2012 Aprilia Mana 850GT: Sporty tourer can really scoot
Riding a motorcycle isn’t easy. Performing the complex sequence of hand, foot and brain gyrations required to just get away from a stop can be downright intimidating.
Until recently, anyone who wanted two wheels and an automatic transmission had one option: scooters. I happen to like scooters for several reasons, but they’re not motorcycles.
Yamaha sells an electric clutch version of the FJR1300 in Europe, and Honda’s VFR1200 has a DCT dual-clutch transmission available, but both of these bikes are powerful, expensive sport touring motorcycles. Anyone looking for an automatic middleweight was out of luck.
Until now. Aprilia’s $11,000 Mana 850GT features an electronically controlled CVT transmission — similar to those found on scooters, snowmobiles and ATVs. Just twist the throttle and go.
Three programmable power modes (Sport, Touring and Rain) are easily accessible via a button on the right switch pod. I found Touring best for everyday riding. Sport feels tighter and more direct, while Rain feels like your feet are dragging.
Modes are changeable on the fly, and switching into Sport at 100 km/h felt exactly like downshifting a manual transmission. The computer puts the engine higher up in the torque curve for more immediate throttle response. The on-board fuel consumption gauge (which was surprisingly accurate) consistently showed better consumption figures in Touring.
The rider can also shuffle through the gears manually via buttons on the left handlebar or a foot shift lever. The computer programs seven virtual gear selections, based on speed and engine r.p.m. Upshifting is smooth and unobtrusive and, if you forget to downshift when stopping, the computer does it for you so you won’t start off in seventh.
Shifting with the paddles can be mildly amusing but the Mana performs much better in all automatic modes, so there’s no point shifting manually.
Stuck in the usual stop-and-go Toronto traffic, my twice-broken left wrist really appreciated the lack of a clutch lever to constantly squeeze, feather, pull, and then feather some more for hours on end.
Some CVT transmissions could be assessed a delay of game penalty from when the throttle is twisted to when the machine begins to move. The Mana’s response is almost immediate, which makes U-turns and tight cornering much more controlled. Plus, the lack of slippage and delay in the drive system improves fuel economy.
The computer even simulates engine braking, so when you roll off the throttle, the bike slows like a regular transmission. Just be aware that when decelerating to about 15 km/h, the engine braking disengages and the bike freewheels.
The 839cc V-twin pumps out a reported 76 horsepower, which is entirely adequate for the motorcycle’s intended use. It’s tractable, smooth, surprisingly quick around town and cruises easily at any freeway speed.
A rigid, steel trellis frame is ably supported by an aluminum swing arm out back. Non-adjustable, 43-mm, male-slider front forks have a generous 120 mm of travel, while the single laydown rear shock has 125 mm of travel and is adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Four piston radial calipers squeeze twin 320 mm discs up front and, although the initial bite is a bit soft, braking is quite progressive, with decent feel and feedback at the adjustable lever. The 810-mm seat height is reasonable, but the high pegs caused my legs to feel cramped after an hour in the saddle. A taller seat or lower pegs would be better for taller riders.
Inside what looks like the fuel tank is actually a good-sized illuminated storage compartment with a cellphone holder, toolkit and a 12V power socket. Handy for commuters, for sure. The 16 L fuel tank is actually under the passenger seat, improving weight distribution and lowering the centre of gravity.
You don’t need a tachometer with a CVT but the large, legible speedo has an LCD display showing driving mode, gear selection, time, ambient temperature, engine temperature, whether the sidestand is down, whether the parking brake is on, average fuel consumption and average speed.
There’s also a menu screen with access to a terrifying number of other functions that quite possibly monitors your blood pressure and cholesterol, shows stock market trends and calculates the expansion of the universe.
Surprisingly, there’s no “distance remaining in the tank” feature — something I find incredibly useful. You’ll have to keep an eye on the trip meter or wait for the “low fuel” light.
To ride the Mana, pull the front brake lever (just like a scooter), push the starter button, disengage the parking brake (with no gears, it’s always in neutral when stopped and can roll away if parked on a slope), and ride off into the sunset.
So easy, even a car driver can do it.
The price is actually $1,000 less than the Mana I rode in 2007, and that model had no ABS or half-fairing.
I half expected something boring, spongy and scooter-like, but the Mana proved to be a “real” motorcycle in every aspect of its performance. It’s innovative and combines the sporty attributes of a motorcycle with the ease of operation and convenience of a scooter.
2012 Aprilia Mana 850GT
ENGINE: 839cc, V-twin, SOHC, EFI
POWER/TORQUE: 76 hp, 54 lb.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 5.1 to 5.6 L/100 km
COMPETITION: Suzuki SV650, Yamaha FZ8, Honda NC700
WHAT’S BEST: Light handling, CVT works well, storage space.
WHAT’S WORST: A bit cramped for 6-footers
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Only motorcycle with a CVT transmission.
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