If you want to go on a long range ride in comfort with the occasional blast down dirt track but without sacrificing copious amounts of power and razor sharp handling then there’s never been a better time to own a motorcycle. The ‘sports adventure’ segment as it has become known has exploded in recent years and the bikes represented here actually at times compete with superbikes when it comes to technological prowess. We’re taking a look at what we think is the cream of the crop in the form of the Ducati’s top of the line Multistrada S, BMW’s brand new S 1000 XR and Aprilia’s severely underrated Caponord.
You might be wondering why we didn’t include the brilliant KTM 1290 Super Adventure in this comparison. The only reason it’s not here is that despite it’s absurdly powerful engine and huge size, it’s actually more off-road focused than the three bikes we’re looking at here. This comparison is more about sportsbikes with upright ergonomics than ADV bikes with sportsbike features and performance. There’s of course quite a lot of cross-over between the the bikes and you could easily mount an argument for the KTM’s inclusion, but perhaps the soon to be released 1290 Super Duke GT is more in line with our focus here.
Our comparison will use the base Multistrada S, the base Caponord 1200 Touring and for the BMW, it will include both the touring package and dynamic package – which is pretty much the main configuration BMW sells this bike in anyway.
While these three bikes roughly inhabit the same market, they do approach it slightly differently. Out of the three, the BMW is the least tourer and most sporty. In fact as we stated in our review, it’s virtually a superbike with an upright riding position and a more comfy seat. At the other end is the Aprilia Caponord. It’s the least powerful of the three bikes here and definitely looks the least aggressive, but it’s looks don’t tell the full picture. The Multistrada sits in between – it’s still got that Ducati aggressiveness about it, is powerful and agile but at the same time has more touring qualities than the BMW with longer travel suspension.
Both the Multistrada S and S 1000 XR put out 160hp, the Italian using a L-twin while the German uses an in-line four but of the two, the BMW feels faster – quite a bit actually. We’re not sure why that is given the power to weight ratios are so similar, but perhaps it’s because the S 1000 XR’s engine is plucked from the incredible S 1000 RR whereas the Multistrada’s new engine was purpose built for this machine.
That’s not to say the Ducati is a slouch by any means, but it feels less manic. That’s no doubt thanks to the use of variable valve timing which transforms the previous Multistrada engine into a thing of beauty. It’s smooth, the power is linear and it saves on fuel consumption. But for all that, it does feel sedate in comparison to the BMW. Ironically, it produces more torque than the BMW so you’d expect it to feel quick down low, but this is a case where numbers on paper just don’t tell the full story.
To us, this was a surprise. The styles of engine here – an L-twin and an in-line four – should have made for the opposite. The Ducati should have roared from low speed and tapered off slightly while the BMW should have felt more controlled down low before exploding at higher RPM’s. There just feels like a dull point at the bottom end of the Ducati’s motor. Whether this was done on purpose to make the Multistrada feel more refined we’re not sure, but it means it falls second to the S 1000 XR – but only just – when it comes to the smile it puts on your face.
The Caponord trails by a significant margin when looking at the spec sheets, putting out (only) 125 hp from its V-twin engine. Yes, it does feel slower than the other two bikes tested here, but even so the V-twin is perhaps one of our favorite motorcycle engines around today. It just hauls no matter what gear you’re in or what speed you’re going. That’s is probably helped by the fact it produces 115 Nm of torque at 6,800 rpm – and actually makes the majority of that 115 Nm below 3,000 rpm – this bike is ballistic from a standing start and loves overtaking.
Then there’s the sound. We’re pretty sure Aprilia has an entire team whose sole job is to ensure their bikes sound incredible and they’ve done a wonderful job on the Caponord. No adventure bike – even a sports focused one – should sounds this good.
But it’s still not enough to dethrone the BMW S 1000 XR here. That extra bit of grunt coming out of what is essentially a tamed superbike engine is really a special thing.
All three bikes perform beautifully and pretty much will handle anything you throw at them that you can realistically achieve on the open road. Take them to a racetrack and the very sporty S 1000 XR would reign supreme, but we’re only interested in what you can do on the street for this comparison.
Being ‘sports adventure’ bikes, there is a compromise to be made between razor sharp handling and comfort – although all three bikes make use of the latest in semi-active suspension technology to blur the lines as much as possible. The BMW S 1000 XR takes the most aggressive approach, with front and rear suspension travel closer to a sportsbike or a roadster than an adventure bike – 150 mm at the front and 140 mm at the rear. It therefore handles aggressively, sharply and quickly. It loves corners and combined with its gearing and engine characteristics, would probably be quicker in tight twisty terrain in comparison the S 1000 RR.
The Multistrada S goes the other way and while not offering true ADV levels of suspension travel, is close to knocking on the door with 170 mm of movement both front and rear. Despite this longer stroke, you’d be hard pressed to say the Multistrada doesn’t handle as well as the BMW. In fact, one could argue that the BMW’s suspension is a little too firm – yes, this is a ‘sports adventure’ comparison but when you’re doing an all day stint, most are willing to sacrifice a few percentages of handling points to keep their bottom end from going numb.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Caponord is perhaps a little too soft. Suspension travel sits in between the German and the other Italian with 167mm travel in the forks and 150mm travel at the rear shock. It feels wonderful on the straight stuff but slightly floaty when pushed really hard in the corners.
In the end though, the BMW gave us the most confidence. We’d love to take it on a racetrack as it would no doubt put some supersports machines to shame.
The Multistrada S’ comfort is really going to come down to your height. The taller you are, the more cramped and uncomfortable you’re going to feel. Ducati has placed the pegs closer to the seat than the other bikes here and in fact has the most aggressive seating position of all sports adventure bikes on the market. That means that those over six feet in height will begin to feel sore after a long day of riding – or even a few hours On the flipside, those a few inches shorter will feel right at home and have the advantage of great ground clearance when in the corners.
Unfortunately for BMW, they’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory here – their seating and ergonomics are overall more relaxed than the Ducati’s, but this is a machine that suffers from vibrations. It’s most notable around the 7,000 to 9,000 rpm range and depending on your particular bike, you’ll feel it through the bars, the seat or the pegs – or all three if you’re really unlucky. It’s fine when you’re only riding for an hour or two but if you’re travelling all day it’s really going to fatigue you.
The Caponord has none of these problems. It’s virtually vibration free (though you’ll notice slight vibrations at higher rpm), its ergonomics offer a great compromise between tall and shorter riders, the seat is very comfortable and the suspension is the softest of the three bikes here. While the riding position is definitely the least sporty in our comparison, those wide bars still give great leverage to turn in hard when riding through the twisties.
Does he or she with the most toys win? If gadgets and the latest in technology are what you’re after it’s hard to go past the Multistrada S. If you want, it has it. Cornering ABS, a colour TFT display, an app that links your bike to your iPhone, the Ducati Multimedia System, 5D inertial measurement unit, cornering lights, hands free ignition, cruise control and more. It has more features than most family cars have. A lot it is unnecessary but at the same time, you won’t complain that you’ve got it.
The BMW comes close gadgets wise but does miss out on a number of fancy bits the Italian gets – such as no interface to your phone and hands free ignition. But it has a trump card – a brilliant Gear Shift Assist system that allows for both clutch-less upshifts and downshifts. It’s an electronic system as used by MV Agusta and it’s brilliant – you’ll grow to love it. It also gets heated grips which are great for cooler climates.
The Caponord is hardly a simple machine with the tech is features; it’s just not quite as cutting-edge as its competitors. It critically misses out on cornering ABS which the other two get and there’s no quickshifter or slipper clutch as found on the BMW either. It does get a fancy phone interface, a selection of engine modes and traction control settings, but in the end the BMW comes out on top.
If it seems like Aprilia dedicates an entire team to create the most intoxicating exhaust note from their bikes, they must then use a single person to design the interfaces for their bikes. Quite frankly, changing settings, modes and even engaging the cruise control is all frustrating and cumbersome on the Caponord.
Cruise control is especially annoying, as you have to try and engage it with your thumb while holding the throttle still – not an easy task. There’s also no button to change the speed up or down – you instead have to get the the speed manually and reset it – not precise and not user friendly.
That’s in direct contrast to the Multistrada S, which despite having more settings and options than the Caponord, is much easier to manage. The S 1000 XR isn’t far behind, though it’s dash is now looking quite dated and is just that little bit harder to learn than the Ducati’s.
We ummed and ahhed about whether to put this category in or not. Let’s be honest, these aren’t true off-road machines. They all use sportsbike sized cast wheels, the suspension travel while not superbike short isn’t made for tackling big ruts and rocks and despite their numerous engine modes on offer, don’t come with settings for the dirt.
But despite that, the three manufacturers do like to show pictures of their bikes off road and given that they are sports adventure bikes, it seemed fitting to at least look at their capabilities in passing. Are they capable off road? Yes, just like any motorcycle with road tires are. That means they’re fine on hard packed dirt roads and a small bit of gravel. They can handle slipperier stuff as long as you’ve got the skills to manage it.
Oddly, despite having the least adventure bike like geometry of the three machines, the BMW performed quite well when we took it off-road, as did the Multistrada S. The Caponord probably was the least happy when not on the bitumen, which is probably due to its weight – at 247 kg without fuel, it’s the heaviest here by a good margin. The Multistrada S weighs 212 kg sans fuel while the BMW S 1000 XR comes in just below that at 208 kg. The Caponord is a big bike and it feels it at times.
The extra suspension travel on the Multistrada S, coupled with the wonderful skyhook suspension means that it feels most at home when not on the black stuff and it’s more refined engine helps too.
There’s really not a contest here – the Aprilia is just incredibly good value. At $15,695 you get an incredibly well put together machine with a wonderful engine, fantastic handling and semi-active suspension. Yes, it’s not as fast as its European counterparts here, doesn’t have quite as many features and the dash is a pain in the neck to navigate but you still get a lot of bang for your buck.
The S 1000 XR starts at $16,350 but when you add the touring and dynamic packages on top as tested here, it blows out to over $18,000. That might sound expensive, but the Ducati creates an even larger dent in your mortgage at $19,695. There’s definitely some cheeky badge pricing going on there as there’s no real justification for the price premium over the S 1000 XR.
From a straight points perspective, the S 1000 XR is our winner. Its performance, technology, handling and features are all first class, with the Multistrada S close behind. But it’s hard to give the win to the BMW that easily. Despite all its wonderful qualities, those engine vibrations are an issue.
While the S 1000 XR feels much more exhilarating to ride, if you’re out on the road for days at a time, the refinement of the Multistrada S is hard to get past – if you’re the right height for it. If you’re too tall, it’s not going to be a pleasant place to be.
The Caponord avoids these issues. It’s not as quick as the other two bikes, nor does it have quite the same number of features but almost everything it does it does very well – save for changing modes and engaging cruise control. And despite that, the money you save in comparison to the Ducati and BMW is really impossible to ignore.
For outright performance, the BMW wins, but for a bike you need to live with every day, the Aprilia gets our vote.