Thursday, 29 May 2008

Transporting stuff with the Mana

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the main reasons why I preferred the Mana over the other possible choices was its practical aspects. The trunk, in particular, really appealed to me.

At the moment I fill it in with a long Abus chain, the bike's documents, a pair of rain trousers and a very light rain jacket. When I park the bike, I put the chain-lock on and I fit the rest of the trunk's content into the helmet, which I then put into the trunk.

However, even with this trunk, the Mana cannot obviously compete with a scooter in terms of luggage space. And when you need to transport a gym bag or a business suitcase, you need to use a spider net.

You can obviously also use a shoulder strap bag, but if there is a sensation I hate in life is that of having a bag on my shoulder. I go to the extreme of not bringing stuff just so that I do not have to carry it on me, even when I walk....

Fitting a bag with a spider net on the passenger's portion of the saddle is realtively easy: there is a small hook on each side of the bike that can used to fix the net. However, I find the distance between them and the passenger handle - the only other point of anchorage - to be too much...they should have put a couple of additional hooks in between.

In any case, the bag tied up like this seems stable, and doesn't move. I want to avoid having to buy a back case, as it would really spoil the line of the Mana...

Monday, 26 May 2008

Sunday ride...not much of a ride!

This post should have been very different. I had planned to report on the roads I would have ridden the Mana at the weekend. However the itinerary that I did ride, suggested by a Belgian motorbike magazine, was absolute RUBBISH: 90 kms of riding in the suburbs of small villages, with no turns, no hill whatsoever, appalling surface conditions, no sightseeing, no scenic panoramas, no nothing.

Belgium is a country famous for its flat land. Its most famous singer, Jacques Brel, used to sing about the “plat pays”…Riding in Belgium is obviously NOT as riding in the Tuscany hilly countryside or the beautiful coast…but Belgium can offer very nice roads, which make it for a very nice weekend or Sunday ride. Unfortunately today this wasn’t one of them.

So, rather than talking to you about the ride, I want to talk a bit about a couple of other issues that I noticed about the Mana after this extra 300 KM ridden at the weekend.

First of all let’s talk about consumption. I am just below 1000km now, and I noticed that consumption varies enormously depending on whether I ride the bike in the city traffic, or on the highway and in the country roads. Obviously the engine still has to adjust, and the consumption value will probably vary, but I guess the data can already tell me something.

In the city centres, the reserve light comes on after 175-190 km, with consumption of 15.2-16km/lt (6.25lt/100 km). That’s not much. However, if I ride it on the highway and on the country roads, at stable speeds, we get to 20.5 km/lt (4.8lt/100 km), which is quite good.

(The calculations are made filling in the tank to the top, setting to zero the odometer, and then refilling in the tank to the top and dividing the kms ridden by the gasoline litres you put in: simple and very accurate).

My major problem with all this is that the gas tank is too small, as it forces me to put gas at least once every 5 days of continuous commuting use, in the city traffic. I wish the tank was actually a couple of litres bigger, which would have added a nice 30-40 km to the current estimated autonomy of 228 km (in the city traffic) and 310 km (on highway / State roads).

The V-Strom also has very different consumption patterns, depending on the roads I ride it on, but the differences are not as marked as with the Mana. Moreover, the Strom consumes less and has a larger fuel tank, which gives it a much larger autonomy than the Mana. But obviously the two bikes have very different souls, different purposes, at least in principle.

Passenger life
Last Saturday I had to take a guy behind me as a passenger. He had decided to sit as a passenger of another friend riding a scooter, but as soon as we hit the highway, the scooter friend had to pull off the road, as the wind was really making the whole thing instable. So he came as a passenger on the Mana, and we headed off for a nice (ironic) 50 Km of highway at 90-100 km/h (we couldn’t go any faster as the scooter was a 125cc…and that was its maximum speed…and we don't leave any man behind!)

Anyway, the experience was quite interesting, because the guy behind me had NEVER been on a motorbike. On our way back, he was the passenger of another friend of mine on a Yamaha MT-03 and at the end he said that the Mana was a lot more confortable than the MT-03, which really gave him a sore bottom…

So, the passenger life seems to be ok, but with a caveat: not too ride to fast nor to accelerate too impulsively or the passenger just flies away…but then again, I think it is a problem common to all naked bikes.

The gear mode
I keep on experimenting. What I find particularly helpful is to be in the automatic touring mode, but then switching gears down to exploit the engine brake before entering into a turn, for instance, or approaching a traffic light.

I started to use the shaft pedal as well…it came natural again, although mostly I do use the buttons at the left handle.

Today I also experimented my first panic brake. I feared that when this would happen, my left hand would automatically have looked for the clutch…finding nothing. However, this did not happen. I did hit the brakes as one should do, but I did not have the reaction of reaching for the non-existing clutch. I don’t know whether to be happy or not about this though…what would have happened if I had been on the V-strom? Will I be able to have different reactions depending on the bike I am riding in that specific moment? I really hope I never to have to find that out...

The paint
The paint on the fake fuel tank gests scratched by simply looking at it. Beware, really.

Pictures of the day

I leave you with a few picture of the day. Nothing scenic really. You will have to wait for next weekend’s tour for those…

In the land of the Duvel beer (a pretty good beer, if you ask me)

Early rain forces me to stop under a highway bridge, put on my rain suit...and then stop again after 30 minutes, as the sunshine came out again and accompanied me for the rest of the day.

This is...ehm, I don't know. But I thought it made for a good picture, don't you think??

In the rear view mirror I saw a church next to two windmills...I had to take this picture!

Stopping for a good half an hour waiting for the bridge to come down...

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Why Mana?

Over the past few days that I have been riding the Mana, a lot of coworkers have been asking "what is that fantastic motorbike you own now??". However, a lot of friends of mine have also been asking "why the hell did you buy the Mana?". From their point of view, with the same money I could have bought a motorbike that would have kept a higher value...a BMW, for instance.

It is true that from that point of view, buying a Mana is probably a bet. Aprilias are not famous for keeping a high value when they are sold second hand. And on top of that, the fact that this is an automatic bike, a completely new model, and one whose reliability is not proven yet all add to the potential low value when I sell it. All true: but thinking about this when you buy a new motorbike is like refusing to sleep with a beautiful woman because maybe, in ten years, she will leave you. It only means you lack the passion.

When I was shopping for a new bike to replace the scooter I was using in Brussels, I had a couple of criteria in mind:
  • It had to be a motorbike: I had grown tired of the scooter I had bought two years before, very practical and everything. It was great, but it wasn't a motorbike. I am a motorbiker, and I need a motorbike. It is that simple.
  • It had to be practical, but not as ugly and as boring as a Honda Deauville. I needed something with space to put my stuff though.
  • It had to be funky. It had to had the looks.

I never liked sports bike. I never liked the innatural position your body needs to be in while I was actually looking either at a new Enduro/supermotard or at an "old style" new bike.

I excluded the enduro option, because I already own a fantastic enduro-style bike, the V-Strom. The perfect bike, if it wasn't for those turbolences which kill my head as of 80 Km/h...I looked at the Yamaha MT-03, which really looks marvellous, but it has a zero score in practicality.

So I was looking in particular at the Triumph Bonneville or the Triumph Scrambler. I was that close to buy the Scrambler, as I had found a bike shop which had a fantastic offer, but then I tried the Mana.

And in spite of the fact that during my test-drive the bike actually broke off, it was love at first sight. A real motorbike, practical, with lot of space, which allows me to go to work without ruining my shoes with the gear pedal, and which has the looks and feels like a real power monster.

I understand: the Mana is probably the motorbike that for its futuristic features is the furthest away from the Triumph Scrambler or the Bonneville. Which are both great bikes, and which sooner or later will find their way to my garage.

But for the moment I am with her.

Friday, 23 May 2008

I like this!

My post on the first impressions on the Aprilia Mana was translated into Korean!! Thank you Lewis!!

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Test - Open Face Helmets

One of the best motorbike magazines that I ever stumbled upon is Moto Magazine, also called Motomag. It is a French publication, which every month – among other things – publishes very clear and very accurate tests of different motorcycling products. I find these tests to be particularly refreshing, because if a product – a helmet, a jacket, anything – is rubbish, they say it clearly. They also invite the producers to comment on their findings, which is also very instructive.

In Motomag’s test, each product gets a mark, both on the basis of the price/quality ratio, and of the pure technical quality. So you normally have two “best products”: a best price/quality ratio product, and a best technical product. Sometimes a single product wins both titles, but more often than not this does not happen. You also have “the worst product”.

I am going to write summaries of some of the tests published in French on Motomag. Given that the Summer is approaching, I have chosen to start with the test results of a comparison among Jet (open face) Helmets, which was originally published in July 2007. I hope you will find it useful.

Comparison among nine Jet Helmets published on Motomag in July 2007

The objective of Motomag was to test a number of open face helmets which are fit to be used on long journeys as well, for tourism purposes. Three of the chosen helmets are the top available on the market (Shoei, Schuberth and Arai), with a price tag well above 350 Euros. The other helmets tested are middle range, and cost between 135 and 240 Euros.

The helmets tested are:
- Schuberth J1 - Shoei J-Wing - Arai SZ/F - Nolan N42 - HJC AC-3
- AGV Placet Stripes - Caberg Downtown - Roof Rover - Premier JT2

The helmets have been tested with regards to their noise levels, the presence of practical aspects (detachable interiors, sun visor, steam resistance etc.), comfort, price, etc. For each of the different aspects the helmets receive from one to five stars. The helmets then get rated on two aspects: price qualità ratio and technical quality. So what were the results?


  • The Schubert J1 was rated the best of the pack, scoring 8/10. I am very happy about this because this is one of my helmets…
  • The Nolan N42 was the winner from a price/quality ratio (7/10)
  • All helmets are very noisy, and some of them make you almost deaf (especially the Nolan). The tests were made on a naked bike.
I have summarized below the results for the most common helmets.

Schuberth J1

  • Tehnical vote: 8/10
  • Price/quality ratio: 6/10
  • Price: 499 Euro
  • 5 stars for: practicality, wind protection, ventilation, highway confort
  • According to Motomag, the J1 is clearly the top of the pack. The chin metal bar which you can insert seems to have resisted to all crash impact tests. Obviously it is not a full face helmet, but the level of protection that the J1 can provide is a lot more than what any other open face helmet can offer.
  • It is signaled as the only open face helmet which can realistically replace a modular or full face helmet for tourism purposes (For what it is worth, I can confirm this: last summer I went for a long 2000Km tour in Tuscany and I was very happy to have chosen to bring the Schuberth.)
  • Pricewise, it is very epxensive. I bught it after carfeul consideration, but I don’t regret it. I never wanted to buy a Jet helmet, because if you fall on your chin you destroy your face…but the J1 gives me a lot more protection than a normal jet, thanks to the chin bar. It is a good compromise, if you are willing to compromise.
Nolan N42 – Winner price/quality ratio

  • Technical vote: 7/10
  • Price/quality ratio: 7/10
  • Price: 189 Euro
  • 5 stars for various practical aspects (see the table below).
  • Very low rating for the noise levels and for the scarce ventilation
  • In spite of the few problems, Motomag claims this is the helmet that offers the best price quality ratio.
Shoei J-Wing

  • Technical mark: 7/10
  • Price/quality ratio: 7/10
  • Price: 369 Euro
  • 5 stars for the quality of the interiors
  • Accordino to Motomag, the major advantage of the Shoei compared to the Schubert and the Arai is the price/quality ratio and the very low noise levels.
Arai SZ/F

  • Technical rating: 7/10
  • Price/quality ratio: 6/10
  • Price: 429 Euro
  • 5 stars for the comfort
  • Motomag thinks that this is a good helmet, but the price tag is not justified: the interiors cannot be detached, there is no sun visor…
Caberg Downtown
  • Technical rating: 5/10
  • Price/quality ratio: 7/10
  • Price: 169 Euro
  • Very bad in terms of ventilation, sun visor too short to protect well, and very annoying for those who wear prescriptive glasses (I can confirm this: the sun visor would not go above my glasses…).
Noise levels
All of the helmets tested were considered far too noisy. Each of them was well above the threshold of 85db at 90 km/h. According to Motomag, 85 db is the threshold above which you start suffering because of the noise, and as of 92 db earplugs are considered necessary to protect your ears. NB: for each increase of 3db, the noise level perceived by the human ear DOUBLE!!!!)
Helmet 90km/h 130km/h 160km/h
AGV 88 98 102
Arai 88 97 100
Caberg 88 98 102
HJC 90 100 102
Nolan 92 101 105 The noisiest
Premier 90 98 101
Roof 89 98 101
Schuberth 88 98 100
Shoei 88 95 100 The best perfomance

Summary Table
This is the summary table with all the results. To make it bigger, just click on it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Aprilia Mana - first impressions after 400Km

As I mentioned in my previous post, I just recently got my new Aprilia Mana. I named her Clarabella (this is an habit of mine, to name all the bikes I had...I will come back on this topic sooner or later).

So far, I have been able to take it for a long spin during the weekend, riding it on the highway, on some nice countryside roads, and in the city centre, on the daily commute to work. Obviously the engine still has to adjust, but I think I can draw some first conclusions, especially in terms of what I like and what I don't like.
What does the bike feel like?
The bike feels great. Mind, this is my first naked bike, I always rode Enduro-type bikes, so I can't really compare it with other naked. However, I can say for sure that what Aprilia used to say at the time of the launch - i.e. that this was not an 'easy' motorbike, but a real sports bike - seems to be absolutely true.

On the Mana you are on two rails. The bike goes where you tell her to go, without having to move too much or press on the pedals to get it down. The bike feels also very low - a lot lowerethan my V-strom - which is an incredible advantage in the city centre. I had never felt such a sensation of control as with this bike.

The seat is very firm, but very comfortable. The body can assume a number of positions that can come in handy on long journeys when you need to switch positions a bit. The longest I rode it was for 270km in one go, and I did not have backpains or anything else.

The trunk is absolutely amazing. It now contains a long chain and a rain suit, which I fit into the helmet when I want to put my helmet in the trunk itself. Both my helmets - a Schubert J1 L size and a Shark S800 XL size fit in the trunk (individually, obviously). The full face Shark actually fits in better than the Schuberth.

The gearbox
As most readers would know, the Mana has an automatic gearbox, with different modes of functioning: a full automatic mode and a sequential mode.

In full automatic mode, you drive it without having to change gears, and you can choose among three different engine modes: Touring, which is the one I have been using the most; Sport, which keeps the engine spinning at higher level and gives you a stronger break engine sensation - but which also makes the bike vibrate and consume more; and Rain, which Aprilia says it is useful when it rains and the road is slippery, because it cuts the power of the bike, so that it makes it difficult to lose control of the rear wheel.

Of the three modes, the one that convinces me the least is the Rain one: with no engine braking power at all, the motorbike becames even more dangerous when it rains, and you have this mode on...because you end up having to use your breaks a lot more frequently than you would with, say, the Sport mode or the Touring mode. But this is my personal opinion.

The sequential mode is the one I am using the most: with this, you can change gear either with two very easy and intuitive bottons at the handle, or at the pedal like on a normal bike. In reality I NEVER NEVER NEVER used the pedal, apart from the very first time just to see how it feels.

It becomes immediately natural either to use the bike in automatic, especially in the city with eavy traffic, or in sequential mode. At the moment I find myself using the sequential mode, switching gears at the handle, a lot more than I thought I would. I would say I use this mode 60-70% of my riding time, as soon as the roads free up from traffic.

The dashboard
The dashboard is very complete and very well done. The only thing missing is the fuel indicator. However, when the bike enters into reserve mode (approximately 3 liters left) a red light comes on, and an odometer automatically turns on to indicate how many kilometers you have been riding in reserve. This is very useful.

There are four lights which lighten up to indicate when to switch gear in sequential mode. However, I haven't used them that much yet: I kept the engine spinning at lower levels than I normally would, since it is very new.

I find it very useful the possibility to switch among the different functions of the dashboard from a button on the left handle, without having to touch a button on the dashboard itself - as it happens instaead on my V-strom.

The gear-buttons at the handle are right where you would expect them to be...the process of switching gears become immediate after a couple of Kms....However, the button to switch gears up is right where normally you would have the horn...and this means that on a couple of occasions I tried to use the horn but I was actually switching gears...not very nice!

What I DO like a lot:
  • How the bike feels, the immediate controlling sensation that it gives, and the fact that it does not tire you even on long roads and on the highways, if you respect the speed limit (in Belgium it is 120Km/hr). I always had Enduro bikes, and always suffered from turbolences caused by the fairing. Nothing like that on the Mana (ok - probably this is the case for all naked...)
  • The engine noise: SPECTACULAR. It just rattles like a real sportsbike
  • The trunk, very roomy and useful.
  • The gear buttons on the handle
  • The gearbox: fun, practical and at the same time engaging. This is a bike which is both great to ride at the weekend and for commuting every day.
  • The possibility to visualize the different functions on the dashboard from a button on the handle.
  • The look: I know, this is entirely personal, but the bike looks simply amazing. The front and the left views are phenomenal.
  • The dashboard, very beautiful and clean.

What I really DON'T like:

  • The vibrations on the pedals at high engine speeds, especially when the gear is in Sport automatic mode
  • The location of the horn button, very umconfortable to reach.
  • The sound of the horn: absolutely terrible, it souns like a 50cc scooter. A real shame.
  • The location of the stand, very difficult to reach
  • The fact that you end up scracthing the cover of the trunk pretty fast, unless you open it with the handles real straight.
  • The exhaust pipe, which ends us very high on the bike, making it difficult to use soft luggage...
  • The rear view mirrors. Cheap, small and difficult to fix.
  • The lack of even a small space under the seat, to put your documents and a anti-theft system.
  • The lack of a fuel indicator.
All in all, for the moment it seems like a great bike. I am 100% happy of my purchase, and don't regret it at all. We'll see. This is my first Italian bike (I always had japanese bikes before): I hope I don't come to regret my choice because of reliability issues...

I plan to post new review of the bike as i ride it, and will post itineraries i will be riding in the near future. Stay tuned!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Yet another blog about motorcycling??

That's the question I kept on asking myself before opening this blog. I have been blogging for around 10 months, now, in Italian, my native language, about a bit of everything, but especially about two topics: my experiences in riding my motorbikes and politics. And then I realized that most of the information I was posting in Italian on my other blog could actually be of interest to many motorcyclists who are non-Italian speakers...and that's why I am here.

I have the privilege of owning two motorcycles and of riding them in very different settings: I own a Suzuki V-Strom 650, which I bought in April 2007 new, and which I keep in Tuscany, in a small village near Pisa where my parents still leave. I go there every second weekend during the summer, and at least once a month during the other months. I tend to ride the V-strom for pure pleasure, on the hills of my region or for longer summer trips around Italy.

And then I own an Aprilia Mana, the automatic naked bike which was launched in Italy in November 2007. I have had the Mana just for ten days now, and I keep it in Brussels, in Belgium, where I live. I use it essentially as a city bike, to go to work every morning, but I plan to use it for longer weekend trips around France, Belgium and the Netherlands...

Before the Mana and the V-Strom I had many other two-wheelers, but let's not dwell in the past...for now!

In this blog, as the title suggests, I will be posting about my trips with the two bikes, itineraries, scenic roads I know, and about the experience in riding the Mana...I also intend to post the translations of a few posts that I have written for my other blog, about motorcycle products and things like that. So let's go.