2014 Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS Review

Sportbike? Maxi-scooter? Whatever. The Mana’s more proof that Piaggio is Italy’s best-kept secret.

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2014 Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS

Editor Score: 81.5%
Engine 16.5/20
Suspension/Handling 12/15
Transmission/Clutch 8/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Instruments/Controls3.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10
Appearance/Quality 8.5/10
Desirability 8.75/10
Value 8/10
Overall Score82.25/100

Well, I didn’t really expect the Aprilia Mana 850 GT to be much of a sportbike, but it is. Amazingly enough, when we set off into the sunset back down Ortega Highway toward civilization after a nice day riding, we didn’t get stuck behind a single cement mixer or weaving pickup or any vehicles at all – completely unprecedented – which meant we could set our own pace through all those fast, smooth sweepers. The Mana settled into a surprisingly swift one.

Horsepower’s not really a requirement on a road like Ortega, and the Mana’s dyno-derived 54 at 8000 rpm felt like enough. It is an Italian V-Twin after all, and it even hangs from a steel trellis frame. Steering’s neither too light nor heavy, and fast enough. Homo erectus ergoes and an aluminum handlebar put you in total control and, yeah, the faster I rolled into the corners, the more the Mana reminded me of a nice freight-train Ducati, before they went all Panigale on us. If you were expecting low-rent scooter tires, you’ll be surprised to find Dunlop Q2s, in full-on 180/55 and 120/70 sportbike sizes on the Mana’s rims. The fork’s not adjustable, but it is a firmly sprung 43mm inverted unit, and the rear end plays right along.

The gearbox is, weirdly enough, the thing that really makes the Mana such a fun sportbike. You can leave it in full auto (Touring, Sport, or Rain) and just motorboat along. The other thing you can do, with the push of your right thumb, on the fly, is put it in Sport Gear, and shift the 7-speed for yourself. The Mana’s got thumb paddles for your left thumb and forefinger. I never cared for them on a motorcycle personally – my hands have enough to do. What the Mana has that the others don’t is a shift lever for your left foot, as Allah intended, allowing toes to shift virtual gears if you’re not keen on paddles.

The Mana’s 90-degree V-Twin delivers power through a continuously variable transmission that eliminates a clutch lever. The Sport Gear setting mimics a 7-speed gearbox operated by paddle shifters on the left handlebar or via a foot shifter.

The Mana’s 90-degree V-Twin delivers power through a continuously variable transmission that eliminates a clutch lever. The Sport Gear setting mimics a 7-speed gearbox operated by paddle shifters on the left handlebar or via a foot shifter.

It’s a continuously variable ’box like scooters have used since the ancient Greeks, but controlled by the miracle of modern electronics instead of spinning weights and springs. Scare yourself with what feels like too much speed into a corner, and all you need to do is tap down on the shifter, no clutch required. Engine braking increases one-seventh, and the fact that it’s a belt means there’s no lurch at all – you just slow down a bit, smoother and more controllably than by dragging a little rear brake. Downshift leaned way over if you want, no drama. Upshifting at corner exits is just as smooth, instantaneous and lash-free.

There’s no tachometer, but in Sport Gear mode, three sequential yellow lights followed by a red across the top of the dash tell you when to shift. Very racy, easy to see, and quite Ducati-ish sounding. The CVT belt is super-efficient, but it’s incapable of transmitting any harsh to your buzz. It’s not going to be the hot set-up for drag racing; you can’t really blast off from a start. But the CVT makes the Mana sneakier fast than it seems; lots of expensive Orange County automobiles grow quickly small in the Mana’s mirrors when the light goes green, without really trying.

Hold the selector button down for 3 seconds, and you will be in Sport Gear mode, whereupon you have a 7-speed seamless clutchless gearbox you can shift with either your left finger and thumb, or left foot. Sequential shift lights across the top tell you when. Ambient temp gauge is accurate, there’s a clock, a lap timer, a pessimistic fuel mileage indicator, et cetera …

Hold the selector button down for 3 seconds, and you will be in Sport Gear mode, whereupon you have a 7-speed seamless clutchless gearbox you can shift with either your left finger and thumb, or left foot. Sequential shift lights across the top tell you when. Ambient temp gauge is accurate, there’s a clock, a lap timer, a pessimistic fuel mileage indicator, et cetera …

For curvy-road use, I was surprised how capable the sensible commuter-appearing Mana turned out to be, the classic MTV video librarian in the cat glasses and tight bun who transforms into the opposite of the girl next door. Some might find the Honda NT700V more appealing as an overall package. Each to his own, I suppose. I find the Italian bike far, ahhh, sexier and more fun to ride.

2010 Honda NT700V vs. Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS

Speaking of which, though the siren song of the maxi-scooter becomes harder and harder to resist as one grows old and gray, the nearly equally convenient Mana’s a life-affirming motorcycle that tells the world you’re still capable of straddling a thing, not a rolling admission that you’ve given up all hope and have stored your manhood in the underseat compartment next to the Depends and oatmeal. I kid, but only a little.

The Mana GT is the sexiest CVT-equipped motorcycle, not that it has much competition.

The Mana GT is the sexiest CVT-equipped motorcycle, not that it has much competition.

The Mana shows you can still get your right leg up, at least. The seat’s not exactly low, at just over 32 inches, and it’s more firm than plush. Which turns out to be less a problem since my butt is lately more plush than firm. It all works out, doesn’t it? You can dial back the preload out back with the handy knob, and adjust rebound damping with a penny. This bike is user friendly. The airflow over the windscreen can be turbulent; you can cut it down or swap it out easily enough. On chilly days, it’s way better than nothing, and the shape of the gas tank pushes air around your thighs, too. There is a little vibration above 85 or so, more through the footpegs than the bars, noticeable but to me not at all objectionable.

It’s no Burgman trunk, but the Mana’s helmet-shaped (ie. rounded on the bottom) storage compartment is designed to be able to hold a helmet. I couldn’t get any of my sized-large full-face helmets to fit, but lids from other staffers were able to be squeezed in, and open-face ones fit easily inside the 15-liter (approx.) cavern. Sadly, there are no external helmet locks. You can fit a couple bottles of wine, a quart of milk and a pound of Trader Joe’s Dark Roast, no problem. Remove the plush liner and there’s a drain plug in the bottom, in case you need to transport iced-down beverages or fresh-caught salmon maybe. There’s also a 12V outlet and a light, and even a little hydraulic strut to hold the lid open.

This older Shoei X-SP size L fit, but any full-face with a spoiler or wing on back seems to not quite make it into the Mana’s maw. Two bottles of wine and a bag of Cheetos are no problem.

This older Shoei X-SP size L fit, but any full-face with a spoiler or wing on back seems to not quite make it into the Mana’s maw. Two bottles of wine and a bag of Cheetos are no problem.

A little bit of storage on a motorcycle goes a long way, and beats schlepping a backpack wherever you go, though unfortunately my 13-inch laptop won’t quite fit either. Meanwhile, the fuel tank’s tucked away at the rear, doing its job holding 4.2 gallons and keeping the cg low, and passing gas to the single 38mm Marelli fuel injector body at the rate of about 46-48 mpg. Fully fueled, the Mana weighs about 530 pounds.

Yup, $11,199 is not cheap, but not only is the Mana a unique motorscooter (literally), it’s also very well turned out with braided steel brake lines, two-channel ABS for those of us who don’t like linked brakes, Brembo brake calipers, cool wheels, really nice suspension and a general level of thoughtful put-togetherness that makes the Honda NC700X copy feel a bit cheap. Which it is compared to the Mana: The dual-clutch automatic Honda with ABS retails for $8799.

The Mana GT is sportier than Honda’s NC700X DCT, but is it a better overall package? An upcoming shootout will weigh the pros and cons.

The Mana GT is sportier than Honda’s NC700X DCT, but is it a better overall package? An upcoming shootout will weigh the pros and cons.

The Mana does almost everything better than the Honda, including make you feel sort of cool to be seen with it, and if the Honda’s DCT is a bit more technologically advanced, the Mana’s old-school CVT and its Sport Shift are surprisingly competent. According to the maintenance schedule, the Mana requires service every 12,000 miles or so. How hard could it be? There are four valves per cylinder also, and one cam, with screw-and-locknut adjusters.

Aprilia’s been producing the standard Mana 850 since 2008, and created the GT version in 2010 by adding the fairing and antilock brakes. Seems like they may have improved its suspension, too, since we didn’t experience any of the wallow or sidestand grinding Pete complained about on the naked Mana in 2009. Our bike consistently returned at least 46 mpg, too, as opposed to the 40 Pete got.

I’m not sure how I’ve only just now gotten to ride the Mana, but I’m glad I did. The Piaggio Group continues to make some of our very favorite motorcycles. Add this one to the list alongside the RSV4, the Tuono, the Moto Guzzi Griso, the V7 Racer, the California 1400, the MP3 … along with them, the Mana feels like one of the best-kept secrets in motorcycling. Scootering. Both.

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Related Reading
2010 Honda NT700V vs. Aprilia Mana 850 GT ABS
2014 Honda NC700X DCT ABS Review
2013 Uber Scooter Shootout + Video
2014 BMW C600 Sport Review
2013 Honda CB500X Review
2013 Beginner Sportbike Shootout Part 2 + Video
2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer vs. 2013 Triumph Thruxton + Video
2012 Adventure-Touring Shootout + Video
All Things Moto Guzzi on Motorcycle.com

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  • octodad

    want to see the comparison/ contrast with the Honda DCT models. my CTX is 700cc so I bet the Aprilia is quicker, but I dig the take off and speed shifting on my scoot. you are right about hand paddles feeling crowded, especially w/ thick gloves. the toe pedal might be a nice feature. do I detect a trend toward lever-less shifting? cannot wait to see where this goes…

  • DickRuble

    54hp with 850cc vs 60 for Honda’s 700cc. Moreover, Honda delivers it at lower revs… A bit perplexed

    • GGarcia

      The Aprilia Mana is 56 kW which translates to 76.1 HP. As stated on the Aprilia’s page

      • DickRuble

        Not saying you’re wrong, just pointing to rear wheel data as measured on a dyno.

        http://www.motorcycle.com/gallery/gallery.php?g2_view=largephotos.Largephotos&g2_itemId=228872

        • GGarcia

          You are right Dick. A little disappointing to find out it produces so little power. Thanks

          • klee

            You are correct regarding the technical spec on power. However, I can say this ride easily beats all other V-twins (even the monsters above 1600 cc), parallel twins, and more than half of inline fours in any drag. This can be done simply in Touring mode. Sport mode is great for freeway challenges. The mid-range is scary fast (gears 2 through 6). Conversely, “gear one” is pathetically bad as well as the top end behaviour. You will be eating inline four dust at about 100 mph. No cars have outpaced this ride, but a 2013 BMW M5 did tie, but I later realized I was only in Touring mode (I wasn’t expecting to drag :D ). In any case, traffic and other riders very quickly disappears in the rear view mirrors without all the rice-burning whine from inline fours and the annoying childish crack of HDs. (maybe the Mana is too quiet with the stock pipe). I have been riding the Mana for five years and its handling is better than most sport bikes in its class. Btw: The Mana makes for a really nice agile sport tourer too and is superior in urban traffic. It not your primary ride, it makes for a garage second ride that you will not regret.

          • GGarcia

            Thanks a lot for your comments Klee. I just took delivery of a very nice red Aprilia Mana yesterday and what you say makes me confident that I will enjoy the bike as much as you have yours. The looks are great and the power seems to be as you describe. I Don’t think that I will need more, al least for a while.

          • klee

            Congratulations GGarcia. You will have no problems keeping up with the pack, if you are not setting the pace. You may find that you will actually enjoy the passing urban (!) and rural scenery more than otherwise on a traditional m/c. One word of caution: Beware of steep declines at low speeds. The sportgear disengages at around 10 mph, so the brakes become important. Below this range you will not have engine braking available. Otherwise, I hardly use the brakes (excellent engine back pressure) and I have much pad clearance left after five years. I ride the machine in sub-zero and above pizza baking temperatures. It purrs. I suggest mid-grade octane gasoline or higher, although I have used (native reserve) regular octane with no side effects under normal relaxed riding conditions. Since you have no clutch bathing in oil, an approved by certification automobile oil is all you need for the engine. Synthetic Castrol is what I use. You will save some cash. In regards to looks, yeah, I get looks all the time from women. I think they think it is a Ducati on the right side, but Aprilia stands out on its own nevertheless.

          • GGarcia

            Thanks Klee, your comments are greatly appreciated. As you say, this bike is very enjoyable and fun to ride, I don’t miss manual transmission at all. I wonder why there are not many more motorcycles like this, for me this is the way to go if you really want to enjoy the ride, unless of course you are going off road or racing. Thanks again for your comments, I am really enjoying this bike.

          • klee

            Apparently there are more today, and there have been others in the racing domain since the late 90′s (e.g. Yamaha). Motorcycle.com covered the Honda NC700 DCT: http://www.motorcycle.com/shoot-outs/shift-shootout-2014-aprilia-mana-gt-vs-bmw-c600-sport-vs-honda-nc700-dct-video

          • cathries
          • cathries
        • cathries
  • DickRuble

    54hp at 8000rpm for 850cc compared to 47.6hp at 6250rpm for Honda’s NC700X… and 57.6hp at 8600rpm for the Versys.. Looks like the Versys is the closer comparable, even though it gives 200cc to the Mana.

    • Ted

      Hey Dick, the new nc750 is listed or rear wheel dynoed ( can’t remember which) right at 54 hp. Not saying much for the 850 unless it’s making 55 or better torque.

  • Craig Hoffman

    “The siren song of the maxi-scooter becomes harder and harder to resist as one grows old and gray, the nearly equally convenient Mana’s a life-affirming motorcycle that tells the world you’re still capable of straddling a thing, not a rolling admission that you’ve given up all hope and have stored your manhood in the underseat compartment next to the Depends and oatmeal”.

    Thanks for the laugh. That paragraph has Burns fingerprints all over it :)

    Interesting bike. I like the unique blend of actual motorcycle with scooter functionality (storage and auto trans). Like the Honda CTX, this would be an intro bike for a generation that has never used a clutch. The cost is a bit high, but the coolness factor offsets that. I wonder how the Honda CTX is selling.

  • michael franklin

    And it’s got that big parking brake lever!

  • allworld

    Perhaps Aprilia (Piaggio) should but this set-up in more traditional scooter and take on the BMW’s scooters. There is sort of a Gilera version not sold in the USA.

  • cathries

    welcome to : http://www.aliexpress.com/store/203487 ,just a choose