Ducati are taking a gamble entering the power cruiser market with their new Diavel. Question is, are they going to throw a seven or will it be a bust? Costa Mouzouris flies down to California to check it out.
I must admit I was fully prepared to loathe the Diavel. Its unabashed styling simply doesn’t strike a chord with me. But more importantly, it seems to muddle my perception of what a Ducati is, or at least should be.
Although I’m not a full-fledged Ducatisti, I once owned a 996, a machine that epitomised what Ducati represents to me: svelte, sexy, and above all, great-handling motorcycles.
Surely Ducati’s entry into an unfamiliar market segment — with a power cruiser no less — cannot aspire to carry over all these defining characteristics. I guess there’s one way to find out.
GOING TO CALIFORNIA
Sitting on the Diavel was the first indication that I may have prematurely judged the machine harshly. Its deeply scalloped seat cups your ass invitingly, and the modest 770 mm (30.3 in) seat height combines with the bike’s narrow midsection to provide an easy reach to the ground.
Reach to the tapered-aluminum handlebar is naked-bike relaxed and combines with mid-mounted footpegs to provide a neutral, comfy riding position, though pegs are mounted about as high as a six-footer like me can tolerate.
Ducati offers optional lower and taller seats (plus or minus 20 mm from stock); I’d opt for the taller one for the additional legroom.
The machine’s broad gas tank cover (made of either steel or carbon fibre depending on the model) conceals a 17-litre fuel tank and bulges prominently beneath your arms.
This, and the aluminum side-mounted intake snouts and plastic radiator shrouds, which are placed outboard of the forks, make the machine look unnaturally wide and top-heavy — that is until you lift it off its side stand and realise that it’s much lighter than it looks.
Ducati claims 210 kg (463 lb) dry for the standard Diavel, while lighter Marchesini wheels and abundant use of carbon fibre cut another three kilos from the Carbon model.
This means that even the standard Diavel is significantly lighter than its power cruiser brethren. For example, it undercuts the V-Rod Muscle by a staggering 82 kg (180 lb), and although Yamaha doesn’t publish a dry weight for the V-Max (310 kg/683 lb wet), you can bet the Diavel is lighter still than it.
However, svelte the Diavel is not, it’s about as sexy as a 1970s East German woman’s weightlifting champion and its handling prowess is undermined by a longish wheelbase, but mostly by its ultra-wide, 240 mm low-profile rear tire.
An overly fat rear tire has a detrimental effect on handling; rolling a machine with an obese rear tire into a turn feels like leaning onto a spring – the bike will resist leaning and try to stand up, which also makes steering effort heavier.
This is why sport bikes run rear tires no wider than 190 mm, and why you’ll usually see really fat, low-profile rubber on stretched-out choppers – or power cruisers like the Harley V-Rod Muscle or the Victory Hammer. Heck, even Yamaha’s V-Max uses a ‘scrawny’ 200 mm rear tire by comparison.
For a company with road racing successes in World Superbike and MotoGP, introducing an ill-handling motorcycle would have been akin to cross-dressing the pope, so Ducati engineers addressed these handling issues by working with Pirelli to develop the Rosso II radials specifically for the Diavel.
For starters the dual-compound rear tire measures 17 inches in diameter, as opposed to current low-profile 240 mm or 250 mm tires, which are 18 inchers.
The Rosso II also has a sportier profile and is not as flat across its rolling surface as current 18-inch tires, providing more neutral steering characteristics.
Of course, this means that until other tire manufacturers produce this unique size, a replacement tire can only be found through Pirelli.
TAKING THE DIAVEL BY THE HORNS
Rolling away from the hotel that served as our headquarters, the Diavel’s stout rear hoop was immediately noticeable; the bike exhibiting a reluctance to lean, as I’d expected it would.
That said, I must commend Ducati and Pirelli for reducing this tendency to a manageable level and it isn’t as intrusive as I’d found on Harley’s V-Rod models. Although there was initially some resistance felt at the handlebar, I became accustomed to it within a couple of hours.
In fact, it eventually faded to the back of my mind the way muzak does in an elevator – it’s not entirely unpleasant but I’d be happier without it.
In the canyons northwest of L.A. the Diavel was a genuine surprise. Though there’s no mistaking it for a sport bike or naked roadster, it handles the twisty roads with remarkable competence.
Of course, the Diavel is not a point-and-shoot type of bike, preferring to be eased gracefully into corners rather than thrown into them with fervour – the bike exhibiting a slight tendency to push the front end through turns and run wide at the exit, but it did this prominently in slower, tighter turns.
Long, fast sweepers were handled with poise, its rigid chassis helping it maintain an unwavering line from entry to exit. Power out of the corner and the Diavel downright charges out of the lean and towards the next bend – one thing about that portly rear tire: grip it does not lack.
With 162 horsepower available from its 1,198cc Testastretta 11° V-twin, the Diavel produces 12 hp more than the Multistrada 1200, from which the engine is derived. Ducati attributes the extra ponies to the Diavel’s less restrictive exhaust, which produces a surprisingly robust bellow for an emissions-friendly system. Peak torque of 94 lb-ft arrives at 8,000 rpm.
Ducati claims the Diavel has the highest power-to-weight ratio in class and can blast from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.6 seconds – a claim that’s easily believable when you’re in Sport mode and cranking up the throttle.
LOADED WITH FEATURES
The Diavel incorporates DTC (Ducati Traction Control) with three rider-selectable riding modes similar to those on the Multistrada 1200 (Sport, Touring and Urban). Sport mode unleashes full power with an aggressive power curve and the DTC is set to level 3, (eight levels of DTC are available, level 1 being the least intrusive).
Touring mode still uses full power, though acceleration is softened with milder engine mapping, and DTC is set to level 4. Finally, Urban mode caps output at 100 hp and DTC is set to level 5, which is an ideal setting for riding in wet conditions or on oil-slickened city streets.
As with the Multistrada, power curves and DTC levels can be tailored individually in the riding modes to suit a rider’s personal preference.
Acceleration in Sport mode is brutish with a flat but forceful rush of speed from just off idle to redline. Throttle modulation at low speeds is a bit skittish until you get accustomed to it, though this is quickly remedied by switching to Touring mode, which provides more subdued throttle response. Urban mode made lane splitting in Los Angeles effortless (it’s legal in California so don’t scold me) and it’s where I’d keep the Diavel when puttering about town.
Ducati made switching between modes very intuitive. Riding modes appear large and easy-to-read on a fuel-tank mounted, high-resolution TFT (thin film transistor) colour display, and you scroll through them using the turn-signal cancel button — push repeatedly to scroll; push and hold to select.
You can change modes while riding and shutting the throttle confirms your selection. An LCD display mounted higher up at the handlebar shows speed, rpm, time and temperature, and contains the warning lights.
Regardless of which mode is selected, passing slower cars is easily done without downshifting. The engine’s 90-degree V angle inherently cancels primary vibration and the ride is comfortably smooth at highway speeds.
Despite having six speeds, final gearing is tall, so selecting top gear at anything below 110 km/h means the engine feels like it’s lugging, though if you do, it doesn’t shudder and quake like a number of other Ducatis I’ve ridden.
Ducati uses a wet clutch with a mechanical assist to ease clutch effort when rolling; the clutch is refreshingly light for a machine with so much power. The assist mechanism doubles as a back-torque limiter on deceleration (otherwise known as a slipper clutch), a necessity on a bike with so much engine braking.
Gearbox operation is light and smooth with a short, solid throw at the shift lever, and gear selection is displayed boldly on the central TFT screen, though it’s located very low and way out of a rider’s field of vision.
Ducati didn’t skimp on suspension components, installing a Marzocchi 50mm inverted fork with full adjustability up front and a fully adjustable Sachs shock absorber. The shock is easily adjusted for carrying a passenger through a conveniently located remote preload adjustment knob.
Suspension compliance is firm, but not to the point of inhibiting ride comfort; a good overall balance is achieved, allowing the Diavel to maintain a spirited pace through the twisties without bucking its rider in the air on sharper bumps.
Brembo radial-mount, four-piston, monoblock calipers squeeze 320 mm floating discs up front and a twin-piston floating caliper acts on a 265 mm rear disc. Front pad material is less aggressive than on Ducati’s supersport models, so a moderate squeeze at the front lever produces a softer and easily modulated initial bite.
A good stomp on the rear brake pedal provides exaggerated stopping power due to the rear tire’s ultra-wide footprint. And there’s no danger of locking up the wheels in a panic stop, as ABS is included as standard equipment.
DON’T LOOK BACK
Although I slowly warmed to the Diavel and began to see some grace in its form, I just couldn’t come to grips with the bike’s rear end. Although it has a compact tailpiece, its twin, vertical-strip LED taillights never bode well with me.
There are a couple of very attractive and innovative features back there, like the passenger footrests that almost disappear into the bike when folded up, and the pull-out passenger grab rail that is invisible until in use. I also like the remotely mounted licence bracket/rear mudguard that has a tubular frame that looks strong enough to hang the bike from.
However, a closer look at the rear bodywork revealed unsightly gaps between the tailpiece and undertail that gave it an unfinished look — all very uncharacteristic for a Ducati, I think.
Our blitz through the canyons allowed me to re-evaluate my feelings towards the Diavel, and admittedly, as a power cruiser it has no match; it’s handling was a revelation.
As for where it fits in the motorcycling world? Well, it neatly bridges the gap between the styling of power cruisers like the V-Max and the V-Rod, and the handling of sporty naked bikes like the KTM Super Duke and Ducati’s own Streetfighter.
But perhaps the biggest revelation is the cost, where Ducati has also done a fine job of pricing the machine competitively. The standard model’s $18,995 list price ($20,995 for the Carbon) is $4,000 less than the V-Max, and only $1,100 more than the V-Rod Muscle, if you factor in the Rod’s ABS option. And neither of those bikes have traction control.
One thing is certain; if a power cruiser is your next motorcycling purchase and you like the Diavel’s styling, you won’t be disappointed.
$18,995; $20,995 (Carbon)
|Four-stroke DOHC 90° V-twin,
Power (crank – claimed)
|162 hp @ 9,500 rpm
|94 lb-ft @ 8,000 rpm
|Mitsubishi EFI with 56 mm throttle bodies
|Six speed, Chain drive
|Dual 320 mm discs with four-piston radial
|265 mm disc with dual-piston
|770 mm (30.3")
|1,590 mm (62.6")
|210 kg (463 lb); 207 kg (456 lb) (Carbon)
|Red or black; red carbon or black carbon (Carbon)
|Two years, unlimited mileage