You’ve been riding a scooter for years and know it is time to upgrade but cannot stand the idea of manual gear changes… Your answer may just have arrived in the form of the new Aprilia Mana. The name means “the stuff from which magic is made”, which I’m sure refers the electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission (CVT). According to Aprilia, it may be the future of biking.
The styling is modern and aggressive. As it’s a naked bike, the Mana is all too proud to show off its engine and tubular frame. The multi-spoke magnesium wheels, upside-down front forks and mono rear shock, which is offset to the side, amplify the sporting demeanour. Although this bike is mainly intended for city use, it has a neat little touring screen fitted and the ability to add a set of panniers if the owner so desires. In short, the Mana not draw any negative comments from the manne, which might have been the case with a weensy scooter. As the fuel tank resides under the seat to lower the centre of gravity, it allows for a cavity in the traditional fuel tank area that is capable of storing a (small) full-face helmet. Another nice touch is a parking brake to stop safely on inclines.
The heart of the bike is a V-twin engine of 839 cm3. Out test unit was fitted with a LeoVince exhaust that helped the V-twin character to shine through without being too loud. The engine is torquey and provides enough grunt at all engine speeds.
This brings me to the defining characteristic of the bike – the CVT gearbox. Aprilia engineers have programmed three modes for the rider to choose from: touring, sport and wet. The first setting can be seen as an automatic mode in which any twist of the throttle translates to forward motion while keeping the engine in the optimum rev range – high revs for maximum power (large throttle openings) and lower engine speeds close to the torque peak for efficiency.
It does take some time getting used to the constant speed of the engine while accelerating, as well as the lack of a clutch lever. Many times in this test the fingers on my left hand reached into fresh air while searching for the clutch lever when coming to a stop. Once your brain is reprogrammed, the bike is easy and relaxing to ride. The tight turning circle and instant thrust are perfect qualities for attacking rush-hour traffic.
The wet setting was largely ignored as it just smoothes out the power delivery to increase safety during wet-weather riding. A much more exciting setting is sport, which transforms the automatic gearbox (think scooter) into a seven-speed manual-shift transmission. Essentially, it moves the drive belt in seven steps to create the same impression as you’d get from a manual gearbox. Shifts can either be made via two swift buttons on the left handlebar or by a normal shift lever with the left boot. Obviously, no clutch action is needed and the throttle can be pinned while shifting gears. The rev counter comes in the form of a row of shift lights that light in sequence until the final red bulb informs the rider to shift or hit the rev limiter. In this mode, the bike comes alive as it allows the rider to have fun searching for breakfast on weekend mornings.
The suspension is capable of soaking up bumps during normal commuting but also inspires confidence when tackling the twisties. Twin 320 mm discs up front and a single disc at the back provide the necessary stopping power. The upright riding position ensures good all-round visibility and proved to be comfortable over longer distances.
In summary, the Mana might not appeal to the hardcore rider who wants absolute speed and control. What this bike does provide is a soft landing for scooter riders in the big-bike world without the hassle of gearshifts. As it is so easy to ride, it might even lure existing bikers to sample freedom from a clutch lever. Only time will tell if Aprilia spotted has a gap in the market.
WL: Not the most exciting bike, but perfect for navigating traffic.
PP: Neat, mid-sized commuter/cruiser but most would still prefer a conventional gearbox.
Engine: 90 degree V-twin, single
Displacement (cm3): 839
Power (kW/r/min): 56/8 000
Torque (N.mr/min): 73/5 000
Tyre sizes: f: 120/79 ZR 17 r: 180/55 ZR17
Frame: steel trellis
Seat height (mm): 800
Fuel tank capacity (L): 16
Warranty: 2 years
Service intervals (km): 10 000
Price: R113 500
Thank you to Aprilia South in Cape Town for the use of the test bike. Visit www.apriliasouth.co.za.