Motorcycle Road Test: 2014 Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS
The Aprilia 2014 Mana 850 GT ABS combines the ease and practicality of a scooter with the power and handling of a mid-sized sport bike into a perfect package. Straddling the sport-touring/commuting/weekend-fun-bike genres/disciplines, the Aprilia Mana 850 GT delivers on all fronts—two thumbs up.
While I was initially dubious about the scooter-style automatic transmission, quite sure that I would miss shifting, Aprilia has the technology completely dialed. Once I stopped reflexively reaching for the ‘missing’ clutch lever — most often upon getting on the bike and hitting the start button — and fully explored the nuances of the transmission, I truly begin to appreciate the Mana 850 GT.
The driving force behind the Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS is its Sportgear transmission — a continuous variable transmission (CVT) that transmits silky smooth power from the 839cc longitudinal V-twin, whether in the fully automatic mode (Autodrive), or in the rider-controlled Sequential mode. Both work flawlessly and you can swap between the two on the fly.
Giving the rider the option to shift — either by traditional foot lever, or with paddle shifter buttons on the left handlebar — was a smart decision by Aprilia. I found myself utilizing almost all of the available options, depending on my mood or ride conditions.
The scooter-like action of the transmission gets your attention on first ride. Pull away from the curb and you’ll realize you need a bigger twist of the throttle to get the Mana 850 GT moving than you’re used to with a traditional manual transmission. When slowing to a stop, you’ll experience the freewheeling sensation of dropping into neutral without having specifically shifted yourself there. Similarly, when riding slowly down a steep hill, take care to give the engine a little throttle to keep it from slipping into neutral (and thus losing engine braking). It takes very little time to adapt to the automatic transmission character, but it’s worth noting.
Simplest of the various drive options is the Autodrive mode — you roll the throttle on and let the Mana 850 GT’s CVT do all the work. Electronics control the transmission, keeping the 76-horsepower engine at the optimal rpm for acceleration. Combined with a mostly flat torque curve, this translates into a strong torque feel from the bottom to the top, and it’s easy to get used to having that responsiveness at any speed.
There are three engine mappings to choose from — Sport, Touring, and Rain — and they are well defined and distinctive. I spent a lot of my time on the Mana 850 GT on a busy freeway commuting to work in the Touring mode. I was fully satisfied with the power and how aggressively I could maneuver the changing traffic conditions, especially taking advantage of the Sequential mode.
Firm but supple, the Mana handles freeway imperfections nicely — you feel the road, but don’t get bounced around. The Dunlop Sportmax tires are impervious to rain grooves and feel good when changing lanes across seams.
The Sequential mode allows you to override the Autodrive by simply pressing the paddle shifter buttons, located under your left thumb and forefinger, to manually shift up or down. I found myself downshifting in this manner, often while lane splitting, instead of braking.
On the weekends I took the Mana 850 GT to my local hills to check out the Sport mode. It returns the same 76 horsepower as in the Touring mode, but the acceleration is much quicker; happily, the faster response off the throttle is nicely delivered and manageable. Combined with a firm suspension and beefy 43mm upside down forks, the Mana is completely solid in turns and transitions well, its neutral handling allowing me to push confidently for a spirited ride.
Adding to the faith is the excellent tire and chassis combination found on the Mana 850 GT. Dunlop Sportmax tires grip the road reassuringly when leaned well into turns. Turn-in is neutral and effective, thanks to a sporty 24-degree rake. You can be aggressive with the throttle coming out of turns, as the CVT acts as a traction control device and you don’t have to adjust your hands or feet to upshift.
The twin 320mm rotors and radially mounted calipers have excellent feel, no sharp bite, and a convincing progressive action. When riding in the Sport mode in the canyons, the Mana downshifts fairly aggressively so I didn’t feel the need to access the paddle shifter.
Because it lacks a gearbox and full engine compression braking, the brakes took on more of the deceleration duties. ABS comes standard with the Mana (it’s in the name), which is almost a necessity with a CVT. One thing to remember about the brakes and CVT — if you don’t set the hand parking brake (see photo) and you park on a hill, the bike will roll off its kickstand. Don’t ask how we know this.
If you want full control with (almost) no interference from the Aprilia’s automatic transmission, you can select the Sport Gear mode by holding down the Gear Mode button on the right handlebar and cycling through the options. In this mode, shifting is done either by paddle shifting or foot shifter (though you’re still minus a clutch lever), and you have seven preset ratios (not gears) to move through. The only time the auto transmission will intrude is during unattended deceleration — the engine will automatically downshift to maintain a minimum rpm-to-speed level if the rider hasn’t shifted.
As much as I thought I would miss conventional shifting, and as often as I availed myself of down shifting via the paddle shifters in the Autodrive mode, I found I had no interest in complete manual shifting the Mana 850 GT; without the clutch lever it just feels odd. Back roads and open freeway riding is best enjoyed letting the Autodrive do its thing. If you feel you must shift, buy a motorcycle with a traditional gearbox.
The Mana 850 GT is more than just its excellently executed transmission. The mid-sized sport bike has real world ergonomics, including an extremely comfortable tank-hugging riding position and a 31.5-inch seat. Although the curb weight is a bit on the heavy side at over 500 pounds wet, the Mana 850 GT ABS carries it low thanks to an underseat gas tank and L-twin engine, so handling the bike at parking lot speeds is stress-free.
An additional benefit of moving the 4.2-gallon gas tank from its traditional position is the large tank-area storage space that is endlessly convenient. The keyless compartment is secure as the left handlebar-mounted release switch only works if the ignition is turned to the ‘on’ position. It’s great to have the option of carrying stuff, or stowing your (small) helmet, without losing the clean look of a bag-free bike. The lit compartment contains an old-school 12-volt power outlet — time to update to powered USB plugs, Aprilia.
With the addition of Aprilia’s accessory luggage options (hard side bags, top box kit, luggage rack), the Mana 850 GT ABS makes a great weekend sport tourer, though the hard sidebags are wide. The adjustable windshield (requires tools) shaves off enough of the windblast to keep fatigue down, and vibration from the 90-degree twin is minimal. Roadside assistance is included free for one year with purchase.
While the Mana 850 GT may not be Ducati-sexy, the Italian sport bike definitely turns heads with its barely faired, trellis-framed unique look. The fit and finish of the bike is top drawer, and it’s safe to say no one else will have a Mana 850 in the parking lot, unless you’re at a very diversified motorcycle watering hole.
It would be a mistake to dismiss the 2014 Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS as simply a maxi-scooter. It’s a sport bike with an effective automatic transmission that enhances its abilities as an urban commuter and weekend touring bike.
Photography by Don Williams
2014 Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS Specifications
Engine type: Aprilia 90° V-twin engine, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 4vpc
Bore and stroke: 88 x 69 mm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Maximum power at crankshaft: 76 hp @ 8,000 rpm
Maximum torque at crankshaft: 54 ft/lbs @ 5000 rpm
Engine mappings: Touring – Sport – Rain) in Autodrive mode;
Fuel system: Integrated electronic engine management system. Weber Marelli electronic injection with 38mm throttle body
Ignition: Digital electronic, with two spark plugs per cylinder, integrated with fuel injection system
Exhaust: 2-into-1 exhaust system; 100% stainless steel with three-way catalytic converter and lambda probe
Alternator: 450 watts at 6000 rpm
Lubrication: Dry sump system with separate oil tank
Gearbox: Sequential with user-selectable manual and automatic modes; 7 speeds in manual mode.
Gear shifting: foot lever or handlebar control (rider may switch between automatic and sequential modes at any time)
Primary drive: Belt
Secondary drive: Chain
Chassis: High-strength steel trellis
Front suspension: 43mm inverted forks w/ 4.7 inches of wheel travel
Rear suspension: Single-piece aluminum alloy swingarm, single shock with adjustable spring preload and hydraulic rebound damping w/ 4.9 inches of wheel travel
Front brakes: Dual 320mm stainless steel floating discs; radial calipers with four pistons
Rear brake: 260mm stainless steel disc with single-piston caliper.
ABS: 2-channel system
Wheel rims: Aluminum alloy
Front wheel: 3.50 X 17″
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17″
Tires: Dunlop Sportmax radial tubeless
Front tire: 120/70 ZR 17
Rear tire: 180/55 ZR 17
Trail: 4.1 inches
Length: 81.9 inches
Width: 31.5 inches (at handlebar)
Height: 44.5 inches
Seat height: 31.5 inches
Wheelbase: 57.6 inches
Fuel tank: 4.2 gallons
2014 Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS MSRP: $11,199