Motorcycle Review: Visayan Adventure with the Husqvarna Norden 901 and the Aprilia Tuareg | Toby Alberto
Story and Photos by Toby Alberto
|Author, Toby Alberto stretching the Tuareg's legs. Right photo: Negros Oriental's countryside.
When my college buddy (and Motor Ace head honcho) Jonel Borromeo invited me and a few other friends to visit his cozy seaside property in Negros Oriental, I gladly accepted the opportunity to bond with old chums within a quaint and serene backdrop, sipping cocktails and exchanging niceties. Then Jonel brought up the kicker – the invitation included various adventures, among them is to ride around the province atop the new premium adventure motorcycles in Motor Ace’s stable – the Husqvarna Norden 901 and the Aprilia Tuareg AND to go diving the pristine waters off Apo Island! I then responded with a drooly, semi-satanic “Hell, yes please!”
Bikes first: Specs-tacular
The two bikes I mentioned both carry the prestige of their European lineage – Sweden (Husqvarna) and Italy (Aprilia). While there are visual differences between the bikes, each is quite similar to the other.
|The adventure duo: Husqvarna Norden 901 and the Aprilia Tuareg
As I have pointed out, spec for spec, the two bikes are nearly identical except chiefly for the displacement difference and the brakes (which difference is most likely also owed to the discrepancy in engine size). Now that I got the technicals out of the way, I could go on with the adventure storytelling!
D-Day (Dumaguete Day!)
I arrived at Dumaguete airport in the early morning of November 2, 2023. I was met by no less than our host, Don Jonel Borromeo, himself! We took in a quick coffee and breakfast and headed to the Motor Ace shop in the city. Jonel had already been riding the Aprilia Tuareg days before my arrival and he rode to the shop on it. We then took a short tour of the Motor Ace store, with particular focus on the leisure bikes display on the second floor.
We geared up and engaged in a “route briefing” of sorts. There were three in our party – Jonel, his brother and Motor Ace Chief Financial Officer Chipi Borromeo, and me. For the first leg of our ride (Dumaguete to Pamplona), it was agreed that I would ride the Norden, Jonel the Tuareg and Chipi the Royal Enfield Himalayan (sigh, my first big bike… https://www.motourismo.ph/2021/12/fulfilled-dreams-of-touring-on-two.html).
Then, at the midpoint of our ride, we will switch bike assignments so that I get to ride the Tuareg, Jonel the Hima and Chipi the Norden. With that, off we went to meet our bikes at the shop’s exit driveway.
Nordic feels with the Norden
First impressions last. And my first impression of the Norden ever since I saw it launched at the Makina Moto show earlier this year was that it is a gorgeous bike. The color scheme (the varied grays and neon yellow), the logo placements, the pipe position, the body fairing/cladding (I don’t normally appreciate a bike with fairing, but it somehow works with this one), and, of course, the majestic stance. Intimidating intentions. And I was intimidated. Bonus info: The Norden 901, despite its Swedish origin, is currently being assembled at the Sta. Rosa, Laguna Husqvarna plant in the Philippines! Pinoy pryde!
|Jonel showing us what the Norden can do.
The next time I saw a Norden in person was in the leisure bike showroom of Motor Ace Dumaguete. It somehow looked even more imposing. I hopped on the display model and it was the first time I was on tiptoes on either side of any bike. I’m not too tall (5’10) and my inseam is on the short side (I think I have a longer torso). The thought of riding on a “high” bike rekindled some newbie rider jitters (although this is my 3rd year of riding motorcycles, I am still pretty green, if you get my meaning), as I have gotten so used to riding my (relatively low) W800 and my Vespa.
All geared up and briefed, we went to meet the rides. As I hopped on my assigned Norden, it did not feel as high as the display unit but that was probably because some usage of the bike “softened” the suspension a bit. That said, I was still on the edge of the balls of my feet on each side of the ride. And off we went, with Jonel leading the way.
As I started the bike and was feeling out the gas and clutch, I was surprised at how manageable and “friendly” the bike was. Low end acceleration did not ask for much and the power distribution could be one of the smoothest I have experienced on any bike.
Exiting Dumaguete city, we were met by a bit of “urban” traffic. I was glad for the low-gear stability of the Norden during traffic slowdowns as I still had some apprehensions about setting my feet down on pavement and not being used to the topside weight of this Husqvarna. We soon were entering freer roads along the coastline and was beginning our ascent up the ridge roads of Pamplona.
As expected of an adventure bike, the initial steep ascents were of no consequence to the Norden. Picking up the pace, we soon encountered some twisties and I felt confident with my knees gripping the girth of the tank, supporting my attempts at counterweight maneuvers (shoutout to veteran rider and de facto riding mentor, Chris Franco!).
I soon got comfortable with the Norden, so much so that I was able to enjoy some of the great scenery Negros Oriental had to offer. The first leg of our ride soon came to an end as we approached our midway stop – La Nebbia Restaurant, famous for its hot chocolate, among other things!
Rested up, chocolate fix done, and photo ops out of the way, we resumed our trek to Siaton. This time, I’m riding the Aprilia Tuareg. At first glance, the Aprilia seems to be the more “Italian” of the two bikes. One would see the details on what might have been better care taken on how each part is positioned and how seamlessly the color-scheme (predominantly red, in this case) is displayed on the machine, just like it would be for most vehicles of Italian nomenclature.
|Glorious under the sun.
Mounting the Tuareg immediately felt (more) reassuring, with what felt like a lower ride height than that of the Norden, which might have been my imagination because the height is nearly the same according to the spec sheet. The Aprilia’s tank width also felt more narrow.
Upon doing some equipment checks, I proceeded to start the bike. I eased it into gear and let go of the clutch then – kaput. The engine died on me. Of course, I baby-ed the gas as I often would when I’m in the getting-to-know you stage on a new motorcycle. The Aprilia wanted more gas. I obliged and was soon back on my way, trailing Jonel on the Himalayan.
Immediately, still on tarmac, I felt the Tuareg’s suspension to be a bit stiff. Also, throughout the ride, I felt that I was doing the bike a disservice. Despite (or more like due to) my few years of motorcycle experience, I have sort of built a reputation of riding relatively slower than most riders in my varied moto groups. And this did not seem to sit well with the Aprilia Tuareg. I felt the bike demand more from me as a rider. It would feel a bit rough on the low end, but, on the other extreme, really smoothen out when you twist the throttle out further! Given the slimmer tank, I also felt I went slower on the curves than with the pace I did on the Norden.
It seemed like the Tuareg was saying to me “What business do you have riding a motorcycle of my pedigree, noob?!” This was made even more pronounced when we entered a long unpaved segment heading to our final destination. The trail was quite craggy, with loose dirt and stones aplenty and the jutting of sharp coral-like formations along the way.
Again, I took extra care traversing this path, baby-ing the throttle some more. I even fishtailed and stopped before a rise that had more of the sharp rock structures ahead of me. Pretty soon, I forced myself to relax and let the bike do most of the work. With that, I completed that day’s course and arrived at Casa Borromeo in pretty much one piece.
Parting impressions on the bikes: Aventyr (Swedish) o Avventura (Italian)?
I was very pleased at the (approximately) 130km test run I did with the both adventure bikes. At the risk of overstating the obvious, what may have been two similar bikes at first glance ended up starkly different at the outcome. Of the two, I would say the Husqvarna Norden 901 was the more welcoming one. The Norden could go at the pace the rider dictates and not the other way around. Meanwhile, the Aprilia Tuareg is the more technical one. I feel the Tuareg already expects a certain (higher) level of rider proficiency prior to an initial engagement. That said, I would also avow that both motorcycles are made with utmost quality and care by the two manufacturers. My two centavos.