Some people think adventure riding is a recent craze, something that Ewan and Charley kicked off with their 2004-2005 Long Way Round series. Before that, adventure bikes just weren’t that popular—or so they think.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, it’s only North America that was slow to catch on to ADV riding. British and Euro riders were hip to the idea as far back as the 1970s, thanks to Ted Simon, the Dakar Rally, and the original BMW R80 G/S. Along with BMW’s GS series, there were plenty of other adventure bikes that sold overseas, but didn’t make it to North America, at least not in large numbers (See also: Honda AX-1, Kawasaki KLE500, etc.).
The Aprilia Pegaso 650 Cube was one of those machines. It never caught on big anywhere, but it is especially rare in North America.
Aprilia is really only known for its superbikes and other high-tech nakeds and scooters these days—all very street-friendly, for sure. But go back a couple of decades, and Aprilia was making an effort at the Paris-Dakar rally. Its first factory team came in 1989, with two veterans piloting a Tuareg Wind 600. In the years after that, Aprilia never won the event, but it did make an effort to play the game.
The Tuareg series (about to be revived, by the way!) was key to that effort, but eventually, Aprilia got tied up in one of those incestuous inter-manufacturer deals that typifies the European moto-manufacturing scene.
Somehow, Aprilia worked out a deal with BMW to cooperate on designing and manufacturing a series of 650 dual sport/adventure bikes. BMW got the F650 series, including such classics as the Funduro and F650 GS(and later on, the short-lived but interesting G650 series). Not only did Aprilia help design these bikes, it even manufactured some of them for BMW, and a very successful arrangement it was. BMW sold a lot of these bikes.
What did Aprilia get out of the deal? It got the Pegaso series, built around much of the same technology, at the same plant, by the same workers … but they had nowhere near the sales success.
Why didn’t Aprilia see similar success to BMW’s? You can’t entirely blame build quality, as Aprilia also manufactured many of BMW’s bikes. Instead, you can more likely blame poor management and marketeering decisions, as is so often the case with smaller manufacturers. It’s hard to sell bikes, if people don’t know about them, and can’t see them at a local dealer.
The liquid-cooled 652cc single-cylinder engine was the heart of the Pegaso 650. Like BMW’s early F650 series, the engine was actually sourced from Rotax. The Aprilia version had a five-valve head (three intake valves) and supposedly made 50 horsepower. If true, that’s likely just slightly more than the BMW engines.
By today’s standards the big single would be a bit crude. It came with a five-speed gearbox and chain drive, and would certainly vibrate more than the latest dual-counterbalanced singles from KTM. By the 1990s standards, though, this was about as civilized as a thumper could get.
That carried over to the Pegaso’s aesthetics. Although this particular model was unglamorously named the “Cube” (remember what I said about poor marketeering?), it was actually much sleeker than most of the 650s on the market at the time. Machines like the Honda XR650 and Suzuki DR650 showed their dirt bike heritage with rough, tough lines; even BMW went for the rugged look on the F650 series. You might not actually ride to Mongolia, but, sitting in the Starbucks parking lot, looking at the machine, you had no doubt it could …
Instead, the Aprilia had smooth lines lifted from its street bike series. It’s not just the outer bodywork, either; check out the dash, and instead of a couple of crude gauges, you get a sophisticated street bike look. It all hints at the market Aprilia was targeting. It doesn’t appear that Aprilia was selling this machine to hairy, smelly Brits, who wanted to ride London to Cape Town with their bedroll strapped to the back. Instead, it looks like it was aimed at mostly street riding, which is exactly where most ADV bikes actually spend their time. Again, the marketing problem factors in—20 years ago, while not everyone was riding around the world, most ADV bike buyers wanted to look like they were.
Factor in a high price, a reputation for dodgy electrics (how Italian of them!), and Aprilia’s smaller dealer network, and these machines never saw the success of the other 650 thumpers.
That might be a bit unfortunate, as if they’re well-sorted, they do have a reputation as a fun-to-ride tourer.
This machine is for sale on ADVrider’s Flea Market sub-forum, by inmate AdvBike (by the way, the ADVrider forum might be the best English-language source of info on these things, and the only spot they’re often found for sale in the US).
This machine has 17,000 miles on the odometer, and that Rotax single should do far more than that. It’s got Givi quick-release racks, with lockable hard bags, and a 26-liter Acerbis gas tank. It’s got USD forks, and Brembo brakes, rare equipment on a 20-year-old thumper for sure.
The seller says this machine has had plenty of mechanical attention, to make sure it doesn’t have any of the problems that are common to the series. That includes “new head gasket, new water pump, new water pump seals, new clutch cover gasket, new spark plug, valves service: checked and adjusted. Radiator flush, clean and fresh coolant. oil change. carbs taken out cleaned, rebuilt and tuned as well as gas canister nipples sealed. waterproof seat cover (original still underneath), new front sprocket, new rear sprocket, new chain. New air filter.”
Want to roll the dice on a rare ADV machine? Head over to the ad, and get in contact with the seller. Asking price is $3,500 US.