Automatic transmissions are nothing new, whether it is a commercial-duty Allison or the push button Torqueflite on your Dad’s Plymouth Fury. Moto-Guzzi offered the first motorcycle automatic in 1975 with their Convert models. Honda quickly followed with their CM400A and CB750A models. And let’s not forget about the clubs dedicated to riding those early automatics: does anyone remember the Shiftless Bums? Recently, manufacturers have begin to offer everything from full-automatics to electronic shifting
Jumping into the automatic motorcycle waters, Aprilia has introduced the Mana 850. My first thought was, “Hey, it’s a Shiver minus the clutch.” No, really, it’s not. Sure, they are both naked sport bikes powered by a wonderful V-twin built by the same Italian manufacturer. But that’s about it. And while its transmission is via CVT, don’t lump it in with one of parent company Piaggio’s other offerings, the Vespa. Although it shares its v-twin motor and CVT with the Gilera GP800 uberscooter, this ain’t no scooter, Bub.
So what, exactly, is the Mana? The answer to that is easy: it’s damn fun!
Whether you only ride automatic scooters or you are an experienced motorcycle rider, the Mana has you covered. Its clutchless, automatic transmission, dubbed Autodrive, is great for beginners, yet features four different settings that cater to everyone’s riding style. All are easily accessed via a slick thumb-operated switch on the right-side switchgear. For commuting and touring, select Tour mode, Sport mode will keep the revs up so that wonderful V-twin is right in its power band, while Rain mode keeps the power delivery at bay for frolicking in less-than-ideal conditions. And then there’s my personal favorite: the Sportgear mode. Choose this setting and you have the option of shifting the bike through all seven “gears”. This is accomplished by using either a conventional gearshift “lever” or via a thumb/finger operated paddle-type shifter located on the left switchgear. Even though I played with all four Autodrive settings, I kept coming back to Sportgear ‘cuz it’s just so much fun. That being said, I used the Tour mode for much of my commuting. In stop-and-go traffic, it’s bloody brilliant. Twist. Go. Stop. Repeat.
Yes, it’s a learning curve for most of the riders who’ve grown up riding motorcycles with conventional transmissions. Although having put thousands of miles on automatic scooters, I occasionally found myself reaching for a clutch lever that didn’t exist.
Besides the CVT, there are a couple of other features unique to the Mana. First off, there’s a parking brake. When disengaged you’ll hardy notice it. When engaged, you can’t help but notice it protruding from the side. This is not a bike that suffers from EDS! Two others worth mentioning are the fuel tank and the space where the fuel tank would normally be. What appears to be the gas tank is actually a decent-sized storage area, opened by either a control on the switchgear or a lever underneath the rear seat section. Open the passenger pillion (there’s a standard key lock in back) and you’ll find not only that lever, but also the cap to the fuel tank. The plus side to having the tank located under the seat is a lower center of gravity. The down side is that if you run soft luggage, and that luggage sits on or hangs from the rear seat, you’ll have to remove it every time you gas up. I’d either consider a top case or hard saddlebags. By the time you read this, Aprilia should have hard luggage available for the Mana. That storage section under the dummy tank will swallow a full-face helmet and a pair of gloves. Eyeing it up for the first time, I thought, “A feller could haul a rotisserie chicken in there.” I never did find out.
Differences aside, the rest of the Mana is like most other bikes. Fire ‘er up and the V-twin settles into a nice idle. Climb aboard, release the brake and set off. Tubular handlebars and fairly comfy ergos, perhaps a tad on the sporty side, make this bike a fantastic commuter and a fiend in the twisties.
My only real complaint was that I found the legroom to be a little cramped for me. Still, that didn’t keep me from enjoying my time aboard the Mana. In my opinion, anyone who isn’t stirred by the joy and exhilaration of riding an Italian V-twin probably doesn’t have a pulse. The 839cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 90-degree V-twin features eight valves and a wonderful, booming exhaust note. Sono felice!
But there’s more to the Mana than that wonderful motor. To me, a great motorcycle should be a combination of power and handing. To get a great-handling bike, you need a great frame. Like the Shiver, the Mana features a trellis frame and the motor is used as a stressed member. This combination has worked well in many other motorcycles and it works just as well on the Mana. A single, rear Sachs shock hangs off the frame, connected to a unique, beefy aluminum swing arm. The front forks are 43mm, non-adjustable male sliders. Engine power is transferred from the CVT to the rear wheel via chain. Front and rear hoops are 17-inchers shod with radial tires. Front brakes consist of dual four-piston radial-mount calipers squeezing 320mm stainless discs. There’s a solo 260mm disc and single-piston caliper in back. All of this translates to a fun, fast and capable machine that handles wonderfully with a ride that is firm but not jarring. When subjected to a washboard section of road that I regularly commute on, the Mana scored a B+.
Let’s face it; although I like to ride as much as possible, at some point I need to stop. Sometimes it’s for gas; sometimes it’s for ice cream. When I stop, I like to take a moment and look over my ride. Overall, she’s a beaut. I really like her lines but have a few bones to pick with the styling department. For starters, there’s too much clutter on the left side. There’s so much going on there that you really can’t see that gorgeous frame. If you walk around to the right side, the frame is there for all to bask in its glory. Unfortunately, so is the u-g-l-y EPA canister. Blech. Despite my nitpicks (your mileage may vary) this is still a pretty good-looking motorcycle! I tip my helmet to whomever designed that headlight, as it’s a work of art.
Now for a little test ride. Starting procedure is pretty simple. There’s no choke, so you just turn the key, let the instruments do their little dance, engage either brake and then hit the starter button. The motor fires instantly and settles into idle. And this is the part where I remind you to make sure that the parking brake is set, lest you wick the throttle a bit too much and send the bike sailing off its side stand. Ouch.
Swing a leg over and settle into the seat. The rider’s portion of the seat is stepped a little, just wide enough and has plenty of grip. Some complained that the seat locks you into one position, but I was able to move around without much effort. Use the thumb control to decide which gear mode you want to be in. One nice thing about the Autodrive is that you can switch modes on the fly. Once you’ve decided (or, like me, whatever mode you left it in) twist the throttle and you’re off. Unless you’re in Rain mode, you’ll notice that the Mana scoots away from a stop at a pretty good pace.
Maybe I’m commuting today, or maybe it’s a nice day to go play. I think it’s a nice day to go play.
I leave it in Tour mode until I hit one of my favorite sections of road and then switch to Sport Gear mode. Now it’s time to haul ass! Carving the corners, banging through the gears, I come to the place where I usually turn around and run it the other direction. Not one to buck tradition, I do just that.
Only this time I switch out of the Gear mode and into regular Sport. Maybe it’s not having to concentrate on finding the right shift points, or (more likely) it’s that bike already knows which “gear” to be in, but it seems like I ran through that section faster the second time. Hmmm…
I still question the purpose of the Mana and it’s automatic transmission. Some say it’s a sporty way to encourage new riders (or returning riders) back to the sport by making a fun bike that’s a little easier to operate. My belief is that it’s simply an option for those who want a bike that’s just damn fun. Whatever the reason, I’m glad that it’s here for all to enjoy.
MMM would like to thank Leo’s South in Lakeville for the use of the Aprilia Mana. Leo’s can be reached at 952. 435.5371 or www.LeosSouth.com
by Tammy Wanchena
Mana /ma:na/ n. 1. power; authority; prestige 2. supernatural or magical power
OK, I am convinced. Like mana from heaven, the Aprilia Mana arrived in my garage, begging to be ridden. My first Italian Stallion since the last Sylvester Stallone movie I was forced to suffer through. Strong, masculine lines in a super sleek, sport standard package; this might just be the sexiest thing to come out of Italy since Sophia Loren in Five Miles to Midnight, circa 1962. There is no argument that this is an attractive bike, but how does she handle? First, the Aprilia Mana is an automatic, with the option to shift. WHA??? That’s right. With a simple twist of the wrist the Mana is up and moving. The bike has four gear modes that are all accessed with a simple push of the Gear Mode button on the right handlebar. Hold the button in for a couple seconds and it will change between four different transmission “modes”: Touring, Sport, Sport-Gear, and Rain. Each gear mode determines how aggressively the transmission shifts.
In Rain mode, the Mana handles more gently, is slower to accelerate and harder to skid. Rain mode is ideal for city streets with heavy traffic and increases safety on driving surfaces with low traction. In touring mode, where I did most of my riding, RPMs are lower than it is in Sport mode and there is less vibration. Touring is designed for maximum fuel economy and smooth shifting.
Push the button to Sport mode and you will instantly feel the surge of more aggressive power delivery and faster speeds. The engine is always at higher RPMs, gear change is rapid, and the engine braking is at a maximum. And in Sport-Gear mode, shifting between gears 1 through 7 becomes mandatory rather than voluntary.
I experimented with each of these very different ride settings, and can report that if you ride in Sport-Gear mode, and are riding in the wrong gear, the bike will tell you. A yellow light will blink on the instrument panel once you get close to reaching maximum RPMs for the gear you are riding in. Although anyone who has ridden a motorcycle will recognize the incessantly loud and obnoxious, familiar revving that comes with not shifting gears soon enough.
Unlike any other bike I am familiar with, the Mana allows you the option to shift, or not, regardless of which riding mode you are in. There is a silver button: “+” in front, “-“ in back, on the left handlebar, as well as a foot gear shift lever off your left peg. Shifting between gears is easy and just like a manual transmission. Having the ease of a scooter with the power of an 850cc motorcycle takes a little getting used to. But within a half hour, I had solid control over the throttle and how much power it delivered.
One thing I simply could NOT get used to, in spite of riding more than 150 miles on the bike, was the fact that there was no left hand clutch lever to reach for! Old habits die hard and there was not a single moment when I would go to brake and not reach for that non-existent lever. I would be tempted to add a mock clutch lever to the left handlebar for the sake of maintaining my sanity.
I love the riding position. With the only exception being that I am vertically challenged and could barely touch the ground on my tip toes with the bike’s suspension set as low as possible. This was only a problem when stopping uphill, as the bike weighs in at a healthy 516 pounds, which felt like it was distributed behind and beneath the rider. The seat height, set at lowest suspension is 31.5 inches. I understand there is an aftermarket kit available that will lower it by another 1.5 inches. Upright, seated riding position that put no pressure on my wrists or hands, and my legs were tucked in at just the right angle to pull my feet up quickly at stops and find the pegs with ease. After a two hour ride, I felt no pain in my butt or legs; which can not be said about too many bikes equipped with a stock seat. I could not have been more pleased with the mirrors and had no problem seeing any evils that may have lurked behind me. The mirrors were easy to position and easy to adjust while riding.
The instrument panel is extremely informative, offering important information such as your average speed, instant fuel economy, the time of day, average fuel economy, your maximum speed, and a superfluous lap timer. There is no tachometer, but there is a trip meter. The display screen will tell you if your sidestand is down, and will loudly and proudly display what gear you are riding in while riding in Sport-Gear mode.
I was disappointed with the fuel efficiency. The bike has only a four gallon tank and the low fuel warning light came on after riding a mere 80 miles; and that was mostly in touring mode. According to the digital display, I averaged 36 miles per gallon; maintaining an average speed of 37 miles per hour and a maximum speed of 68 miles per hour.
Accessing the gas tank is simple, but different. It is found beneath the rear passenger seat. A turn of the key at the back of the bike will raise the seat to allow access to the filler. There is a nice reservoir surrounding the hole where you fill the gas that allows for cleaner spills and overflow.
I had an obscene amount of fun riding this bike! Only one thing prevents me from ever buying an Aprilia Mana. Within a very short time of hopping on the bike and hitting the pavement, my right leg would start to scorch from the hot air coming off the radiator. And I do mean scorch! Not since the Can Am Spyder have I had the feeling that the zipper from my right boot would permanently burn into the flesh of my right calf, causing a Frankenstein scar for life. My husband is a foot and a half taller than I am and he did not suffer from Flaming Leg Syndrome. If Aprilia ever solves this problem, I will proudly own a Mana. Until then, I will continue to commute on my automatic scooter and take longer trips on my manual motorcycle.
Bike shopping can be like shopping for diamonds. There is reportedly such a thing as “the perfect diamond”; possessing the perfect cut, clarity and carat. What is “perfection” to you may not be “perfect” for me. The Aprilia Mana came extremely close to being my perfect motorcycle! It is powerful fun and super easy to ride, but slightly flawed as it burns my leg hairs and sucks fuel. While diamonds are supposedly a “girl’s best friend”, I’d rather spend the money on a new motorcycle. And if Mana fixes those two issues, I will have found myself a new best friend!