Words by Varad More
Over the last few years, a new breed of biking called supermoto has surfaced here. Basically, take a dirt bike, swap the knobbies to road-racing tyres, get better suspension and brakes suited for the road, plonk wider bars and what you get is an all-round machine that is fun to ride across varying terrain without burning a hole in your pocket. The supermoto culture is fast gaining a following and witnessing its popularity, many manufacturers are bringing in new supermoto models directly onto the showroom floor. Aprilia was one of the first ones to do so with the SXV 450 and 550 models almost a decade ago. Soon afterwards the Noale-based firm launched the Dorsoduro 750 followed by the biggest Dorso of them all, the 1200. While the 750 failed to excite many a rider due to its modest power output and too much bulk, the 1200 scared the wits out of many with its 129 horses packaged inside a supermoto skeleton that was too much to handle for supermoto riding. The snatchy throttle response on the 1200 didn’t help the cause either. Fast forward into 2017 and Aprilia has replaced both, the 750 and the 1200 models with the new Dorsoduro 900. On paper it sounds wise to do away with two different models serving the same purpose and approaching relatively the same target audience with one product that encompasses the best of the two outgoing models. And with the Dorsoduro 900, Aprilia has done just that.
Riding the Dorsoduro 900 around the tight and technical corners of Lavasa, our favourite biking spot around Pune, the bike was quick to show off its handling prowess with its high centre of gravity allowing for quick turn-ins on the hairpin bends despite its rather elongated 26-degree rake angle. The wide handlebars helping in slow speed manoeuvrability replying eagerly even with the slightest of inputs and least of efforts. Even on the fast sweeping bends, the Dorso held its own like a pro as the digits on the TFT-dash crossed the tonne mark while at full tilt. The upright ergonomics too are spot on with the long saddle allowing the rider to move front and back to modulate the weight transfer when getting the rear to swing out around tight corners. Despite its bulk tipping the scales at 220kg (wet), the mass is not felt throwing the bike around the switchbacks and tight bends. Although off the bike, moving it around is a different story altogether but one can blame my lack of following the Keto diet for that, unlike my colleague Jehan. Nevertheless, on the handling side of things, the Dorsoduro 900 is in sync with Aprilia’s expertise at making sure-footed racing motorcycles.
The modular steel frame helped by lightweight aluminium side and an aluminium swingarm, all work unanimously to provide the motorcycle with supermoto bearing and a stance full of conviction. The new Kayaba upside down suspension upfront (160mm travel) with forged aluminium steering yoke plates is adjustable for rebound damping and preload while the offset monoshock on the rear is adjustable for spring preload. I found the suspension well setup going over some of the bumps without getting thrown on the seat or getting too squishy around the tightening corners. Although, that could be the lack of bulk on me as some of my beefed up colleagues did find it a bit jumpy and squishy. For me though it was just right and there was hardly anything to fault with the Dorsoduro’s handling dynamics. What I found really lacking was the thrust one would expect from a 94bhp naked supermoto hooligan that hails from the land that gave us gut-wrenching fast bikes like the Tuono and the RSV4.
The 896.1cc V-twin motor that powers the Dorsoduro is same as the one doing duties on the new Shiver 900, albeit changes to the engine mapping. Pumping out 93.9bhp of power at 8,750rpm and 90Nm of torque at 6,500rpm, it’s not exactly a slouch for a 900cc machine, but the way the power delivery is calibrated, it leaves a lot to be desired. One thing for sure, the jittery throttle response found on the 1200 is no more there but it has been replaced by a slightly lazy and laggy throttle. It is great for beginners starting out on a supermoto or trudging along the city traffic, but it’s not so appealing when one whacks open the throttle climbing out of a hairpin bend and doesn’t get that surge of power, sending the front wheel pointing skywards. Nah. It just doesn’t do it for such a well-mannered machine to be in the hands of a not-so-well-mannered motorcycle journalist then. The power delivery is rather sedate for our liking on a supermoto machine but certainly a lot more forgiving and manageable for somebody who isn’t looking for his jollies on a motorcycle or lacks comprehensive medical insurance. With the Dorsoduro 900, Aprilia has made the supermoto game as comfortable as an old shoe. More help coming from the electronic aids like ride-by-wire, ABS and a three-stage traction control with three riding modes – Sport, Tour and Rain – all come in handy to keep things further in check when riding in difficult conditions. Biggest change is the addition of the all-new Marelli 7 SM ECU which is about half a kilo lighter than the older unit found on the outgoing Dorsoduro 750 and is the most up-to-date system that is also found working on Aprilia’s flagship RSV4 and the Tuono. While the Sport mode lets go all 94 ponies, the Tour mode makes the throttle response more lazy and delayed but with more torque coming through the lower rev-range. In the Rain mode the output is cut to a near-pedestrian 70 horses and the throttle response too is relaxed. Thankfully for those who like it more analogue and less digital, all of these aids can be fully turned off when at standstill and they are based on an in-built memory, so they don’t return to a default setting even after restarting the ignition. Thumbs up. Also, while most of my colleagues complained about the way the Dorsoduro looks, I must admit that out on the road at traffic light junctions and amidst the crawling speeds, the Dorsoduro is an eyeball grabber and a head turner. Maybe because most people haven’t seen a supermoto styled motorcycle on our streets. Either way, it works, as it intrigues almost anybody and everybody surrounding it.
So after a great morning stint of over 150km that included mostly corners and some traffic clogged roads getting back into the city, the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 had left me confused more than any other motorcycle ever has. Confused because, while it packs in great handling and upright ergonomics for supermoto riding to get the tail out and wild, it misses out on crucial bits so essential for a naked supermoto hooligan. For instance, there is no slipper clutch (ever-so-essential for supermoto riding) and the gearbox is a bit notchy during down shifts. And finding the neutral is probably harder than finding yourself on the hot-seat of Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Maybe that was too brash, but you get the point. And then there are those brakes which get Aprilia branding but are essentially Brembo’s radially-mounted four-pot calipers with twin 320mm floating discs upfront and a 240mm disc on the rear with a single-pot caliper. While they provide good feel on the lever, the bite needs to be better and the intrusion from the ABS mechanism could be less. With the ABS off, things got a bit better on the braking side of things. Also with better tyres (read Bridgestone Battlax) instead of the stock Dunlop Qualifier rubber on both ends, the overall braking and corner-grip on the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 would get a significant boost.
For a motorcycle that costs a whopping Rs 13.84 lakh (ex-showroom, Pune) it is the second-most expensive, non-faired, sub-litre (top honours go to the MV Agusta Brutale 800). The Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 needs a shot in the arm called the CKD route, if it has to hold its ground in the segment of naked hooligan machines in India. With the newly launched Triumph Street Triple 765 RS priced a whole lot cheaper and packing better equipment and more horsepower and then the soon-to-be-launched new Ducati Hypermotard, the Aprilia will find it tough to fight it out. The Aprilia Dorsoduro does everything right as an exotic everyday motorcycle. But there are plenty of options in that space that do it better or equally well and at a better price-point. Exotic or not. Add to that, some also boast of a better service network, which is a big worry for buyers in this segment of motorcycles.
There is a lot of ground that Aprilia has to cover if it wants to ply in the premium space in India, and the Dorsoduro 900 isn’t the best tool for the task. But it sure is a swiss army knife that can do everyday commutes in traffic-clogged streets without burning your calves, go on those weekend tail out rides on popular biker jaunts and even take you to the race-track and be fun there too.