MD Second Ride: Ducati Diavel

March 16, 2011

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There are some consumer products, like electric ukeleles and motorized ice-cream cones that make you wonder, “who’s that for?” The motorcycle world’s version of this is the power cruiser. In fact, with the underwhelming success of bikes like the Victory V92SC, Harley-Davidson Street Rod or Yamaha Road Star Warrior (all bikes I like, by the way, so save the hate-mail), we haven’t heard much from the OEMs in the way of sport-oriented cruisers. Oh, sure, there’s the Star VMAX and the Suzuki B-King, but not exactly bikes you see parked in front of every Gold’s Gym, are they? A power cruiser appeals to a rider who wants the comfort and “look-at-me” styling of a cruiser with the performance and handling of his favorite sportbike. Either there aren’t a lot of those guys out there, or—more likely—there just wasn’t a bike that truly fit the bill.

That’s because most of the “power cruisers” I’ve tested are fun to ride—how can you not have a good time with good suspension and brakes mixed with a torquey, soulful motor—but can’t fully mask their secret identity. Maybe Drew Carey could finish a marathon, but he’d be really sweaty at the end of it, and he’d probably be hours behind those skinny Kenyans at the front. I was still waiting for an OEM to build a bike able to haul ass like a sportbike but still provide that hard-to-define cruiser zeitgeist. I thought I’d wait forever, because to do that, you’d have to find a way to lop 200 pounds off your basic cruiser design.

Leave it to a company that hasn’t built a cruiser in a generation to do just that. You’ve read our tech brief on the Diavel, and you’ve seen our first ride report on it as well, so you know the basics; long wheelbase, the new Testastretta 11° motor, sportbike-spec brakes and suspension, and a 456-pound dry weight. The numbers sounded great, the overseas ride reports were glowing (but most first ride reports are  glowing, reminiscent of a president’s first 100 days), but was this a good motorcycle? Or just another corporate oddity that would fade away in a few model years? I had a last-minute opportunity to ride the new bike in the Malibu mountains just west of Los Angeles, and I jumped on it so I could find out for myself. The first thing you notice about the Diavel is that it really does feel like a cruiser when you’re seated on it. The seat is scooped-out and low, one of few Ducatis 5′6” me can comfortably get both feet down on the ground with (a lower and higher seat are both options). The bars come right back to your hands, and the footpegs are fairly forward-set. Not quite chopper-like, but definitely not sportbike. A low-to-the-ground dualsport is what it most reminded me of. The seat did slant me downwards, which became uncomfortable after a few hours of riding. And then you lift it off the sidestand and you feel how light and easy it is to handle, and you know you’re not on a regular cruiser.

Firing it up confirms that. Fueling is right on, and the exhaust note is great, like a recording of an unmuffled V-8 Chevy played at low volume (another journalist thought that maybe the different engine modes produced different exhaust notes, but I couldn’t confirm this). But pulling away from the curb and rocketing around city streets in the “urban” mode (limited to 100 horsepower) lets you know this is a sensational engine for cruiser use. Any gear, any time—you can chug-chug-chug along in fourth gear at 20 mph, if that’s what you’re into, or you can howl along at nine grand. Figure out how to put it on the “sport” or “touring” mode,  but make sure you brought clean underwear with you, as rolling on throttle when you have 162 hp pulling 500 pounds of bike will make you giggle and feel real fear at the same time, even with the traction control and ABS along as a security blanket. Sure, the 1198 is 80-odd pounds lighter, but the Diavel has a bigger rear sprocket (a 43 tooth compared to a 37), which makes it feel as quick, maybe quicker.

Luckily, the rest of the bike is up to the demands of the 11°. The frame is stiff. The 50mm Marzocchi fork is fully adjustable, as is the hydraulic-preload-and-linkage-equipped rear shock. The rear tire, though stylishly phat, doesn’t really hamper handling that much, although you know it’s there—and that goes double for that stretched wheelbase. Thanks to the big fat handlebar and sensible (for a cruiser) geometry, the Diavel can get around corners at least as well as any other bike its size. It reminded me of Kawasaki’s much-missed ZRX1200R.

So there you are, carving up your favorite mountain road. In front of you is that metal tank cover (the 4.75-gallon tank itself is roto-molded plastic, and Ducati tells me it has special mounts to help it cope with the expansion and distortion that results from America’s ethanol-rich fuels) reminiscent of the hood off a big old muscle car. You can’t see much else of the bike from the saddle (a good thing, according to the Diavel’s many critics—and the looks do need to grow on you), just the bar and the little instrument pod. The TFT display under that requires a glance down to really view. The rider display contains lots of information (except, strangely, fuel remaining, although there is a low-fuel warning light). Wind protection is not bad, great for a naked cruiser like this, and there’s an accessory windscreen available. You can go any pace you  like, really; press it hard and you will blow past sportbikers, or you can just leave it in fourth gear and enjoy the scenery.

Sound like a good touring bike? I think so too. How about a commuter? With 15,000-mile service intervals, it may even be practical. Trackday tool? For the right lunatic, maybe.

So who will buy this bike? Sportbike owners who refuse to shuffle off to the mainstream cruiser farm. Comfortable, easy to ride (but it’s not a beginner-friendly bike), attention-getting and unique, the Diavel is one of the most interesting—and entertaining rides I’ve experienced in many years. Who’s it for? Anybody who wants to ride a cool motorcycle. I’m guessing maybe even you.

 Motorcycle Daily attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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