Road Test Review
This 2011 Aprilia Mana GT ABS Road Test was originally published in the February 2012 issue of Rider magazine]
Back when I learned to drive, most cars had a stick-shift transmission and drivers came to understand the relationship between clutches, gears and shifting points…which came in handy if they began riding motorcycles. Today, my kids are learning to drive and the vast majority of cars have an automatic transmission, but these slushboxes do not translate directly to how most motorcycles work.
Recently, some bike manufacturers have determined that this shiftless upbringing has caused some folks to shy away from motorcycling, which is why companies such as Yamaha, Honda and Aprilia are now offering models for those who want to ride a motorcycle but do not welcome—nor wish to explore—the wonders of the manual clutch and transmission. These potential riders will appreciate the Aprilia Mana and its GT version (which we test here), which are equipped with a constantly variable transmission (CVT) and automatic clutch. The CVT has been a mainstay on scooters for years (Aprilia is owned by the Piaggio conglomerate, famous for its scooters including the Vespa), but is still a rarity on motorcycles.
But wait—don’t turn the page just because you’re a die-hard rider who prefers to shift. Before you dismiss it as a beginner bike—which it most decidedly is not—appreciate the Mana GT for what it can do and how it can be appreciated by the seasoned rider. It is powered by a liquid-cooled, 839cc, 90-degree V-twin motor with single overhead cams, and features four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. It ingests through a single Weber-Marelli 38mm fuel injector, and with a 10.0:1 compression ratio you’ll want to run premium fuel. The motor hangs from a steel trellis frame and has a decidedly sporty style.
Climb aboard and notice that the Mana is tall with its 31.5-inch seat height. The first thing experienced riders will note is the lack of a clutch lever; you must apply either brake in order for the starter to engage. The GT has a comfortable upright seating position, and its wide handlebar provides a lot of leverage for rolling it through the turns. Up front is a non-adjustable 43mm male-slider fork, and rearward is a laterally offset single rear shock with spring preload and rebound damping adjusters. Back when Greg Drevenstedt tested the Mana in the February 2009 issue, he noted that the suspension wallowed when pushed hard, but in my recent experience the suspension felt firm and well controlled. This could be a result of upgraded components over the years, or the fact that Greg weighs about 200 and I’m 165. That 2009 model cranked out 56.5 horsepower and 40.9 lb-ft of torque, which is not stirring performance for a 552-pound 850.
The GT ABS model ($10,999) varies from the standard Mana ($9,899) in that it comes equipped with anti-lock brakes and also has a fairing; its windscreen is adjustable by loosening a pair of screws and sliding the screen an inch. I’m 6 feet tall, and with the screen at its highest setting the wind hit me at the base of the helmet.
The seven-speed Sportgear CVT transmission is a little gem and far more sophisticated than the traditional scooter offering. It delivers three electronically controlled modes, one fully automatic and the others providing some degree of shift control. One negative of the traditional CVT transmission is that it does not offer the rider the ability to downshift for long downhills for engine braking. In Sequential Mode the Sportdrive allows the rider to shift manually up or down through seven gears with either the conventional shift lever or buttons by the left grip, similar to a paddle shifter in a car. The shifts are smooth, quick and positive, and there is no need to back off the throttle while shifting; the gear number appears on the dash display. If he or she chooses, the rider does not need to downshift in casual riding as this task is handled automatically.
Push the Gear Mode button near the right grip and Semi-Autodrive mode allows the rider to downshift, but not upshift, and is useful for those long downhills or curvy roads. Finally, Autodrive is the fully automatic mode in which you can forget about shifting manually as you feel the bike shifting automatically and competently beneath you. Within Autodrive mode are three mappings—Sport, Touring and Rain—in which power delivery softens in the latter two and, presumably, fuel mileage increases.
Note that as the bike is slowing to a stop, the automatic clutch disengages and suddenly the bike offers no engine braking. This can be especially thrilling on downhill stops until you learn to anticipate it.
Our Mana came equipped with a set of optional hard-shell saddlebags ($750) and brackets ($250) from Aprilia that hold a good deal and are sturdy, lockable and easily removed from the bike. However, I found the bike’s seat thin and firm, and not conducive to long days in the saddle.
Another scooterlike feature is the locking storage compartment up where the fuel tank is usually located. It is padded and large enough to hold a small-to-medium-sized full-face helmet. It quickly became a catch-all for my gear. When fueling time arrives stick the key in the lock below the taillight and up pops the rear portion of the seat, exposing the filler for the 4.2-gallon tank located underneath. I found that the Mana GT, under our usual heavy use, rolled 45.0 mpg on average.
The pair of 320mm disc brakes on the front with four-piston, radial-mounted calipers offer very strong, linear braking, and are teamed with a 260mm rear disc with single piston. The GT utilizes a two-channel Continental anti-lock braking system that provides very controllable stops with only a minor amount of pulsing feel at the lever and pedal.
The Aprilia Mana GT ABS offers a fascinating blend of conventional motorcycle ride and feel, blended with sportbike styling and scooter amenities in terms of its automatic shifting and clutch, and up-top storage compartment. While beginners will appreciate the ease of shifting, experienced riders will still feel at home despite the bike’s heft and relatively low output for its displacement. Add the saddlebags and it becomes a wonderful all-rounder for touring, commuting or your favorite twisty road.