Review: 2023 Aprilia Tuareg
Many things have been said and written about the off-road qualities of the Aprilia Tuareg. But while private and semi-official teams kept lining up at the starting gates of ADV raids and European off-road races with the Yamaha Ténéré 700 bikes, Aprilia still hadn’t seen the opportunities that the Tuareg 660 was offering to become a main player in the ADV world.
Two young men from Parma understood it quite well, though. Gianfranco and Vittoriano Guareschi of the eponymous Moto Guzzi dealership—strong racers on the track as well as internationally renowned test riders and passionate off-road riders—had the idea to transform a quiet Moto Guzzi V85 into a racing bike to take part in the 2021 Italian Motorally. At the end of the season, the bike was displayed at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milan, making the public dream of seeing one of Piaggio's brands return to the dirt.
At the beginning of 2022, the Guareschis also became Aprilia dealers and used their expertise with the V85 to also transform the Tuareg into a total weapon for rally raids. They scored fifth in the Italian Motorally’s twin-cylinder category with rider Francesco Montanari from Varese. The season saw the bike evolve continuously to a robustness and performance that finally caught the attention of Piaggio executives.
So, at the Motor Bike Expo in Verona, Italy, at the end of January 2023, Aprilia's racing director, Massimo Rivola, revealed an official team from the Veneto-based company that will take part in the Italian Motorally 2023 with riders Jacopo Cerrutti and Francesco Montanari. Their long-term goal is a return to Africa to participate in (and obviously win) the Africa Eco Race. which runs on the original tracks of the classic Dakar Rally to finish at Lac Rose in Senegal.
The competition version of the new Aprilia Tuareg 660 will be developed by Aprilia Racing in technical collaboration with the Guareschi brothers' GCorse team. The 2023 season will be entirely dedicated to the development of the project that, right from its first steps, has shown great potential.
In parallel with the Tuareg Aprilia Racing project, 2023 will see Aprilia present in the bivouacs of the Italian Motorally. The company will provide support to all those who will participate riding a Tuareg 660 in the newborn "entry-level" GPX class, created specifically to make competition more accessible.
Aprilia thus confirms its mission to bring more and more enthusiasts closer to motorcycling. The firms has bee pursuing this goal for years in track racing through the Italian FMI Aprilia Sport Production Championship and the Aprilia RS 660 Trophy.
The first rollout of the newly formed team on African soil took place on the dunes of Merzouga in early March, in the southern part of Morocco. The Moroccan desert has always been a stage for great challenges during the golden years of the Dakar, when ferries from France would unload the rally caravan on the Mediterranean coast to continue the race toward Dakar.
Jacopo Cerutti is at present the most successful Italian rally racer. He has nine Italian championships under his belt and has participated in six Dakar races, with 12th place as his best result from 2013. No other Italian has done better ever since.
Also present for the first technical tests on the Erg Chebbi dunes was MotoGP test rider Lorenzo Savadori, who had joined the expedition to welcome Cerutti and introduce him to the Aprilia Racing family.
The bikes tested during the three days were set up practically like the bike that took part in the 2022 Italian Motorally. Therefore, to withstand the increased loads of rally racing, the support of the front fairing—which also holds the roadbook and the navigation instruments—was redesigned in aluminum instead of plastic.
In terms of suspension, the standard fork with an Andreani cartridge and the standard fork braces were still present, with the stroke increased to 9.8 inches. In the rear, an Öhlins TTX shock offered 10.8 inches of wheel travel with stock connecting rods and swingarm.
The wheels in sizes of 21 inches in the front and 18 inches in the rear bear hubs machined from billet aluminum with Excel rims and Metzeler Karoo 4 Extreme tires.
Important changes were made to the brakes. Up front, a single 300mm disc is used with a different master cylinder using a 12mm piston. At the rear sits a 280mm disc and the master cylinder remains the same while the brake lever is now made of steel.
SC Project supplied the exhaust system with headers and a silencer made of titanium allowing a considerable reduction in weight—all obviously accompanied by a dedicated mapping that offers better low-end torque. The entire engine is now wrapped in a 4mm-thick skidplate made of aeronautical aluminum, which also protects the water pump.
The side stand has been redesigned in steel to compensate for the bike's new setup, and a straighter and 10mm narrower handlebar has been fitted. The final drive ratio remains standard, as do the tank, fairing, dashboard, and lights.
A Positive Experience
First and foremost, Cerutti aimed to get to grips with a bike that is a good 110 pounds heavier than the usual 450cc desert bike to which the 33-year-old rider from Como was accustomed. Obviously, this also required some adjustments to the riding style, which needed to be smoother and rounder to better exploit the almost exuberant engine power.
In terms of the chassis, the bike was set up in the "Italian Motorally" configuration, where the emphasis is on handling and agility. For Africa, some adjustments needed to be done to ensure high-speed stability, with speeds reaching up to 120 mph on hard tracks.
All in all, the Merzouga dines provided a very positive experience for the entire Aprilia racing team. They gathered the first clues on how to transform the Tuareg into a true "Blue Warrior" of the desert, as its name "Tuareg" promises.