The Aprilia Mana 850 will be a motorcycle of consequence. At least that’s the conclusion I come to while swooping through curves on Southern Californian backroads aboard the Piaggio Group’s pitch for the entry-level/crossover crowd. Corner after corner I dip the bike in, rolling on and off the throttle, no shifts to worry about, no clutch to pull.
Sure, the Mana and its unconventional automatic Sportgear transmission could just as easily flop - remembered as an oddity, an unsuccessful offshoot in motorcycle evolution. Yet, whatever its fate, here it is, the Mana, a full-fledged motorcycle flaunting the unofficial rule that twist-and-go simplicity always be relegated to the scooter realm.
The naked Mana is a motorcycle plain enough, with obvious chain-drive and a 90-degree V-Twin powerplant on display. Only closer inspection reveals the lack of a clutch lever, made possible by the Sportgear transmission, a CVT design with four separate drive modes.
2009 Aprilia Mana 850
The Mana's Sportgear transmission has four settings - three fully-automatic "Autodrive" and one manual sequential-shift mode.
The first three “Autodrive” settings: Sport, Touring and Rain, are fully automatic engine mappings, selected by the rider via right side switchgear button. The fourth setting, a manual sequential shift mode dubbed Sportgear, operates similar to a traditional gearbox. Seven gear ratios are modulated by a traditional pedal or +/- trigger switch on the left-side switchgear.
In practical application, the Autodrive settings make a noticeable difference in power delivery. In Sport the engine revs high, with quicker acceleration - at least we felt it revs higher, as the Mana has no tach to gauge the RPM. Rain mode, which unlike the others makes an audible clunk once selected, has a more relaxed throttle delivery for its intended wet-weather application. Touring is a happy medium and preferred default setting. In all three auto modes a rider can manually downshift, for better acceleration on passing maneuvers. But once committed to the mindless application of Autodrive, I found it much simpler to just twist the throttle and go.
In fact, the auto setting works so well I found little interest in operating in the Sportgear mode at all. The manual shift mode does a decent job simulating a regular gearbox with seamless upshifts, but I didn’t shift better than the computer – so what’s the point? The entire system, which is electronically controlled, is idiot proof. Even in manual mode the bike will downshift when it needs to and stalling the Mana is impossible.