The 2003 Aprilia Caponord is hooning along at 70kph, the front Metzler Tourance hunting though a greasy emulsification of talcum dust to which nature has added water, and logging trucks have stirred. Picking up the Caponord from Carter Motorsports I’d made all the usual utterances, “It looks to have an 80% road bias, so we’ll respect it and only do some minimal dirt testing.” So why is it 95% of our ride shots have ended up being the big traillie splashing through potholes?
The Aprilia is feels as good here as the hopelessly scarred, rutted, and potholed construction zone formerly known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway. That has me wondering if the Caponord and its adventure brethren aren’t the best bikes for B.C.’s roads… dirt and paved.
The Aprilia’s off-road aspirations have caught me off guard and captivated me. Maybe because at first glance one thinks the Caponord shouldn’t be as good on logging and fire roads as it is. Yes, it’s tall, at 6″2′ I’m perfectly comfortable on it. It’s top-heavy feeling too, and the 215kg mass combined with a relatively tall 820mm (32 inch) seat height will give smaller riders a tussle on road or even paddling about parking lots.
No, the Caponord shouldn’t be as good on the dirt as it is. Yet, here I am, an off-road “noob”, playing in the muck. Long traveling suspension paired with wire-spoked wheels, using tubeless tires, does the job of soaking up the ruts, bumps and potholes. The Metzler Tourance are finding traction in the mud and gravel. And as testament to the Aprilia’s capability I’m taking in the scenery and playing like a two year-old in mud puddles after ten minutes, and hardly a thought of dropping this big beast has passed.
True, I’m not as comfortable standing as on the BMW R1200GS. The Caponord’s centre of gravity is a bit higher, and the bar lock makes U-Turns a cautious affair, but the Caponord is still good fun and proves exceptionally confident. Here on the back-roads it feels like a missing link between the V-Strom and the R1200GS Adventure… and that’s pretty good company. As with any of the big trailies, I’d suggest
always riding the back roads with friends. Preferably strong ones, should the Caponord go down you’ll need the help lifting it.
A bike of two-worlds, the Caponord’s flexibility doesn’t end when tires touch tarmac. On a favorite sweeper rising out of Britannia, I open the Caponord up. Suddenly the Audi A4 who’s been pacing me backs off… quickly. I only realize in hindsight that this isn’t entirely due to the acceleration, the Aprilia’s on-road handling has me near dragging a hang-low bag. If you’re a lean-monkey these could eventually touch down – but likely not before the center-stand or pegs. That lean-angle “limitation” is a small price to pay for being able to take it with you… all of 64 litres of it. It looks far more impressive to see the Caponord pull this sort of lean than it feels, and apparently it intimidates traffic. Or maybe that’s just the bike’s pugnacious boxer looks, which are a great big step into design’s wilds.
Making running twists at pace an easy affair is the Aprilia’s precise and stable double-wishbone chassis… only on long high-speed sweepers does a bit of big-trailie weave creep in – a function of the long traveling suspension. Tied to the Rotax’s venerable 60-degree 998cc V-twin, putting out 73kW (97.8hp) at 8250rpm and a grunting 98Nm (72 ft-lbs) of torque at 6250rpm, the handling makes for a giddy, grin inducing combination. Slew into the corners, change lines, roll on the throttle, load the suspension and power out quickly. The Caponord loves this game. Working to your advantage is leverage from wide bars that let you pitch back and forth between corners in a way that no comfy couch should. It’s a recipe for taking the Tourances to the edge and grinding away the low-hung pegs.
Settle into touring mode and the engine lets you drift along at 4000RPM to 5500RPM in continent crossing style. Should you decide to put the Caponord through it’s paces you’ll find a deceptively flat torque curve, with pull developing from about 3500RPM through to 8500, where the Campo starts to feel out of breath. Below the 3500 mark you can feel twin-hammering through bike and bars and the fuel injection snatches and surges when rolling on and off throttle – easy enough just to up-shift and feather the clutch to smooth things out making use of the gutsy torque.
If you feel the need to lay claim to exotic fame, and why not, you’re on an Aprilia, the engine is a detuned version of the one found in the Mille. For aggressive riding, anything past 6000RPM produces good results. It misses the Mille’s sinister spark and out right go, with the massive outrigger bags on the Caponord runs out of steam by 185kph on a long uphill run. This engine isn’t as enthusiastic as the V-Strom or KTM units, being slower revving, but it’s extremely usable matching the Caponord’s versatile nature – and miles smoother than the R1200GS. If you’re seeking a litre twin soundtrack however you’d best consider aftermarket pipes, or learn to love the noise of Jetson’s hover-car after a bad tune up. The latter option is best, as the engine note will be less wearing over hours in the plush saddle. Given the 25-litre tank makes for a range of 375-400 kilometers, so you could see a lot of territory and saddle time.
If there’s one thing the Caponord has sorted, it’s the creature comforts. The seating position is relaxed, and the wide-set bars come back far enough to require no weight on the wrists. The broad shouldered front fairing and tank cutouts provide good weather and mud protection for your lower body and hands respectively. The windscreen provides a good smooth and quiet flow despite being unadjustable, Suzuki should be taking notes for the V-Strom on this one. The mirrors provide excellent rearwards vision and are mounted in breast shaped housings so you feel a bit perverse polishing them. There’s even a power outlet there for those using a heated vest, though it uses a automotive plug rather than the smaller near industry standard BMW adaptor. Like any good two-up wonder or touring beast of burden the rear preload is easily adjusted via a remote knob.
If the commodious luggage isn’t enough, you can pop off the pillion seat and use the luggage plate underneath to bungee-strap down a duffle. Is this Italian design gone practical? Well, yes. There are of course wrinkles; the bags, for example, are fiddly to open. The lever system stumped us initially, but for pianists in the crowd removal should be a one handed affair. That’s offset by the convenience offered by the fact that they clip onto the racks without any need for the key.
I’ve headed out on a night ride, throwing the Capo through the twists. The low-beams really seem setup for a full load of luggage, dropping off in the corners, but flick on the highs and you get to watch the traffic veer away. Firing enthusiastically into a dark turn, something I’m not likely to try on a sportbike in near freezing weather, I give the right lever a solid squeeze. Braking is soft after a strong initial bite from the twin-pot floating Brembo calipers on 300mm discs up front, but makes for a disconcerting amount of fork dive.
Best then to use the rear a in good trail bike fashion to moderate speed – it’s well suited to the task, a relatively large 272mm disk paired with a single-pistoned caliper. Rolling on past the apex, I clunk through the ratios. The Caponord’s a bit industrial when it comes to shifting; a heavy hydraulic clutch lever and notchy but positive transmission feels overbuilt. For an Adventure Tourer though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Since it’s world appearance in 2002 and Canadian introduction a year later I’ll profess a level of curiosity regarding the Caponord, invoked by the strange design ethos at work and the whiff of exclusivity about it. Exotic often means trouble, but a quick poll of those on the Aprilia forums shows that 77% of Caponord owners would buy the bike again. A twist of the throttle and concerns of service department woes fall off the rear seat caught off guard by a smooth surge of torque and acceleration. Parts availability should be less of a problem than in the past, now that Canadian Scooter Corporation has Aprilia’s back and dealerships have stabilized a bit.
Picking up a bike with the looks and pedigree of Paris Hilton after she’s been given a firm shove into a door, I was dubious of the Caponord. Expecting a dimwitted do-nothing heiress to the Aprilia thrown, instead I found a bike game for adventure. From the first moments adjusting the brake lever on the fly while riding down the sidewalk and off the curb. To scything through traffic, strafing the twisties, and cavorting along gravel roads
the Caponord brings it all together with Italian flair wrapped around a thumping Austrian Rotax heart. That could make the Aprilia Caponord an exceptional second bike, an exotic for two-up touring with a dash of adventure touring… One where flexibility and comfort may slowly see your “second bike” becomes
Info: Demo Unit as tested Provided by Carter Motorsports