Rated – Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally

Super-succesful sports and race bike manufacturer’s much forgotten adventure bike, the Caponord, steps up a gear, adopts a rally outfit and asks to be taken seriously as an adventure bike. Is it?

It’d be a stretch to label Aprilia’s Caponord an un-sung hero. It’s nothing of the sort and this despite lurking around quietly in the background for 15 years now. The Capo rightly commands a decent following and there are plenty of happy owners around, not to mention a few disgruntled possessors of the original 2000-2004 model.

In original form it was an entry into the adventure bike market from the Italian sports and race bike manufacturer using its tried and tested 1000cc Rotax-derived V90 twin cylinder engine in essentially a sport tourer chassis with longer legs. Slightly too soft the basic suspension let it down and, sadly, some quality control issues with electrical and fuel pipe connectors caused some headaches for owners.

A hop, skip forward to 2013 and Aprilia came back with a much more impressive Caponord 1200, albeit in much the same basic design as previously – the road-based V90 engine shoe-horned from its road bike range into a sport touring chassis again with longer legs a good deal more attitude, not to mention greater promise.

The old 1000cc Caponord I first rode in 2000 followed dutifully in the wheel tracks of the BMW GS and Honda Varadero – the adventure bike market had yet to get exciting! I was entrenched in a road bike magazine at the time I didn’t have the editorial place to test the Capo off-road. Besides, my old mate crashed it and broke his leg before we had much of a test. Still, the bare bones are the same in 2015 on this Rally model as they were then: a very strong road bike engine borrowed from its road bike siblings in a taller, more practical adventure chassis.

In the current guise the Caponord is still bold but not over-stated like so many Aprilia models are. The Rally looks good doesn’t it? I’m not a big fan of gold (Aprilia call it ‘yellow dune’ but I’m calling gold) but I like the sportsbike-aping top fairing and the styling. The Rally’s also available in ‘army green’ and ‘safari grey’ and they’re all classy matt colours.

The Caponord sits with machines like BMW’s 1000XR, Ducati’s Multistrada and KTM’s 1090 in being a little more manageable and a bit less ‘tanky’.

Let’s be honest the standard Capo is a sports tourer. A very good one but certainly a bike that shies away from dirt like cats runs from bathtubs. The problem is the people riding it want adventure and, dare they ask, even some off-road riding. Make a bike capable enough and people will want to go places and travel. Simple.

Aprilia realised its terrible error (or maybe they just saw a marketing opportunity?) and arrived back in 2015 with a capable answer to those more adventurous riders, many of whom proudly admit they “don’t want a BMW or KTM” but do want some of the adventure spec. Well, you got it: tubeless wire-spoked wheels (17-in rear, 19-in front), crash bars, 33-litre panniers, bash plate, auxiliary LED lights and a taller manually adjustable windscreen is the list of ‘cosmetic’ differences between the standard 1200 and this Rally model. There are tweaks to the traction and ABS as well to accommodate off-road action. It’s a short list containing some of the right bolt-on elements to turn essentially a sport touring bike into an adventure bike.

The aluminum lined panniers you get as standard are big at 33 litres and take some thinking about in heavy traffic. They’re handy of course (though they leak like all panniers) but are at the top end of the size scale for my personal needs.

The shame is they hide a slender rear-end to the Caponord which is something of a rarity on adventure bikes. In fact it is a small bike by comparison to the Super Adventure or GS Adventure and you notice that side-by-side with its bigger, more adventurous rivals. Their large capacity fuel tanks see to that. The Caponord sits with machines like BMW’s 1000XR, Ducati’s Multistrada and KTM’s 1090 in being a little more manageable and a bit less ‘tanky’. A low seat height (just over 800mm) helps here and there’s a lower seat option too.

The Road Ride

Although we like to spend time standing up on bikes here at Brake, generally the Caponord Rally is a simple bike to sit on and live with and though these things are boring as a train-spotters notebook, they are really important to get right. If things stand out and get on your nerves, then something’s wrong. If everything is simple, easy to use and unnoticed then Aprilia designers have done their job well. In this case they have.

You’d be numb from the neck up not to be impressed by the way the 1197cc, twin engine makes its claimed 125bhp and 85lb ft of torque.

You should know from the outset the Aprilia Caponord Rally is built and designed as a fast road bike with adventure looks more than adventure credentials – you may well have figured that one for yourself already. It’s not uncommon and isn’t really a critical point if you’re Aprilia. Plenty of people, especially in Europe, don’t do off-road and Aprilia isn’t alone catering for them. It doesn’t mean you can’t have an adventure of course.

So it has the looks and at least some of the bolt-ons needed for a ‘go anywhere’ bike but does it go anywhere? It sure goes for it if you yank on the throttle. Although not up there with the most powerful of bikes around like the KTM Super Adventure or BMW S1000XR it has a healthy dose of torque which’ll satisfy most people’s needs for speed. Like all good bikes of this type should it covers ground rapidly and easily and thoughtlessly in fact.

You’d be numb from the neck up not to be impressed by the way the 1197cc, twin engine makes its claimed 125bhp and 85lb ft of torque. The Rally model is slightly de-tuned to give it that BMW GS1200 matching 125bhp figure, Aprilia says it in the modified exhaust. But two years down the line since the standard Caponord 1200 was launched they’ve tweaked the electronic aids to help the more adventurous rider go anywhere with a little more safety on hand at the click of a button or two.

Aprilia developed (with Sachs) the Caponord Rally’s Dynamic Damping system which proudly promises “less stress”. You know what, believe the PR hyperbole because it delivers less stress. I’m not too sure if the stress-free notion is aimed at the rider, the tyres or the bike as a whole but the suspension system is every bit the match for other intelligent systems on the current crop of motorcycles.

What does it do? The suspension simply acts in real time to bumps braking or accelerating with more or less damping – it reacts to stiffen up the forks or shock absorber to minimize movement. Depending on how you release the throttle, accelerate, brake or use constant throttle, ADD and all its algorithms tells the suspension to either relax or adopt the brace position.

KTM’s Super Adventure and its Bosch system, for example, does the same job of simply working, being there and reliably being comfortable most the time and supportive when you brake or accelerate. The Aprilia/Sachs system is very much a match for it. The aim of both is to let you get on riding.

I am a natural cynic of these things, a luddite some would say. I can easily adopt a “why do I need that, why can’t they just make good suspension?” attitude but I must be honest and say I rode the Caponord for around 100miles without touching any buttons or changing settings and felt perfectly happy with the standard ‘switched on’ set-up.

It’s far from being all about ratting about like a maniac though. The Caponord Rally cruises overland well enough. Cruising is something the cruise control does easily, it couldn’t be simpler than pushing a button once to activate it then again to set a speed. I must admit I did have random long stretches where I simply couldn’t set it. 90 per cent of the time it was perfectly easy but every now and then found myself pressing the button repeatedly for miles trying in vain to make it work with different length presses of the button. I’m no great one for cruise control but with so many average speed sensors controlling stretches of British roads it is a useful tool to simply click on and not worry about offending the law. If you can make it work every time, although I’m still in doubt if it was me or not.

Pretty early on I rolled the handle bars forward from their daft as a brush standard position, removed the footrest rubbers to make the pegs wider, lower and grippier and simply rode the Caponord with everything electronic ‘on’. The point it proved early to me was that this system with all its electronic cleverness doing its unnoticed business really does just get on and makes little difference to normal riding.

There’s little more ‘normal’ than Metzler’s Tourance Next tyres. Standard across many ADV bikes with their predictable profile and performance you can change lines, lean more or generally feel confident across most corners any road throws at you. They help complete the confident chassis package on the road.

Being impatient and slightly juvenile I eventually got increasingly giddy accelerating out the corners, mainly through enjoyment of the torque power as much as trying to feel the suspension doing its thing. Try even moderately and the Aprilia Traction Control (ATC) can easily get in the way, cutting in, curbing the power and limiting drive. Even when there’s enough grip the ‘3’ setting is curbing power for reasons known only to itself. I used the ‘2’ just once to prove it was, as you’d expect, a halfway house. Skipping straight to option ‘1’ proved more than adequate if you use your throttle hand in a thoughtful manner. The subtle way the ATC intervenes helps you use all the power available whatever the setting, without too much of a care. Even if you try hard on the gas you can feel the dip in power you’re expecting but it doesn’t come with any great aggression. The only real sign you have is the flashing red light on the instrument cluster. There’s also the option of ‘0’ which turns the ATC off and I must admit, though more aggressive, it was way more fun and where I ran much of my time on the bike.

The ride-by-wire throttle has three mode and traction settings respectively. Sport, touring and rain modes limit power with rain, as ever offering a very careful 100bhp limiting dose of V-power. Limiting the power that much makes sense off-road, particularly when the going is wet and you haven’t got the most grippy tyres in the world to rely on. Limiting things right down and selecting ATC ‘3’ gives you little to worry about apart from losing the grip sideways but I must admit I left the power up and the traction off most the time.

My last point about all this electrikery (promise) is that it struck me as slightly odd was whether you needed half of it anyway. With traction set to ‘0’ and with such a good suspension system and chassis you have to actually want to make a wheelie to make it happen. Trying hard to lift the front wheel has always seemed pointless to me but I like a nice little power wheelie out of a corner like the next kid. Accelerate full-throttle out of a slowish corner and the active suspension does such a great job of holding the wheel on the deck and helping the rear grip and drive it seems pointless to have other rider aids to rely upon. It’s clever stuff.

The Caponord has the dubious distinction of having the worst tank range of any large capacity bike we’ve yet tested at Brake.

After I tweaked the bars, rode for a bit more, faffed with buttons and tried to figure out what different modes felt like, rode some more and generally began to suss the Capo Rally out I suddenly noticed a funny flashing yellow light on the dashboard. It couldn’t be fuel light coming on with just 150 miles showing on the clock could it? It was, surprisingly. The 24 litre tank was showing its inadequacies within the first tank range. Yes, yes, yes, I know I’d spent half a tank yanking the throttle to test the suspension and traction reactions but this was by no means a one-off. The best I managed in a week’s riding was 162miles before the light came on and while a five litre reserve is a pretty handy amount not many of us try to push that buffer very far. Most of us go to the next station we see don’t we? When I did try and push it I got to 180 miles riding with a steady throttle and ever-worried glances at the fuel trip counting up the miles I’d clocked since the light came on. Whatever games of fuel roulette you like to play the Caponord has the dubious distinction of having the worst tank range of any large capacity bike we’ve yet tested at Brake.

It’s a hot bugger too. Off and on the road when riding was slow, the mighty engine pump out a fair dose of heat at my feet and lower legs, despite it being a moderate 20-25 degrees ambient most the time we had the Rally on test.

Another common thread across this fleet of bikes is the blindingly good bog standard braking system. Brembo has the market largely sewn-up with its twin piston, radial, monoblock calipers on 320mm discs and there’s little to say about them except they work, they have feel to be subtle on the dirt and are bloody effective at making a bike stop in a short space of time in grippy conditions.

The riding position is comfy enough although I did get a sore arse after a long day in the saddle. A slightly flatter, wider profile on a seat might help me personally as I rarely get on well with the scooped-out profile like this. The adjustable screen (another difference between this and the standard model) is easy to use though best adjusted at standstill. It doesn’t quite go high enough to get rid of buffeting for me so I’d be looking at an aftermarket one with a bit more height if this were my bike.

There aren’t too many physical ‘extras’ on the Capo, and by that I mean little pockets for stowing money/credit cards/sweets or a 12v socket for you’re gadgets. It’s all pretty pared-down in that regard. You can get heated grips but otherwise things aren’t as bells and whistles as some bikes on the market. It could surely do with a centre stand as standard too. It’s one of those things you absolutely don’t need until you do and then you really do. Like when you want to lube the chain for example.

One cool aspect we haven’t tested here but would love to is the option for plugging iPhones in to act as separate digital display. The Aprilia app can give you all sorts of data from the bike about consumption, temperatures, revs, speeds – we’d love to test it.

Off-road

Taking the Caponord Rally to the dirt felt a little bit of a step initially. I felt like the Capo was asking with some typically Italian body language: ‘what are we doing?’ A short blast up a gravel track later when we bust out onto a nicely dampened but not wet, wide-open dirt road and those initial worries were blown away. With the bars turned up into a useful higher position and the footrest rubbers removed the riding position feels spot on, surprisingly so in all honestly. More than that the throttle response, despite that hugely powerful V90 motor, is a light and smooth one. Along the similarly light clutch, life at low revs and slow speed is surprisingly easy and the Caponord Rally welcomes it. Ideally you want better tyres of course, Metzeler’s Tourance Next tyres pay for their road prowess by being a limiting factor off-road.

You could argue a tooth lower gearing on the rear sprocket would help with real slow riding. But otherwise this is a sweeter bike to ride than you expect, even on slightly more technical going.

That power delivery is a bonus though. Accommodating at low speeds but quite obviously with so much power on tap it is lively if you ask for it. The throttle delivers a linear, ever-increasing amount of power which is real positive off-road and it helps you ride at your level. The only thing limiting me having more fun on that lovely wide track was the tyre grip.

Where it lets itself down, and where Aprilia nails its true colours to the mast, are with some fundamental problems with the bike design which stop it working as well as it could off-road. For a start it gets pretty hot when you’re not moving very fast. It’s the same on-road but you certainly notice it around your ankles and feet on the dirt. It doesn’t affect it performance-wise but it does affect the human riding it with all that engine heat kicking out.

There isn’t enough room for my size 11 feet either. The large and low rear silencer sits too close so my heel was standing on it and the footrest, restricting movement of my foot.  On the left side the gear change linkage is a work of art, intricate, clever and effective at its purpose but the many facets to its design push the ankle out wide and, again, get in the way. It all looks a bit vulnerable there too should you fall over.

Similarly the sidestand and its switch all jut out rather than tuck out the way as you’d like and in any kind of ruts they’re begging to clatter the ground, potentially stopping the bike from running if you break the said switch.

Ground clearance is low too. I noticed it on-road at first as I leant over hard into some cracking corners my foot scraped the ground earlier than expected. Off-road it’s an obvious drawback and while it didn’t hold me back too much it does make you think twice about where you can take the Rally. That is a limiting factor therefore and is a major way the Caponord is distinct from, say, any of the KTM Adventure bike range which clearly have those aspects thought out. They also have stronger bashplates as a rule too – the Capo’s plastic one is large and not a bad ‘cover’ but I don’t imagine it would take too much effort to break it given the ground clearance issue.

What I’d like to see is all this fancy suspension account for the ground clearance. Surely an off-road mode which raises the bike’s height to a decent level to help it work off-road is possible? Now that would be something.

Conclusion

Why would you opt for an Aprilia Caponord over any other adventure bike? It’s a good question. Because you want something different is the first answer I can think of. While it strikes a very similar chord to other bikes in this road-biased bit of the adventure market the Capo Rally has distinct looks and feel that set it apart.

As you’d expect from a manufacturer which specialises so much in road racing and Tarmac-based motorcycles it is a very accomplished road bike. Travelling long distances on the road is a breeze, it’s a time efficient tool for the job. It’s not economical mind you. The tank range is a let down and certainly breaks up high mileage days too often, although my arse was grateful.

A surefire positive is the way it’ll handle any kind of road at any kind of speed you care for and really that is its huge selling point. I found it wasn’t limited by any road and with great handling I hope you’d find it welcoming whatever you’re experience or riding level.

Off-road is important to us at Brake and the Rally is a good bike waiting to be tailored for the job, rather than a great bike on the dirt straight out the crate. It’s an easy bike to ride in so many ways and novice-friendly too: light feeling, soft throttle and clutch delivery all stand in its favour.

It needs more ground clearance though, plus a smaller silencer, that gear linkage and sidestand position need tidying out the way. Some of these things are easily sorted, though they cost extra of course. But the stand and gear linkage issues are more difficult to solve. Hard off-road riding isn’t the Rally’s goal in life and as far as steady trail riding on tracks and trails is concerned you’ll find it an easy bike to hit the dirt with.

Would I want one? No. Sorry Aprilia. Lovely road bike though it is, its not good enough off-road and that detracts from it’s overall skills for me. If I wanted to save several thousand pounds or dollars (depending on where you’re reading this) over a KTM Super Adventure I’d opt to save a few more and buy something more capable, possibly smaller and lighter. And certainly something more economical.

The problem it has is stiff competition in this price range of adventure bikes, no matter what you’re perspective on what actually makes an adventure bike. You can have brilliant adventures on KTM’s 1190 Adventure, BMW S1000XR and Ducati Multistrada. Slightly different horses though they all are they compete for the same riders. Which would you buy?

Learn more about the Caponord by clicking here.

Crafted By

Jonathan Pearson
Former Features Editor

JP is a master of many tricks. Working as a bike journalist, he's been testing, analysing and writing about on and off-road motorcycles for various UK magazines, both as a staffer and a freelance journalist, since the nineties. Testing everything from Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP bike through sportsbikes, commuter bikes and, of course many, many miles on adventure bikes. JP has also spent much of his life competing at up to International level in trials, enduro, extreme enduro, circuit racing and hillclimbing. He also instructs at the Off Road Skills motorcycle training school, coaching and encouraging people in the ways of riding adventure bikes. Also a fan of vegetables and sea products.

Rated - Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally
First class chassis, brakes and suspension. Average fuel range and limited off-road skills hold it back.
Engine9
Suspension/Chassis9
Brakes9
Comfort7
Economy7
Off Road Ability6
Positivity
  • Superb engine and chassis combination
Negativity
  • Fuel economy, flawed off-road
7.8Overall Rating
Reader Rating: (75 Votes)
3.3
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