2016 Ducati XDiavel S

First Ride Review

No one expected Ducati, a company largely defined by its sexy red superbikes, to build a cruiser. Even Ducati avoided use of the ‘C’ word when it introduced the Diavel for 2011, but with a long-and-low stance, heavy-metal styling and a massive 240mm rear tire, it had more in common with power cruisers like Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod and Star’s Vmax than anything else. Still, the Diavel’s comparatively light weight, state-of-the-art electronics, midmount controls and chain final drive made it an outsider among the cruiser crowd.

The Diavel remains in Ducati’s lineup, but a top-to-bottom redesign of the platform has sprouted a new branch of the family tree called the XDiavel. With the XDiavel ($19,995) and up-market XDiavel S ($22,995), Ducati has finally embraced the cruiser label as well as some of its orthodoxy, such as maximum torque at lower revs, a feet-forward riding position and belt drive. But the XDiavel/S is no American cruiser clone; it is still very unique and very Italian, with all of the style, sophistication and performance that Ducati is known for.

Ducati’s first order of business was to improve the curb appeal of the Diavel, which has hunched shoulders and a sloped forehead like an angry robot. The bulky side-mounted radiators were moved to a more conventional location behind the front wheel. Machined radiator shrouds and a tubular-steel trellis frame connecting the engine to the steering head give the XDiavel a more stripped-down, elemental appearance, and also establish a visual link to Ducati’s iconic Monsters. The steel tank’s profile was sculpted into an stretched-out teardrop while maintaining a muscular, Monster-like shape when viewed from the rider’s perspective. And, of critical importance for any cruiser, the XDiavel’s engine dominates the styling. The exterior of the big L-twin was cleaned up by moving the water pump from the left side to between the cylinders and hiding the water hoses. On the XDiavel S, the engine is painted gloss black and the right-side belt covers have been machined to expose the aluminum underneath, which resembles two giant surgical hemostats clamped on the end of the crankshaft. The S-model also has machine-finished wheels and frame components, brushed-aluminum anodizing on the single-sided swingarm, billet aluminum mirrors, an LED daytime running light around the headlight and other upgrades.

Having tested the Diavel, I knew I was in for a wild ride on the XDiavel S. With the key fob in my pocket, pressing the power button turned on the full-color TFT instrument display and tapping the starter button ignited the engine, waking up an angry, 156-horsepower beast. Bolted solidly within the XDiavel’s trellis frame is the heavily reworked Testastretta 1262 DVT L-twin, which gets a 64cc displacement boost compared to the 1,198cc version found in the Multistrada thanks to a 3.6mm-longer stroke. Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) promises the best of both worlds, adjusting intake and exhaust timing for smooth power delivery at low to midrange rpm and maximum performance at high rpm. And, since this is a cruiser, the engine was tuned to deliver peak torque (95 lb-ft, claimed) much lower in the powerband–at just 5,000 rpm compared to 7,500 on the Multistrada–with a broad, mostly flat torque curve between 3,500 and 9,000 rpm.

Trundling along at low speed in downtown San Diego at the XDiavel press launch, low-rpm power delivery wasn’t as smooth as I’d expected given the transformative effect DVT had on the last Multistrada we tested. Tuning the engine to produce maximum torque in the midrange (redline is 10,000 rpm) may have come at the expense of some low-end smoothness despite that fact that final drive is via carbon-fiber reinforced belt. Above 4,000 rpm, on the other hand, the engine hits its stride, pulling with a vengeance and revving like the 1098 superbike from which the XDiavel descends. Breathtaking thrust is instantaneous, regardless of gear or throttle position, pushing the rider hard against the seat’s high bolster. This is not a motorcycle for the timid or the inexperienced. It is happier going fast than going slow, which isn’t something you can say for most cruisers. And all that power generates heat, which can be felt especially on the right side.

Low-speed handling isn’t the XDiavel’s strong suit either. Though light by cruiser standards at just 545 pounds (claimed curb weight, with the 4.75-gallon tank 90-percent full), the XDiavel is a long motorcycle with a wide turning radius, a fat rear tire and some low-speed driveline lash. But then again, lots of cruisers feel awkward in parking lots and on city streets. They’re more at home on long, straight boulevards and gently sweeping curves, and on such cruiser turf the XDiavel excels. With a chassis designed by engineers who build class-leading sportbikes, the XDiavel feels as though it was chiseled from solid marble, its adjustable suspension is firm but well-damped and its Brembo brakes–M4.32 radial Monobloc front calipers on the XDiavel, top-shelf M50 calipers on the XDiavel S–are fantastic stoppers. And when the curves tighten and speeds increase, the Ducati will reduce any other cruiser to a trail of sparks. With 40 degrees of available lean angle and the chassis and rubber to handle it, an XDiavel in the right hands will easily embarrass a squid on a sportbike. The trade-off, however, is a seat height of 29.7 inches, not in the 26- to 28-inch range found on many cruisers (an accessory low seat is available).

How a motorcycle fits the rider is an important part of the experience. As other manufacturers like Can-Am, Harley-Davidson, Indian and Kawasaki have recently done with some of their cruiser models, Ducati designed the XDiavel to have adjustable ergonomics. Its forward foot controls offer three different positions, and accessory midmount controls offer a fourth option. There are also three different handlebars and five different seats (including higher and lower options). The standard pegs/bar/seat position fit my 6-foot frame well, and although the seat is comfortable it locks the rider into place. Toward the end of a full day of riding, with my arms and legs forward and my back forced into a bend, my lower spine started to ache. Ducati says the XDiavel is suitable for “long journeys,” but extended rides will almost certainly require frequent rest breaks. Whereas rider comfort is a priority, it’s an afterthought for the passenger. Ducati says the stubby tail section is an important part of the XDiavel’s design, and the tiny pillion seat is one of the compromises that had to be made. A malnourished, size-0 supermodel would have trouble finding purchase, much less grasping the strap. Unfortunately, the retractable passenger grab handle on the Diavel didn’t make it onto the X. There is an optional “comfort” seat with backrest for the passenger, but it is still small and the backrest is little more than a bumstop.

Ducati calls the XDiavel a “technocruiser” for good reason. It is equipped with keyless ignition, throttle-by-wire, a Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), riding modes (Sport, Touring and Urban) that adjust throttle response, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Bosch Cornering ABS settings, electronic cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity (on the XDiavel S) and a new feature called Ducati Power Launch (DPL), which has three levels and adjusts fuel delivery and DTC for dragstrip-style starts. Although Ducati forbade us from testing DPL on public streets, one journalist snuck in a launch and found out the hard way–with a cloud of tire smoke and a sideways motorcycle–that the clutch must be eased out rather than dumped. Most of these electronic systems have been available on Ducati’s sportbikes and the Multistrada for several years, and they’re easy to use, allow the rider to customize settings and greatly increase safety and versatility.

Ducati’s XDiavel/S is more of a cruiser than the Diavel is, but it’s still radical by cruiser standards. This is the cruiser for someone who wants stand-out styling, no-compromise performance and the latest-and-greatest in electronics. It’s certainly not the first cruiser that goes like a bat out of hell in a straight line, but no other cruiser (other than the Diavel) packs as much power-to-weight or handles better. And if you want one, you’re probably better off if your wife or girlfriend rides her own motorcycle.