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HERE I am in Sicily, the southernmost tip of Italy, so close to Africa I'm practically there. In theory I should be toasty warm and enjoying the sunshine of a spring that's just around the corner, it is March after all. Except it's freezing cold and pouring with rain. Humph!

It's a good job then that Aprilia's Dorsoduro 1200, the newly-revamped 2012 model, is equipped with ABS and traction control, what with all that slippery-when-dry-let-alonewhen-wet lava ash that litters the tight winding roads that lead up to the mouth of Mount Etna.

The bike was first launched as a 750 in 2008, and the success of this 'hypermotard', a category invented by Ducati with the launch of its Hypermotard a year earlier, ensured the arrival of the 1200 version in 2010.

To date Aprilia has sold 13,000 Dorsoduros worldwide, thanks mainly to the fact it's considerably cheaper than Ducati's Hypermotard. So it's no surprise that the manufacturer from Noale is keen to keep up the sales momentum with a few tweaks here and there.

The latest Dorsoduro gets new lighter weight three-spoke wheels and cosmetic updates including a new mudguard, all of which bring weight down by 3kg. Suspension too has been updated, while the engine gets an electronic management system with new power maps.

I love Aprilia's V2 90-degrees V-twin engine with its 130bhp output. There's so much lowdown punch, yet it's delivered smoothly so that even in these treacherous conditions the bike is easy to manage.

I never feel the need to use the power mode buttons that include Sport, Touring and Rain settings; Touring tones down the punchy delivery while rain, well, reins in power at 100bhp. But I love all that brutal power that the sport mode gives me. I can blast it down the straights to make up for lost time, or I can overtake super swiftly - a necessity on these narrow twisties.

Plus I can count on the Dorsoduro's safety features to stop me on time or prevent me from launching myself into orbit on corner exits.

The bike gets Aprilia's traction control system, the same as the one used on the RSV-4R superbike. It too comes in three settings: one is for skids and wheelies which come easy on this lightweight and powerful machine, two is for the rider reasonably confident with conditions, while three is for the rider in a state of panic, a bit like we were on this test, and that's where I kept it.

Then there's the ABS which, combined with the superb Brembo radial brakes, stops the bike safely and progressively. The ABS can be switched off if you prefer, but I'm keeping it on for these conditions.

The bike is comfortable too. The concept takes the best of the naked and supermoto worlds to produce a mean-looking dirt-derived machine, but with the comforts and roadworthiness of a naked bike.

The look is minimal, putting the tasty parts on display, with wide, flat handlebars complete with hand-guards and motard-style race number panel. The seat is long and flat as you'd expect on a supermoto, yet it's as comfortable as on any naked road bike.

The Dorsoduro stands tall, although at 5ft 6in I can still reach the ground, while the bolt upright position lets me see above all the traffic, helping me avoid the crazy Sicilian drivers who pull out in front of me like I don't exist.

Handling feels nimble, although I'd have liked to charge much harder into corners and get the bike over much further than the conditions allowed.

Still, the Dorsoduro swiftly changes direction and holds a tight line, although my lines were all over the place as I avoided the worst of the muddy ash that the rain washed down from the sides of the volcano and into the increasingly treacherous road ahead.

However, few owners will be taking their Dorsoduro to Sicily to enjoy hot and sticky conditions, unless they live here in the first place.

Instead they're more likely to use their bike in every-day conditions such as the ones we're unlucky enough to be experiencing. And they served to highlight how safe and surefooted the Dorsoduro feels, despite all of its hooligan and superbike-bashing potential.

FACTS AND FIGURES [c] ENGINE: Aprilia four-stroke longitudinal 90 V-twin, liquid cooled, double overhead camshafts with mixed gear/chain timing system and four valves per cylinder [c] PERFORMANCE: 130bhp @ 8,700rpm [c] FUEL SYSTEM: Integrated engine management system. Injection system with triple map Ride by Wire throttle management: Sport (S), Touring (T), Rain (R) [c] CHASSIS: Modular tubular steel frame fastened to aluminium side plates by high strength bolts. Removable rear aluminium subframe [c] TANK: 15 litres.
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Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 20, 2012

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