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There’s much more to the Dorsoduro 1200 riding experience than you’d think at first glance

Piaggio’s acquisition of Aprilia in 2004 breathed new life into the much-loved Italian brand. Piaggio’s resources prompted a round of new model development. One of the surprises from this Aprilia revival process was the arrival of the out-of-left-field Dorsoduro 1200 model. It was the answer to a question no one was asking that ultimately won over a bunch of rusted-on fans, once they sampled its charms.

The dirtbike on steroids styling and stance of the Dorsoduro 1200 give it an aggressive presence. Nothing suggests there’s any vegetarian or vegan DNA in its make-up. It’s a red-meat eater that stands tall, muscular and alert, scanning the scene for its next meal, ready to spring on its prey without warning.

While the looks and style mimic those of the smaller track-focussed supermotos, the Dorso, like its category mates KTM’s 990 SMT and Ducati’s Hypermotard, doesn’t share much else with the supermotos. Sure, it can easily imitate their mono and stoppie stunt-tricks, but it has versatility the smaller one-trick-ponies can’t match. A Dorso 1200 is a really handy commuter, a convincing scratcher on a run through the hills, and to an extent, even a half-decent tourer. Not an ideal two-up tourer or interstate tourer – but well suited for weekends away with your mates down the coast or out in the bush.

As with all naked bikes the engine catches your eye. A brand new design for Dorsoduro, it’s a 90-degree, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin that displaces 1197cc and produces a serious 96kW at 8700rpm, power that shames its contemporary KTM and Ducati competitors. A six-speed gearbox and chain final-drive complete the drivetrain. The frame is of welded tubular-steel construction, with aluminium sideplates. The long-travel suspension is fully adjustable, with the 43mm Sachs forks complemented by a Sachs monoshock. Brembo calipers grip twin 320mm discs at the front and a 240mm disc at the rear.

On board the bike, behind its wide ’bars, with the engine rumbling away, you pick up the same ‘rarin’ to go’ impression the bike’s stance prompts. Two points should be made about the seat; its 870mm height will be an issue for shorter riders; and while it’s not the unyielding plank that’s typical on supermotos, neither is it an all-day comfortable perch.

Probably it’s a match for the 15-litre tank in terms of touring ability. After the couple of hours in the saddle its touring range of around 200km would take, you would enjoy a coffee break.

The clutch is light and the gearbox shifts sweetly, but finding neutral can be tricky at times. Other than that, it’s an easy bike to ride.

At 100km/h in top it pulls a cruisy 3400rpm. Smooth engine management allows slow, tight, feet-up manoeuvres without touching the clutch. It’s super agile, a great lane-splitter. It’s a seriously fast bike, a great handler, and unlike most supermotos, it’s quite stable at speed, even on rough and ready winding mountain roads.

Even with the choice of ‘Sport’, ‘Touring’ and ‘Rain’ maps thanks to the ride-by-wire set-up, you spend a lot of time in ‘Touring’. The urgent electric-light-switch response in ‘Sport’ unleashes all of its pleasingly savage performance reserves when the coast is clear. 

From 2012 the Dorsoduro had ABS and traction control added to its feature list.

The big Dorso could be right for you, if you don’t mind standing out from the crowd. There’s absolutely no doubt at all about the fun factor it promises. It’s a real rider’s bike that comes with a reassuringly strong reputation for reliability, and it’s a way better all-rounder than you expect from a motard-style bike.

During a chat with a mate about this article he said: “Make sure you tell the readers that a Dorsoduro 1200 is a really quick bike that gives a lot of bang for your buck.” 

What to look for

The Dorso has an enviable reputation as a trouble-free motorcycle. No pattern of issues shows up, with electrical issues affecting earlier Aprilias being part of history.

As always check for signs of neglect or damage. Then it’s down to allowing for any consumables that will soon need replacing – tyres, brake pads, chain and sprockets, steering head bearings, and brake rotors. The best prospect will be a low-medium-kilometre example with good service records.

Service history

The naked styling of the Dorso offers reasonably easy access to major components, allowing DIY owners to carry out routine oil and filter changes. We would suggest 5000-7500km oil-change intervals rather than the factory’s extravagant 20,000km recommendation. This is fine for majors, though, including valve clearances, which are best left to experienced technicians.