Saturday, October 15, 2011

Urban Cowboy: Aprilia Mana 850

Last week I got to spend a few days on the Aprilia Mana 850. This is a unique bike that isn't for everybody- but it's perfect for many.

Italian styling with a twist (and one less lever).
Parla Italiano?
I had to spend a few minutes learning how this Italian motorcycle works before riding off. The basics look pretty simple. Standard bike, with comfortable, sit-up riding position, Brembo brakes and a comfy seat. The Mana uses a trellis style frame with a wheelbase of 55.6". So far, so good. In fact, this looks and feels very similar to the slightly smaller, but more powerful, 750 Shiver that Aprilia has imported here for a couple of years.

Beyond that, you notice that something is just a little different. There is no getting around the fact that this whole motorcycle is defined by the powerplant and transmission. You get a glimpse of that as soon as you swing a leg over the bike and realize that there is no clutch lever. This complete powerplant has been lifted from the Gilera GP800, another product from Aprilia's parent company: Piaggio. The GP800 is a large Euro-only scooter. Aprilia takes that same 839cc, 90 degree V-twin, SOHC engine and upgrades it to 76 hp, through a few minor changes to prep it for Mana duty.

What is different from most any other motorcycle out there is the constantly variable transmission (CVT) that Aprilia calls their Sport Gear System. This works like a scooter- no clutch, just twist and go. You start the bike by releasing the parking brake, holding a brake and hitting the starter. There has always been a chasm between scooter riders and motorcycle riders. Some of the larger scooters have been trying to blur that line, but the line is still there. Then the Mana enters the picture, and jumps right over it. Yes, what we have here is a marriage of a standard motorcycle and a scooter, and the offspring will please most.
Leave your manual shifting egos at the door and throw a leg over this thing. It's a blast. I get to ride all manner of modern bikes and many times, end up dealing with the tall first gear of the close-ratio transmissions in town. Nothing horrible, just takes a little concentration when you are in traffic. Not the Mana. Just twist the throttle.
The magic button that controls it all

Ala Mode
Aprilia uses four distinct maps for the CVT. All selectable, on the fly, through a button on the right side control. You have the choice of Rain, Touring, Sport and Sport Gear modes.

Rain mode changes the fueling (less throttle per twist) and keeps the engine spinning at a lower RPM. A little sluggish and probably a nice safety net for wet pavement.

Touring mode releases the throttle to standard fueling and ups the RPMs for accelerating and cruising. This seemed to be the most usable of the auto modes, with less noise and vibration, yet still giving a good response.

Sport mode brings the RPMs up in all situations and holds it up. Great for acceleration and more engine braking, but keeps it up there the whole time, which can get annoying while trying to cruise at a steady speed.
Instrument Panel, minus the tach

Sport Gear mode gives you 7 different selectable ratios to choose from via the regular shift lever or the handy toggles under the left side handlebar controls. Once choosing a ratio in this mode, it holds it just like a manual transmission until you change it. The only time this changes it on its own, is if you come to a stop in anything but "first gear". The computer will take you back down to the first ratio to start over.

I found myself riding the Mana in Auto Touring mode 95% of the time. This gives great acceleration in town, quiet cruising down the highway and minimal noise and fuss. The only time I didn't want that, I chose Sport Gear mode to know what RPM range I was in, entering in and coming off of corners. Which is still left to somewhat of a guess with no tachometer! With a little more practice, I think I could accomplish the same in Auto mode and give my left wrist a rest.
This bike handles as great as you would expect, coming from Aprilia, with 43mm upside-down forks, a Sachs adjustable shock in the rear, light wheels and a flex-free frame. Once you get over the automatic transmission, you realize that this is a great handling, nimble bike. It weighs in at 507 lbs with a full tank of fuel- and feels a couple pounds lighter than that. The suspension components are middle range pieces, but Aprilia has done a good job matching spring rates and valving. The ride is compliant around pothole filled city streets and still controlled when you pick up the pace for this 180 lb rider.
Aprilia takes the standard location of the fuel storage and moves its 4.1 gallons under the seat. You access the fuel fill by unlocking and swinging the seat up.This accomplishes two things.

The first is to lower the center of gravity of the Mana. The second is to use the space fuel would normally occupy for a lockable storage area. I'm not talking about room for a snack bar or a tire gauge like most bikes, I'm talking full face helmet and gloves plus the snack bar and tire gauge. It even has a light for digging around at night. It's opened via a small switch on the front of the left handlebar control or a pull cable under the seat.

This is ingenious!

Side mounted shock
The riding position is near perfect for my 6' frame and the wide, flat seat felt good all day long. My OTPC (official test passenger) also known as Cyndie, reported the same for the passenger accommodations but found her left foot, constantly bumping into the upswept muffler. And she commented many times about the smooth drive from take off and deceleration in stop-and-go traffic. Of course, I took full credit for the expert throttle modulation... but in reality, have to give credit to the perfectly smooth CVT. 

The Bad
Vibration level was good as long as you left it in Touring mode, once in Sport mode, the vibration was felt through the pegs no matter where you had the throttle. No where else, but through the footpegs.
Radially mounted Brembo brakes 
No Tach! Come on Aprilia, give us a tach to watch. I would love to see what the revs are doing in Auto mode and it would be very useful in Sport Gear, since I am selecting the ratio.

Overall, the Mana is a great standard type bike with usable power and built in storage. After spending a couple of days on it I found it to be comfortable and nimble with very few faults. None of which pertain to the transmission.

The Mana ends up as a medium powered, fully automatic, built for the city motorcycle, that handles getting out on the highway or longer trips as good as anything else it's size. It really makes sense in a high traffic, running errands sort of way, with it's abundant storage area, good fuel economy (I averaged 34mpg, but should do much better with a normal throttle hand), and comfortable riding position. Our local dealer, Brookside Motorcycle Company, has even been cutting the seats down in height for a few of their "vertically challenged" customers.

So, go down and take a test ride, throw some side bags on it and stop thinking about buying that scooter you've been eyeballin' (you know who you are).
  • Engine: 90-degree V-twin SOHC with four valves per cylinder and a total capacity of 839cc. 76 horsepower at the crank.
  • Gearbox: Sequential with manual or automatic mode, selectable by user, seven ratios in manual mode, three engine mode mappings (Touring, Sport and Rain) in automatic mode
  • Drive: Chain
  • Fuel: 4.10 US gallon
  • Chassis: Trestle with high yield steel tubes.
  • Suspension: Front is hydraulic inverted telescopic 43mm fork with 4.72 in of travel; Rear is hydraulic single shock absorber with 4.72in of wheel travel.
  • Brakes: Front – double floating disc, 320mm, radial fixed calipers with four pistons each; Rear – single disc, 260mm, two piston caliper.
  • Wheelbase: 55.6 inch
  • Tires: Front: 120/70 ZR17 (58W). Rear: 180/55 ZR17 (73W).
  • Seat Height: 31.9 inches.
  • Weight: Curb weight, with full tank, listed as 507 lbs

Two Wheel Oklahoma

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