Photos: Rick and “Burn”
The Aprilia Mana 850 GT has an easy-to-live-with CVT transmission, excellent handling and braking and good fuel economy. So is it a city bike? An upgraded scooter? Or a basic all-around street bike?
Who would refuse the loan of a brand-spanking-new motorcycle for a month? Not me.
So when Kenn Stamp, the Editor of 2WF.com recruited me for another, the answer was “Yes” before the sentence left his mouth. I’m on call 24/7, ready any time to review a new motorcycle…all in the interest of our webBikeWorld visitors, of course.
This time, it was the Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS. Kind of a mouthful and isn’t “mana” the stuff that came down from heaven to feed the Israelites when they were hanging out in the desert? There were no Golden Arches back then, you know. Ummm, wait — actually, that was “manna”, now that I think about it.
Mana is supposed to be a word to describe the power, or “juice” that resides in supernatural, spiritual or powerful people. I’m not sure if that’s what the Aprilians had in mind for this bike; if so, it’s a good example of hyperbole. But…there have been stranger names for motorcycles.
Besides the name, this bike is different, that’s for sure. After I agreed to run up to Allentown, Pennsylvania to pick it up, I figured I’d better take a peek at the specs and do a quick read of HBC’s Mana 850 review (the base model) from 2009. That’s when I remembered about the CVT.
Aprilia seems a bit reticent at calling the transmission a CVT. They sometimes refer to it as a “sportgear transmission” and sometimes as a “sequential/automatic transmission”. But peel away the layers of marketing propaganda and eventually they call it a CVT.
I never rode a bike with a CVT before and I wondered if I’d be reaching for a clutch lever and coming up with air every time. I thought for sure I’d be flubbing takeoffs left and right — after all, the left side of my body has been programmed for umpty-ump years to clutch ‘n’ shift. It’s difficult to imagine what life would be like without it.
What a surprise! Not once — not one single time did I reach for the clutch or shifter. But an even bigger surprise was this: not once did I miss them, either. One ride on the Mana 850 GT and you’ll wonder why all motorcycles aren’t like this. At least I did…
OK, so the CVT is the showcase feature of the Mana 850 GT — but what about the bike that surrounds it? Well, let’s take a look…
Mana For the Masses
I get the sense that Aprilia’s marketing strategy for the Mana 850 is a bit schizophrenic. Actually, so is the bike. I wonder if Aprilia knows what they have in the GT version of the Mana 850 — like what is the target market for this bike and what would motivate someone to buy it.
Aprilia uses vague marketing-speak phrases when referring to the GT, using phrases referring to it as “a completely new motorcycling concept” and “the new frontier, the missing link in an evolution that makes the world of motorcycling and its emotions accessible to all types of users”.
Huh? That one’s definitely a non-starter with the beer and peanuts crowd.
This is a problem. The Mana 850 GT does have a few unique benefits, but like everything else in today’s hyperkinetic marketplace, the ability to sell one requires a laser-focused strategy targeted to a very specific market segment and a crystal-clear explanation of the features and benefits. All in about 10 seconds or less. Less.
So here’s my tip to Aprilia: Forget about trying to sell this bike as a motorcycle replacement for scooter owners or as an urbanite fad bike. Forget the “all things to all people” strategy too. And definitely can those “emotions” that are “accessible to all types of users”.
After living with the Mana 850 GT for a month, I see something different. The CVT is a gem and the bike is, oh, about 85 percent of the way to being a very interesting and unique sport-tourer. If I were in charge, that’s where the focus would be.
Give it an adjustable windscreen (and a couple of windscreen options), a nice set of bags with hard mounting points and a top box and maybe even replace the chain with a belt drive. Do all that and I think you’d end up with one of the sweetest sport-tourers on the road.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. So let me take you through a recap of my thoughts after living with this very cool and very unusual bike for a month or so…
Mana 850 GT Styling and Design
The build quality of this thing literally felt like it was carved from a steel billet — and all of the other Aprilias I have handled feel just as good.
It’s too bad the retail network — at least in the U.S.A. — is so thin. If more people had an Aprilia dealer nearby (and if I didn’t have to drive all the way up to Allentown PA to find a dealer), I bet Piaggio would sell a lot more bikes, especially when the potential customer could compare one handlebar-to-handlebar in a showroom with other makes.
Aprilia build quality reminds me of early Hinckley Triumph — overbuild it to completely bury any preconceived notions of British (or Italian) quality. For example, little items like braided stainless steel fuel lines, machined rather than stamped brackets hidden in places you’d never find them and high-quality hardware make a big difference and add to the solid presence of this motorcycle.
The styling of the Mana GT variant doesn’t help a potential owner understand the bike either, unfortunately. It’s a combination of 21st Century modern with a touch of 1980’s mullet in the fairing, which looks out of place with the character of the bike. The round headlight is the problem; it doesn’t jive with the sharp lines that dominate everything aft of the triple clamp. Style me up a pair of cool-looking razor-sharp headlights up front and you’d have it.
And speaking of the fairing, that windscreen has to go. Aprilia told me there are no optional windscreens, which is too bad, because the stock screen dumps turbulent air where it’s least wanted — right smack dab on the chin. This causes a huge amount of wind noise, starting at a low 20 MPH and getting worse from there. At 60+ MPH, it’s nearly unbearable when wearing any type of helmet.
The stock screen is adjustable, more or less (less). Two bolts on either side are loosened to move the windscreen up or down about 25 mm total, but it’s not enough to smooth the air flow by any means.
This would be an easy problem to solve for an owner, however. If the bike were mine, the first order of business would be to break out the Dremel, cut the windscreen in half and sand and polish the top edge. Done and booming gone. I didn’t think Aprilia would care much for testing that theory on a brand-new loaner bike though, so the Dremel stayed in the drawer.
The CVT and Me
Since the transmission is the raison d’être for the Mana 850 series, I will address it first. I wasn’t sure how quickly I’d be able to adapt to it — or if I’d be able to adapt at all. But on the very first ride, I quickly realized it would not be a problem.
In fact, about 1 kilometer into it, I had a head-smacking moment. Shifting is overrated! Who needs it?!
I never imagined I’d feel this way; in fact, I’d guess that many motorcyclists would have the same amount of skepticism for an “automatic” bike. Perhaps things would be different if the implementation of the technology wasn’t as good. After all, Aprilia has years of experience with this type of transmission in building their extensive line of “twist and go” scooters.
There are a couple of minor differences to note before heading out on the Mana 850 GT. It starts just like any other modern motorcycle — turn on the ignition, wait for the sweep of the speedometer indicator and for all of the lights to blink on and off as the computer boots up. Then press the start button to engage.
The nicely-mapped fuel injection gets the GT started and idling smoothly with no problems. But here’s where the differences begin. With the side stand down, blip the throttle and…the engine dies. It’s designed to to that, because there is no “neutral” or its equivalent.
With the sidestand up, remember that the bike is a twist-and-go — if you twist, you’re going. There’s no standing next to the bike in the garage to blip the throttle; in fact, you can’t blip the throttle at all, whether you’re riding or not. Imagine a bike that’s always in gear and you’ll get the picture.
If you think about it, that’s no different than a car with an automatic transmission. There is one difference, however. With the Aprilia’s engine at idle and no brake applied, the computer makes sure that the bike doesn’t creep forward like it might in a car.
The CVT Stress Reduction Plan?
When you’re ready to go, simply twist the throttle and the bike starts moving. The first time is a very unique and liberating feeling and gets even easier after that.
Aprilia has done a great job in mapping the fuel injection to match the characteristics of the CVT. There is a slight difference from a normal takeoff in that it takes a larger handful of throttle than one might expect to get the CVT engaged, but that’s actually a good thing. The fuel delivery has been made especially soft for startup and the first few miles-per-hour to avoid any jerkiness in the driveline.
I quickly realized that not having to deal with shifting and clutch work reduces the subconscious stress levels and work load, if you can call it that, on the rider. This is where the concept of a CVT transmission on a motorcycle really comes into its own. No worrying about which gear is correct and no decisions about downshifting or upshifting. Simply enjoy the ride and focus on throttle control and braking.
I immediately found myself a much smoother rider and I also had a lot of fun, which is another reason why this system would make an excellent sport tourer, especially when riding with a passenger. No more helmet-knocking in the stop-and-go’s because the smooth application of power and the CVT makes for a completely fluid and seamless ride.
It’s also an excellent system for slow speeds, like winding your way through a national park at a 10 MPH speed limit while gawking at the flora and fauna. No jerking back and forth, no throttle on/off whiplash and no worries about having to shift up and down to keep in the correct RPM zone.
Speaking of RPMs, one of the very big nits I have to pick with this bike is the lack of a tachometer. I think this was a big oversight by Aprilia. I actually called the Aprilia technical person to confirm this and the answer was “Yes, we have no tachometer”.
It’s not like there’s no extra room on the dashboard; in fact, the instrument binnacle looks a bit lonesome behind the big fairing, with only the speedo and computer display. And the bike actually has a lap timer (a lap timer?) but no tach.
Making a sport-tourer out of the Mana 850 GT could mean plugging in some optional dials, like water temperature (rather than the simple thermometer graphic that shows up on the monochromatic computer screen), a Voltmeter, outside temperature gauge or more. But I’m dreaming again…
The absence of a tach means I can’t tell you how the bike performed at different RPMs, because I have no idea how many R’s, P’s or M’s we were turning in the various CVT settings.
Riding the Mana 850 GT
The bike starts up in the CVT “Touring” mode, which is equivalent to a smooth automatic, with a good compromise of acceleration, torque and speed. There’s also a “Sport” mode; a “Rain” mode and a “Sport Gear” mode.
The “Gear Mode” button on the right handgrip (see photos above) cycles the transmission through each mode and it can be pressed any time the engine is running, whether the bike is in motion or not.
From Touring mode, press and hold the Gear Mode button for about 1 second to change to “Sport”. This mode is the equivalent of dropping down about 2 gears in the CVT, but I rarely used it because it made the bike feel too frenetic and it brought to the fore one of the problems with the 839 cc, 90-degree V-twin engine: it’s a real vibrator.
Using Sport mode means putting the engine in the worst of the vibe range, effectively cancelling any fun one might have by the lower gearing, so in this case, Sport does not equal fun.
Ditto for the “Sport Gear” mode, which is accessed at any time by pressing and holding the Gear Mode button for 2 seconds or so. Sport Gear puts the CVT into a faux gear mode and allows the rider to choose one of 7 different gears, just like a “normal” bike.
The gears are selected by pushing the up/down paddles on the left handgrip or by using the vestigial shift lever at the left foot. The foot lever is an anachronism on this bike and after trying it once to see what it did, I never used it again.
Besides the vibes, Sport Gear mode seemed kind of silly; after all, it’s more fun not to shift, so why do I want to start concentrating on that again? And the absence of a tach doesn’t add to the fun either.
There’s one more mode in the cycle: “Rain”. I’m not really sure what this one does; apparently, it’s supposed to temper the fueling and transmission for riding on wet roads, but to me it felt more like it placed the CVT half-way between Sport mode and Touring. After trying it once or twice, I didn’t use the Rain mode at all, even during a long homeward stint in am actual rain storm.
Another feature hidden in the system is a semi-manual “gear” selection. The Touring and Sport modes have an override and the bike can be downshifted by pressing the front button on the left grip (or the foot shift lever). But the override doesn’t allow the transmission to shift up, only down, which seems strange to me. Why not allow it to override up or down, and maybe allow a quick tap of the Gear Mode button to cancel and return to automatic?
One quirk about the location of the shift paddles is that they can occasionally be activated by accident if the rider’s left hand is choked up on the inner side of the hand grip. On quick blasts of acceleration, tightening my grip would sometimes trigger a downshift.
The turn signal lever on the left hand grip is a bit of a reach also; the button sticks out too far for my thumb, so I had to take my hand off the grip to reach for the turn signal button every time I wanted to use it. Same on the right-hand side with the Gear Mode button. These are minor irritants, but there nonetheless.
Handling, Brakes and Suspension
I’d have to say that the Aprilia Mana 850 GT is the sweetest handling motorcycle I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride. It has absolutely no bad habits and it feels perfectly neutral. The word “neutral” is used quite frequently to describe motorcycle handling, but very few bikes really have it.
Tell the GT where to go and it does it precisely without fuss and without even the tiniest hint of oversteer or understeer, neither feeling ponderous or flighty. This makes a huge difference in comfort levels and in the feeling of security. The combination of the superb build quality and the perfectly neutral handling makes the bike feel rock-solid under any condition.
The front suspension has no settings, so what you see is what you get. That was fine by me, although the front on this Aprilia could probably use a touch less compression stiffness for those short jolts. I once spent days messing about with a fully adjustable Suzuki GSXR and never really noticed a difference and I’ll pretty much guarantee the vast majority of street riders feel the same. So not having an adjustable front end is a benefit, as far as I’m concerned.
The rear suspension is easily adjustable via the control seen in the photos. It was set pretty stiff when I got the bike (with 200 miles on the odometer) and I loosened it up a bit. Again, not much of a difference other than a touch more plushness over those same short jolting bumps.
The big 180/55 mm Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier rear tire looks good and works even better. It feels very secure and planted the road with noticeably excellent grip. I haven’t been on Dunlops for some time and these tires are terrific, so they will definitely be on my shopping list next time I need tires.
The brakes are another outstanding feature of the Mana 850 GT. The big 320 mm floating discs up front have radial-mounted calipers that look like they might have come right from Max Biaggi’s RSV4. They are very powerful but very easy to use and also very progressive. The rear brake gets the same kudos, with a 260 mm and braided stainless steel brake lines front and rear.
The Mana 850 GT also has ABS, with a dual-channel Continental system. It works seamlessly and it hauls this bike down in a hurry with no muss or fuss. I tried it on a variety of surfaces, including loose gravel and sand on some of the back farm roads you can see in the photos and it made me a true believer in ABS for street bikes.
Picks and Pans
The other very useful scooter-like feature of the Mana 850 GT is the fuel tank that isn’t. What looks like a fuel tank is really a decent-sized storage compartment, big enough to hold a lot of gear but not a full-sized helmet. I’m not sure who’d want to carry a full sized helmet in there anyway, but as you can see in the slide show photos, an XL-sized Arai Quantum doesn’t fit.
But the storage area is very handy and it even has a little night light that turns on when the lid is popped. That’s the pick; here’s the pan: the storage compartment opens by pushing a lever on the back of the left-hand grip assembly. But the ignition has to be on for it to work.
So every time I wanted to open the compartment, which is every time I got on the bike, I had to turn the ignition on, press the button to pop the storage compartment lid, then turn the key off. This is a real pain; I think Aprilia should revise the design so the button opens the compartment at any time but it can be locked if desired or make it functional whenever the key is in the ignition.
There is one other way to open the storage compartment. There’s a key hole in the tail of the bike, just above the stop light, to open the pillion seat. The fuel tank lives under there. Take the key out of the ignition, open the seat and a manual lever can be operated to pop the compartment. But that’s even more of a pain.
Fuel, Mileage and Computing
Fueling the bike means pulling the key from the ignition, putting it in the tail and popping the back seat. It isn’t that big of a problem for refueling, and having the fuel tank opening at lower-than-waist level makes it easy to use and to see what’s going on.
Speaking of fuel, I got a consistent 42 to 44 MPG with the Mana, no matter what type of road, fast or slow, highway or byway. I guess that’s decent mileage for a bike that’s a touch on the heavy side (Aprilia doesn’t list a weight, but it feels heavy pushing around the garage) with a CVT.
Besides the absence of a tachometer, the LCD computer screen would be a heck of a lot nicer if it were in color. I guess that’s asking too much, but the stock screen can get washed out, surprisingly not when the sun is shining on it, but when I’m riding into the sun. The sun reflects off my jacket and puts a lot of glare on the semi-gloss screen.
The computer can be cycled through a few settings, showing the real-time MPG, average MPG, speed (not needed because it’s also displayed on the analog speedometer), average speed and the time.
When Sport Gear is chosen, the current “gear” shows on the display. It’s not really a gear, but the CVT is programmed to mimic a gear. The count goes up to 7 and switching from one gear to the next happens nearly instantaneously.
Some customization can be done by selecting the menu with the “Mode” button. Lap times, strangely enough, can be recorded. But no tachometer can be displayed.
More good stuff includes the seating position, which is a bit cramped for anyone 6 ft. tall and over but perfect for shorter folks. The handlebars are also perfectly placed for a bike of this type, making for a controlled and relaxed ride.
I had a lot of fun during my month with the Aprilia Mana 850 GT. I took to the CVT transmission like a duck to water; the build quality is superb; the handling is rock-solid and the brakes should be an example for every other motorcycle.
I didn’t care for the windscreen and the round headlight seems at odds with the otherwise angular styling. The bike also desperately needs a tach and I’m not sure what type of luggage options are available and I do think a belt would suit the bike better than a chain.
I do think that Aprilia could and should focus the Mana 850 GT on sport touring or light touring. It would be an easy step to take; it would help put a focus on the target market; and I think it would put the bike on the wish list of a much larger audience.
One thing’s for sure: you owe it to yourself to take that trip to your nearest Aprilia dealer to check out their 2010 lineup. I sat on the Dorsoduro, the RSV 4 and the Tuono 1000 R at the dealership and was very impressed.
► 2010 Aprilia Mana 850 GT – Specifications ◄
Engine: 90° V-twin, 4 stroke, liquid cooled, single overhead cam with chain drive, four valves per cylinder.
Displacement: 839.3 cc
Bore/Stroke: 88 x 69 mm
Engine Torque: 73 Nm at 5,000 RPM
Horsepower: 56 kW at 8,000 RPM
Fueling: Integrated electronic engine management system. Weber Marelli electronic injection with 38-mm throttle body.
Ignition: Digital electronic, two spark plugs per cylinder, integrated with fuel injection system.
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Exhaust: 2 into 1; 100% stainless steel with three-way catalytic converter and lambda probe.
Lubrication: Dry sump system with separate oil tank.
Alternator: 450W a 6000 RPM
Gear box: Sequential with manual or automatic mode selectable by the user. 7 ratios in manual mode. 3 mappings (Touring – Sport – Rain) in Autodrive mode. Gear change by pedal or handlebar control. The user can switch from automatic to sequential mode and vice versa at any time.
Primary drive: Belt
Final drive: Chain
Wheels, Tires, Chassis
Frame: High-strength steel trellis.
Front suspension: Upside-down fork with 43 mm stanchions. Wheel travel 120 mm.
Rear suspension: Single- piece aluminum alloy swingarm. Shock absorber with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping. Wheel travel 125 mm.
Wheels: Cast Aluminum
Tires: Radials, tubeless. Front: 120/70 ZR 17. Rear: 180/55 ZR 17.
Wheels: Aluminum alloy Front: 3.50 X 17″ Rear: 6.00 x 17″
ABS: 2-channel Continental ABS system.
Front Brakes: Dual 320 mm diameter stainless steel floating discs. Radial calipers with four pistons.
Rear Brake: 260 mm stainless steel disc. Single piston caliper.
Dimensions, Weights and Capacities
Maximum Length: 2,080 mm
Maximum Width: 800 mm (at handlebars)
Maximum Height: 1,270 mm (1,320 mm at rear-view mirrors)
Saddle Height: 800 mm
Wheelbase: 1,463 mm
Trail: 101 mm
Steering Angle: 24°
Fuel tank capacity: 16 liters
List Price: $10,599.00