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
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.