Welcome to the new millennium: While most of us were off screwing around on four wheels, motorcycles quietly went and got complicated. Carburetors and straightforward suspensions are rapidly being supplanted by trickle-down car technology-antilock brakes, feedback fuel injection, stability control, and even air bags. The computer, it seems, has finally caught up with the motorbike.
The Aprilia 850 Mana, with its compact, electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT), aims to be the next step in that evolution. Like a modern scooter or snowmobile, the Mana has a twist-grip throttle but no clutch lever. Aprilia's latest sporting standard is a real motorcycle, though, and unlike some of the oddball clutchless bikes of the past (boring, heavy clunkers, all), it's also quirk-free, nearly idiot-proof, and relatively capable.
We know what you're thinking: No clutch? Where's the fun in that? And we get it. A lot of the grins on a motorcycle come from the man/machine involvement, and muddying the connection between rider and horse doesn't really help things. But the 507-pound, 76-hp, 839-cc Mana isn't aimed at experienced crotch-rocket jockeys; Aprilia is targeting people moving up from scooters or first-timers in search of fuel economy, and that market doesn't necessarily care about the Italian marque's sport-bike heritage or the perfect downshift.
That said, while the Mana probably won't impress die-hards, it's still a very good, if slightly bland, motorcycle. The hefty curb weight and generic Italian looks aren't a plus, but the 90-degree, eight-valve V-twin is torquey and linear, and the stiff trellis frame and 43-millimeter inverted front fork make reasonable work of corners. The transmission, with its three automatic "shift" modes (including a rain setting) and handlebar "gear" buttons (a traditional foot lever is also present) works smoothly and unobtrusively. All in all, if you're in the market for a motorcycle and don't really care about motorcycles, the Mana fits the bill. The digital bike may finally be here, but it's still way cooler than a scooter.
On Sale: Now
Engine: 839-cc V-2, 76 hp, 54 lb-ft