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A supermoto so good it almost makes you want to overlook its flaws. Almost...
the longer I live, the more I’m convinced that perfection might not exist. Even in the most seemingly perfect things, there are flaws. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because, if it weren’t for the dark, how would we appreciate the light? But right now, I cannot seem to find any darkness. All I can see right now is the tip of the Dorsoduro’s front fender as its front wheel reaches for the sky. Right now, all I can see is perfection. The Dorso has been making me grin since the moment I sat on it. At first, it was the familiar, 450 ergos. It felt exactly like a supermoto should – a dirt bike with street tyres. It had the high fenders, serrated pegs, long, flat seat and wide handlebars to match the genes too. It also felt super slender in the middle – another dirt bike trait. Everything, even the 870mm seat height, felt trail ready. Everything except the kerb weight that stood at over 200kg.
But for something that weighed that much, the Dorso sure hid it well. A lot of it is down to the excellent chassis design. The Dorso uses a steel tube trellis combined with aluminium side plates to form its chassis. At either end is a Kayaba, semi-adjustable (preload and rebound) fork and a Sachs, preload adjustable shock. The suspension ends in 17-inch wheels borrowed from the RSV4 RR (which is roughly 2.5kg lighter than the previous-gen Dorso) that gets sticky rubber from Dunlop wrapped around it. 320mm dual discs with four-pot, radial calipers up front and a 240mm disc with single piston caliper delivers braking power.
Overall, the chassis and suspension combo delivers an agility that is surprising for a motorcycle this heavy. The Dorso turns into corners with very little pressure on the ’bars. And it does this with alarming quickness too. But when I got aggressive with the inputs and asked it to make back-to-back direction changes, I did feel the tall stance getting in the way. I noticed a slight unsureness creep in. But the motorcycle never got bent out of shape, so it’s nothing to brood over.
What I did appreciate is the confidence that the chassis gave you to ride it harder and harder. I could lean it over as far as I dared and I could always be confident that it wouldn’t give up on me. It held its line beautifully and except for a minor wiggle over surface imperfections mid corner, it remained calm and composed through even the hardest cornering I could subject it to. And for a supermoto, it took equally well to the knee-out, body-under riding style as it did to the foot-out, body-over style.
What surprises though, is that for all its dynamic prowess, the Dorso was surprisingly pleasant in its ride quality. It never felt back-breaking over bad roads, never threatening to slap your hand off the ’bars. 160mm of suspension travel at either end, it wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the odd jump here and there. It also never felt unhappy carrying reasonable speeds through rough sections. Something greatly helped by how natural it felt to stand up on its pegs and gas it through broken roads.
As great as the chassis balance is, it would have meant nothing if it weren’t for the engine. The Dorso 900 uses 896cc, 90 degree, V-Twin that is derived from the Dorso 750 – same as the one used in the Shiver (in the Dorso, though, the front sprocket is slightly smaller, making for a completely different-feeling engine). The difference is that this engine has some extra stroke added on to increase the displacement by 150cc. It also has been tuned to specifically deliver great low-end and mid-range shove. So, it makes all of its 93.9bhp and 90Nm between 6000 and 9000rpm. Okay, that might not exactly be low in the rev range, but that’s because it is only where the peak power and torque lie. Right from the lower reaches of the rev band, the torque is delivered in a relatively flat curve. In fact, it produces near peak amounts of torque from as low as 3000rpm, all the way to the redline. This means, no matter what gear I was in, I always had enough power to pull away cleanly. And in first gear, a quick open-close of the throttle had the front wheel lifting repeatedly with no effort. And if I was quick enough with my shifting, it would carry this wheelie on for a long, long time.
Of course, all this is only possible with the traction control switched off. And that brings me to the electronics. The Dorso comes with the same ECU that is on use on the Tuono and the RSV4. This means it now gets ride-by-wire, switchable engine maps and traction control. The engine management is also tied in to the ABS system. In real life, this means the Dorso gets three power modes and three levels of traction control (TC and ABS can be switched off too). Sport and Touring modes give you full power but varied throttle maps while Rain cuts power by 30 per cent. Traction control varies from full intervention at level three to minimal in level one.
In level one, the system would let me pull off manageable, small slides when accelerating away. Like most Aprilia electronics, the ATC on the Dorso too is as seamless as they come. It isn’t like the older systems where you suddenly lose all thrust. The system gently backs off the power when it detects a slide. But the real beauty of the system is when all the assists are turned off. The incredibly direct throttle and the instant torque delivery allowed me to pull off massive power slides on Bombay’s paver-block roads with zero effort.
However, that isn’t what amazes. The real surprise is how friendly all this hooliganism feels. Even while pulling wheelies and power slides, the Dorsoduro never threatens to kill you. It is a great mischief machine. It pulls off all the mischief you want, but it does this in a controlled manner. And that is what made it so special. But, and this is a big but, there are chinks in its armour. For all its perfection, the Dorsoduro does have some issues. The first one is that the tank is relatively small and the engine itself, not the most efficient. Officially, Aprilia claims a range of 200km. This means the 12-litre tank will return only around 16km to the litre. Even out on the highways, the maximum I could mange was under 20kpl. And in the city, this dropped to close to 13kpl. Also, it isn’t a very cool-running engine. In heavy traffic, the engine got super hot. Every single time. And with an exhaust that is routed under the seat, the heat is directly transferred to the underside of your thighs.
However, that isn’t the Dorsoduro’s biggest flaw. The most heartbreaking thing about the Dorso is that it costs `13.46 lakh, ex-Mumbai. That is a lot of ban kroll to put up for a motorcycle that doesn’t even have a proper service network all over India. It also is over `2 lakh more expensive than the more powerful Ducati Hypermotard. But that’s a story for another day. For all the emotions that the Dorsoduro awakens in you, it does have some glaring flaws in it. But what makes the Dorso so great is that despite those flaws, you learn to love it. You tend to look past the rubbish range and the hot motor. You also feel an urge to ignore the ridiculous price. The Dorso might not be perfect, but to me, it comes pretty darn close.