If you are planning to buy a motorcycle and are sitting down with a bunch of magazines, with a dozen portals open on your laptop while you narrow down on which motorcycle best suits your practical head-over-heart logic, then you shouldn’t be here. This is a story where we stick our tongues out at rationale and blow a raspberry to the brain. Here, it’s all about heart and passion and happiness. There is no other way to explain someone’s, anyone’s, love for a supermoto. I mean, c’mon, the bikes are ridiculously tall, impossibly impractical, have seats narrow enough to hurt your butt crack and are not the friendliest when it comes to road manners. No, there’s no way you’d buy them if you let your head do the talking.
The only reason why anyone ever bought a supermoto is because they feel more than they think and their hearts speak louder than their brains. So, for this story, we too will do the same. We will let the brain take a back seat and let the heart do all the hollering as we decide what to feel about Aprilia’s new Dorsoduro 900.
But before we dive into the Dorso, let’s talk a little bit about what exactly is a supermoto. Although the genre goes back four decades, we’ll spare you the history (try Wiki or Google for that bit) and tell you that a supermoto is actually meant to be a combination of a dirt bike and a road bike. As a result, the riding style for a supermoto is radically different from any road going bike that you might be able to think of. On a supermoto most riders throw a leg out and ride flat track style. It’s a riding style that few, if any at all, in India care to use, preferring instead a more conventional road riding style. But whatever be your chosen riding style, the one thing that binds supermoto riders across ages and time zones is their love for the Thrill of Riding that you can get from a supermoto.
My first experience of a supermoto happened to be astride the bigger – much bigger – version of the motorcycle I’m on today. Yep, you guessed it. That was the full blown Dorsoduro 1200. I remember riding up from Bangalore to Nandi Hills and back. Nandi Hills is to Bangalore what Lavasa is to Pune. Come Saturday-Sunday, the well surfaced climb gets packed with hooligans. But that Sunday there wasn’t a hooligan bigger than me and the bucking, rocketing Dorso. The experience was exciting enough for me to feel a shiver (no reference to Aprilia’s other bike with this same 900 engine) down my spine. If this smaller, relatively of course, bike provided the same thrills as its bigger brother, then I knew exactly what the heart would have to say about it.
Visually, the Dorso 900 does look the part. It has that tall stance, the beaky front, the twin underseat exhaust and that narrow girth. It’s inviting really, even for someone like me who is not known for hooligan antics on two wheels. I can’t even imagine what the sight of this bike would do to someone with a more daredevil attitude to motorcycling. Someone who likes to see the sky as he takes offon one wheel or likes to slide around turns one leg thrown open, dirt bike style. Ergonomics though aren’t top notch and the tall stance of the bike will see shorter riders struggle. In spite of my six feet and long legs, I could only get one leg on the ground with the bike tilted. Both legs on the ground? Forget it. You’ll have to be the Great Khali for that.
Suspended from the split trellis frame is a liquid-cooled 896.1cc 90-degree V-twin. Peak output rating of the unit is 93.8bhp at 8750revs and 90Nm at 6500rpm. The unit, which features ride-by-wire, four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts, is actually a stroked out unit of the 750cc engine that powered its predecessor, the Dorsoduro 750. So not only is there a bump up in output but also the ability to comply with Euro IV norms, which means BS IV should be a breeze. On paper, it has the goods to deliver the promise its looks make. But as you delve deeper into the specs, the perspective starts to change a bit. Despite that 150cc increase in capacity, the improvement to peak power is only three horses. Improvement to peak torque is slightly better at 8Nm.
Rolling off is fairly easy since the torque has been pushed closer to the bottom of the rev range. The gearing too has been crafted to take advantage of just this. As a result, the smaller Dorso is far easier to manage in all sorts of riding conditions than the fiery Italian supermoto of my memories. It’s positively user friendly. Which is a great thing to have. In any other genre of motorcycling that is, where the bike needs to become more practical and useable. But a supermoto? I’d rather have one that has the characteristics of a bronco bull. That, after all, is my reason for owning one in the first place. If I really wanted to buy something practical, would I really be going for this? The answer isn’t that hard to guess.
The Kayaba 41mm USD fork is raked out at close to 26 degrees and wheelbase is a fairly longish at over 1.5 metres. The result is excellent stability and reassuring dynamics, despite the slightly unnerving sensation of lag between opening the throttle mid-corner and the power actually arriving. What you don’t get is that super agility that is the other necessary characteristic of a supermoto (a slightly manic engine being the other). Again, this confidence inspiring, forgiving nature of the motorcycle makes it more user friendly than you’d expect but robs you of that trembling excitement that supermotos are known for. Ride quality is stiff and you don’t win any extra points for guessing that. What really mars the Dorso’s abilities are the manufacturer’s choice of rubber for those 17-inch wheels. The Dunlops don’t really complement the bike and take away a part of the confidence that you would otherwise enjoy on so forgiving a motorcycle. This, despite three levels of traction control and ABS being made available.
So, at the end of the day I sat and tried to recollect my thoughts. It has a fairly smooth running engine with a lot of useable grunt on offer. The bike handles well. It carries the iconic Aprilia brand name in the interest of brag rights. It looks distinctive too and will ensure a degree of exclusivity and all of this, without being priced out of the park, at Rs. 13.84 lakh (ex-showroom). So, in my head it made near complete sense. Unfortunately, the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 isn’t just another motorcycle. It’s a supermoto. And as a supermoto it simply doesn’t excite enough to let the heart holler over the head. That probably is the biggest failing of an otherwise fine motorcycle.