2009 Aprilia Mana 850 Review

Bart Madson | February 16, 2009
2009 Aprilia Mana 850
The Aprilia Mana 850 provides motorcycle performance and feel, but with its automatic Sportgear transmission.

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.

Power delivery from the CVT is linear with smooth throttle response; the differences between the three Autodrive modes are palpable. We managed an indicated mid-110s for top speed and at 75mph there’s plenty extra for quick passes during freeway commutes.

2009 Aprilia Mana 850 dyno
Peak power numbers are well-suited to entry-level riders. Dyno stats courtesy of Mickey Cohen Motorsports.

The liquid-cooled 839cc Twin may not be the earth-trembling torque monster of its Italian brethren, but sticking the Mana in fourth ‘gear’ it spun the Mickey Cohen Motorsports dyno up to 54 hp and 39 lb-ft torque. While speed junkies will be underwhelmed by the SOHC four-valve Twin’s performance, it is more than adequate for spirited street riding and a playful match for the entry-level/intermediate riders it is marketed toward.

“For an entry level motorcycle the power is more than acceptable,” says MCUSA Video Editor Robin Haldane. “I found that the Mana Twin got you up to speed quickly but was very easy to control.”

“I was very surprised, actually,” says MCUSA Executive Editor Steve Atlas, a former professional racer and expert rider. “I thought I was going to hate it, but considering this goes up against scooters and is fully automatic, I was fairly impressed. The engine gets up and goes well for a CVT-driven auto.”

2009 Aprilia Mana 850
Yes, the missing clutch lever took some getting used to, but it didn’t take long to get used to the Mana’s auto transmission.

In general the public reaction to the Mana on our test rides could best be described as curious contempt, with comments like, “that’s that scooter-type thing right?” Skepticism toward the automatic transmission may hover about the Mana, but there’s just not much fault to find in the system. It’s an automatic motorcycle – big deal!

The biggest quirk we experienced was acclimatizing to the lack of a clutch. Approaching a corner at high speed it was unnerving to keep instinctively reaching for an invisible lever, but the rider adapts untill… Clutches, shcmutches. Who needs ‘em anyway?

“I kept going for the clutch over and over,” adds Atlas. “It’s embedded in my brain that I need to be using my left hand all the time on a motorcycle and it took some serious coaxing to get myself used to that. It did come in handy when I wanted to pick up Starbucks, though!”

One foible of the CVT system is the need for a parking brake, located on the left side of the engine/frame. But even that eccentricity, once accustomed to, became appreciated as a convenience – in particular while parking on a sloped surface.

2009 Aprilia Mana 850
No one will mistake the Mana’s handling capabilities with those of a scooter once the road starts getting twisty.

The scooter stigma associated with the Mana is shattered in the handling department. There is nothing remotely scooter-ish about it. Sporting a 57.5-inch wheelbase, 24-degree rake and 4.05-inches of trail, the Mana is all motorcycle and a deft handler at that. The center of gravity feels quite low to the ground, with the Mana carrying rear-weight bias of 53.9% – the fuel stored underseat. The steering is quick, yet easy to control, and with a 491-lb tank empty weight, it still transitions side-to-side without trouble (the Mana weighed in at 516 lbs full of fuel).

The 43mm front fork is non-adjustable, with preload and rebound adjustment available on the rear shock. The front end felt reliable, with stock fork settings more than adequate for entry-level use – although faster riders will pine for adjustment options.

“Compared to a scooter, the handling is for sure its shining point,” says Atlas. “It’s a full-sized motorcycle with bike wheels and stickier tires and no scooter could keep this thing in sight.”

“At fast speeds in longer sweeping corners I found the Mana to get slightly uneasy, leaving me a little less confident than I would have liked,” admits Robin, before adding, “the chassis allows for quick side-to-side turns, however, allowing you to rock ‘n roll through a tight canyon road quite well.”

2009 Aprilia Mana 850 2009 Aprilia Mana 850 2009 Aprilia Mana 850
The front brakes on the Mana were more than capable (top). The quirky parking brake (middle) and trigger shifter (bottom) won’t be found on any other ride.

The dual 320mm front discs brakes overachieved and display considerable initial bite from the radial-mount four-piston calipers.

“Good initial bite paired with great feel left me very happy with the brakes,” agrees Robin. “I was able to come up on a corner pretty hot and feel confident that I could slow down in time to make it through.”

“Great brakes, probably overkill even for this machine,” adds Atlas. “They have ample feel and feedback, plus way more than enough power.”

Hard braking before a corner actually exhibited another quirk, as there were a few occasions where my glove stuck on the throttle while pulling the brake. It’s a lazy riding technique, but you’d be surprised how often it would happen as most riders pull in the clutch downshifting while decelerating. It would make sense on the Mana to separate the right side controls, mounting the brake lever on the left handlebar, except that arrangement would be catastrophic when riders mistake it for the traditional clutch – which they undoubtedly would!

At 6’1″, the Mana felt smallish to me, but not uncomfortable. The riding position is upright and standard, with a pleasant pinch of mild sportiness. Handlebar placement is natural, but taller riders will find leg room on the snug side. Those shorter statured, however, should get along well and not find the 31.4-inch seat height intimidating.

“The relaxed ergos are great for around town and help make the bike a lot of fun to ride,” agrees Robin, “however, during our long three-day ride I would have appreciated a little more leg room and maybe a small windscreen.”

Under the pillion seat is the 4.2-gallon fuel tank – good enough for about a 170-mile range with our observed 41.6 MPG efficiency. Oddly enough, there’s not a fuel meter on the Mana – that we could find. A lot of redundant info like real-time MPG and average MPG efficiency is available on the instrument console, but really, what possible advantage can a rider glean from momentary glimpses of fuel efficiency? The white background speedo is best feature on the so-so instrument panel.

2009 Aprilia Mana 850
A convenient commuter or weekend playbike, the Mana is an intriguing option for entry-level or scooter riders looking for a fun ride without stressing over a clutch.

We did, however, appreciate the unexpected storage where the traditional fuel tank would reside. Full-face helmet storage is possible, but while one rider’s medium-size Shoei would fit, my large-size modular wouldn’t. Still, the storage space is eminently convenient – boosting its commuter advantages.

Style-wise the Mana looks the part of a naked street bike. It would seem Aprilia designers were keen on balancing the unconventional drivetrain with a traditional motorcycle look and feel.

“Overall I would give the Mana a 6 out of 10 if compared to other motorcycles, but compared to scooters, I’d have to give it an 8 or 9 out of 10,” Atlas concludes. “For all you experienced riders looking for a sporting machine, this just isn’t it. But for those looking to ditch the scooter and make their way into the motorcycle world, this may be an ideal option.”

At $9899, the Mana MSRP is steep, in particular during these down economic times. Yet it seems like there has to be a market for the Mana, one that has been untapped for years. New riders will enjoy the innovative mount and I’d wager that even skeptical riders would admit grudging respect for the Mana after a day in the saddle. It is a refined package and worthy of a place on American roadways and dealer showrooms.


Bart Madson

MotoUSA Editor | Articles | Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for 10 years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to motorcycle racing reports and industry news features.

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