Ducati Multistrada S vs BMW S1000XR vs Aprilia Caponord – Sports Adventure Comparo

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.

Performance

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.

BMW S 1000 XR

The S 1000 XR’s engine is amazing. No wonder, seeing as it’s a detuned version of what’s found in the S 1000 RR rocket ship.

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.

winner bmw s 1000 xr

Handling

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.

3-21 MULTISTRADA 1200S

The Multistrada S handles beautifully and is probably the best compromise between sportsbike tracking and long range comfort.

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.

winner bmw s 1000 xr

Comfort

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.

cap 1200 002

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.

winner aprilia caponord

Farkles

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.

BMW S 1000 XR

Heated grips, cruise control, cornering ABS, quick shifter for both up and down shifts – the S 1000 XR is a technological tour de force if you’re willing to pay for 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.

winner bmw s 1000 xr

Interface

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.

winner ducati hyperstrada

Off-road

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.

1-24 MULTISTRADA 1200S

Should you decide to get your wheels dirty, the Multistrada S with its decent suspension travel will do the job respectably.

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.

winner ducati hyperstrada

Value

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.

winner aprilia caponord

Overall

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.

cap 1200 001

Is the Caponord the best bike here? No, but for the price it’s very, very difficult to overlook.

Is Aprilia Working on a Shaft-Driven Tourer?

Adventure and touring bikes are currently the big growth market for motorcycle manufacturers, especially in the US and Europe and just about every company is looking to replicate BMW’s success with their GS series of adventure bikes. For some, any consideration of a bike other than the 1200 GS necessitates a shaft-drive transmission and new patents from Aprilia indicate they may very well be planning on doing just that.

The majority of the patent, titled ‘Homokinetic Motorcycle Transmission and Motorcycle Comprising Said Transmission’ is in Japanese, but the limited amount of the document which is in English is as follows:

A motorcycle transmission (4) comprising a swingarm (8) which extends from one hinging end (12) to a motorcycle chassis, defining an oscillation axis (X-X), at one connection end (16) to a wheel (20), a homokinetic joint (36) arranged on the side of the hinging end (12), and a a geared coupling (40) positioned on the side of the connection end (16), wherein the homokinetic joint (36) kinematically reciprocally connects a first end (44) of an input shaft (48), connected to a power take-off, and a second end (52) of an output shaft (56) mechanically connected to the geared coupling (40), and wherein the geared coupling (40) transmits the motion to the wheel (20). The homokinetic joint (36) performs an instantaneously constant transmission ratio between the first and the second end (44, 52), the homokinetic joint (36) is offset to the hinging end (12) of the swingarm (8), in a vertical direction (Y-Y) perpendicular to the support surface (P) of the wheel (20) and permits an oscillation of the output shaft (56) between a stroke start and a stroke end, parallel to the oscillation axis (X-X).

Now, we’re not overly literate when it comes to the mechanical side of shaft drives, nor are we all that good at comprehending the wording used in patents (which makes legal documents comprehensible by comparison), so if anyone out there decipher whether this is a fairly run of the mill shaft-drive system or something else, we’d greatly appreciate it.

Regardless, perhaps Aprilia feels like they need to do more to boost sales, given how sales of their Caponord range of bikes really don’t reflect how good they are.

Is Aprilia Working on a Shaft-Driven Tourer?

2015 Aprilia Caponord Rally Review

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.