Aprilia Mana 850 vs. Honda DN-01

Automatics For The People

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing, Motorcyclist Archives

Technology can be weighty stuff, but swoopy plastic is very slimming. Still, the DN-01 never feels that heavy, despite chassis numbers that are only slightly sportier than a Harley-Davidson Super Glide's. Cruiser types will love the 27-inch seat height, rearward-reaching bars and cruiser-style floorboards. Tall types will be less enthusiastic about the odd, urban-slouch riding posture. At least the LCD instrument display is nice-if that steeply angled windscreen doesn't block your view.

Agile, it isn't. But thumb that rocker switch on the right bar to engage Drive mode, feed in a whiff of throttle and the '01 flows into motion with digital precision. Modern V-belt automatics are good-and Aprilia's is better than most-but Honda's electro-hydraulic masterpiece makes the best of them feel old and vaguely agricultural. Roll on the throttle and revolutions per minute become miles per hour with a smoothness usually reserved for electric motors and 18-year-old Kentucky Bourbon. In Drive mode, transmission electronics keep the engine spinning close to its 6000-rpm torque peak. Whack the throttle and it takes a second or two for your ground speed to sync up with the exhaust note. That's a familiar phenomenon to outboard motor operators, but something of a disconnect to those more accustomed to manual-transmission motorcycles.

Switch to Sport mode and the HFT accelerates forward process with a longer rpm leash-handy for dispatching four-wheeled laggards and locating the 7500-rpm rev limit. It's less efficient in the mpg department, and acceleration is exactly what you'd expect from 42.4 horsepower pushing 605 pounds: adequate, as in faster than most four-wheeled vehicles and way faster than the 18-wheel variety. Overcome by analog nostalgia? Shift through the six virtual ratios at will, but the human-friendly circuits won't help your Rubens Barichello impression. Upshifts are solid and reasonably quick, but the ECU enforces slow, methodical progress back toward first. Should you forget to cue up first at that next stop sign, Honda's electronic elves will do it for you.

Off The Record
Tim Carrithers, Executive Editor
Age: 50
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 210 lbs.
Inseam: 35 in.

If the Honda is a transmission in search of a motorcycle, the Aprilia is a motorcycle in search of a transmission. The Mana wins any practicality contest, but real motorcyclists will notice something's missing in the same way real Italians miss something in deodorized garlic oil. Heart. Soul. A reason to get out of bed on Saturday morning.

There is no truth to the rumor that DN-01 is Honda dealer shorthand for "Do Not Order One." My friends in the business swear some dealers are selling every DN-01 they can lay their sweaty palms on. Sure. Looking for something to defibrillate the Segue poseurs at this year's Seizure World Bocce Ball Pro/Am? This would be it. Otherwise? Prepare to be underwhelmed. Besides, I already have a shiftless Honda grocery-getter at home: my '72 Trail 70. Cost me all of $300.

A viable automatic needs to shift at least as well as I can. The DN-01 succeeds on that count, but that pear-shaped power-to-weight ratio renders the HFT functionally irrelevant. If that doesn't push you over the edge, the $15,599 sticker price will. That's $94 more expensive than a Honda Civic.

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