Before riding the 2015 Aprilia Caponord Rally, our thoughts were that the new wave of high end adventure sport bikes were akin to that of luxury SUVs. They might be fast, they might look like they can go off-road but for 99% of people, they’ll never leave the black stuff and wouldn’t do very well off it anyway. Now however, we’ve had to change our tune. The Aprilia Caponord Rally is as close to the holy grail of motorcycling that we’ve yet come across – comfortable for touring, agile for spirited riding and yes, actually quite capable of getting off the beaten path.
The Caponord Rally is an evolution of the Aprilia Caponord 1200 that was released back in 2013 which is strictly a road bike with adventure style looks and ergonomics. That means that Aprilia had to actually spend some time on the Caponord Rally to make it a genuinely dirt capable machine.
Visually, the big differences are the crash bars surrounding the front of the bike along with a crash plate covering the engine and exhaust headers, thought the latter is a mix of plastic and aluminium. Attached to the crash bars are a pair of LED spotlights, along with a new oversized windshield which can be easily adjusted in height and plastic hand guards. While there’s a button for heated grips, you’ll have to pay extra for them to be actually installed.
At the rear of the bike is a new steel rear subframe which allows for the standard inclusion of aluminium panniers (combined capacity of 66 litres). Situated beneath those is the ridiculously large exhaust can which is actually height adjustable – so if you’re heading off-road sans-luggage, it can be moved up and further away from danger beneath.
What really starts making this a machine capable of confidence inspiring riding on dirt, gravel or other poor surfaces is the use of spoked wheels both front and back, with the front wheel increased from 17 inches to 19 inches – much more in line with off-road bikes. Because of the bigger diameter wheel up front, Aprilia changed the steering geometry ensure the bike still handles well on normal roads where even the most adventurous of riders will spend most of their time on this bike. Changes mean steering rake increases to 27.4° from (26.1°) and trail decreases to 4.6 inches (from 4.9).
Thankfully, these changes to the front end have done nothing to blunt the Caponord’s handling abilities. This thing loves corners. Pushing on the wide bars sees the bike tip over better than many sportsbikes – chicken strips on the rear tire were gone without even trying. Part of that is no doubt due to Aprilia’s continuing ability to make near perfect chassis for their bikes. Like its sportier brethren (the RSV4 and Tuono), the Caponord has class leading handling and dynamics. Its modification to a dirt capable bike hasn’t dulled it in any perceivable way.
For all my riding on bitumen, I’d set the electronic aids onto their lowest settings of intervention and the bike was flawless. No scares, no hiccups, both application of power and handling in the corners was perfectly confidence inspiring and I no doubt was only hitting a fraction of the Caponord’s limits.
Powering the Caponord Rally remains the same 1197cc V-Twin that produces a 125hp @ 8,000 rpm and 115Nm of torque at 6,800 rpm. The power delivery of the engine is definitely more adventure bike than sports bike. That’s not to say this machine is slow – it’s anything but – it’s just that you’re not going to pull wheelies with it unless you’re trying. Which is a good thing when you head off-road. In fact, Aprilia has modified the power delivery slightly for such applications, with throttle response more progressive and responsive at low engine speeds.
As we wrote at the outset, my perception of bikes like this before the Caponord Rally is they have no place off-road. Sure, just like any motorcycle (even liter bikes), one can ride on dirt and gravel if you take care – but you wouldn’t ride at speed or in the wet with them. And that’s still true for many bikes of this ilk – the Kawasaki Versys 1000 is a great touring machine but it’s just too big and unwieldy to take off-road seriously.
But the Caponord Rally is something else. Sure, a proper dirt bike will always be more capable of road, but the Caponord Rally is far closer to being a dirt capable machine than something like the Yamaha WR450F is to being a comfortable long range tourer. This machine actually can go off-road.
A huge part of this is thanks to the suspension which is one of the best setups we’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The Caponord Rally is fitted with Aprilia Dynamic Damping (ADD) which is Aprilia’s proprietary semi-active suspension system. The ADD system measures the energy transmitted by bumps on the road surface to the bike and adjusts the hydraulic fork calibration and shock absorber in real time to minimise accelerations on the frame and consequently optimise comfort.
It gets even better though. The rear shock is also part of this system and if desired, will automatically adjust rear preload depending on the weight on the bike. At a basic level, that means it will detect a pillion, luggage or both. It also means that when you stand on the pegs instead of the seat, the rear preload will be adjusted on the fly. Brilliant.
When we first test a motorcycle, our first hour or so is usually spent getting to know the bike and that means fairly casual riding. The stretch of road we were on was pockmarked with potholes – some filled and some not. The Caponord soaked them up like I was riding on a magic carpet – hardly any of the harshness of the road was transferred to my ample buttocks. Normally that would mean fairly average handling in the corners, with the front end diving and wallowing all over the place under braking and cornering.
But not with the ADD system. It really feels like some sort of voodoo magic at play here. The system is a jack of all trades and master of them all at once – and that includes off-road.
Heading off-road on a 228kg machine generally isn’t my idea of fun. Switching the traction and ride modes to their off-road settings gives some confidence, but it really comes down the brilliant suspension setup as to how much assurance you start to have with the Caponord Rally after just a short while on loose gravel and dirt. With the road orientated Metzeler tires, the back end got loose on a few occasions on the gravel, but never once did I feel like the bike was getting away from me. I can only imagine how capable this machine would be with some knobby tires.
That’s not to say the machine is perfect. It’s disappointing that Aprilia installed a predominantly plastic crash guard for the engine. It’ll stop it getting scratched but won’t do much if you hit anything substantial. The lack of a centrestand as standard as well for a bike of this weight also reduces it’s true abilities for remote riding.
The dash is also a little bit underwhelming on a machine of this price. No ambient temperature reading, no estimated distance until you need to refuel – instead silly things like average speed, max speed and time riding are available for display.
But perhaps the really pertinent question is whether one would actually want to take a bike of this price off-road where the likelihood of scratches and dents is generally fairly high. At $15,695, the Aprilia Caponord Rally is more expensive than many mid-sized cars. But motorcycles are all about comprises. If you’re doing any long range touring you’re probably going to avoid true dirt bikes – not only are they uncomfortable for entire days in the saddle on the road, they’re luggage capacity and mileage on small tanks is also limited.
This is where the new breed of adventure bikes do start to make sense. They’re generally pretty comfortable, they can carry a lot of gear, they have got massive tanks so you can travel remotely and in the case of the Caponord, they’re better than average off-road.And while $15,695 isn’t chicken feed, it’s actually incredibly competitive compared to the competition. If you want the benefits of semi-active suspension you’ll need to fork out many more thousands of dollars to get it from Ducati, KTM and BMW. Aprilia has sharply priced the Caponord Rally.
Overall, the Aprilia Caponord Rally is a very impressive machine and it comes closer to any bike in recent times that can actually perform almost every function you could ask from a motorcycle.