2009 Aprilia Mana 850

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Scott Hirko

Wouldn't you like to have a motorcycle that comes with a helmet compartment where the gas tank normally is, an automatic transmission and parking brake?


The spirit of innovation must have been almost palpable when Aprilia's engineers set about designing the new Mana 850. Recently unveiled, this versatile bike combines Italian panache with a high-tech automatic transmission and useful storage to create a machine that's attractive to newcomers and experienced riders alike.

Drivetrain

Piaggio now owns Aprilia and Gilera, and the Mana's 839cc engine and drive system is derived from Gilera's GP800 maxi-scooter - with some changes to its "twist-and-go" transmission providing more rider control. The 90-degree V-twin layout was chosen for its ideal primary balance, with four valves per cylinder operated by a chain-driven single overhead camshaft. Parting ways with Rotax on this one, Aprilia manufactured this liquid-cooled engine completely in-house.

A Weber-Marelli electronic fuel-injection system inhales through a single 38mm throttle body before exiting into the muffler with the catalytic converter on the left side. There is no cold-start control for the rider to mess with, which further simplifies operation. The 10:1 compression ration calls for 90-octane fuel in a 4.2-gallon tank hidden beneath the pillion saddle. Digital electronic ignition with two spark plugs per cylinder lights the fires, while a dry-sump lubrication system with separate oil reservoir inside the engine lowers the center of gravity.

The automatic, continuously variable transmission (CVT) is contained within the engine's crankcase, adding substantial bulk. Mana's engine is rated 76.1 horsepower at 8,000 rpm (at the crank) and 54 ft-lbs of torque at 5,000 rpm. It has been tuned to stay within the limitations of the CVT, and its broad, torquey power curve is well suited to the tranny.
Instead of a clutch lever, Mana's "Sportgear" drive system utilizes a centrifugal clutch and a trapezoidal belt running between variable-width pulleys. The system uses electronically controlled stepper motors that vary the width of the pulleys in unison to provide a selection of ratios.

The CVT offers riders a choice of three "Autodrive" maps and a "manual" mode. Fully automatic mode uses electronics to control shifting, and the CVT transmission keeps the engine spinning in its best rpm range for optimum acceleration, based on which mode is selected and how much throttle is being used. It won't allow you to over-rev it by downshifting, cause rear-wheel hop or let you pop the clutch for a quick launch.

Touring mode is designed for minimum fuel consumption in normal everyday riding and shifts up earlier than the Sport mode. Sport mode keeps the revs higher and is intended for peak performance and acceleration. The Rain setting, the most conservative, is of course for use on wet or slippery roads. In heavy rain, we found that it does calm the bike down and reduces the chances of wheel spin. Even in Autodrive mode the rider can downshift manually, which is useful for some cornering and passing situations, and for boosting engine braking when descending a steep downhill grade.

No actual gears are shifted. In the manual mode, the rider "shifts" through seven speeds using a conventional-looking, left-foot shift lever (which is actually an electrical switch) or a paddle shifter mounted on the left handlebar. In this sequential mode, a servo-mechanism moves the pulleys to pre-set positions, changing between the seven ratios almost as fast as you can push the lever.

After the novelty of shifting wore off, we discovered the CVT delivers its best performance in automatic mode and left it there. Power delivery is very even and the lack of gear changes makes the bike's acceleration seem less than it is. It will certainly pull away from all the cars, but it's down on power compared to similar bikes. Generally, the engine is quite smooth, even at highway speeds, but some vibration gets through to the rider at high rpm. As you approach redline, a series of three amber shift lights blink on. When the red LED comes on, you've hit the rev limiter.

Aprilia claims "over 40 mpg in city driving," but our fuel mileage only worked out to a 36.5-mpg average, with a low of 30.3 and a high of 41.7 mpg. Most of these miles were ridden in suburban and highway conditions, with the Touring setting selected, which is considered best for fuel economy. The Mana wasn't usually ridden very hard either, and yet our results fell short of the mileage typical of twins in this size and weight range.

Chassis & Suspension

The Mana's sturdy steel-tube trellis frame, using the engine as a stressed member, appears to be a mirror image of Aprilia's Shiver 750. Its one-piece aluminum swingarm is a sturdy, good-looking unit that's damped by a cantilevered, side-mounted single shock on the left, rather than the right as it is on the Shiver. The shock absorber is adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping and has 4.9 inches of wheel travel.

The Mana also uses an inverted fork with the same 43mm diameter legs and 4.7 inches travel as the Shiver. The non-adjustable fork provides a compliant ride on all road surfaces but dives easily under hard braking; adjustments to tailor it to individual riders would be welcome. At 57.5-inches, the Mana's compact wheelbase nearly rivals some sportier models', enhancing its maneuverability. The bike is stable and delivers an exceptionally comfortable ride, too. Thanks to the spring rates and damping curves, we found the bike shrugged off most of the bumps and jolts encountered without jarring the rider.

Brakes, Tires & Handling

Developed by Aprilia, the hefty brakes employ twin radial calipers with four pistons. Large, 320mm dual front discs are complemented by a single 260 mm rear disc and sliding two-pot caliper. Stainless-steel braided lines provide a consistent brake feel and look sharp too. A parking brake lever is mounted to the left side, and it connects to the rear caliper to prevent the bike from rolling, since it freewheels when the engine is off.

These big rotors can haul the bike down from high speeds with little fuss or fade. The adjustable front brake lever needs just a light touch, but the rear brake requires a lot of oomph on the pedal to get strong stopping power. Interestingly, the rear caliper has an ABS sensor mount, so ABS is bound to come.

We like the handsome alloy wheels, and our test bike was fitted with sporty Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier tubeless radials: a 120/70 ZR17 in front and a 180/55 ZR 17 rear. These common sizes make it easy to find replacement rubber, which is good, because the rear tire was worn out after 3,000 miles. The tires developed plenty of grip in dry conditions and had enough purchase to keep things upright in heavy rain. They also didn't chase and nibble in rain grooves.
With a 24-degree rake and 4.1-inch trail, handling is quite nimble, and the bike is easy to flick from side to side. Once in a corner, the Mana holds a line nicely, yet can change course readily if need be. If you really corner hard, the sidestand drags in left turns before the pegs, and the bike wallows a bit in mid-corner dips. Slow down just a little and it's fine.

Features & Ergonomics

A long, tapered handlebar provides plenty of leverage, and the pullback bar risers bring the controls nicely within reach. Stylish mirrors are wide enough apart and vibe-free, but their shape limits visibility. The controls are unusual - other than no clutch lever, the Mana doesn't have a kill switch or four-way flashers, and the high-beam switch is on the front of the housing.

It's almost impossible to describe this bike without making some comparisons to Ducati's Monster series. The overall look is similar, and the upright riding position and ergonomics are too. There isn't a "fly screen" as found on the Duc, and that was noticeable in its absence. The forthcoming Mana GT model features one, though.
The instrument cluster contains a 130-mph analog speedometer combined with a rectangular LCD display and a row of indicator lamps above it. The LCD display includes a bar graph, coolant temperature readout, clock, air temperature, odometer and trip odo. There is also a trip computer with average and maximum speed, average and instantaneous fuel mileage, elapsed time and a lap timer. A space-waster, the large Autodrive status display could have been switched for a digital speed readout, with the speedometer on the left becoming a tachometer instead.

The fuel tank was moved to an under-seat position which helps lower the center of gravity, but that comes at the price of reduced capacity, with a mere 4.2 gallons to empty. The traditional gas tank location is a lighted storage compartment lined with non-scratch material. Unlocked by a handlebar-mounted switch, the space is practical for urban commuting and short trips, and it contains a 12V power socket, mobile phone storage, vehicle documents and a toolkit. It's also supposed to be large enough to hold a full-face helmet, but while some smaller sizes will fit, the lid would not close over my XL lid.

Our test bike also had the optional hard luggage, which retails for $ 649.95 with mounting brackets for $ 219.95, adding almost $ 870 to the bike's cost. They fit onto a dedicated bracket setup that provides solid, secure mounting and quick, easy removal. The bags were keyed alike, and the latching mechanisms are logical in their design and easy to use.

Pillion accommodations are roomy, and the seat wide and comfy. Mounting the luggage requires removing the hand-grabs, but a passenger can hang onto the brackets instead.
The hard bags are spacious and, unlike the "gas tank" storage area, can hold an XL full-face helmet on each side with room to spare for other smaller items. There are elastic hold-down straps for securing items in a snap, and they kept my gear dry in heavy rain. However, the upswept muffler requires mounting the left bag high, and the brackets position the bags too far apart. This makes the Mana very wide and the tops of the bags get in the way when you go to throw a leg over it. Mounting the bags lower would require tilting the muffler downward and redesigning the mounting brackets, worthwhile changes in my opinion.

Final Thoughts

Innovation, style, quality and performance are hallmarks of Aprilia products, and this model certainly upholds the tradition. The 2009 Mana 850, which has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $ 9,899 (plus luggage) is a fun bike to ride, it's nicely made, and should appeal to those who want an automatic drive and don't mind paying extra for it. Folks wanting a little more power for less money, who don't mind shifting, should consider Aprilia's Shiver 750. Rated at 18.9 more horsepower, it sells for $ 900 less.