerplant to 900 cc, resulting in a bump in peak horsepower (95.2 hp) and torque (90 Nm). The horsepower hasn’t increased as much as you’d expect, as the previous 750 motor put out a claimed 92 hp in the Dorsoduro and 95 hp in the Shiver. The real difference is in the max torque, up from 80.9 Nm in the old Shiver and 82 Nm in the old Dorsoduro models. While I never rode the older versions of these bikes, the journalists with seat time on the 750s all noted the new models felt more powerful.

The new engine has a redesigned crank and lighter pistons. It is also lighter than the previous 750, but Aprilia didn’t tell us exactly how much weight was shaved off. It also has less vibration. Some journos did complain about buzzy bits while they were riding, but to someone like myself, coming from a background on thumpers, there was nothing to complain about.

“Ooooh, a TFT dash!” Aprilia’s updated clocks bring them in line with other pricier Euro naked bikes, and they look pretty good.

Along with the updated mechanical bits, Aprilia also added an improved ECU, the same Marelli 7SM that’s used in their larger machines like the RSV4 superbike. The EFI system has been revised for improved efficiency, and the bikes now meet Euro4 standards, which is an all-important factor in today’s emissions-conscious world. However, while the original Shiver was the first naked bike with ride-by-wire controls, setting it apart from the pack, the updated version only packs in what we’ve come to expect with most modern sporting machinery (and less than some of the competition, with no advanced stability control system).

Other updates include improved clutch feel, a 4.3-inch TFT screen, and new, lighter three-spoke aluminum wheels, and revised transmission, with new 40-69 primary drive ratio.

Zac started the day off on the Shiver 900. While he enjoyed the Dorsoduro’s upright seating position more in the twisties, the Shiver is definitely better-suited to higher speeds.

The ride

The Aprilia test ride went through the towns and twisties of Ventura, California — a very realistic environment to learn about the bike, as most riders aren’t buying this for the superslab grind (and if you are buying it for triple-digit highway riding, you’d better budget for a flyscreen, as you feel a lot of windblast on both bikes).

The improved motor was immediately noticeable, and I think this was the highlight of the bikes. The V-twin makes linear power throughout the rev range, with ponies on tap from low, building steam through the rev range all the way to the top. The Dorsoduro feels a little more torquey, thanks to slightly lower final gearing, but both bikes have enough power to entertain quite nicely and the powerband is very usable in tight mountain riding.

Nothing wrong with the 900’s exhaust note, reports Zac. He didn’t find that undertail muffler heated the seat up, either.

While many users will opt for an aftermarket exhaust because they’ve been programmed to do so since they’ve started riding, both bikes have a very pleasant exhaust note without being too loud. There’s a gratifying V-twin growl, with healthy burps on downshifts. The 9,500 rpm redline means there’s no high-pitched whiney top end, so if that’s your jam, go buy an inline-four. Personally, I thought the soundtrack matched the engine nicely, establishing the bike as a capable brawler.

Happily, the transmission was problem-free on both bikes I rode, with no false neutrals. Exotic Euro bikes don’t have to have iffy shifting,  and if another Italian manufacturer whose name rhymes with “mucati” got this memo, the world would be a happier place. The six-speed gearbox’s ratios are well-matched to the intended playgrounds for these bikes. My only gripe was that the Dorsoduro’s torquey bottom end made crawl-speed riding feel a little herky-jerky when compared to the Shiver.

In a world where the European manufacturers seem to be constantly trying to one-up each other with increasingly bizarre headlights, the Dorsoduro looks different, but not offensive.

While I used Touring mode for much of my ride, switching between the three riding modes is easy: with the engine running, you simply close the throttle, hit the starter button, and switch between Rain (which limits power), Touring and Sport (which allows more enthusiastic power delivery, but doesn’t really add anything to the top end). Realistically, riders have been handling motorcycles with 95 hp just fine for years without riding modes, so this is a nice feature, but not necessary.

Other functions like the three-level traction control (you can also turn it off, if you wish), and ABS are just as easy to switch with the left-hand control cluster. Again, this is an area where some other Euro manufacturers could take some lessons. Although, Aprilia does have it somewhat easier since suspension adjustment is done directly on the shock and fork, requiring fewer menus to navigate on the dash.

Props to Aprilia for the mean-looking intake on the Shiver 900, as menacing as the barrel of a Colt .45.

Speaking of that TFT dash, it’s well laid-out, and includes graduated shift-light LEDs that brighten gradually until you hit the rev limiter. There’s an optional infotainment add-on that allows you to use the dash to control your helmet’s Bluetooth functions, but neither bike I rode was equipped with this system.

Riding position for both bikes is well-suited for the real world. Aprilia says the Shiver is aimed at all-round usability, and its slightly crouched riding stance probably suits most riders better than the Dorsoduro’s upright seating position — it looks more sporty, and feels like it’s easier to ride faster. Coming from years of riding dual-sports,  I personally preferred the Dorsoduro’s dirt bike-like seating position, but did find that freeway riding was less pleasant aboard the supermoto, as my body caught a lot more wind.

Zac preferred the Dorsoduro in the corners, but most riders would likely want the crouched position the Shiver offers.

However, in the twisties, the Dorso offers a commanding seating position, and I felt like it was easier to move around on the bike — not that I was hanging off or dragging knees. It did seem far more conducive to hooliganesque behaviour, though.

Both bikes had decent suspension, although the roads were smooth and hardly challenged the forks or shock. I did manage to get a very short stretch of bad-road riding in on the Dorsoduro, and the longer-travel suspension soaked it up with aplomb, with less bumping than the Shiver delivered. Both bikes have similar 41 mm USD forks and sidemount rear shock, but the Dorsoduro has 160 mm of suspension travel in front and rear, while the Shiver only has 120 mm of travel up front, and 130 mm in the rear.

Overall, not a terribly edgy design, but up-to-date.

I’m a bit above my usual fighting weight these days, but despite my extra bulk, neither bike exhibited any sloppy handling tendencies. Performance-minded riders would likely want to stiffen things up a bit, but since everything’s adjustable (hydraulic rebound damping and spring preload up front, adjustable extension and spring preload in rear), that’s a tweak you can make for the track.

Ideally, a motorcycle’s brakes should deliver skid marks to the pavement, not the rider’s underwear, and thanks to the switchable ABS, you can do that on the new Aprilias. Leave ABS engaged and both braking and your underpants will be drama-free, although there’s no leaning ABS yet. I felt the brakes felt a little wimpy compared to some of the naked bike competition, despite dual 320 mm discs up front and radial four-piston calipers, but it was nothing I couldn’t live with on the street.

Those front brakes weren’t quite as aggressive as Zac would have expected on a supermoto, but then, the Dorsoduro is a pretty big supermoto.

Overall, both machines seemed well-suited for the riding we put them through. Both machines upheld Aprilia’s rep for a competent chassis and there was never any reluctance to pitch into a corner. Anytime you wanted a few more degrees of lean angle, they were available.

With regards to the styling and fit and finish, this is always a case where beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I didn’t see anything to dislike on the Shiver, and the Dorsoduro is a looker. I was a big fan of the undertail exhaust on both bikes, and didn’t find they heated the seat (maybe because I was already taking a lot of heat from the blazing California sun). I liked the Shiver’s menacing ram-air intake. The Dorsoduro’s plastic gas cap felt a bit chintzy, and both bikes had just a little too much plastic hiding the hard parts, but overall, both machines looked good to me — not as edgy and mean as KTM, perhaps, but certainly superior to the visually abominable nakeds cranked out in Japan these days.

The Shiver is heavier than much of the competition, and less powerful, but don’t let that scare you away. It’s a very rideable, fun naked bike.

Conclusion

While the previous 750 platform was panned as being a bit soft, the new 900 seemed to have the whole pack of journos much happier. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement: power is down compared to the competition (the Ducati Monster and Triumph Street Triple S put out 111 hp, the Kawasaki Z900 puts out 123 hp, and so on). The Shiver and Dorsoduro could each stand to go on a diet as well. From the numbers we’ve pieced together from Aprilia’s official sites, the Shiver 900 is down 4 kg to 218 kg wet weight this year, and the Dorsoduro remains the same at 186 kg dry weight.

Both those numbers are well above the competition, even in the lower Aprilia price point (the Yamaha FZ-09 has a 193 kg wet weight, for instance — only 7 kg more than the Dorsoduro’s dry weight).

Compared to the European competition, the Aprilias are very reasonably priced, especially the Shiver.

So, nobody is going to buy these bikes on a strict performance-for-dollars basis, as there are faster, lighter bikes available for the same money, or less. And, it’s a lot easier to find a Big Four dealer in most Canadian towns than it is to find an Aprilia dealer.

However, motorcycles aren’t simply sold on the spec sheet; there are intangibles that factor in, such as the desire to own something different, perhaps with a bit more soul than the average Japanese machine. That’s even better when it’s a Eurobike that actually shifts well and seems as well put-together as these machines are.

While the Big Four might offer more zip or less weight for your shekels, the Aprilias are very well-priced when you compare them to the competition from Italy or the UK. The Dorsoduro has an $11,995 MSRP in Canada. The Shiver is even better, with a $9,995 MSRP. That’s low enough to tempt even a jaded freelance motojournalist. While I had a lot of fun on the Dorsoduro, I think the Shiver would prove to be a better long-term partner, and I think it carries a great price tag for an exciting Italian exotic. It would be my pick, if it was my money.

The Shiver would be Zac’s pick, if he was spending his own money.

And I suspect that would hold true for most readers; as much fun as I had on the KTM 1290 Super Duke R earlier this summer, the reality is that these Aprilias are far more affordable to the average rider, and will still allow you to ride quickly. And the Dorsoduro and Shiver are still packed with electronic wizardry to help keep you between the lines, whatever your speed. If you’ve already made up your mind that you don’t want another Japanese naked bike, then these machines from the “other” Italian brand might be worth a look.

Find the spec sheets for the Shiver 900 and Dorsoduro 900 in our Buyer’s Guide.


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One thought on “First rides: Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 and Shiver 900”

  1. Excellent review, Aprilia makes great bikes and those two are fine examples. I couldn’t agree more about Ducati’s false neutral infested transmissions, tried a few this summer and they all had it (among other things…)

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