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If you want a bike that beats the congestion in British cities, yet has a sporty side to make a weekend ride a fun proposition, you might love the Mana 850.

So much motorcycling today is done in traffic, as roads are clogged up with some 23 million vehicles for much of the time. Does it make sense to try a motorcycle with an automatic gearbox then? Something a little sporty maybe, but with enough smoothness and comfort to make commuting tolerable. If that’s your wish list, then try a demo ride on the Aprilia Mana 850.


As soon as you climb onto the Mana 850, fire the engine up, your hand instinctively reaches for the clutch, so you can select first gear. But there is no clutch lever. It is the weirdest feeling in the world to have to re-configure over 30 years of riding experience and start from scratch.

So, techno lesson number one; The Aprilia Mana has three engine modes and none of them require a clutch. Yep, the thing is so smart you can change down the gearbox, right into first gear, without doing anything other than closing the throttle, or flicking the gear lever down through the cogs. The Mana has a Sport mode, for open roads, or motorways where you want to use all the available power. Select Sport and you can shift up and down the gearbox using the gear lever, or the F1 type paddles on the handlebars, which as the Mana has seven speeds, makes for lively biking. It feels fun, once you get used to it.

Then there’s a Rain mode, when you perhaps want slightly less oomph coming out of a roundabout. Finally, there is Touring mode. Both these choices kick in the three speed, fully automatic gearbox, so all you do is twist and go, bit like a maxi-scooter. The Mana does all the thinking for you in respect of choosing the best gear and sometimes you can emerge from a corner wishing the bike kicked in with a tad more grunt, but the transmission’s brain generally works as well as any rider’s noggin.

With just a brief test ride on the cards, I would have liked more time to get used to the Mana’s gear options, but as I was testing the bike at the track, I did a couple of laps in automatic mode, then selected Sport mode and tried both paddle shift, and just using the gear lever. For experienced riders I reckon that will feel the most natural, but novice bikers who have maybe just passed their test will perhaps like the fully auto mode. If you want a bike that beats the congestion in British cities, yet has a sporty side to make a weekend ride a fun proposition, you might love the Mana 850.

IS IT MORE THAN A COMMUTER?

The Mana has clever features like a dummy gas tank, which is actually a handy luggage locker, capable of holding your lid whilst you’re in a meeting, or off on the train to work. The sit-up-straight riding position and flat, wide handlebars also suggest this bike was designed with busy urban bikers in mind. The price of around £6500 on the road also puts it in a competitive zone against a whole slew of all-rounders and budget touring machines.

But does the Mana cut it as a genuine all-rounder? I’m not sure it manages to pull off hard, fast riding as well as say a Triumph Street Triple 675, or even Honda’s funky Hornet 600. The Mana has a softness, a fuzzy fade-out near the edge of its suspension abilities which deters you from really giving it some stick in the bends. The brakes do the job well enough, with sporty radial calipers sitting on twin 320mm discs, but the forks feel mushy and dive a bit when under pressure, plus the curiously side-mounted monoshock has a certain comfort zone, beyond which it begins to protest at the treatment dished out. In truth this is a clever commuter, with a slick transmission for sure, and comfortable up to 70mph, but it lacks the genuine sporty ability that some of its mid-sized rivals have.

After getting off the Aprilia I felt impressed by its hi-tech gearbox, which does everything but make your tea, yet strangely deflated. It isn’t a `future-bike’ as some say, just a traditional motorcycle with an auto, or semi-auto gearbox as part of the package. If it was a hi-tech commuter it would have a hydrogen fuel cell instead of a petrol engine, and shaft drive, not a Victorian chain at the back wheel. Of course, then it would cost about the same as a Toyota Pious, so no commuter would actually buy one, except maybe Fred Goodwin for nipping down the Post Office to collect his pension...

If all that sounds a bit negative, sorry to depress you, but my feeling about technology is that it has to offer something unique, a ground-breaking innovation to persuade me to open my wallet and take a beating on depreciation, plus act as a test rider for something brand new in motorcycling, which may require time-consuming factory recalls.

I applaud Aprilia for trying something different with the Mana 850, but it lacks the sheer freedom and exhilaration of motorcycling for me. It is just too sanitised, too easy to ride. For novices, that might hold some appeal, but even a novice becomes an expert after a few years on two wheels, and where does that leave the Mana? The fact is, the Mana is remarkably similar in its feel as say a Kawasaki Versys 650, and that £5000 commuter from Kawasaki does the urban ride almost as well as the Mana - you just need to use the clutch and more revs to achieve the same average speed from driveway to office car park.

The ace up the Mana’s sleeve is its unique transmission, plus the all-rounder performance at - for an Italian bike - a relative bargain price. Like many oddball motorbikes, you need to be 100% sure you love it and want to keep it for some years, then the depreciation doesn’t matter that much. But for me, the Mana lacks an addictive, grunty V-twin charm somehow - it’s too functional, a bit dull really.



Get Aprilia bike insurance for the aprilia mana 850.



Test bike suplied by;

Aprilia UK

Engine; 839cc, liquid-cooled, 8 valve, DOHC V-twin

Peak power; 76bhp @ 7250rpm

Peak torque; 54 ft/lbs @ 5000rpm

Gears; 7 speed, multi-mode, semi-automatic

Chassis; Steel trellis type frame, alloy extruded swingarm, cantilvered monoshock rear end.

Front suspension; 43mm telescopic forks, non-adjustable

Rear suspension; Cantilever monoshock, adjustable for pre-load

Wheelbase; 1463mm

Brakes; Twin 320mm front discs, 4 piston calipers, single 260mm rear disc, single piston caliper. 

Wheels/Tyres; 120/70 front, 180/55 rear, 17 in wheels

Dry weight; 189Kgs

Fuel capacity; 16 litres

Estimated top speed;120mph

Warranty; 2 years

RRP; £6500( June 2009 )

www.aprilia.com

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