Editor’s Note: Kyle Hyatt is new to the world of motorcycling and I’ve been enjoying his perspective as a newbie. You may remember that he is a co-host for the Petersen’s podcast, called Car Stories. At one point I was on an episode, and part of my discussion with Kyle was about his pursuit of his first motorcycle. Most of you here are experienced motorcyclists, so I’ve asked Kyle to make you feel all nostalgic by sharing his thoughts about getting training and searching for his first bike.
A few weeks ago, Honda invited him to take their Rider’s Education Course in Colton, California.
Kyle then spent more time with Big Red and looked into how the Honda CB500F would fare as a first bike.
Kyle’s a big guy, so now he’s looking at something larger (and unexpected) – the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900. Here’s what he had to say about it.
At first blush, the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 seems like a wildly inappropriate – if not borderline stupid – bike for a new rider. It’s Italian, tall, has a big V-twin engine, and is slathered in “#bearacer” stickers. Most seasoned riders would look at it and then at me with all of a month of practical on-road riding experience under my belt and order some condolence flowers for my mother, but the thing about the Dorsoduro 900 is that it might just be one of the best city bikes for new-ish riders right currently available. Now, I can hear the commentariat cracking their knuckles and readying their pitchforks in anticipation of lambasting my last statement, but the fact is that the Dorsoduro 900 is a stupidly easy bike to ride.
Let’s start with that big sexy Italian v-twin with its saucy red valve covers. 900cc of displacement sounds like a lot, and it is, but not all engines are created equally. Let’s compare the Dorso’s lump to that of its closest competitor, the Ducati Hypermotard 939. Where the Ducati is pushed to make lots of power (111 bhp to be precise), the Dorso is wildly under-stressed at just 95 hp which translates to an engine that is exciting but not at all peaky or scary. [Editor’s Note: Consider that the previous-generation Dorsoduro 750 made 92 horsepower.] The Dorsoduro makes plenty of usable, friendly torque all throughout the rev range which makes it ideal for ripping around city streets while the slightly strange undertail exhaust sounds great as you near the double-digit end of the tachometer.
The throttle is lovely thanks to an upgrade to the Marelli engine management system from the Dorsoduro’s V4-powered fratelli. There is no snatchiness at all from low speeds, even in Sport mode. The clutch is relatively light, and engagement is smooth. I didn’t stall the bike once in traffic, something I couldn’t say with the little Honda which I reviewed previously. The Dorso has a decent six-speed gearbox that is positive and satisfying to use, though finding neutral can be a bit of a ball ache at times, even after everything is good and warm.
The Dorsoduro’s brakes are excellent. Aprilia branded calipers aren’t going to impress your buds at the Rock Store, but they are plenty strong and super forgiving thanks to a lack of overly aggressive initial bite. They are progressive, and the ABS is impressive. I had to work to get it to engage and didn’t find it to be particularly unsettling when it did. The suspension is adjustable for preload and rebound in the front and rear (helpful for a dude my size) and again, while KYB and Sachs don’t garner the same kind of tumescence in nerds that Ohlins or WP might, these are entirely competent and keep the price of the bike reasonable. Given its supermotard form factor, you’d expect this bike to be super agile and guess what? It is. The wide handlebars coupled with moderately aggressive geometry make it super satisfying to lean the bike over in the canyons and on city streets, even at reasonable sub-go-to-jail speeds.
So far we’ve established that the engine is the v-twin equivalent of Paul Rudd, non-threatening and a total sweetheart that should age quite well and that the chassis and suspension are more than up to cashing the checks that the bodywork is writing. Still not convinced that this kitten of a motorcycle is a good match for a new-ish rider? Let’s talk about electronics. I mentioned that the ABS is well-calibrated and as a new rider, that gives me a lot of confidence. The Dorsoduro also has traction control, and while it’s not the crazy advanced setup you’d get on an RSV4, it is totally fine and simple to adjust or defeat entirely, thanks to the new TFT dash and easy-to-understand mode switch. No Italian weirdness here (barring using the starter button to switch throttle maps). The most significant miss from Aprilia here is the omission of a fuel gauge. At $11k and considering it has a fancy dash and a small tank, it seems like a pretty dumb thing to leave out.
The bike’s ergonomics are great, but I say that as someone who stands 6’4” with a 34” inseam. I was able to easily flat-foot this bike, and I didn’t find myself cramped at all while riding. The seat isn’t the world’s most comfortable unit but this isn’t a touring bike, and its flat profile made it easy to slide forward or back to keep from getting too cramped. That said, after 100 miles in traffic on a Friday night, I was pretty much ruined. That’s a lot to ask of a bike like this though, and I can hardly fault it. The rider pegs are big and thanks to their thick rubber inserts, they work to cancel out vibrations even at freeway speeds.
On the whole, this bike doesn’t transmit many vibes to the rider, and the mirrors are clear all the time (plus they offer a usable field of view, I could see more than just my elbows which was nice). The plastic handguards are crappy and mostly only for looks. [Editor’s Note: I grabbed this bike from Kyle to try it out for myself and one of the bolts that
secures secured the left handguard backed itself out within 2 days.] Drop the bike, and you’ll probably still break levers. Again, apart from the height, the whole setup is pretty unintimidating.
With all the technical stuff out of the way, let me tell you about the most essential part of any bike review: how it made me feel. As someone who is relatively wet behind the ears on two wheels, I don’t regularly find my cup running over with confidence. Everything is a little new and still a little bit frightening, but I found that rather than egging me on like some deathwish-granting-hell-machine, it held my hand and encouraged me to be more confident. There was never a time where I ran out of power or acceleration, but I also was able to comfortably bumble around when I wanted without any of the straining at the leash feeling that some bikes can have. It felt like a partner and not something I needed to tame. Don’t tell Aprilia this, but I didn’t feel like a racer at all when on the Dorsoduro 900. Instead, I felt like I was finally getting the best that motorcycling had to offer with the fun and freedom and sounds and smells that everyone sells you when they try and get you riding in the first place.
At the start of this review, I said that this bike is one of the best bikes for new-ish riders and I stand by that with a few provisos. If you have an inseam under 32 inches, you might not be super confident on this bike, but larger riders will have no problems. It’s tall but not towering. This bike is still rapid, and if you have the impulse control of a teenager (or are an actual human teenager), you might be better served by a lesser steed, though the electronics on this bike will definitely go a long way to mitigating some of the stupidity you’re likely to throw at it. Lastly, if you ride long distances, this probably isn’t the bike for you. You’re going to be stopping for gas every 80-ish miles, and you’ll be glad of it because your ass will be sore from the seat.
That said, I’ve had the good fortune to ride a few press bikes and drive a bunch of high-performance press cars, and for the very first time, I absolutely want to keep one. The Dorsoduro 900 is that wonderful.
Editor’s Note: I won’t reveal anything yet, but Kyle’s narrowed down his options and he’s about to buy something from a friend of mine in the next two weeks. I’ll make sure he fills you in on what he gets and why he’s buying it. Can you guess what it will be? The only hint I’ll give is that it’s a 2015 model. First correct guess gets a Bike-urious t-shirt…