The super-sized supermoto class has always been a small one, owned by the Europeans. With more muscle, a faster brain and a dash of sophistication (pun intended), the revised-for-2018 Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 has stepped up the competition.
The biggest change — the muscle part — is that Aprilia stroked the 90-degree V-twin by 11 millimeters to increase displacement to 896 cc. Aprilia claims peak horsepower of 95 and 66 foot-pounds of torque to go with it. That torque figure is about a 10 percent increase over the old Dorsoduro 750.
Numbers aside, this engine has a character I found very appealing, and I’m not a guy who necessarily prefers twins. The Dorsoduro got an upgrade to the same Marelli 7 SM electronic engine management unit found in the company’s V4s — that's the brains part. Fueling is excellent and the engine didn’t bog even when I rolled on the throttle at low speeds, but I recommend keeping revs between 5,000 rpm and the 9,500 rpm redline, just to enjoy the swell of torque.
It was clear I was riding a twin, not a multi-cylinder engine, but there was no annoying vibration. Just a grumble, growl and occasional spit from the flat exhaust cans tucked under the wedge-shaped rear section. The balanced twin was smooth enough that more than once, when I was too worried about the next blind corner on the road into Los Padres National Forest to check the tach, I hit the rev limiter. That’s because the engine felt happy where it was, instead of screaming its demands for an upshift.
The third part of the Dorsoduro that's all new is the most noticeable change, the new TFT color dash. It displays a bar graph tachometer, speed, gear indicator, engine temperature and a reminder of which ride mode and traction control level you’ve selected. Aprilia also offers an optional feature that lets you link your Bluetooth communicator and phone to the dash, so you can control it with the selector on the handlebar, instead of tapping the side of your head.
I found the smallish tach display hard to read at a glance, but Aprilia also put shift lights across the top of the panel, flashing white, yellow and red as the motorcycle approaches redline, and I found those easier to use for deciding when to shift.
Riding on the freeway and through city traffic to get to the good parts of the day’s ride, the Dorsoduro provided the advantages of the supermoto style. The riding position is dirt bike upright and the seat is 34.25 inches tall. That’s lofty enough to give you a commanding view of traffic, so you have a fighting chance at seeing what’s happening several vehicles ahead, but it’s not so high that average-sized riders will find it awkward, given the reasonable weight. Aprilia also reduced effort by 15 percent on the hydraulic clutch, which helps when working through city traffic. Both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable.
As we escaped traffic and rolled into the mountains outside Ojai, California, I experimented briefly with the electronic rider aids. The Dorsoduro 900 has three levels of traction control and it can also be turned off. It also offers three ride modes: Sport, Tour and Rain. I started out in Tour and was happy to find that the throttle response had none of the abruptness that plagues so many motorcycles today. Better yet, once I got used to Tour, I switched to Sport. The difference was not huge (or else my sensitivity is lacking). Sport sharpens the initial throttle response, but fortunately it does not lead to any of the jerkiness or hypersensitivity that sportier settings create in some motorcycles.
We rode the Dorsoduro and the revised Shiver 900 back to back, which made comparisons inevitable. Though they share the same engine, the fuel mapping is a little different and suspension parts are slightly different. I think it was a relatively low-tech change that made the biggest difference between the two, however. Aprilia changed the sprocket ratio of the final drive, with the result that the Shiver provided a more relaxed feel while the Dorsoduro felt more like it wanted to leap out of corners.
The Dorsoduro comes with Dunlop Qualifier tires in 120/70R17 and 180/55/R17 sizes, so you have the full range of choices of sticky sport rubber or longer lasting sport-touring tires. The four-piston front brake calipers proved to be easily up to the task of stopping the 467-pound (Aprilia’s claimed wet weight) bike. Metal braided brake lines front and rear are a nice touch and the ABS can be switched off. Suspension is adjustable for preload and rebound damping in the front and preload at the rear shock, and I thought it provided a good balance between firmness for control and enough suppleness to soak up bumps on the daily commute.
Even hooligans have to go to work
I mention that because while many riders look at a motorcycle like the Dorsoduro and dream dreams of hooligan abandon, I think this might just be the best kind of bike for the daily grind of city traffic. The riding position provides visibility, the narrowness is ideal for lane-splitting if you’re anywhere in the world other than the 49 U.S. states where that’s an issue, and the torque can get you out of trouble quickly when all else fails.
In true dirt bike style, the seat lives up to the bike’s “hardback” name, but unless you have Lemmy’s commute, it’s plenty comfortable for the ride to work. (This is one of the rare bikes that has broader, more comfortable accommodations for the passenger than for the rider. An optional “comfort seat” is available.) The only thing the Dorsoduro 900 lacks for the daily grind is a place to carry your laptop computer, welder’s mask, wildlife management tranquilizer gun or whatever other tools of the trade you may use. The triangular rear section and underseat exhaust don’t make finding a carrying solution any easier and the plastic sections up front will ignore your magnetic tank bag. Aprilia has accessory panniers and tank side bags available, but I suspect most Dorsoduro buyers will be the minimalist types who just throw on a backpack. If you’re buying a bike that’s characterized by its stripped-down look and point-and-squirt fun factor, you’re probably not loading it up with accessories.
Speaking of a quick ride…
Sometimes these days, press intros turn into something closer to a photo shoot than an opportunity to test the motorcycle. That sort of happened with the Dorsoduro intro. Because we were riding two motorcycles in one day and lots of photos were shot, I ended up riding just 52.5 miles on the Dorsoduro — so not much to go on when trying to give you a first impression.
The manufacturers make up for this by offering to let us take a motorcycle home with us for more in-depth testing. That works great for the locals, but less so for the Common Tread team. I guess I could have ridden a Dorsoduro back to Philadelphia in a Monster Energy-fueled, non-stop Iron Butt riding binge so Lemmy and Spurgeon could have a chance to thrash it in the name of scientific investigation. But I couldn’t because, well, it’s a Dorsoduro and our finest medical research minds have yet to perfect ass replacement surgery. Plus, Monster Energy tastes like swill.
So consider this just a preliminary impression, not a definitive review. Also, you should consider that 95 horsepower with a flat torque curve and 467-pound weight are pretty close to my idea of the ideal street machine: plenty of power to keep me entertained, but not so much that I can’t harness the raging herd of ponies without NASA-level electronics. ABS and traction control are there, just in case, but if you don’t ride like a lunatic, you may not even need them.
The Dorsoduro is in North American dealerships now and MSRP is $10,999. If you’re shopping the competition, the obvious direct competitor is the Ducati Hypermotard 939 at $12,695, which offers a little more power but lacks the Aprilia’s TFT display. Unfortunately, I haven’t ridden the Ducati, so I can’t offer a side-by-side comparison. On price, at least, the Aprilia has the edge.
Supermoto semi-purists will look at the single-cylinder options, like the KTM 690 Duke or the Husqvarna 701 Supermoto. There's also some great choices of multi-cylinder standard-style bikes without the supermoto styling, from the more powerful, less sophisticated and less expensive Kawasaki Z900 to the all-around goodness of the Triumph Street Triple R. Buyers have some appealing choices.
The added power and new features make the Dorsoduro a stronger competitor to the Hypermotard and a stylish alternative to a standard bike, for those who love the supermoto look. If that's you, then the Dorsoduro is definitely worth a look.