Defining what a Motorcycle Adventure is

Read time: 6 min
Published: 07 July 2021

Interview with Paolo Caprioni, KTM Rally Raid Rider

Paolo Caprioni is the hero you don’t expect. Well, he’s that kind of hero that doesn’t let daily life fool him and this tells a lot. 15 years ago, Paolo (professional hair stylist) and his brother Stefano decided to take part to Hellas Rally with two KTMs LC8. They started from Ferrara, boarded in Ancona and landed somewhere in Greece to get in line with the other contestants of Hellas Rally. This rally raid consists in a 160 to 250km-stage per day per 7 days. They had zero assistance and zero athletic preparation for that, only a great amount of stubbornness. When Paolo and Stefano came back to Italy they had two goals in mind for the future: 1. To create a team of twin-cylinders fans and 2. To make the standard KTM LC8 more competitive for rallies. Here starts their true motorcycle adventure. 

Stefano became the official mechanic of the team with the aim to make the KTM fit for Paolo's needs during rallies, meanwhile Paolo got acquainted with all European rallies testing and defying his limits with fatigue and sacrifice. Within a couple of years Caprioni Brothers and their friend Giampiero Zanelli founded Team Kapriony churning out two-cylinder KTM-based projects like “Zaira” and “Elvira”.

Paolo, how was Team Kapriony born?

Well, the team was born thanks to the influence of two dear friends of mine. The first one is Alessio Corradini which I met on social networks because of our common passion for two-cylinders. He's crazy! (he laughs) He is a Pro Rally Photographer. His life is taking pics of African rallies on board of an LC8 (and he's better than many riders I know!). The second friend is Fausto Gresini, former Gp rider and manager who recently passed away. He introduced us with a sponsor that helped us making the first steps. Corradini defied us to make a team for two cylinders only. In the end he eventually became honorary member of the team. We also later met Romeo Feliciani, the mechanic of the mythical rally rider Fabrizio Meoni. He helped us a lot in improving our motorcyles.

Which was your first motorcycle adventure in the desert?

Truth to be told, the very first time I was in Africa I did it with Valentini Team. It was 1986 and I was barely old enough to vote. My friend and I went down to Algeria with two Moto Morini Camel 500 that the team borrowed us. We reached the Paris Dakar rally convoy and we sneaked into the tent of the contestants to eat. We were abusive! (he laughs) Later on there was the terrible helicopter accident of Thierry Sabine, the founder of the Paris Dakar, who lost his life. After that a lot of people decided to leave. Like many others we tried to go back, but the journey was a real nightmare. We lost ourselves several times, we've been almost kidnapped, run out of money and finally we had to go to the Italian Embassy to be able to go home. However, the my first African rally as a contestant was Merzouga Rally in 2015. In 2017 I did my first Africa Eco Race (AER), which traces part of the old Paris Dakar route. 

During your last 2019 Africa Eco Race you experienced riding both a single cylinder and a twin-cylinder motorcycle. So, which one wins?

This is a question that everybody asks me. In 2019 I started AER with a twin-cylinder KTM but I had a technical issue and a rider that withdrew the race borrowed me his single-cylinder Husqvarna. So I tried both kinds of motorcycles under the same conditions. The comparison is ruthless! Take into account that our lightened twin-cylinder weights 210kg (gasoline included). A standard single cylinder weights 130-138kg and it literally flies on the dunes! I had to change driving style. I learnt to keep open when my instinct was telling me to close. And I had to learn to fall in the right way. Man, the first stage with the Husqvarna I was more on the sand than on the motorcycle. I thought to quit, but quitting is not in me! Talking about speed. In the past a single cylinder could eventually reach 130 km/h of speed, now it reaches the 160 km/h and the gap with the twin-cylinder is not so huge anymore. Yes, you can reach 200-210 km/h with my twin-cylinder but you rarely can find the soil that allows you to do it. Everybody asks me why I endure making motorcycle desert racing with a motorcycle which is not made for it. But what's the point in making things the way everybody does them? I pick twin-cylinders with eyes closed.

Which modifications do you usually do on motorcycles?

My first AER was with "Zaira", a lighted KTM LC8, but basically a production bike. After that we worked on "Elvira" a prototype based on another KTM LC8 with a Meoni Chassis and a Pro-Link rear suspension. Main modifications were made to save instruments from overheating. The two-cylinders are powerful and therefore overheat easily. Working on the cooling system is crucial.

Which is the regular motorcycle maintenance during a race?

Every evening we do maintenance in the assistance park. It takes from 3 to 5 hours. Apart from special breaks, you have to tighten all the bolts. You loose at least 30% of it during the stage, and the remaining part gets loose. Single cylinders need a daily engine oil change, while we change the engine oil of our twin-cylinder every 2.000-3.000 km of stages, so once every two days.

As a rider how do you prepare yourself for a rally?

Athletic preparation is totally needed! Especially if you are over a certain age like I am (he smiles). If you hope to achieve something you need to train 4-5 months before with a professional athletic doctor or trainer. Mentally speaking the challenge is to stay focused. The true problem when you're there in the desert is that your mind tends to digress from instruments and from the situation. It happens that you start following other's traces and that's the easiest way to fail. This risk for me is high on Moroccan stage 2 and 3 of Africa Eco Race which are pretty monotonous. Mental presence is everything.

What's your biggest fear during desert rallies?

Somebody fears the soil, the unexpected changes in the surface which make the desert tricky by definition. They slow down cause they fear the unknown. I was in speed competitions on circuits when I was young, so I've never had this fear. Many also fear to loose themselves in the open desert. GPS systems are fantastic now in comparison with those of the 1980s, so you can't really loose yourself, but still the fear of being isolated is a burning issue. I use to sail a lot in open sea and I've already reconciled with the sensation of not exactly knowing where I am. My biggest fear? Honestly it is breaking the motorcycle! I'm always trying to save the bike, not falling! The biggest satisfaction would be doing a desert motorcycle adventure with no technical concerns from the beginning to the end. Never say never.

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