Aprilia has launched the Tuareg 660 – named after the nomadic North African people whose salt caravans criss-cross the Sahara Desert,

We test the Aprilia Tuareg 660.

In Europe, Aprilia’s 660cc middleweight duo have been the standout sellers from any European brand in 2021 in the ever more hotly contested 600-800cc middleweight sector fought over by more than a dozen different manufacturers from east and west. A sector, that until quite recently was dominated by increasingly more extreme Supersport models – but now a cocktail of insurance costs, speed cameras and good old-fashioned commonsense has sidelined these road-legal race replicas to the racetrack. Alongside the nakedbikes that have provided an increasingly popular real-world alternative to them, another segment is taking off in the middleweight marketplace. Adventure bikes are the flavour of the moment, and while there will probably always be a market for two-wheeled Range Rovers like the BMW R 1250 GS, Ducati Multistrada V4 and KTM Super Adventures, the real growth in the go-anywhere market is in that 600-800cc midsize sector.

aprilia tuareg 660

Now, in a challenge to Yamaha’s popular Ténéré 700 with its MT-07 parallel-twin motor, Aprilia has launched the Tuareg 660 – named after the nomadic North African people whose salt caravans criss-cross the Sahara Desert, and a hallowed Aprilia model name since the mid-80s rather than VW’s SUV, which copied Aprilia by adopting the name only in 2002!

Anyone much over the age of 40 is likely to be surprised if you tell them Aprilia was originally an off-road brand, more concerned with leavening its range of 50/125cc urban runarounds with World title-winning Trials bikes and a seriously capable range of Rotax-powered Enduro singles in various capacities up to 600cc, than ever going racing on the hard stuff. Indeed, company owner Ivano Beggio was a dirt biker himself, whose proudest moment for many years came in 1977 when his rider Ivan Alborghetti defeated the might of Japan as well as all Beggio’s Italian rivals to win both the hard-fought Italian 125 and 250cc Motocross championships in the same year on Aprilias – quite an achievement!

aprilia tuareg 660

Indeed, it wasn’t until 1986 that the Aprilia name first appeared on a road racer, and then only on Loris Reggiani’s one-off 250GP entry powered by a Rotax tandem-twin motor. But after Loris won the 1988 San Marino GP to register the first of 294 Aprilia grand prix race victories, gradually thereafter the focus shifted, and the remainder of the 54 world championships won up to now by Aprilia riders after Tommy Ahvala’s 1992 world trials title all came in road racing, essentially rationalising the strategic decision to build a company better known today for its scooters, roadbikes and road-racing success.

Still, the Enduro range of Tuareg 50/125cc two-strokes and 350/600cc four-stroke singles launched in 1985 helped Aprilia build a reputation for style and solidity, with the range-topping Rotax-powered 562cc single underpinning Beggio’s intention of competing in the Paris-Dakar rally. In 1989 a factory Aprilia Tuareg 600 did just that, finishing 20th – but that was the one and only time Aprilia entered the North African classic, and in 1994 the Tuareg was replaced in the company’s range by the more soft-centred dual-purpose Pegaso models.

aprilia tuareg 660

But it’s making a comeback in 2022 as the third in the trio of models powered by Aprilia’s 659cc parallel-twin motor, so alongside the RS660 sportsbike and Tuono 660 roadster that have been in production for the past year, the Tuareg name is back on a well-equipped and stylish-looking middleweight adventure bike. The chance to sample it came in Sardinia but, for two reasons, this ended up being rather complicated. One was that, after several previously failed attempts at doing so, Italian airline Alitalia has finally gone bust, which severely restricted access to Italy’s second-largest island – but after strung out journeys from all over Europe entailing lots of connecting flights, the second complication was that Sardinia’s two-month drought ended in spectacular fashion the day of our ride (no, Pete wasn’t there), with a series of torrential thunderstorms that turned the 37km-long off-road section of Aprilia’s test route into a river, and the rest of the projected 170km ride around the Western side of the island decidedly damp. So the resulting 90km ride mostly in between storms was just a taster, not really a test – but it certainly left me wanting more. Here’s why.

For a start, the way in which Piaggio’s design team led by Mirko Zocco – who was most recently responsible for the Moto Guzzi V85-TT, Aprilia Tuono 1100 and the RSV4 1100 – has concentrated on making the Tuareg inviting and accessible to riders of all heights to both sit on in tarmac use and stand upright on off-road, makes this a truly confidence-inspiring all-rounder of a motorcycle.

Despite the huge 240mm rear-wheel travel delivered by the Kayaba shock’s progressive-rate linkage, the 860mm-high seat is much flatter than on most other adventure bikes with any serious claims to off-road ability. But the seat crucially narrows where it meets the quite hefty 18-litre fuel tank, whose slim waist itself tapers to a compact rear section, plus the side panels are both flat, ahead of the mounting brackets for the optional luggage. So at 180cm tall, I was able to put both feet flat on the ground, while standing on the footpegs over our shortened but still worthwhile seaside off-road section, it was really noticeable how slim and agile the Tuareg both feels, and is. It’s truly a twin that thinks it’s a single, yet with the undoubted benefits on the road of the extra performance from the 660cc parallel-twin motor.

aprilia tuareg 660

Apart from the basic architecture of the motor, the Tuareg is essentially a completely new bike compared to its Tuono and RS660 sisters. So the changes to its engine’s power delivery and the bike’s gearing [see attached Technical section] result in a quite different riding experience.

The other two models aren’t exactly lacking in zip – but the Tuareg’s significant extra low-down torque gives it genuine zest from the moment you let out the light-action clutch, and despite producing 15hp less that the Tuono 660, it actually feels more punchy. That’s an impression aided by the really noticeable intake roar from the central duct at the front of the tank feeding the twin 48mm throttle bodies, themselves pretty large for 330cc cylinders – the Tuareg sounds decidedly rorty, and most unlike an adventure bike when you crack the throttle wide open, though the grunty-sounding Euro 5-compliant exhaust is pretty PC, and not at all raucous.

Our test bikes were fitted with Aprilia’s two-way quickshifter that’s an optional extra on the Tuareg but included as stock on the RS660 and, assuming it’s priced affordably (it’s $590 plus fitment on the Tuono), I’d say it’s a must-fit option because it works so well, both on and off road. You need to be fairly positive in using it – you can’t just wave your foot at it as on some other bikes with an overly-sensitive set up – but it’s almost flawless, and the revs blip up nicely on the downshifts. Finding neutral was a little difficult to start with, but after the engine warmed up properly, I had no problems.

The Tuareg’s shorter first gear and much lower overall gearing compared to its sister models means that wheelies are easy to pull in the bottom two gears, but that and the bike’s 207kg weight fully fuelled give it pretty potent acceleration, especially in third and fourth gears which I ended up using most of the time along the switchback Sardinian coast roads on a fast run back to base on mostly dry roads, trying to outrun the next thunderstorm.

You can feel the torque curve peaking at just under 7000 revs, where I found it was best to shortshift to be sure of getting in the fat part of the torque curve in the next highest gear. With no traffic on the roads I found that cruising at 130km/h on the long straight bits leading to Pula on our dash home saw the tacho needle on the very clear five-inch TFT dash parked at 5500rpm in top gear, just over halfway to the revlimiter, with zero vibration there or at higher revs in a lower gear – the gear-driven counterbalancer really does its job well.

That would be a very comfortable motorway cruising speed on the Tuareg in real-world riding conditions, with total stability despite the wide handlebar. But in a way the most surprising thing was that the quite large clear plastic screen isn’t adjustable – what I thought was a handle above the dash to pull it up turned out to be a mounting bar for a GPS. Yet it turned out to give really excellent protection in the Sardinian rain. “We wanted to save the weight and complication of fitting an adjustable screen,” says Mirko Zocco [see interview]. “So we spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel making sure it gave good protection to many heights of rider.”

At slower speeds off-road – on our unflooded substitute section it was impossible to use anything higher than second gear, unfortunately – I found the Tuareg very well balanced and easy to ride, with the pretty large 260mm rear brake beautifully set up – it worked really well, with just the right amount of sensitivity. So using Offroad riding mode with the rear ABS switched off (it can also be disabled at the front, but comes back on again after you switch off the ignition), TC on level 1 (the least) and the softest throttle response, trickling your way through ruts and over rocks and gravel-filled potholes at low speeds was simple, with the Marelli ECU’s fuelling just ideal.

This bike covers a very wide range of riding ability – it has the performance to suit expert off-road riders, among which I definitely don’t count myself, but it’s also accessible and – that term again, confidence-inspiring for all abilities. This is a bike you can start out off-road adventure touring on, and as you grow in expertise, the Aprilia will keep pulling you along to aim a little higher each time you ride it. It’s that kind of bike, and the accessibility of its electronics package is another benefit – Piaggio has always led the marketplace in terms of delivering rider-friendly electronics to its Aprilia and Moto Guzzi customers, and the Tuareg is another fine example of that.

The Tuareg’s fueling was also really excellent in tarmac use, too, so that you can relish in the seemingly improbable grip of the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tubeless tyres in using the twin Brembo 300mm front discs to trailbrake into a turn, then crack the throttle open on the exit in Explore (aka Road) mode, and be rewarded with an ideal connection between throttle and tyre, with no trace of a snatchy response from a closed throttle even in a lower gear, just a smooth drive out of the bend.

Despite the skinny off-road friendly 21-inch front tyre, I could keep up turn speed better than I was expecting, and the key to this was the excellent feedback from the front wheel via the fully-adjustable 43mm KYB fork. Whoever at Aprilia who set that up knew what they were doing, because this bike has no right to handle as well as it does on tarmac, with such good feedback from the front end.

aprilia tuareg 660

Despite the long-travel suspension, there’s very little fork dive when you use those twin front discs hard, and getting hard on the gas out of a switchback succession of seaside bends doesn’t invite the rear end to compress under acceleration, and send you understeering towards that rock face on the outside of the turn. The wide handlebar allows you to make corrections quickly and easily, but the Tuareg’s taut steering is pretty intuitive – it just seems to go where you point it without any fuss or bother.

It can be ridden hard and fast along winding roads, with only deft touches on the high, wide handlebar needed to flick it through one turn, then the next. Its steering is delightfully light yet precise, almost intuitive – it transmits your intentions into action almost before you’d thought them, and invites you to wind on the throttle exiting a turn sooner than you might normally dare, because of the ultra-controllable nature of its power delivery, coupled with really usable torque. And although I’m not a good enough off-road rider to tell you whether those twin front discs are really overkill for the dirt, I do know that they’re a key factor in making the Tuareg heaps of fun on the road, as well as a genuine mileater that won’t be overwhelmed by carrying a passenger and luggage. Its standard cruise control is an extra bonus – though strangely the Aprilia has no heated grips even available as an accessory.

aprilia tuareg 660

Though the lack in Mirko Zocco’s styling of the front beak that’s become a sort of business card for any motorcycle with dual purpose pretensions might make you think otherwise, the Aprilia Tuareg 660 is an very purposeful adventure bike with valid pretensions to be as capable on road as off, and vice versa. Although its price is yet to be confirmed in Australia, judging by its siblings, it’ll be priced at the upper end of the midsize segment, but there’s plenty of features to make it a very appealing package for a wide range of customers. Like it its well-controlled long-travel suspension, extensive suite of electronics and sufficiently potent but super torquey engine completely devoid of undue vibration at any revs. Then there’s its capable handling with excellent braking, plus the claimed 450km range from its 18-litre fuel tank – that alone is likely to pique the interest of perfectly capable offroad riders who nevertheless feel daunted about taking an BMW R 1250 GS anywhere more challenging off-road than a hard-packed gravel trail. The less costly but also less well-equipped Yamaha Ténéré 700 will be the Tuareg’s main rival – but the clincher in favour of the Italian bike may well be its electronics, which typically for Aprilia are both accessible and complete, and never invasive.

Words Alan Cathcart
Photography Milagro/Thomas Maccabelli & Alberto Cervetti



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