The Aprilia SMV750 Dorsoduro is the latest in a small number of road-legal motorcycles taking their inspiration from the supermoto form of motorcycle racing - essentially motocross, or dirt, bikes fitted with slick road racing tyres and raced over a half-tarmac/half-dirt circuit.
This exciting but minority form of racing had not seen road bike applications until a few years ago, when Austrian bike-maker KTM began to produce bikes which could trace their heritage back to supermoto machines. Unusually, the popularity of road-legal Supermoto bikes caught the motorcycling press somewhat by surprise. In fact it was one of the rare occasions when the hype didn't arrive until after the event itself.
Supermoto bikes, in their racing form, are extreme machines. They have all the huge power and light weight of motocross bikes, but channel that subsequent speed to the road through huge racing tyres. However, the popularity of the road-going versions stems not only from their extreme power-to-weight ratios, unusual looks, and individuality, but from a practicality not envisaged by the manufacturers: on-road supermotos enjoy the high seating position of off-road bikes, giving excellent visibility, together with the sharp handling of sports bikes (but with a better turning circle) making them excellent (if somewhat hardcore) commuting machines for those who want all the speed of a traditional sports machine with a little more urban practicality. Add to this the long suspension travel Supermotos enjoy and you have what for many is the ultimate way to work (although, it has to be said, not too much further - long-distance machines they are not). Italian manufacturer Aprilia has a long and successful racing history in Supermoto. The concept suits Aprilia's desired corporate image as performance-related but not ordinary. The Dorsoduro was the company's first attempt to transfer that race pedigree to road bike sales.
The genesis of the name itself is open to argument. It is, undeniably, a district of the Italian city of Venice. In direct translation, however, it means "Hard Ridge". Where the motorcycle is concerned though, the latter part of the name, "Duro", is certainly derived from the "Enduro" type of motorcycle, a powerful and rough type of machine designed to cross long distances off-road. Almost certainly, then, Aprilia meant the name Dorsoduro to suggest "Hard Enduro" to the public at large (at least outside Italy).
The bike is loosely based on the firm's world championship winning Supermoto race bike, the SVX550. The Dorsoduro is powered by a 750cc V-twin four-stroke engine with eight valves which produces 75 bhp at 8,000rpm, 60.5 lb ft of torque at 4,500rpm and delivers its power through a six-speed gearbox and chain final drive. Like many V-twin motorcycles, it makes a distinctive noise, in this case through twin under-seat exhausts encased in heat shields. It is capable of more than 120 mph, although top speed is not really the important part of the design package. Instead it is acceleration and handling which are king here. Ridden by a talented rider, the bike is more than a match for most full sports bikes, and it certainly more versatile. The Italian firm introduced a slightly upgraded version in 2009, which has a more advanced brake system with ABS and its V2-engine produces 91 HP instead of 89.
One of the clues to the bike's purpose is its tiny 12L fuel tank - this is a machine for short blasts, not long journeys (and the upright seating position combined with the total lack of weather protection drive this point home). The importance of the road-going Supermoto in a manufacturer's line-up can be seen in the number of firms now producing such bikes. BMW, Ducati and Husqvarna are amongst the firms offering Supermoto bikes, along with KTM and the major Japanese manufacturers. What was until recently a small niche within motorcycle racing has now become a solid sales generator for some of the biggest names in bikes.