Choosing Between Two Italian Sportbikes Has Never Been So Difficult

When two bikes are as closely matched as these, you can’t just leave it to a coin toss.

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Bryan Campbell and Kevin Wing Photography

The way it goes with almost everything great and wonderful that comes with an engine and wheels is: Europe gets it first and the U.S. has to wait. That’s exactly what happened with Aprilia’s 2018 Shiver 900 ($9,399) and Dorsoduro 900 ($10,999) sports bikes, first introduced way back at EICMA in 2016 and only now making their way stateside. Rest assured, these two bikes are most certainly worth the wait — but it will take you a considerable amount of time to choose between the two.

Both bikes have Aprilia’s new 900cc V-twin engine bolted in, which pumps 95 horsepower and about 66 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. In other words, ample power for bikes that weigh around 470 pounds without a rider. But therein lies the problem: What, if anything, separates these two stripped-down sports bikes, since they are nearly the same size and dimensions and have identical engines? Obviously, styling sets them apart, but it’s the subtle differences between the Shiver 900 and Dorsoduro that create the biggest divide. Even so, the average rider would be happy on either. But making the perfect match comes down to specific riding style preferences.

The stage for the back-to-back test was Route 33, near Ojai, California. It’s a sublime piece of asphalt that slithers its way through Los Padres National Forest with an even mix of long sweeping turns and tight hairpins — a must-ride road.

2018 Aprilia Dorsoduro 900

Engine: 896cc V-Twin
Horsepower: 95.2
Torque: 66.3 lb-ft
Weight: 467 lbs
Tank Capacity: 3 gallons
Price: $10,999

Outside of Ventura, the Dorsoduro — or the “hooligan’s choice,” as Aprilia put it — immediately lived up to its reputation. Around town, the throttle wasn’t exactly an on-off switch, but I could feel the mountain of torque lying in wait, which I truly adore in a city bike. Combined with its ultra-light front end, the Dorsoduro’s torque lets you rip through traffic and hold your own on the highway should you find yourself on a longer ride. It’s sort of a power-on-tap situation, where the bulk of the bike’s push lives right in the middle of the rev range, where you spend most of your time. This characteristic makes pulling out of canyon hairpins a little addictive. I could’ve spent all day doing short sprints from one turn to another, getting pushed back into the seat and hearing the V-twin grunt and bark its way through the revs.

The downside to living with an engine like that is it can seem like a chore; you must constantly pay careful attention to how smooth you are on the throttle. But the flat seat and slightly forward-set footpegs did a solid job of balancing out the aggressive engine with a more relaxed riding position. I was able to move back in the saddle and sit a little more upright, farther back from the bars. And the Dorsoduro’s design definitely helped in terms of day-long endurance.

I switched bikes for the trip back down the mountain, where the Shiver 900 proved to be the yin to the Dorsoduro’s yang. Different gearing and a more sedated engine tune — still the same amount of power, the peak of it just comes on later — made the Shiver a lot smoother when it came to rolling on the throttle. Match that with the deeper-stepped seat and rear-set footpegs, and you have a bike that encourages aggressive riding through stance alone but doesn’t punish you with an overly lively engine that needs every second of your attention. Ironically, the Shiver has the meatier, gravely bark, which gets fairly addictive quite quickly.

It could have been that I had been riding all day, but it seemed the ergonomics of the Shiver 900’s seat forced me forward over the handlebars, and its footpegs forced my feet up, cramping my knees — I had to do a spread-eagle a few times to cure it. Still, it’s an easier engine to live with, and with the larger fuel tank, better gas mileage and lower price tag, it’s clearly the more practical choice.

2018 Aprilia Shiver 900

Engine: 896cc V-Twin
Horsepower: 95.2
Torque: 66.3 lb-ft
Weight: 480.6 lbs
Tank Capacity: 4 gallons
Price: $9,399

I imagine if you combined the two — the calmer Shiver-tuned engine paired with the Dorso’s gearing and stance — you’d be severely underwhelmed. But flip that combination, with the immediacy and lively character of the Dorso endowed on a bike built like the Shiver, and you might as well start shopping for a full-fairing superbike. In their non-mashup, real-world guises, though, the bikes constitute a hard choice.

And therein lies the dilemma. This can’t be a toss-up because, yes, the Shiver and Dorsoduro are similar in size and looks and have identical power, but they really are two different bikes when you put them under a microscope. And when you own a bike, the details — the ones you love and the ones you hate — come to the fore. I’m a sucker for an engine with gobs of torque that lightens the front wheel without a second thought, so I’d have the Dorsoduro. Yes, it’s more expensive, has a smaller tank and gets worse mileage, but it makes the most of the wonderful new V-twin. Not to mention the comfort factor — my lanky-ass legs definitely appreciated the luxury of being able to move fore and aft on the seat. I know I’d be happy on either, but the between the two, the Dorsoduro is a better match for me.

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