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2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS review

Jan 19, 2015

Is that a Ducati?

Sometimes I imagine Ducati and Aprilia are brothers, with Aprilia constantly trying to get out of Ducati's shadow and win recognition from riders who love Italian motorcycles. Sometimes, they try to create their own path, like with the V4's, creating motorcycles that are completely different from their Ducati rivals. Other times, however, they create very similar versions to compete with Ducati directly, like with the Shiver or Dorsoduro.

 2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200
2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack. Aprilia Photo.

The Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS fits into the latter category. In fact, I'd been riding a Ducati Multistrada the week prior to getting the Capo and, on numerous occasions, motorcycle-loving friends asked me, "isn't that the same bike you were riding last week?"

The bike

The 2015 Aprilia Caponord marks the return of the platform after Aprilia sunset the ETV 1000 CapoNord in 2007. Instead of borrowing the engine from the V4 range (Tuono or RSV4), the Caponord gets a 1,197 cc liquid-cooled V-twin engine similar to that found in the Dorsoduro 1200. Aprilia says the engine and electronics are tuned for more mid-range power, which is aided by including 52 mm throttle bodies instead of the 57 mm ones found in the Dorso. The Caponord makes a (claimed) 125 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 84.6 foot-pounds of torque at 6,800 rpm.

Power delivery is modified through three riding modes: Sport, Touring, and Rain. I preferred Touring mode most of the time, as it offered full power, but smoothed out the delivery slightly. Sport was slightly twitchy, although not so much that it made it unusable, as is the case with many bikes with a sport mode. Rain mode limits the power to 100 horsepower and smooths the power delivery even further.

The Capo's cockpit is quite roomy. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

The Caponord also uses the same Aprilia Traction Control (ATC) as the RSV4, though it does not have wheelie or launch control. If you're thinking wheelie control and traction control are similar, keep in mind that wheelie control slightly alters fueling to keep you from looping a wheelie, while traction control is going to chop fueling altogether and end them as quickly as they start. If you want to wheelie, turn ATC off. The three setting system works well, though I found ATC 3 (the most intrusive) activated a little too easily for my taste - even in the wet.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 ABS Travel Pack. Aprilia Photo.
The Capo uses a steel trellis frame mounted to a steel subframe. Aprilia lists its dry weight at 502, which puts wet weight somewhere in the 550-pound range.

Front suspension is handled by a 43 mm Sachs inverted fork while the rear gets a Sachs dynamic monoshock absorber. The Aprilia Caponord is fitted with Aprilia Dynamic Dampening (ADD), which pairs a fully active rear suspension with a semi-active front fork to modify the settings automatically as you ride. The system measures the weight of the load, wheel speed, throttle and brake position, and input from sensors on the fork and swingarm to set rebound and compression damping up front and rebound, compression, and spring preload in the rear. Or, if you're unhappy with how the system is setting the suspension for you, you can lock it in one of four combinations of rider, passenger, and luggage.

Stopping power is delivered through two 320 mm floating discs up front, which are paired with Brembo monoblock four-piston radially mounted calipers fed through a steel-braided brake line. The rear gets a 240 mm disc mated to a Brembo single-piston caliper and also gets a steel-braided brake line. The Caponord also comes with two-channel ABS as standard.

The U.S. market only gets the Travel Pack edition of the Caponord, which comes completely kitted out with a manually adjustable windscreen, hand guards, grip warmers, 29-liter hard panniers, and cruise control. For those of you in colder climates, rest assured that the bike comes with a 690-watt alternator that can easily power any and all of your heated gear and electronic devices.

It may not look pretty, but it sure sounds pretty. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

The Caponord 1200 is fit with 17-inch Dunlop Qualifier tires, which should be a pretty clear statement that Aprilia is not trying to make this version of the Caponord off-road-capable.

Testing the Caponord 1200

I got the chance to put about 3,000 miles on the Caponord 1200 over the length of the bike loan, which included numerous day trips, a ton of playing in the twisties, and using it for several weeks as my everyday commuter. I actually hadn't done much research on the bike before I picked it up, and for some reason I thought it was the Aprilia version of something like the Moto Guzzi Stelvio, which is more of your typical touring bike. The accidental wheelie I pulled leaving Aprilia's office let me know I was in for a much different experience than I expected.

One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Capo is the sound it makes. I get the chance to ride a lot of really nice and really fast bikes, but if I'm honest, I have to admit I tend to mellow out pretty quickly once I see what they can do... unless they have an exhaust note like the Caponord's. That sound made getting on the gas a little too hard and a little too early just never seem to get old, something I tested at length — strictly for scientific purposes, of course.

The Italians are so good at modeling. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

The next most noticeable thing about the Caponord is the amount of torque it makes, as well as where it makes it. While the Caponord's peak torque of 84.6 hits at 6,800 rpm, most of it is available as low as 3,000 rpm. Not only is getting off the line seamless and easy for such a big bike, it's downright addicting.

I rode the Caponord on numerous day trips, logging more than my fair share of freeway miles. The bike does well on freeway and all that torque means you can leave it in sixth gear regardless of whether you need to slow for congestion or make passes. Wind protection is adequate in keeping most of the wind off of the rider, but I found it created some booming in a variety of helmets I wore on it. The seat is wide and flat and made long rides surprisingly comfortable, even for my bony little butt.

For the sake of testing this bike by every measure possible, I took a really pretty girl I like on a long day ride — again, just for science. Between the power, the high-caliber brakes, and the automatic suspension, the Caponord is excellent for riding with a passenger. The luggage is a bit small for any serious two-up touring, but the panniers were perfect for a camera and a few extra layers for when she (and by "she" I mean "me") got cold. Now if only I could get her to stop head-butting me.

I'm ready to go when you are. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

The panniers take a little getting used to, as the closing and locking mechanism can be a little tricky, but they have elastic straps inside to help hold your gear in place even if they aren't packed full and, at 29 liters, they held a surprising amount of stuff.

The Caponord is an absolute blast once you hit the twisty stuff, as long as it isn't too tight and technical. For instance, the bike was excellent for Ojai's Highway 33 and its long sweepers, but trying to hustle it through Mulholland Highway in Malibu became a chore and had me wishing I was on our Suzuki DR-Z400 or Triumph Street Triple R. The bike doesn't hide its 550 pounds particularly well, and getting the bike flipped over from side to side definitely gave me a pretty intense upper body workout.

You can feel the ADD system working and trying to adjust, but at my weight I found it set suspension too soft for my taste. The brakes dove too much under heavy braking on the tight stuff and the bike felt bouncy beneath me while on the automatic setting. Manually putting the suspension in rider+passenger+luggage mode definitely helped tighten it up, though if I'm being honest, this is still a pretty heavy bike to ride through that tight stuff, anyway.

While this bike may not have won any races, it's these little finishing touches that make me love Italian bikes. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

The Caponord is actually a decent daily rider assuming a few things. Its difficulties in the twisties means it also isn't great for urban areas. Riding it around the wide, sweeping streets of Orange County or San Diego was a blast, but dodging cars on the narrow, beat-up streets of Los Angeles was not. With a seat that's 33 inches high and fairly wide, the reach to the ground isn't one I would call easily accessible for a rider of average height. However, once you're moving and have full access to all that torque (not to mention the sound and visual appeal of the bike), you tend to forget about all of that.

Aesthetically, the bike is sort of a mixed bag for me. I respect that Aprilia didn't copy the Multistrada beak, but throwing the RSV4 front on it just doesn't seem to fit. The overall fit and finish of the bike feels Italian, but muted somehow. It's definitely a nice-looking bike, and looks expensive if you're out to impress people, but it also looks a little plain, which misrepresents its riding character a bit.

Caponord 1200 highlights

The biggest highlight for me is that Aprila found a bike to put this engine in. The Dorsoduro is absolute madness and is the only bike besides the stock Yamaha FZ-09 that I thought was simply unsafe for the general public. I feel sort of bad saying so publicly, because I never really want to discourage manufacturers from taking chances on bikes that are super fun, a little nuts, and possibly too much for some people, but the fueling and suspension was just not up to the job of managing all that power. Beautiful engine, but it needed a different package.

The Caponord doesn't make best-in-class power, but it also isn't as race-oriented as the competition that might best it on paper. The torque is positively addicting and does a good job at overshadowing some of the bike's negatives. Gear Geek John Krause was out visiting and we did a ride down to San Diego to get some pie and ride Palomar Mountain. He rode the Capo and I followed on the KTM 1190 Adventure R and, while I liked the Katoom better, there were plenty of times I wished I had that engine and that exhaust note under my butt instead of his.

The Caponord looks like an RSV4 on stilts. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

The seat is really comfortable, which is hugely important for any sort of distance riding. Compared to the wood board KTM calls a seat, the Capo's seat felt like one of those chairs that massages while you recline.

In online forums, I noticed many owners mentioned the instrument panel as a negative, but I thought it did a good job of displaying any desired info in an easy-to-read package. I would have liked it to be a little brighter and offer a little more contrast, but I found it much better than many others I've been stuck behind.

Caponord 1200 lowlights

The handlebars are extremely wide (40 inches) and the angle of the grips made my wrists hurt after extended amounts of time on the freeway. Wide bars can be nice for leverage on a bike, but sometimes the fact that they're really big is indicative of problems elsewhere. In this case, they're needed to help steer a bike that doesn't hide its weight particularly well.

The "Sport" throttle map is a little too twitchy, especially between off and on throttle. With that much power and torque, the last thing you want is abrupt changes in fueling when you're trying to hustle up a hill.

Not the most natural button layout I've used. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

Fuel economy comes in at about 33 mpg. With its 6.3-gallon tank, you'll still get usable range, but it's something to keep in mind if you're more into the touring part of sport-touring.

The cruise control works, but is awkward to set and doesn't allow you to make minor changes to your speed like you can in a car or on the baggers I rode to Washington. You have to hold the button in for a few seconds to turn the system on and then for about a second to activate, which never feels quite natural, since the button is on the throttle side. If traffic changes speeds slightly, you have to disengage the system and then re-engage it at the desired speed, instead of being able to slightly slow or increase your speed.

The competition

Here is where things start to get a little tricky. The Caponord 1200, at $15,499, competes mainly with bikes like the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and Ducati Multistrada, given its obvious on-road bias. Obviously, anything in the adventure-touring segment is going to compete on some level, as most of them are relegated to on-road duty the vast majority of the time, but for comparison purposes I looked mostly at other bikes that were not designed with features for off-pavement use.

The Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure is going to come in at the bottom end of the price range at $13,999. While it does come with hard panniers, hand guards, traction control, and ABS, it's down 25 horsepower, eight foot-pounds of torque, and doesn't have heated grips, different fuel maps, cruise control, or Italian prestige.

C'mon, just one more run. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

On the other hand, there is the Ducati Multistrada, which retails for $17,695. It makes 160 horsepower, 100 foot-pounds of torque, and doesn't come with things like hard panniers, heated grips, or cruise control. Making more power and coming in about 50 pounds lighter, the Duc is a better bike for the sport purists.

I would also put the KTM 1190 Adventure (non R) in the ring with the Caponord. Most people think of the KTM as an off-road machine, but the non R has active suspension, makes 150 horsepower and 92 foot-pounds of torque, and retails for $16,999. On paper, it weighs the same as the Ducati, but on the road it feels much lighter. It's much narrower than the other two and, when John and I rode up Palomar, was much better in the twisties than the Capo.


I have a hard time trying to put my finger on just who the buyer is for the Caponord, which isn't to say it's a bad bike. For the money, the performance is really impressive. The motor is an absolute blast and I liked it more than the Multistrada, until I did some canyon testing. I'm a sucker for the exotics, and the Aprilia wins points for being less common, but in the end I don't see a scenario where I would buy or recommend buying the Caponord over the competition.

Where to next? Photo by Sean MacDonald.

It's better than the Ducati for touring, not to mention cheaper, but there are certainly other options for touring that cost less and get better fuel economy. It's certainly sexier than the V-Strom 1000, but the Strom costs less and handles its weight a little better in the tight stuff. For my money, the KTM would be the way to go. While not the most powerful, and certainly not the most comfortable, I like its combination of power, suspension, and weight (and weight distribution) best.

If the Caponord checks all your boxes, I'm not going to tell you it's a bike you shouldn't buy. Probably the biggest problem with the Caponord is how its high-quality competition does so many things just a little better.