Au­to­matic bikes just don’t cut it with Ki­wis

Honda tried it in the late 70s and re­turns, along with Aprilia to bring au­to­matic trans­mis­sions to large­ca­pac­ity two-wheeled trans­port, writes Paul Owen

South Waikato News - - SPORT -

We Ki­wis gen­er­ally em­brace the things that make our lives more con­ve­nient. We love us­ing our au­to­matic garage door open­ers, electricity-guz­zling dish­wash­ers and cars that shift their own gears. How­ever mo­tor­cy­cles with au­to­matic gear­boxes ap­pear to be to­tally off our radar. There have been sev­eral at­tempts to bring au­toshift bikes to mar­ket here and the re­sponse of bike buy­ers has al­ways been the same: nearto­tal in­dif­fer­ence.

Right now, there is just the one au­to­matic mo­tor­cy­cle on the New Zealand mar­ket: the $15,990 Aprilia Mana 850. It looks just like the more con­ven­tional Aprilia Shiver GT; a sweetly-drawn Latin street bike with sporty han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics and a soul­ful V-twin en­gine. For the same money as the Shiver, the Mana gives its buy­ers an ex­tra 100cc of en­gine ca­pac­ity, a belt-driven CVT gear­box with seven man­ual-shift pre­sets and a handy lock­able stor­age area where most mo­tor­cy­cles have their fuel tanks. Yet the Mana seems to have the same ap­peal as gar­lic-flavoured ice­cream in New Zealand. Its chances of re­peat­ing the sales suc­cess that the model has en­joyed in Europe ap­pear to be doomed.

Our deal­ers com­fort­ably sold three Shiver GTS for ev­ery Mana they sold, said Aprilia dis­trib­u­tor Mark Mullins.

Back in a 2010 re­view of the Mana, I opined that an au­to­matic pow­er­train might suit the cruiser seg­ment more than the street­bike sec­tor, the seam­less ac­cel­er­a­tion seem­ingly more suit­able to laid-back rid­ing than sportier ap­pli­ca­tions. Aprilia, as a sports-ori­ented brand, was never go­ing to put the Mana’s en­gine and gear­box in a cruiser, pre­fer­ring to leave that ter­ri­tory to its Pi­ag­gio’s other mo­tor­cy­cle brand, Moto Guzzi. How­ever Honda did dip its toe in au­to­matic-shift cruiser ter­ri­tory when it re­leased the fu­tur­is­tic, cat­e­gory-bust­ing DN01 here in 2009. It looked like it had es­caped from the pages of a Judge Dredd comic and came pow­ered by 680cc V-twin en­gine hooked up to an­other CVT trans­mis­sion. When Honda’s mar­ket­ing corps hailed the DN01’s CVT as the mo­tor­cy­cling world’s first Hu­man-friendly Trans­mis­sion it only added to the im­pres­sion that it had ar­rived in our show­rooms from an­other planet.

Es­sen­tially a cruiser with a pow­er­train lifted from the Sil­ver Wing su­per-scooter, the DN-01 bombed in just about ev­ery mar­ket in the world. As quirky and ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing the same shock of the new as any car de­signed by An­dre Citroen, no-one, it seems could see where Honda was com­ing from with the DN-01.

That the bike had a comfy seat for two, yet was of­ten deemed over­loaded by the con­ser­va­tive 147kg max­i­mum load ca­pac­ity when cart­ing a pil­lion only high­lighted the fact that Honda hadn’t fully grasped the de­sign needs of its prod­uct.

The DN-01 was a weird-look­ing odd­ity that got the mar­ket re­cep­tion it prob­a­bly de­served but that hasn’t stopped Honda from com­mit­ting more of its re­sources to­wards mak­ing cred­i­ble auto-shift­ing mo­tor­cy­cles.

APRILIA: The au­to­matic ver­sion is out­sold in New Zealand three to one by its con­ven­tional sib­lings.

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