Shiftless. Clutchless. Stepless. Seamless. Clueless? This just in: The idea of a transmission that picks the perfect ratio is hardly a new one. A particularly bright guy by the name of Leonardo da Vinci cooked up the concept of a continuously variable transmission in 1490. With a few notable exceptions-the 1910 Zenith V-2, 1976 Moto Guzzi Convert and 1978 CB750A Hondamatic, to name a few-most modern motorcycles expect us to shift for ourselves. Most, that is, except for the Aprilia Mana 850 and Honda DN-01. And while the purist contingent may argue whether the plastic-wrapped DN-01 is actually a motorcycle at all, one look tells you it's about as far from the Mana as Aprilia's Noale headquarters are from Honda's in Tokyo.
The home office calls the DN-01 a hybrid-a bridge over the horse latitudes separating motorcycling and scooterdom. Ambiguous? Yes, but it fits. And just to set the record straight, DN-01 is Honda shorthand for Dream New Concept One. It debuted with Honda's other blue-sky concepts at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, framing the then-new Human Friendly Transmission, designed to maintain perfect engine speed at your chosen rate of travel via a staggeringly crafty fusion of electronics and hydraulics. No big thing, really-we're used to Honda engineers coming up with bright ideas. Two years later, it was part of Honda's '08 European lineup-very big surprise. And this year, it showed up here. Don't swallow your gum.
The DN-01 parts manifest is a predictably eclectic mix. Judging by the exterior, there should be a hydrogen fuel cell in there somewhere, or a lithium-ion battery pack. Not this time: Derived from Honda's painfully sensible NT700V Deauville Euro-tourer, the humble 680cc V-twin generates power, sending it through a CVT transmission and shaft final drive. Start the engine, switch from neutral to drive and it does the rest. Another bar-mounted switch cues up Sport mode if you're in a hurry. A tiny trigger on the throttle side cues up Manual mode, which lets you thumb through six preset ratios. A plain old pipe-rack steel frame holds everything together atop sporty 17-inch wheels, fitted with reassuringly large rotors and triple-piston Nissin calipers. Once you initiate the deceleration process, Honda's Combined Brake System and excellent ABS help insure drama-free stopping on any sort of pavement. Wrapped in edgy plastic blending hints of NR750 with Romulan Attack Cruiser, the '01's seat is low enough to accommodate the vertically disadvantaged behind that steeply raked windscreen. But floorboards? Sure: It's a "sport cruiser," remember?
Despite its scooter-spec powertrain and more practical, commuter-spec accoutrements, the Aprilia looks like ... well, a motorcycle. Aside from the oddly shaped covers camouflaging various parts of its more conventional belt-driven CVT paraphernalia, it could pass for a mid-sized naked Italian V-twin because that's mostly what it is. The Italian orthodox steel-trellis frame is similar to that of Aprilia's Shiver 750. Its 17-inch wheels wear big disc brakes and radial-mount ersatz Brembo calipers. But the SOHC, eight-valve, 839cc V-twin and that CVT transmission are a more advanced version of what you'll find under the skin of a Gilera GP800 scooter-one of the perks that come with life under the Piaggio Group's corporate umbrella. Here's another infusion of scooter-spec practicality: a lockable full-face-helmet-sized storage bin where the fuel tank should be. When the low-fuel light comes on at 130 miles or so, you'll find that unleaded lives in a 4.2-gallon tank under the seat. Topped off and ready for action, the Mana tips the scales at 516 pounds, which sounds heavy until you find out the Honda weighs 605 lbs. wet.