Road Test Review
According to Ducati, the new Diavel Carbon is “built by people who have earned the right to change the rules.” Common are inflated claims about the groundbreaking nature of new motorcycles, regardless of their actual originality. To Ducati’s credit, it hasn’t burdened the Diavel (“devil” in a Bolognese dialect) with a hyped-up label or attempted to create a new category out of thin air. The bike’s profile is bold and unique, more like something you’d find on a movie set than on a back road. Its long tank, hunched shoulders and sloping brow look like the biomechanical love child of Alien and RoboCop‘s ED-209. But rule breaking?
It’s new, but not entirely. Engine, frame and electronics are adapted from the Multistrada 1200, itself the beneficiary of a detuned Testastretta engine from the 1198 superbike. Ducati’s been down this road before. After being shuttered by the Italian government in the mid ’80s, Ducati was rescued by Cagiva, then Italy’s largest manufacturer of mopeds and small-displacement motorcycles. Ducati’s engine building prowess allowed Cagiva to put its name on big bikes, and Cagiva’s lira kept Ducati afloat. The Pantah 650 was rebadged as the Cagiva Alazzurra, beginning a line of Ducati-engined Cagivas that includes the Dakar-winning Elefant and the Gran Canyon. To diversify its lineup, Ducati re-tuned the Pantah engine, stuck it in a steel backbone frame and added a 33-degree-rake fork, 18-inch front wheel, pull-back handlebars and a king-and-queen seat. The result was the Ducati Indiana, an oddball cruiser aimed at the American market. It flopped. Fast forward 25 years. Cagiva, now part of the MV Agusta group that Harley-Davidson recently sold back to Claudio Castiglioni (who orchestrated the earlier Ducati merger) for a dollar, no longer builds big bikes. And Ducati, on its own since 1996 and now one of Europe’s leading OEMs, is building another cruiser with a repurposed engine.
But “cruiser” isn’t quite right, even though the Diavel has an axe-handle-wide 8-inch rear wheel shod with a meaty 240mm tire and a 30.3-inch seat height. It’s 62.6-inch wheelbase, 28-degree rake and 456-pound dry weight (claimed for the Carbon model shown; 463 pounds for the standard model) are sporty by cruiser standards but cruiserish by sport standards. You also don’t find traction control, throttle-by-wire, and switchable engine modes on cruisers. Ducati wouldn’t dare call the Diavel a performance cruiser, but comparisons with the Harley-Davidson V-Rod, Star Vmax, Suzuki Boulevard M109R and Triumph Rocket III are inevitable. Yet the Diavel weighs hundreds of pounds less and has much more cornering clearance than all of them.
Not surprisingly, spending a day riding the Diavel in southern Spain at Ducati’s world press launch left me with more questions than answers. But certain strengths and weaknesses stood out. First and foremost, the engine is a definite strength. The Testastretta 11° is a shining example of internal combustion. The liquid-cooled, 90-degree, 1198cc L-twin is unchanged from the Multistrada we tested in June 2010 and that missed our Motorcycle of the Year award by a whisker. Whereas the Mulistrada makes 150 horsepower at the crank, the Diavel makes 162 thanks to an all-new exhaust system. Superbike-derived, thin-wall stainless-steel headers feed into an equal-length 2-1-2 setup with stacked right-side silencers. The Diavel growls where the Multistrada barks, and it whop-whop-whops like a helicopter at idle. Since the Diavel makes eight-percent-more power than the Mulistrada, which just clocked 136.7 horsepower and 82.9 lb-ft of torque on the dyno, the Prince of Darkness should put 148 horsepower and 90 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel. That’s serious juice, good for 0-60 in 2.5 seconds says Ducati. During a freeway blast, with a get-out-of-jail-free card from the Anadalucia tourism commission, I was catapulted from cruising speed to an indicated 150 mph in no time flat. Few bikes can provide such a neck-snapping, arm-straightening, eyeball-flattening, mind-bending, cliche-invoking experience.
As on the four-bikes-in-one Mulistrada, Riding Modes determine total power output, throttle response and Ducati Traction Control (DTC) level. The Diavel gets three modes–Sport, Touring or Urban; no need for Enduro here. Switching from Sport to Touring softens throttle response but leaves overall power undiminished and increases DTC intervention a couple of notches. Switching to Urban cuts power to 100 horsepower and adds more DTC intervention. Changes are seamless and can be done on the fly with the throttle closed. Sport mode felt too abrupt, and unnecessary since Touring gets you the same power but delivered with more finesse; Urban is best suited for wet or otherwise slippery conditions. The Diavel has a tank-top, full-color thin film transistor (TFT) panel that shows Riding Mode, DTC setting (1-8), gear selection, odometer/trip and computer functions. In the usual location, below a bank of indicator lights, an LCD display includes time, speed, temperature and a horizontal tachometer. On the Euro-spec production bikes we rode, fueling was precise. Gone were the gremlins that plagued our Multistrada long-termer before its EPROM was reflashed. Some driveline lash necessitated smooth throttle transitions and vibration was ever-present but never bothersome. The only complaint I had about the engine was excessive heat when idling between photo passes, but it wasn’t an issue when blasting down the road.
The Diavel felt rock solid in a straight line, but the waters became murkier when the white lines started to undulate. Nothing about the chassis, steering geometry, riding position or weight distribution seems amiss. And the front tire is a conventionally sized 120/70-ZR17 dual-compound Pirelli Diablo II. Although the Diavel’s massive 240/45-ZR17 rear tire has a well-rounded MotoGP-style profile that helps it steer better than most tires of similar size, putting lipstick on a pig won’t make it pretty. Feedback was vague, and despite having a huge contact patch, the rear stepped out on a couple of butt-clinching occasions (thanks DTC!). In slow, tight corners, the Diavel felt like it wanted to topple over. Ducati feels the big rear tire is essential to the Diavel’s styling, but it doesn’t do the bike any favors, aesthetically or otherwise.
The Diavel started to make more sense on the smoothly winding mountain road from Marbella to Ronda. It was in its element on the A-397’s fast straights and well-arced sweepers. Utilizing the same tubular-steel trellis with cast-aluminum central section as the Multistrada and high-zoot components, the Diavel’s chassis and running gear get two thumbs up. Brembo Monobloc radial-mount front calipers provide hellacious stopping power, with the reassurance of the latest Bosch-Brembo ABS setup. But the two-piston rear caliper, like the Mulistrada’s, had too much lever travel, not enough braking force and too-early ABS engagement. When I stomped hard on the rear pedal, the Diavel clunked and bucked so badly I thought the rear wheel was falling off. To soak up bumps, Ducati has paired a 50mm male-slider Marzocchi fork with a Sachs shock mounted horizontally under the swingarm, both fully adjustable. The Carbon gets black fork sliders finished in low-friction diamond-like carbon. The suspension was taut and predictable. It really shined on the rough, tight road that climbed from Estepona to Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja Natural Park.
When it comes to the Diavel’s riding position, my feelings are mixed. I sat deeply in the bike rather than on it, and the highly sculpted seat felt well-padded but it locked me in place, crammed against the tank like on the Monster 796 in last month’s comparison. Lower footpegs and a much higher motocross-bend handlebar than on the Monster provide plenty of room, but somehow I never got comfortable on the Diavel. With the balls of my feet on the footpegs, which have removable rubber inserts, the exhaust pipe was an annoying intrusion (similar to the Streetfighter). The long and wide 4.5-gallon fuel tank makes the bike feel huge from the cockpit, like you’re strapped to the hood of a Mini Cooper. There’s no wind protection to speak of, but sport-touring sadists can fit a small accessory windscreen and soft luggage. The retractable passenger footpegs and rear T-shaped grab handle are brilliant, allowing the bike to maintain clean lines when not in use. Lots of plusses and minuses. Call it a draw.
Fit, finish and design are stand-out qualities of the Diavel, from the vertical, clear-plastic LED indicators and brake lights to the belly pan that hides the oil cooler; from the brushed aluminum shrouds over the side-mount radiators to the milled hydraulic fluid covers. The single-sided swingarm and wheels are beautiful. The base model has 14-spoke wheels–cast aluminum in front, flow-formed for strength and lightness out back–whereas the Carbon sports gorgeous forged, 9-spoke aluminum wheels with milled accents. Made by Marchesini, they shave off 5.5 pounds of unsprung weight. The Carbon also has a carbon-fiber tank cover (it’s steel on the base model), front fender and seat cowl that are stunning.
Who would shell out $16,995 for a Diavel or $3,000 more for the Diavel Carbon? Ducati has been taking deposits for months, and the bikes should be in showrooms by the time you read this. Apparently those opening their wallets include guys who migrated from sportbikes to Harleys but want more performance; hard-charging females, in part because of the low seat height; naked bike riders who have a soft spot for the cruiser look/seating position; and Vmax and V-Rod owners. If you fit neatly into one of these categories and didn’t get the memo, or if a hard-to-classify, go-fast Ducati is just what you’re looking for, decamp to your dealer immediately.