First Ride Review
“You are the luckiest man in the world.” When those words came over the phone telling me I’d be road testing a new bike in Europe, I certainly couldn’t disagree. But it wasn’t until weeks later when, blissfully slicing switchbacks aboard a 2015 Ducati Diavel Carbon, high above the Mediterranean Sea on the cliffs above Monte Carlo, I realized exactly how sage that proclamation from Editor-in-Chief Mark Tuttle had been.
With the new Diavel, Ducati has delivered a motorcycle with the face-melting performance of a sportbike, the comfortable dimensions of a cruiser and the authoritative presence of a big twin. But rather than simply satisfying enough prerequisites to obtain entrée into those three categories, the new Diavel fulfills each mission statement so completely that it surely ranks near the top of its class in each of them.
Since its introduction in 2011, Ducati’s Diavel has always been a genre-bender: too sporty to be a cruiser, too long and upright to be a sportbike. It was most often lumped into the “power cruiser” category but was so idiosyncratic as to have only one real rival, Star’s Vmax. Indeed, Road Test Editor Greg Drevenstedt recently compared touring versions of the bikes (Rider, March 2014). With its selectable ride modes and traction control, the Diavel was the more technologically advanced of the two, but despite being artfully distinctive and blindingly fast, for the most part both motorcycles pushed comfort aside in favor of performance. Consequently, their appeal was limited.
The 2015 Diavel is out to change that. Seeking to strengthen its identity and cruise-ability, Ducati has given the bike a number of upgrades. Slated to be on showrooms floors this spring, the bike receives the new Testastretta 11° L-twin engine with its dual-spark technology that provides 4 percent more torque and a more efficient fuel burn. It also has LED lighting all around; the headlight in particular provides not only another distinctive styling accent but vastly improves the bike’s nighttime prowess. And a shorter 2-1-2 exhaust exposes more of the rear wheel.
There are other new developments on the ’15 Diavel, including a new bar riser, headlight shroud, slanted triple clamp and fuel gauge. Fine improvements all, but most are cosmetic, and none are as revelatory as the Diavel’s new seat. In previous years the Diavel’s perch leaned, literally, toward its sportbike lineage, slanting the rider slightly forward in an aggressive position. For 2015, despite the tail section’s still-dramatic upsweep the seat is flat. On a bike flush with contemporary technology, it’s this new, subtly simple saddle tweak that provided me the greatest improvement over the previous Diavel.
Cruising the Diavel through the pastoral countryside, mountain passes and quaint towns of the Ligurian Alps, never once did I feel the uncomfortable crush of sliding down into the fuel tank, or the dull ache in my wrists from bearing my weight for an extended time. Sitting up and lifting my face shield, riding one handed in second or third gear while smelling the cafés and pastures of the region that straddles the French/Italian border was a delight in moto-tourism. Punctuate those bucolic moments with bursts of wild hairpins and furious canyon carving, and the Diavel proved its genre-bending mettle in spades.
The specifics of the new Diavel’s improvements do little to prepare the rider for the visceral rush of the bike’s flawless performance and commanding presence. The Diavel’s new engine makes that familiar Ducati rumble without its idiosyncratic clatter. The exhaust purrs assuredly and growls menacingly with a low pitch that will never be mistaken for a sportbike’s.
In any gear, whether in Urban (limited horsepower/throttle response), Touring (full horsepower/limited throttle response), or Sport (full horsepower and throttle response), with decreasing levels of ABS sensitivity and traction control intervention, the Diavel reacts eagerly, if sometimes irresponsibly (more the rider’s fault than the bike’s). The modes are ideally configured off-the-rack, although owners can dial in custom settings among them. Urban mode eases the bike’s aggressiveness in traffic; Touring offers massive highway power without abrupt throttle snappiness; and Sport mode is frankly superfluous – unless second-gear wheelies happen to be your thing.
The dual-disc, radial-mount Brembos up front provide awesome stopping power, and ABS is standard equipment. The suspension is fully adjustable, although twisting the rear preload knob did surprisingly little to alter my ride. Braking and suspension are equally supreme for around-town traffic, open-road riding and everything in between.
If the 240mm-wide rear tire didn’t clue you in, the Diavel’s wheelbase makes it clear: this is a cruiser-sized motorcycle. The fat tire and long wheelbase surely contribute to the Diavel’s confident stance, which in any environment and on any surface feels surefooted and never skittish. The turning radius isn’t vast, but thanks to the low seat and relatively light curb weight, slow speed maneuvers aren’t a problem. More satisfying is the lean angle, which helps this light-for-its-size bike easily negotiate even the snuggest of European lanes. The Diavel dives into turns eagerly, and the monster L-twin pulls it upright effortlessly. On a day filled with hills and hairpins, it took a downhill switchback with a decreasing radius for me to scrape a peg – and that only happened once.
Ducati says its new Diavel is geared toward active, urban riders who view their motorcycle as a lifestyle accessory. That sounds apt, considering the starting price of $17,995 for the base Diavel (sexy in matte black) and $20,995 for the Carbon version (black with red or white stripes and accents), which has forged Marchesini wheels (5.5 pounds lighter than the standard wheels), milled front brake calipers, and carbon fiber tank panels, pillion cowl and front fender. The 2015 Diavel should appeal to older sportbike aficionados who still desire performance but whose aging bodies limit their ability to ride the bikes they enjoyed in their youth, and cruiser riders not struck dumb by retro fervor. This bike is powerful and comfortable enough for any rider, on any ride: boulevard cruising, urban commuting and even light touring.
It was just a day, but what a day it was. With all respect to Lou Gehrig, I definitely consider myself the luckiest man in the world.