I love Italian bikes, that's common knowledge to anyone that knows me. I'm the guy who likes to try and be a bit different. I endured two decades of pisstake for wearing turn-ups, but I liked them. Perhaps mostly because it made my jeans different, and therefore a little bit better than everyone else's. And now everyone is at it - Pah. With Italian bikes though there's something special about trusting in the less well known. The passion and heritage of Italian automotive engineering is legendary, but so too is the bandwagon that the masses jump on - unreliability. But frankly that's a load of shite, spouted by people who don't know what they're talking about. The same armchair and keyboard commentary that folk the world over use to make themselves sound more knowledgeable. In 2009 I bought two Japanese built Yamaha XTZ750s for a planned globetrotting adventure. They both shat themselves in quick succession so I turned to eBay and picked up a Cagiva Gran Canyon - video here - for £1500. It had no service history and I wasn't sure that the seller was particularly wholesome, but it turned out to be the most reliable bike I've ever owned. It carried me 15,000 kms around Europe and then was abused for two seasons in the UK Hooligan Flat Track Championship. Not once has it failed to start, not even the slightest hint of unreliability. The only parts that ever failed were the brakes and a regulator, both Japanese made components. For the record I also test rode an Aprilia Pegaso and tried to find an affordable Caponord prior to the Cagiva purchase. Years later I had a Moto Guzzi V35C which I customised. That could be left in the rain for months on end and it would fire into life on command. I also had a Guzzi Stelvio 1200, again, bought very cheap off the eBay thanks to the lack of any evidence of maintenance. That was one of the best bikes I've owned too, and I'd have another tomorrow. Lucky you could say. No, I disagree. Over the last 30 years I've taken loads and loads and loads of things apart, and on occasion put some of them back together and I'm still a massive fan of Italian engineering. A fine nation that manufactures some of the finest machinery on the planet. Starting a bike review talking about reliability isn't perhaps what the nice man from Aprilia is expecting but my point is that choosing a new bike for yourself should be based on what you like, not what some ill informed twat down the pub reckons, or your conservative mate who rides Beemers. I've always liked Aprilias, and wish I'd owned a few. A Biaggi rep RS250 would be nice, ooww, and a Tuareg 600. I like the fact that until recently, when the Piaggio Group swallowed-up Aprilia, it was just a tiny factory, based near Venice, punching well above its weight. Back in the day Biaggi, Rossi, Caprirossi, Lorenzo, Bautista and Melandri all won World GP Championships on Aprilias and from 2010-2014 the Aprilia RSV4 won the WSBK title three times. They've also taken the Supermoto crown three times thanks to their 450cc v-twin powered SXV. A bike that on paper makes no sense at all. Why try and reinvent the wheel? A single cylinder power plant is what everyone else used in Supermoto and it must have cost a fortune to develop the SXV. But thank god they did. Have you ever heard one run in anger? The soundtrack is wonderful. And that sums up why I like Italian bikes the most, they dare to be a bit different and are hugely rewarding for the rider as a result. So as you can imagine, I was more than happy to say yes to an invite to test the whole Piaggio Group fleet. Often with press launches and events a whole day is spent on a single bike, which is great when you jell with one but not ideal if you can't wait to get off the thing. We had the pick of the bunch, including scooters, for hour-long slots. I figured there'd be enough time to try four; the Aprilia Dorsoduro & Shiver 900, the Moto Guzzi V85TT and the Tuono V4 Factory. First up was the Doroduro, a bike that I'd often courted on eBay. I do have a life, but a big part for nearly two decades has been this font of bargains, along with it being the perfect vehicle for daydream procrastination. I've bid on a few 750s over the years but never with enough conviction. My flat track pal Westley bought one recently and absolutely loves it. This bang-up-to-date Dorsoduro 900 is a slightly different beast, albeit based on the 750 but with a stroked motor and more refinement for this new generation.
At its heart is a 900cc liquid cooled v-twin, mounted in a handsome trellis frame. There's plenty of motor on show and what bodywork there is has been penned in an aggressive supermoto style. The twin exhausts are tucked-in tight under the rear of the seat and the front mudguard and light unit look angry. Altogether I think it looks better than the similarly specced and designed, but considerably more expensive, Ducati Hypermotard. I've not ridden one of the recent Hypers, or KTM's 790 Duke but if you're in the market for a pointy looking twin for back-road hooliganism then make sure you book a test ride with your Aprilia dealer.
I enjoyed my time on the Dorsoduro 900. Sitting high and on top of it in a commanding position I initially expected it to feel uncomfortable but it was bang on. Ergonomically my feet, hips and hands were in the right places and within 100 meters I felt confident we were going to have a blast together. Straight out from Silverstone circuit on cold tyres and a flik-flak over a couple roundabouts and then straight onto fast, flowing country lanes, I was having a giggle from the off.
The ...cc twin fuels well at low revs and pulls cleanly through to the mid range, delivering a decent wedge of torque along the way to the redline, which arrives a little earlier than you'd think. The TFT dash strobes like a Rimini disco when you're close to the red line goes berserk when you smash the limiter. A little distracting but I think this can be turned off. This urgency is partially to do with the short gearing but also because the engine is so smooth and free from vibes, you just don't notice that it's really revving. If anything it actually feels a touch Germanic and sanitised. An aftermarket pipe would of course deliver more much needed decibels but a smidge more zing would make for more emotive experience. This could be just me though.... the engineers slave over making the smallest improvements to tune-out vibration.
Displacing nearly a litre I was expecting a bit more performance but it's actually quite tame, probably due to having to meet EU4 regs and ever lengthening service intervals. There is 94hp on tap but I suspect the 220kg wet weight is the culprit for slightly dulling the thrill. That said the chassis is great. The Dorsoduro feels solid and planted, an upside of the extra mass. Steering though is light and effortless with wide bars making for minimal inputs. But thanks to the upright riding position and therefore minimal weight being loaded on the wrists, chassis feedback provided enough confidence to carry plenty of corner speed.
The radial Brembos were more than up to the task of scrubbing naughty numbers off the excitable dash and on my short run I couldn't get them to fade. ABS is of course standard and there's traction control for less clement conditions, although I dare say that the predictive and smooth nature of the engine and fuelling could give rise to some fun sliding in the wet. I don't do wheelies, but if I could a flick of the feathlight clutch would have those lovely twin pipes vertical in a flash. But you'll need a crest or decent hump in the road to get the front light under power alone.
I really enjoyed my short date with the Dorsoduro 900. Plenty comfy, fun to ride and not much to gripe or complain about, a rarity for me.
For the full specs and press release bumph - click here
The Shiver 900 is essentially a less shouty Dorsoduro. The chassis and powerplant is the same but with a slightly longer gearing, a more prone riding position and different bodywork. Personally I prefer being upright, it's my happy place. Jumping straight from one to the other and I immediately felt ever so slightly less confident on the Shiver. You sit more in it than on it and there's a touch more weight on the wrists. For some this is ideal but my elbows up, enduro riding style (something the California Superbike School are trying to beat out of me) means I'm pushing and pulling the bars in the wrong plane, numbing feedback through the bars and reducing fearless flickabilty.
Probably an overreaction, the Shiver isn't exactly a cramped sports bike. It's a spirited naked with everything mechanically in the right place but for me personally, to look at, it could be anything. If the badges had been covered and someone had told me it was a Hyosung I'd have believed them. Maybe it was because the matt black bodywork and red frame aren't my thing. Without sugar coating it, I just don't like this type of motorcycle. The MT09, Z900 etc simply aren't my bag either.
Sorry Shiver, I preferred the date from this morning. You might be just as much of a goer, but you're not nearly as pretty.
And then shit got real. The nice man from Aprilia is a drug pusher and persuaded me into taking the Tuono V4 Factory for a blast. I'm no pussy but there's good reason why I didn't allow myself to own bikes during my twenties - I have no self control. After a gloveless, open-face-helmeted three-figure romp on an R1 in the late nineties I decided that proper bikes would guarantee me a cosy date with the Grim Reaper.
I've dabbled a bit in recent years but personally (I'm literally talking about me) I see little point in proper sports bikes, on the road. The clue is in the title, they're for a sport - motorcycle racing. Obviously to many folk I'm talking complete and utter shit, but I like to push the limits of pretty much everything I ride or drive. My limited limits that is. Perhaps I'm destined only for dirt based activities as I like to walk the knife edge of grip, and slide pretty much everything I swing a leg over. I want to experience a machine's ultimate capability as the engineers and test riders intended, not be dictated to by diesel spills, three-wide cycling pelotons, mud dumping tractors and knobheads in cars who've yet to master the indicator stalk.
The caveat to this being that I live in the UK, where it's cramped with too many road users, on roads not designed for motorcycling. When I head to Spain, Italy, France etc the game changes. Hedgerows rarely exist and the road builders' quest to provide access for goods and services to remote communities has inadvertently carved race tracks into huge swathes of mountainous and sparsely populated countryside. If I lived in one of the places I've visited on my travels and press launches I'd definitely have a garage stacked full of race reps.
Another problem with grown-up bikes today is that the electronics packages are so unbelievably good that they flatter their pilots to a ridiculous extent. The Tuono V4 Factory is one such motorcycle. I'll never ever have a hundredth of the skill or experience required to compare myself to MCN's Chief Road Tester, Michael Neeves, so I tend to take what he says as gospel when it comes to performance bikes. And his reviews of the Tuono are so utterly glowing that you'd think Aprilia fill his panniers with moolah on a regular basis. If he said "epic doesn’t come close to covering it" and "Put simply, it’s the best road-going sportsbike money can buy" then that's good enough for me to know I'd have a good time. Watch his video review here.
The Tuono's full specs, equipment and fast sounding acronyms can be found here, but this isn't a comprehensive ride report, I didn't spend nearly long enough on the thing. But what I do know is.... I want one!
The guttural howl that the 1100cc V4 engine makes is, to me, perfect. If I was on deaf row (a distinct possibility with my tinnitus) a V-configured motor being thrashed would be the last sound I'd like to enjoy. I was at Philip Island a decade ago when the Aprilia RSV4 was testing for the upcoming WSBK round in its first season. Everything else sounded shit by comparison, even the booming Ducatis. And an open-piped Norton at the TT (still an Aprilia GP engine) is so utterly spine tingling you'd think the IOM Tourist Board would pay people to enter non-inline fours. Real life soundtrack here.
And the electronics package, wow! I've tried a few quickshift assisted machines and the Aprilia's is as good as it gets. Smash your way through the box, up or down, (throttle pinned on the way up) without the clutch and not only is the process smoother than using traditional techniques but it allows you to pretend, for a moment, that you're a GP rider. With 173hp on tap the front wheel should have clawed the air like a 500cc two stroke and the rear was surely going to buck, weave and squirm into oblivion. But no. Like a race horse sensing the nerves of an unexperienced jockey the Tuono's gadgetry seemed to remove all danger and deliver cheek tearing grins instead.
Bang, bang, bang, bang....chucking gears in with the throttle on the stop I was headed straight to prison, or a hedgerow. But the Tuono handles like a meaty 600 and feels like it'll do anything asked of it, and the brakes are eyeball bulgingly excellent. The only clue that I was well out of my depth was the pub fruit machine for a dashboard. All the lights flashed rapidly in various sequences warning me that it was the Aprilia's electronic brain that was in control, not mine.
The briefest of glances down revealed the obscene digits in the middle of all this disco-like chaos, a reminder of why I'm not allowed such a weapon. I've managed to make it to half way though my life, partly because I've avoided playing with big boys toys. The problem is I want another go, on a track, with plenty of time to work through the settings, gradually turning them off until the Tuono V4's full capability is unleashed. Maybe next time not wearing jeans and shit-kickers.
Annoyingly the day passed way, way too quickly and I didn't manage to squeeze a go on the latest 217hp RSV4 Factory. Probably one best saved for the track. I did spend plenty of chilled time on a Moto Guzzi V85TT though, and there'll be a full ride report on that very soon.
In the meantime over on Return of the Café Racers there's a feature about a bolt-on kit for the Tuono that's worth a read.
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Jacket - Acerbis Ottano
Jeans - Fuel/BSMC Sergeant
Helmet - Arai Profile V
Gloves - Knox Orsa
Boots - Icon Prep
Action shots by Andy Saunders
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