2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 First Ride Review

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Returning to the US after a multi-year hiatus, the latest generation of Aprilia’s Caponord 1200 is back. The revised Caponord graces American shores as a 2015 model, having made its debut a year earlier in the Europe (where Aprilia never stopped selling the previous version).

The American-only version of the Capo is the kitted out Travel Pack version, which includes integrated saddlebags (easily fits a Shoei RF-1200), centerstand, cruise control (third gear and higher), hand guards and a manually-adjustable windscreen. It’s a turn-key tourer, ready from day one with a 690-watt generator to power your accessories, including an underseat USB port (used in conjunction with the AMPS system, more on that later). Accessories like the top case, pillion saddle and tank bags are sold separately. The non-travel-pack version sold in Europe will not be available here in the States, but they can get the add-ons we have if they want them. The secondary dashboard/smartphone kit, known as AMPS, is also sold separately.

While personal experience with the brand is limited, I do know the ADV market rather well. Most recently I rode along with Motorcycle USA’s Bart Madson during his advanced RawHyde Adventures excursion and am keenly aware that adventure-touring bikes are in! What constitutes an adventure bike is still a little hazy however. As marketing jargon goes these days, it alludes to what used to be called a dual-sport motorcycle or dualie. Meanwhile what would have been called a sport-touring machine five years ago —like the Caponord— now falls inside the ADV bracket. For its part, Aprilia calls the segment Street Enduro. In the end, every bike is an adventure bike, ain’t it… raising instead of lowering our heart rate… amongst other things.

As with its entire model lineup, Italian pride is sprinkled all over the Caponord. The pride brings results too, boasting 52 world titles in racing and sporting a decal on the tank to remind you of that fact. Aprilia takes building its motorcycles seriously, injecting it with not only a heartbeat but a nervous system as well in its Scorze, Italy factory, mere kilometers from their headquarters in Noale. Like all its models, the 2014 Caponord 1200 is also built around strong racing knowledge and technologies, including the throttle-by-wire management software. Aprilia believes it stands out from the ADV competition via its passion and technology, aiming to offer better handling and the best electronics package on the market including traction control, variable engine mapping and electronic suspension.

The high revving, liquid-cooled 90-degree 1197cc V-Twin pumps out 125 horsepower and 84.6 lb-ft of torque.

Brembo M432 monoblock, four-piston radial calipers handle stopping out front on the 2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200.

The high revving, liquid-cooled 90-degree V-Twin, sourced and retuned from the Dorsoduro for more midrange performance, is hung from a Monster-like trellis frame with a steel subframe. The 2014 Caponord rolls on the same 17-inch wheels as the RSV4. The Vee-powerplant sucks down the go-go juice from the 6.3-gallon tank at a rapid rate on our first ride. We later realized we were going far and fast between stops and hadn’t used a complete tank, but were left with only a single bar on the gauge after 125 miles (UPDATE: Aprilia reps state the final bar is a “long” last bar on the gauge and that claimed fuel efficiency is around 38 MPG). The 503 pounds (claimed dry weight) of high-velocity mass are quelled by a pair of 4-piston radial-mount monobloc Brembos up front, clamping down on 320mm floating rotors assisted by a single 240mm disc with a single-piston Brembo in the rear, all served with braided steel lines.

At the breakfast-time technical briefing, Miguel Martinez, President and CEO of Aprilia, wanted not to “burden us with numbers, but with miles.” And with that our 120-mile blast around the greater Prescott Valley area could not have been better. The Arizona spring weather broke just enough to supply us with a chilly morning (better to test the accessory heated grips) and a few rays of sunshine for the cameras. The rest was on us to modulate: throttle, brake and clutch.

In The Saddle

With a claimed 125 horsepower (at 8250 rpm) and 84.6 lb-ft of torque (at 6800 rpm) at the ready, the Caponord is never intimidating, always flexible, flickable, light and responsive… and with more rear wheel power than anyone needs on any given day. Tuned for low-end torque with double fuel injectors, twin-spark ignition and a very tall first gear, the loaded-up touring prowess is sure to please. Delivering technology through its throttle, Aprilia’s combined electronic systems aim to create a sharp handling motorcycle by virtue of a massive bowl of alphabet soup, including but not limited to RbW, ABS, ATC, ACC, and ADD.

Alphabet Soup

First introduced in 2006 on the Shiver was an industry-first ride-by-wire (RbW) throttle system that makes it to the Caponord, one of the cogs of a larger electronic package that delivers instant gratification at the throttle. Three optional rider settings deliver maximum performance and the full 125 hp of thrust to the rear in the Sport mode, while the Touring mode rounds out the hit for a more subtle peak. The Rain mode delivers only 100 hp to the system for times when moderation and limiting wheel spin is key.

From the saddle of the 2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200.

Feeding fuel to the generous-sized 52mm throttle bodies via a network of data paths and patented software systems, the throttle, traction control, and anti-lock brakes are all focused on two primary goals – maximum comfort and superior handling. The two channel anti-lock brake system (ABS) offers a high level of braking power and can be switched off if so desired.

The ATC, or Aprilia Traction Control system, (also disengagable) has three settings and two thresholds to help keep riders in control and as close to the edge without going over. Aprilia’s patented Slip Control system calculates and compares the differential between front and rear wheel speeds to calculate if and when to intercede. In “regular” traction slippage, intervention comes by reducing the input from the throttle application electronically. In emergency situations, spark interruption assists the throttle reduction. The former can be felt with a light touch while we didn’t get to test the latter application. Interruption control is applied according to the three levels: Level 1 for pure adrenaline, Level 2 for everyday rides and touring, and Level 3 optimized for riding conditions where riders might also be using the Rain ABS mode.

The ADD markings on the fork tube and near the rear shock refer to the Aprilia Dynamic Damping system that focuses on two goals at all times, maximum rider comfort and enhanced handling. It incorporates yet another Aprilia-patented system which combines fully-active rear suspension with a semi-active fork spring adjustment… all on the fly… and done automatically! Gone are the idea of riding modes and thinking to yourself, am I going to ride fast and hard or take it easy… only to not take it easy when you see the road ahead! The single-map ADD system keeps you in the right mode at all times thanks to its stroke-speed sensing combination (and series) of sensors and potentiometers.

The 2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200 features a stainless steel, 2-into-1 exhaust system.

But how does the ADD regulate damping? Trial and error attempts to use accelerometers fore and aft failed to pass muster no thanks to the rigid mounted engine. The automotive-type sensors were blown away with the high frequency vibes, so another new idea needed to be cooked up. Aprilia instead stuffed a Bosch pressure sensor inside the fork tube along with the Sachs componentry and put a swingarm angle detector in the rear to create the best compromise between the Skyhook suspension system and other acceleration-driven damping systems.

Integrated saddlebags enhance the touring capabilities of the 2014 Aprilia Caponord 1200.

With another homegrown software package listening to wheel speed, throttle position, the front brake, fork and swingarm sensors, the 10-millisecond return to the components keeps the Caponord at the ready for every corner and every bump in the road. Come in hot to a corner, stab the brakes, the front stiffens up and the rear rebound increases to keep the rubber on the road. Lay off the brakes and before you’re back on the throttle, the front loosens up again and the rear stiffens for the speed and weight loaded on the bike.

Aprilia has also beefed up the usual (and still rather awesome) electronic rear preload adjustment system to include a fifth mode. Beyond the usual settings for single rider, two-up, single with luggage and two-up with luggage is an automatic sensing and adjusting mode that eliminates the need to ever worry about if you’re set up properly for the combination you’re riding with at the time. Pick up a ‘friend’ at the bar, load up with groceries and then get back on the bike minutes later with a whole new weight level… it’s no longer a problem with the Caponord! Not that the 18 seconds you might have spent dialing it in took too long, but hey, it’s a bonus not to have to worry about it! It’s what they call an “exclusive active mode” and is another first for the market.

The last spoonful in the soup bowl is the accessory Aprilia Multimedia Platform System (AMPS), and yet another world first for the industry. This enables the motorcycle to speak to your smartphone via Bluetooth and not only tracks your route, it offers driving directions, a super-cool homecoming landmark bonus feature, and a whole lot more! In what essentially becomes a secondary dashboard, one can display a wide array of bike data shipped wirelessly to your smartphone: engine temperature, adjustable shift point indicators (or automatic), redline marks, traction control intervention levels, rpm, torque, thrust, speed, horsepower and more… all live! And when your park the bike and walk away, it records the bikes location for easier finding when you return to it.

Don’t like the bar tach on the bike’s dash, use the AMPS to display a more traditional analog needle, in digital projection. Ground speed seems to keep exactly two mph below the bike’s indicated speed however – good or bad. There are a few bugs in the app to be worked out, such as keeping the Bluetooth connected when keying off because with stop-and-go touring use, the reconnection gets tiring. Perhaps with your phone hardwired to the bike’s USB port it has better luck. The app only displays in a horizontal layout as well, a possible problem for fully-farkled handlebars frequently found on ADV bikes with standing room only.

Railing the backroads of central Arizona, in Sport 2 traction mode, single rider preload and in sporty throttle mode, we could feel the bike correcting itself in flight like a fighter jet… adjusting to lean angle, speed and so on… bringing the Nord home with a romping jolly good time!

Propped up 33.1-inches from the ground, the wide and comfortable saddle is offered in three variations – standard, sportgel and a sportgel low. Adjustable muffler mounts offer more lean angle clearance for the race-ready rider when pulling off the saddlebags.

The 2014 Caponord 1200 is a rider-friendly race bike on the street, with an upright riding position and all-day ergonomics. It’s loaded with the latest techo-wizardry, including auto-sensing suspension, selectable traction control and horsepower levels, variable ABS, ride-by-wire throttle, cruise control, bluetooth enabling and one damn sexy exhaust note! Aprilia sought to make a better handling bike than the Multistrada (you’ll have to wait for our complete test to know more about that) with best-in-class electronics. After spending time in the Caponord’s saddle, I believe the company has achieved most of its goals. Aprilia poured its heart and soul into the Caponord, from its pistons to data points, after already starting with thoroughbred stock. Combining a lightweight chassis with sophisticated electronic management including traction control, suspension and braking, Aprilia has built an RSV4-level bike for the everyday rider, regardless of riding application. With eight more models on the horizon, they company’s got a bright future ahead!




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