Aprilia Dorsoduro 900

By Max Klein, with Fish
Photography: Max Klein
Rider: Fish

Aprilia does not even bother to pretend that their new Dorsoduro 900, the “there can be only one” simplification of the previous 750 and 1200 versions, is anything but a one-trick pony. Their website calls it—no kidding—“the fun bike,” and says, “… it was built with the sole objective of providing the most possible road riding fun, drawing from the best characteristics of sport bikes and supermotards.”

The 16-year old kid in me breathed a reverently, quiet fuck yeah when I read that, but the objective moto-journalist that likes to think that he has some integrity was a bit confused.

You see, we here at CityBike World Headquarters have dumped wheelbarrows of shit on “bar hopper” bikes over the years. You know, bikes with no luggage options, no suitable passenger capabilities, no wind protection, tiny gas tanks and no real viability as an only bike for anyone beyond city-bound, high-functioning alcoholics with too much time on their hands, and someone else to pick up their groceries. Yes, I’m cracking wise about riding under the influence. Don’t do it, kids, or we’ll make fun of you too.

Anyhow, I’ve been a critic of making that much cash rain at a dealership for something that I have to supplement with a whole ‘nutha motorbike, just so I can bring my wife along for the ride.

On paper, the $10,999 Dorsoduro 900 looks like an Italian bar hopper.

The broad tail section, flared out to accommodate the sweet-sounding undertail exhaust that flanks the dangerous-looking tail light, makes mounting any sort of luggage impossible. Even if you throw some saddlebags over the back, the odds of those pipes cooking the contents are higher than San Francisco rents. There is no wind protection, making winter freeway jaunts a bit brisk, and a bit of a workout year round. It sucks down gas like aspiring alcoholics at a frat party (presumably earning their future bar hoppers), and the tank holds just three gallons. The fuel light starts winking at you right around 100 miles if you are my level of aggressive, less if you are Fish. He and Editor Surj were able to trigger the light (which should have a sad face emoji on it) at 80 miles. Keeping this thing topped off on a long ride is a part-time job.

On paper, the Dorsoduro is not worth a second look, unless you are 100% short-ride hooligan.

Good thing we don’t ride paper.

The Dorsoduro 900’s 90-degree V-twin powerplant is actually 896.1 ccs of 4-valve, liquid-cooled deliciousness that dumps wheelbarrows of shit on the notion that it belongs in any sort of bar hopper category.

I’ll let Fish clean himself up and then go into more detail about how awesome the motor is, but I will tease you a bit and say—spoiler alert!—that it was surprisingly good. Its claimed 93 horses and 66 foot-pounds of torque are kept under control by a three-mode fly-by-wire system, giving you very effective control over your traction in Rain, Touring, and Sport modes.

Feeling like a badass? You can shut the traction control off, another area I’ll let Fish expand shortly. I did my traction control testing on the slightly mossy Pinehurst Road, playing post-photography catch-up to the “Fuck Black Friday” riders at Ride Friday Give Back 2017. The TC’s throttle reduction was just abrupt enough in Sport mode that I kicked the mode down to Touring, where the TC was less abrupt but still noticeable enough to let me know that it was working. It felt familiar, probably because it shares ECU technology with Aprilia’s Tuono—a bike I love.

The boingers consist of a 41mm, preload and rebound damping-adjustable Kayaba upside-down fork up front with 160mm of travel, and a similarly adjustable Sachs shock with the same 160mm of travel out back. I found the suspension to be damn near perfect for the pothole-infested East Bay roads, and the bike was equally planted in municipalities that actually maintain their road surfaces. While I didn’t do any proper jumping on the Dodo, it did handle the “urban whoops” in my neighborhood in giggle-inducing fashion. The Kayaba-Sachs setup isn’t glamorous, but it wouldn’t make my short list of needed changes either.

Slowing the whole thing down are a pair of very responsive 320mm discs grabbed by four-piston calipers up front, and a single-piston grips the 240mm disc in the rear, all fed by steel-braided lines. ABS can be disabled if the need for additional tomfoolery arises.

Brake feel is very strong and I never needed more than two fingers to get slowed down even in emergency stop situations. Trail braking was equally effortless although Fish’s opinion differs.

Turning the key activates a 4.3” TFT display where you old timers would look for your tach and speedo. Once it cycles through its fancy start-up sequence, the dash shows your mph front and center in an easy-to-read size while the RPM’s are handled by a bar at the top. In addition to the color-coded tach bar, there’s a gear position indicator and an increasingly-panicked series of lights let you know it’s time to shift.

The display is very easy to read in direct sunlight and does not blind you at night, either. You can cycle through information such as average fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, maximum speed, average speed, and of course, miles ridden.

These TFT displays seem to be the hot new thing this year, but the Dorso’s seemed to all of us to be a good example of this technology done right, rather than done for show.

But it’s not perfect: in theory, the Dorsoduro can be linked to your smartphone via Bluetooth, but I was unable to get mine to connect via the free app. After fifteen minutes or so of fumbling and fussing I checked the internet and discovered that despite the display showing the icons, an optional module is required to connect.

The AMP (Aprilia Multimedia Platform) option lets you see phone call and music information, assuming you’re using a helmet communication device of some sort. While the Dorso is not billed as a touring machine, it seems kinda silly to not have that option less optional given that we live in the future and all.

Never mind the Bluetooth, though. The riding experience is exactly as advertised. You sit in a slightly aggressive position, not quite bolt upright, definitely not Ricky Racer, a riding position I describe as “correct.” I was never uncomfortable, yet I was ready to rip at a moment’s notice. The wide bars allow for quick, drama-free turn-in, and the suspension is happy to oblige mid-corner line switching as needed.

Power delivery is consistently good, as long as you’re riding aggressively. Rolling on in any gear results in rapid acceleration and the grins that go with it. It doesn’t like to putt about under 4k—at those revs, it feels like you’re running out of gas, which was problematic for me as the only time I really rode it like that was when I was low on gas.

Speaking of low fuel, the Dorsoduro reports that you’re almost empty using that annoying European method of pointing out how far you’ve gone since the gas light has been on, instead of how far you could go.

In the end, the Dorsoduro is too fast, too nimble to be labeled a bar hopper, but too aggressive and focused to be lumped in with the nakeds. By supermoto standards, it’s a couple hundred pounds too heavy, so despite looking the part and sporting similar suspension travel to its lightweight cousins, it isn’t really one of those either.

The “class of its own” cliché is really the only road to take here: it’s equal parts confidence and stupidity, and should probably come with an exhibition of speed tickets that you just sign and mail in with your prepayment before you even throw a leg over.

Max is the SF chapter Director of the AFM, and despite all this “I’ll let Fish be the crazy one” talk, he knows how to get it on aboard a bike like the Dorsoduro.

Fish: Hail to the Vee

While Max looked at the Dorso’s spec sheet and saw bar hopper, I was checking my stash of TKC 80s in hopes that I had the correct size currently not on rims. Even though luggage and touring options aren’t really on the menu, the Dorso could offer up some real off-road fun. At the very least, I’d have backup tires in case I got overzealous with the burnouts.

The Dorso is a bike that’s fascinated me for a long time. I have one friend who owns an older 750, and I’ve encountered a few others in my travels. Perhaps it’s a love-it-or-sell-it kind of bike, because I’ve only met owners who love them.

I’ve also never met anyone who said their 750 wanted for power, so the 900cc upgrade seems like the kind of evolution I could get behind. More power for no good reason? Why not?

I’ve recently grown fonder of Italian Vees, and the 900 motor is the star of the show for me. While the Americans seem to be chasing the elusive power curve of a Caterpillar dump truck and the Japanese are hunting some kind of 20,000 rpm torque-free dream, the Italians are developing engines that punch you in the face with power at a useable rpm, and breathe deep enough that you don’t need 15 gear ratios to keep the bike in the powerband. The Dorso’s 900 V-Twin delivers a perfect example of a wide and smooth—but not bland—power curve that has a useful, enjoyable hit down low but carries you long through the shift point.

What do you do with power like that? You exit corners, of course. The Dorso lives to exit sharp, low speed corners. The tall stance means you have more than enough lean angle, the long-ish wheelbase means wheel lift is predictable, and the well-sorted suspension means that the tires stay connected. This motorcycle stands out as one of the most grin-inducing machines I’ve ridden—the package is cohesive and focused, with a singular goal: real world speed.

All this awesome doesn’t come without  sacrifices. The long forks and softer damping mean that front brake use while leaned over makes the whole package unstable. Not the end of the world, but the Aprilia multiplies speed in a surprising fashion, enough that it caught me off guard at first, and I found myself needing to bring it down more notches than expected in a few corner entries.

Fortunately, the ubiquitous dual radial-mount calipers and big rotors are almost overkill on the Dorso. The calipers are emblazoned with the Aprilia brand,  but they have the feel and function of a well-known, premium Italian brake maker. Feedback is fantastic, lever pressure requirements are minimal, and their effectiveness is top of the mark.

I did the unthinkable and put a passenger on the back of the Dorso, which led to the discovery of sacrifice number two: the undertail exhaust. The exhaust’s appearance and packaging is one of the things I really like about the bike, and it’s also one of the few undertail arrangement that doesn’t excessively warm the rider’s ass. It does introduce exhaust gasses directly to the passenger.

Aerodynamics are a low priority on a naked bike, but this is an actual problem: freeway speeds seemed to lessen the severity to a tolerable level, but canyons and in town speeds resulted in disconcerting amounts of exhaust flow into my passenger’s helmet, and even mine.

Max says “class of its own,” but I say that the Dorsoduro is just a standard that has shifted priorities. You’re forced to make a few extra fuel stops and carry a backpack, but you have a bike that lets you really get the most out of the weekends. The GS crowd can compliment each other on the shipping containers fastened to the sides of their land yachts all day long, but I’ll trade a Dorsoduro 900 and a backpack for that level of cargo capacity any day.

This story originally appeared in our February 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

Fish rides a Buell Ulysses with tamale carts mounted on the sides, which are different than GS shipping containers. Surprisingly, we made it through our time with the Dorsoduro with no Uly vs. Dorso off-road tests.