First ride: Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally review

Aprilia's Rally version of the Caponord 1200 ticks all the right boxes, but is it enough to compete with the KTM 1190 Adventure and Ducati Multistrada?

I ALWAYS ask myself why I don’t see more Aprilias on the road. Most of the modern ones I’ve ridden have been exceptionally good.

The RSV4 has won just about every group test I can think of in the last five years and super nakeds don’t come much more super than the V4 Tuono. And I won’t even begin to mention how much I appreciate the older V-twin version.

The new Caponord Rally is rather good too - even if it is just a dressed-up version of the standard Capo with some off-road mod cons.

The standard bike’s cast alloy wheels have been replaced with new spoked rims and a larger 19-inch front wheel. Hard panniers now come fitted as standard, along with engine crash bars, LED fog lights and three new colour schemes unique to the model.

I’m not entirely sure why, but the standard Capo always got grief for being a bit of a minger. I’ll be extremely surprised if people say the same about the Rally. Its new trinkets give it a much more focused look, a bit more presence, and in 'Army Green' finish I think it looks rather dashing.

It sounds great too. Most modern bikes are fitted with exhausts systems that strangle the engine and prioritise emissions over sound - not the Aprilia. The Caponord Rally’s can is all about the noise. The low-slung unit belts out an aggressive bark at idle and continues to sing right up to the bike’s redline where it meets an equally pleasant induction whine.

And that’s not the only reason to explore the redline. The engine is stonkingly good. An 1197cc V-twin putting out 125hp and of torque is never going to be slow but grunt doesn’t always mean exciting power delivery. If at one end of my imaginary engine excitement scale is the Suzuki V-Strom 1000, which has a slow-revving motor almost completely devoid of any top end punch, and at the more desirable end of the spectrum is KTM’s 1290 lump, then the Caponord’s engine sits impressively close to the Austrian’s offering.

There’s power just about everywhere in the rev range and, thanks to a redesigned exhaust system, the Rally doesn’t suffer from the low speed hesitancy you find on a standard Caponord.

All that useable power is kept in check by an electronics package that is, for the most part, taken from Aprilia’s own RSV4. Anyone who’s ever ridden an RSV4 will know that’s a good thing. 

There’s no fancy wheelie control or ‘rear wheel lift mitigation’ a la RSV4, but there is a ride-by-wire throttle with three riding modes and three-stage traction control.

Some bikers see rider aids as a sort of motorcycle blasphemy but the Aprilia’s electronics package is so well integrated and cuts in so subtly you’d do well to know it was even there. Most of the time, the only giveaway is the red traction control warning light that flashes when you start giving it the beans.

On the highest level, the traction control is somewhat too eager on dry roads. Driving out of corners with the throttle pinned at the world press launch in Sardinia, I could feel the system shortchanging me on some of the bike's midrange, even when there was more than enough grip to lay it down. Level one and two are betted suited for spirited riding, giving you just the right amount of power without letting things get out of hand. The system can also be switched off for off-road riding.

There are three power modes, with Sport offering the sharpest throttle response, followed by Touring mode, and Rain which has a similar power delivery to Touring but limits power to 100hp. Unlike the traction control system, riding modes can be changed on the fly.

At 238kg dry, I wasn’t expecting much from the Caponord Rally in terms of handling but it turned out to be one of the bike’s most impressive features. The trellis frame and chassis geometry felt equally suited to upright stability for long motorway stints as it did through corners. The Rally tips onto the sides of its tyres with astonishing ease, made even easier by the wide flat bars that offer leverage you simply can’t find on sports bikes.

And it’s not as though our press bikes had been tweaked with perfect suspension settings either. As on the stock Caponord, the Rally comes with Semi-active Sachs suspension front and rear. All you have to do is ride and the bike’s onboard computer continually changes damping rates to find that perfect balance between comfort and performance. It’s not substantially better than a well set-up conventional suspension system, but it takes all of the guess work out of getting the best performance from your forks and shock. 

And although the Rally has spoked wheels and a larger 19-inch front wheel for superior off-road prowess, it’s fitted with road-biased tyre profiles meaning there’s a tonne of grip to be had from the stock Metzeler Tourance Nexts. 

The bike also has a fairly menacing looking brake setup, with ABS fitted as standard. Two four-piston monoblock calipers sit up front resting on large 320mm discs joined by a single-piston caliper at the rear. There’s loads of stopping power to be had but my test bike also had a relatively spongy lever. I got used to it eventually but the lack of feel remained throughout the day, making my braking relatively jerky at times.

It’s not all about performance though. The Rally is just as much about offering long distance comfort, which is why Aprilia has fitted cruise control, two 33-litre capacity panniers, an electronic rear pre-load adjuster as standard, and an extremely comfortable seat with an alcantara-style finish.

There’s also a screen that can be adjusted by loosening a couple of knobs. I found on the highest setting it did a good job of reducing the amount of wind buffeting around my helmet.

Perhaps what concerned me the most was fuel efficiency. Or lack of it. Granted, fuel gauges on motorcycles are notoriously inaccurate but the Rally was showing only one bar remaining from its large 24-litre tank after 100 miles. Assuming it went 160 miles before the low fuel light, that’s still only 30mpg. 

A quick glance on the net reveals owners of the standard Caponord 1200, which uses the same engine, are getting anything from 25-35mpg. 

I was also slightly disappointed to find that the 'sump guard’ was actually just a plastic belly pan, and that a centre stand and heated grips are optional extras.

As with most bikes, the Caponord Rally’s biggest issue is its competition. At £13,999 it costs exactly the same as a KTM 1190 Adventure and over £1,000 more than the base model Ducati Multistrada

That’s not to say that it can’t compete, but anything going up against those two offerings is going to have a tough fight on its hands.

Watch our video review of the Caponord Rally

Model tested: Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally

Price: £13,999 plus on-the-road charges

Engine: 1,197cc V-twin

Power: 125hp @ 8,000rpm

Torque: 84.8lbft @ 6,800rpm

Dry weight: 238kg

Tank capacity: 24 litres

Seat height: 840mm

Colours: Green, yellow, grey

Availability: March 2015

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