Aprilia’s Mana puts a fully-automatic transmission into a conventional motorbike, creating the last word in practical biking. So is the Mana a fantastic scooter for grown-ups, or the worst of both worlds..?
The Mana, this half-bike half-scooter melange, has much in common with the conventional SL750 Shiver. Its 839cc, liquid-cooled, 90-degree engine is bolted to a steel trellis frame. Cycle parts include 43mm upside-down front forks, 17-inch wheels, and radial four-pot front brake calipers.
But there’s more to the Mana, starting with the dummy fuel tank’s lid that hinges to provide lined storage for a full-face lid, plus a 12V charger and space for a mobile phone. The pillion seat pivots in similar fashion to reveal the fuel tank. Instead of a normal gearbox the Mana has a scooter-style Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). In addition, there’s the option of a seven-speed manual change, operated by the gearlever or buttons on the left bar.
There’s no need for a clutch lever, which added to the Mana’s unusual feel as I splashed away from our launch base in central Turin, having released the scooter-style hand brake behind my left knee. Having set off in Automatic and selected the Rain mode (via the button on the right bar), I was glad to give my left hand and foot a rest in the rush-hour traffic.
The sohc V-twin engine is softly tuned, producing just 75bhp at 7,250rpm, 20bhp down on the Shiver’s smaller dohc unit. But it has plenty of low-rev performance. Tweaking the light-action throttle sent the V-twin surging forward with a more urgent version of the typical constant-rev scooter rumble.
Rain mode softens the throttle response slightly, useful given the conditions, but Aprilia has programmed that setting to provide very little engine braking, which meant I had to use the bike’s stoppers more than normal – hardly ideal on slippery roads. Toggling between the Sport and Touring modes made little difference in town, though Sport gives some extra zip by holding onto the revs longer.
When finally we found some decent roads outside the city, holding down the transmission button sent the CVT into manual mode, allowing me to flick up and down through the seven ratios by pressing the thumb and finger-operated buttons on the left bar. Apart from beeping the horn by mistake a few times, it was like using a racebike’s quick-shifter: keep the throttle wound open and snick through the box with a few jabs of the thumb, as the row of four rev-warning lights lit up.
The Mana should be capable of 120mph and was quick enough to make the hilly, twisty Italian roads exciting given the slippery surface. The only aspect I disliked was again related to lack of engine braking. At slow speed the transmission seemed to disengage, leaving the bike freewheeling into a couple of slippery downhill hairpins.
Cornering was otherwise excellent. The forks aren’t adjustable and the rear shock can be tuned for preload and rebound damping only. Both gave a sporty, well-controlled ride. The radial four-pot calipers and Dunlop’s Qualifiers seemed well up to the job.
The Mana’s practicality was handy out of town, too. When we stopped for a coffee at the top of one twisty hillside road, it was handy to be able to leave my helmet in the dummy tank. There’s even a courtesy light in there, along with the electrical socket. Handy for my thinning hair. Controls, mirrors and the comprehensive instrument panel are all good.
It’s not a machine for every motorcyclist, this Mana. If you rarely ride in town you’d arguably gain little advantage from the power-sapping complexity of the CVT. Or the expense: at about six grand it will cost slightly more than the Shiver. But in traffic the automatic transmission is handy, and the Mana combines its superbike and scooter features cleverly. Whether it turns out to be a “milestone in the evolution of the motorcycle”, as Aprilia claims, or a complete dead end remains to be seen.
Become a fan of Visordown
Follow us on twitter
Other Immediate Media Sites
Our eCommerce Platform
© Immediate Media Company Ltd 2012. This website is owned and published by Immediate Media Company Limited. www.immediatemedia.co.uk