The pavement in the automatic pond !
Among bikers, there will be pro Mana and anti Mana, but there will also and above all be a before and an after Mana! Everyone is free to form their own idea of the first motorcycle on the market equipped with an automatic gearbox … Site is launched: test !
We thought that the revolution would come from the land of the rising sun … but it was the Italians who drew the fastest !
Aprilia is indeed the first manufacturer to dare to shake up mentalities by marketing an automatic motorcycle. Rather cheeky, when we know to what extent the "vulgus motardus" is conservative and hermetic to any piloting assistance, which he often judges – rightly or wrongly, the debate is still not settled – as an attack on his free will and integrity as a pilot..
The Japanese took small steps by marketing maxi scooters (Yamaha TMax and Suzuki Burgman 650 in the lead), then a semi-automatic motorcycle (the Yamaha FJR 1300 AS, read).
Finally, Honda is preparing to release an automatic motorcycle from the DN-01 concept bike later this year (read).
The automatic transmission is a technology known and mastered by the Piaggio group (Aprilia, Gilera, Moto Guzzi, Derbi …), which distributes a number of scooters of all sizes. Aprilia engineers have therefore benefited from this experience to design a tronic type transmission called "Sport Gear"..
The transmission of the Mana is derived from its cousin, the maxi scooter Gilera GP 800, but it has been extensively reworked. It is equipped with a double variator which allows to juggle between three automatic modes (Drive Sport, Drive Touring and Drive Rain) and a 7-speed sequential mode (Sport Gear).
The Mana also shares the same engine as the GP 800. It is indeed a new 100% Aprilia engine, whereas the Italian manufacturer had made a habit of equipping itself with Rotax. It is a V-twin open at 90 °, water-cooled and powered by electronic injection. The block develops 76.1 hp at 8,000 rpm and 7.45 mkg at 5,000 rpm.
It remained for Aprilia to find a case for this unique mechanism. The Italian manufacturer has therefore logically chosen to attack the most buoyant market in Europe, and particularly in France and Italy: the niche of medium-displacement roadsters. !
The Mana is therefore a fairing-less motorcycle that proudly displays its mechanics and sports chassis. The lines cleverly combine aggressiveness and class, especially in this black color. As for the optics, it evokes without complex that of the MV Agusta Brutale.
We just blame the rear shell for being relatively massive compared to current standards which go towards ever more finesse, as on the latest version of the Kawasaki Z 750. But this "hitch" to the design is explained by the displacement of the fuel tank under the rider and passenger seats.
In addition, nothing is missing from the Mana equipment side: inverted fork, radial-mounted brake calipers, aviation hoses, trellis frame, magnificent swingarm, etc..
As its automatic transmission should make it the queen of cities, the Mana also takes care of the practical aspects. Another novelty and not the least, the Aprilia is equipped with a trunk instead of the relegated gas tank … in the rear hull !
Quite large, this space can accommodate a full-face helmet that is not too big and not provided with vents or too protruding aerodynamic appendages. Above all, it allows you to carry an anti-theft device, rain pants and one or two purchases without worry: downright brilliant !
In addition, this safe locks and it is equipped with a light and a 12V socket to recharge your laptop or GPS! The finish of the bike is remarkable: the assemblies are perfectly adjusted and the quality of the materials is above average. This is what to upset the most skeptical about Italian motorcycles…
The dashboard of the Mana is rich in information of all kinds, but it also suffers from two big shortcomings: no fuel gauge or tachometer (yet present on the Gilera GP 800). The absence of the latter is however compensated for by the presence of a light switch warning, to avoid over–revs..
For the rest, the focus is on the choice of transmission mode which occupies a large part of the LCD screen. In addition to an odometer and two trips, the Mana gives the time, engine and exterior temperatures, average and maximum speeds, average and instantaneous consumption and travel time..
The analog speedometer is quite clear, but we would have preferred a tachometer in its place as well as a digital speed display..
Once in the saddle, you are immediately at home on the Mana, which provides a very natural position for its rider. The saddle height of 800mm is reasonable. The handlebars are quite high and do not induce any pressure on the wrists. The saddle is well designed and comfortable. It also offers a coating that is as rewarding as it is non-slip.
The controls are easy to find, but it will take a bit of time to get familiar with the controls. And automatic transmission requires, the clutch handle disappears altogether. Unlike scooters, however, it is not replaced by a rear brake handle which remains at the foot.
There is therefore a button on the right stalk to select from among the four transmission modes: Sport, Touring, Rain or Sequential.
On the left stalk, it is much more complicated and it will take a good day to get used to it: it includes a trunk release button, another to scroll through the information on the dashboard, the horn, the call headlight, indicators and the two paddles "+" and "-" to change gears !
Suffice to say that at the beginning, we go up the gears when we want to lower them and we honk when we want to put on its turn signal…
Terror of cities !
Small roadsters with twin cylinders are already great tools in town. And as the Mana is equipped with an automatic transmission, it really does wonders, despite an advertised dry weight of 203 kg.
The cannon starts that it produces with each fire make everyone agree! Of course, a large-displacement motorcycle with, on its handlebars, a lively pilot and determined not to be taxed by an automatic will be able to take off better. But from there to reproduce this performance at each semaphore, there is a big margin !
Mana is therefore doing well thanks to its transmission. It is soft, does not generate any sudden changes and is perfectly dosable. We can move on a trickle of gas in a parking lot without regretting being able to dose with the clutch.
The lack of engine braking in Drive Touring and Drive Rain mode, normal for scooter riders, can on the other hand be quite confusing when you come from a motorcycle with a gearbox. It is especially quite disconcerting to find yourself almost coasting between two lines of cars !
Drive Sport mode will then be more readily selected, which always keeps the bike in revs to take advantage of the engine braking and very consistent pickups..
Nobody is perfect…
The only downside to this idyllic picture, the turning radius of the Mana is not extraordinary. If there is much worse in motorcycle production, we would still have hoped for better, given the urban vocation of the machine. In addition, the steering stops are fairly straightforward and can destabilize the machine and its driver..
Another detail to pay attention to: the very consistent front brake can be brutal when taking the lever. The combination of aviation hoses and radial brake calipers is undoubtedly not unrelated to this. In the dry still passes, but beware in the wet !
Fortunately, the bike comes originally with a fairly soft and sporty tire fitting: Dunlop Qualifiers. The Mana is easy and intuitive in town with its large handlebars. Seated upright, the pilot has a good view of forward traffic…
Because towards the rear, the mirrors are really too small to be effective. Too bad, because they do not vibrate and are well spaced.
As soon as you leave the city centers to take faster lanes, you quickly switch back to Drive Touring. It is undoubtedly the most versatile mode which offers the best compromise between times, engine braking, comfort and consumption..
On the large axes, the Drive Sport mode persists in keeping the engine high in the revs, which generates unpleasant vibrations and increased consumption. The pickups are barely lower in Touring, but driveability is much higher.
The easy cycle part is forgotten in town but also contributes to the pleasure of driving on the road. The suspensions offer a very good compromise between comfort and handling. And that’s good, because they are not adjustable, apart from the preload at the rear.
The front axle is more manoeuvrable than lively, but suddenly, it is very stable and reassuring. The protection is obviously very rudimentary and will require the use of an adaptable screen to venture far from the cities.
Arsouille: instructions for use
As its sporty appearance suggests, the Mana is not reluctant to get out of small blunders on rough roads. For this purpose, the pilot can return once again to Drive Sport or take control by switching to sequential Sport Gear mode..
In this last mode, the pilot goes up and down the seven gears using the foot selector or the two "+" and "-" paddles on the left stalk. The gears go quickly and well and keep throttle open wide !
This Sport Gear mode is pleasant and fun, but you quickly realize in use that the Drive Sport mode is more efficient. It’s hard to come to terms with the idea that the machine manages reports better than you do, but it is nevertheless the case…
In addition, Aprilia has thought of an excellent tip for its gearbox: whatever auto mode is chosen, it is possible at any time to force the transmission to drop one or two gears on the fly! In sporty driving – Drive Sport mode, therefore -, this allows you to downshift quickly and well if you approach a little too quickly a corner which is tightening.
A la carte
In short, we take advantage of the good sides of automation as the advantages of sequential mode! Thus, the pilot only has to refine his trajectories and take advantage of the rigidity conferred by the trellis frame and the manly accelerations of the twin … Manly, but not violent either..
For 76 horses advertised, the 840 cc engine is less demonstrative than that of a Suzuki SV 650, for example, yet less powerful. This is undoubtedly due to the automatism which somewhat smoothes the sensations.
This Sport Gear transmission therefore allows you to choose at any time the type of machine you want to drive: from the nasty little roadster in town or on small roads to the versatile utility on the main roads, you can also opt for the equivalent. a small 500 cc in Drive Rain mode !
We thus end up with a soft and not brutal machine for two cents, which is particularly appreciable when the grip conditions are precarious: rain, leaves, mud, grass … But be careful all the same: in Rain mode, the engine brake is almost absent, which can sometimes surprise !
A success !
Aprilia Mana is therefore a well-born machine that does not suffer from crippling flaws … And that’s good, because it should allow the most skeptical of motorbike automation to get an objective idea. !
The first automatic motorcycle would have been a lame duck finished in a hurry, it would have suffered sarcasm and more or less well-founded criticism. This is definitely not the case with this Mana which is an excellent clutchless roadster … and certainly not the last. !
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