My first ride on Aprilia’s Caponord was not a promising one. I was in a wet and chilly Toronto just before our late-Fall Adirondack’s tour, where our R1200GS long-termer and Triumph’s updated 2005 Tiger would join the Aprilia. The ‘Nord was sitting in the CMG garage and I needed a scoot to zip around town and do some last minute errands.
So why not?
Even before you get on the bike, the styling takes some getting used to. The main side spar of the aluminium beam frame was a mixture of extrusion and casting, welded together in an inconsistent form, that makes the whole bike look a bit awkward and thrown together. Add that tall screen and you have the Rex Murphy of motorcycles.
On the road it wasn’t much more promising. On wet streetcar tracks the ‘Nord felt remote and ungainly (it carries its weight quite high) – I was unsure whether it was going to slide out or stay the course. The front forks didn’t help either, being overly soft with a tendency to dive alarmingly on the brakes. The deep tank cutaway was not designed for anyone of my stature, and my knees were splayed out – soaking up the heavy drizzle.
Oh dear, with the company of the R1200GS and Tiger, was this going to be the bike that no one wanted to ride on the impending tour?
RSV ADVENTURE TOURER?
The Caponord made its world appearance in 2002, but didn’t make it into Canada until 2003. Marketed as an Adventure Tourer bike, in the same vein as the BMW R1200GS, Triumph Tiger, KTM 950 Adventure and the Suzuki V-Strom (ish), with tall suspension, wide bars, upright riding position and a 1000cc V-twin taken straight from the RSV sportbike.
Well, not quite straight from the RSV. The motor gets the ‘detuned’ work-over thanks to new cams, throttle bodies & fuel injection and reduced compression. Although this redistribution of power and torque can work – and is not a bad idea for an adventure-touring type of bike to make it friendlier in the dirt – it could be argued that Aprilia have missed the mark, lopping off 40 horses AND a chunk of torque in the process. The only noticeable gain is that the peak figures come in roughly 1,500 rpm lower down the rev range on the ‘Nord.
What I found was that I was constantly changing gears to keep the ‘Nord up in the running with the GS and Tiger as despite the engine modifications, it’s a tad lazy low down. There also seems to be little flywheel effect to help it plod, but as a result it revs quite freely. Power comes on around 5,000rpm and starts to boil above 6,000 – sustaining the surge all the way to the 8,750 redline.
I’ll admit that it took me a day before I realized that the Caponord is not a bike that’s meant to be plodded. In fact you might as well keep it above 6,000 for most conditions, with the exception of maybe a long drone down the highway. Actually, it was Mr. Seck who pointed this out, which says a lot about how the lad likes to ride.
This transforms the bike, but you have to be on the ball to keep it in the zone, as that low redline means that you have a narrow 2,750 rpms of power to play with. But this just requires that you adapt your riding style to suit. For example, coming into a corner with the needle bouncing off the redline ensures that you’re still going to be in the power by the time you’re throttling out of the apex. Just treat it like a well-tuned smaller motor – thrash it and you’ll stay in the ‘Nord’s happy place.
Now I realize that all this is making the Caponord’s motor sound like a bit of lemon, but once you learn to rev instead of plod, it transforms into a fun bike. It just requires the pilot to become accustomed to its character before you get a fun ride – a bit like some of the women I’ve known.
Although the beat of the V-twin motor is a bit isolated from the rider (thanks to a pair of balance shafts) that also means that the ride is vibe-free. The result is a pleasant but slightly removed ride, something that would be helped with a set of louder pipes for some engine-rider feedback.
The six-speed box is very smooth and has a good positive action, only spoilt by a very occasional false neutral between 4th and 5th. Combined with a light hydraulically activated clutch, it’s a pretty good set-up. Fuel injection is also excellent, raising the revs at start-up for about fifteen seconds before settling in for the rest of the ride.
Oh, and we recorded fuel usage figures of 14.9 Km/L or 6.7 L/100Km (not helped by keeping the tach at redline no doubt). With a tank capacity of 25 litres, that would give a range of about 370Km.
With a soft, wide seat, wide bars and an upright riding position the ‘Nord is a comfortable ride. It’s got a relatively tall seat height of 820 mm, which is actually on the low side for an adventure tourer, but it’s not adjustable. A 20 mm lower seat option is available (for $194.92), although an extra 20 mm’s would have made it ideal for myself. Still, at the standard height there’s sufficient room for the rider for it not to become an issue.
However, there is a bit of an issue with the tank cutaways. They’re too close to the lankier-legged riders, forcing a splaying of the knees. A constant toes-on-pegs position was a workable compromise, which adjusted the leg angle and allowed the knees to squeeze into place.
Wind protection is good, as the screen is big – protecting me from the majority of windblast, save for some minor buffeting on the top of my lid at higher speeds. Unfortunately for some reason the Canadian version comes sans hand-guards, and the lack of heated grips means that if you’re foolish enough to go touring in late October, don’t expect to end the day with any sensation left in yer digits.
Okay, so most bikes comes without hand-guards. Granted, but not most adventure-tourers. Being in the company of the BMW R1200GS (with guards AND heated grips no less) and the Triumph Tiger (just guards) made this point all the more obvious.
The front suspension is non-adjustable with the rear getting rebound and compression damping, along with preload via a large remote knob. In stock form it’s rather soft, especially at the front, but it offers a plush ride.
The only time I got into the scary zone was in the twistier stuff, but that was more an issue only when having to use the brakes. It’s a bit of an anomaly as you’d expect the soft suspension to make it vague and wobbly through the corners. In fact it holds its line remarkably well, the problem being if you have to hit the front brakes at all in the process.
Although I found them lacking bite a tad, the soft front forks meant that a ham-fisted squeeze would give a significant dive at the front. Not horrible in a straight line, but not nice in a corner either. The best cure was to not screw up the corner in the first place, but by using some trail-braking (keeping the brakes on slightly coming into the corner so that the suspension is kept semi-compressed throughout) helped greatly. Again, the Aprilia was demanding familiarity before it played ball.
Spoke wheels are laced in a BMWesque manner, with the spokes threaded to the rim’s edge instead of centre. This allows for tubeless tires and (in theory) for some rougher off-roading as the spoke set up will tend to flex with the hard hits, where a cast wheel will dent. A nice touch, but somewhat optimistic when you consider how well the rest of the bike would cope with such conditions. Hmhh, that’s a nice segue to …
HITTING SOME DIRT
Hitting dirt and gravel roads with the lack of low-end grunt, meant that attempts to power slide out of a corner were somewhat futile. However wick it up above the 6,000 mark and the back wheel will pretty much spin on demand. Again, revs up = a better ride.
I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it felt on the gravel in the handling department. After my initial white-knuckled ride on the wet streets of Toronto, I was expecting the ‘Nord to be a handful in the gravel. Instead it felt well balanced and controlled – maybe because I’d had some time in the saddle already and had sussed out its anomalies. The soft suspension soaks up the irregularities well too.
However, despite the laced wheels and bash-plated motor, the Caponord is not a meant for anything more than a relatively well-mannered gravel road. Aprilia hang a lot of stuff off the motor, and it’s shit that you don’t want to mess with either. Oil cooler, radiator and an oil level tube are all horribly exposed. A simple low speed low side would take most of that off, never mind a rock spun up from the front wheel.
Oh, and the plastic bash plate may be enough to deflect pebbles, but any bigger bits found on the more adventurous trails would make short work of it. When you realize that the oil tank (it’s a dry sump motor) is hidden behind the lhs and the coolant tank on the other side, then anything more than easy gravel is almost suicidal.
THE OTHER BITS
Aprilia lists a whole load of accessories for their Caponord, oddly many of them addressing some of the more obvious problems that we encountered during our test. A heavy duty rear shock and front fork springs ($717.83 and $149.95 respectively) should help bring the suspension department up to par. An impressive steel and aluminium sump guard would help expand its off-road tasks ($720.50) and the heated grips ($399.95– includes hazard flasher kit) and hand guards help to extend the riding season (sorry, didn't get a price on this one).
For the more tour-orientated owner, Aprilia offer a set of side cases either in plastic ($837.52) or more rugged aluminium ($1342.26). We had the plastic cases on our tester and they gave mixed results. Total capacity of 64 litres and a decent internal shape meant that they could hold enough for a good trip. However, three of the four internal straps broke during the tour (the ones that stop the doors from falling fully open), there was some slight leakage in the rain and one bag refused to latch on to the bike once (it was a very cold morning). Otherwise the latching system worked well, just requiring a hooking in at the top and pushing at the bottom to latch into place.
The Caponord is a classic case of bad initial impressions. It demands that you get to know it before it opens up and gives you the good ride you’ve been looking for. We were all surprised by how differently we felt from the time that you first got out of the saddle (bad) to the last time that you hit that perfect corner, tach bouncing off the redline (very good).
Even the styling grows on you. What at first looks like a chopped up slapped together mess, starts to have the designed, unique and consistant adventure touring styling that the Italians likely intended. This final impression was no doubt helped by a growing fondness of the actual ride.
What Aprilia have in the Caponord is usable touring machine with some sporty and tame off-road capabilities. It’s an ‘almost-there’ machine, which could be pushed into the ‘there’ category if Aprilia actually fitted some of the accessory options as stock (proper bash guard and stiffer suspension being the main ones) and they had another go at the retuning to pull up the low-end side.
We’ll be publishing a comparo of all the Adventure bikes that we tested this year in the near future (including our BMW long-termer), but certainly after the Adirondacks Tour, the Caponord ended up holding its own against some pretty stiff competition. For $15,995 it’s not badly priced, just keep a few $$$ for the accessory upgrades.
George Ruffolo and Frank Trombino of Vaughan Cycle for helping to make our first ever ride of an Aprilia possible!
The accommodation providers that helped with making the touring portion of this test article possible (click on links for a review of each location): -
6319 State Route 30, Lake Clear, New York. 12945
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. 03575
48 Canada St., Lake George, New York. 12845
Alpine Road, Oliverea, New York. 12410
State Route 30 (PO Box 355), Long Lake, New York, 12847-0355