Pictures: Milagro (click on images)
Phenomenal. Never mind starting this review with some background and building up to the conclusion, you have to know right now: the new Ducati Diavel delivers way beyond the most optimistic expectations.
So much so, this is the most unexpectedly brilliant machine I ´ve ridden for many years, and that's not simply because my expectations were low to start with - I always thought it was going to be fun - but because it handles superbly and is powered by the best engine Ducati has ever made.
It came from a good starting point of course, as the engine is exactly the same as the one which powers the hugely and deservedly successful Multistrada, with the added benefit of another year's worth of development of the fuelling. On top of that, the Diavel's airbox is more efficient and the exhaust system is more conventional by Ducati standards than the Multistrada's complex arrangement, with the result that this supposed Harley V-Rod and Yamaha V-Max rival produces almost 12bhp more than the Multi at 160bhp (162PS, 119kW).
I say supposed because the Ducati Diavel blows those other two muscle cruisers into the weeds in just about every respect. Okay, it makes less power than the Yamaha's 197bhp (200PS), but it weighs almost 220lb (100kg) less, a huge difference even before you take into account the £7,500 price advantage. Ducati's performance claims say it all: the Diaval is compared not with those rivals but with the Bologna factory's own superbike, the 1198. And the Diavel wins: it has a 0-100km (62mph) time of 2.6 seconds, faster than the 1198, and has the shortest braking distance of any production Ducati ever made. The V-Max will be left well behind, the V-Rod will just look plain silly, and the improvement over the Multistrada's even is way beyond what mere numbers suggest.
Of course in these performance specifics the 1198 is hampered by its high centre of gravity and short wheelbase, which it needs for sharp handling and agility, but for many riders, breathtaking acceleration and braking are enough. Then the Diavel goes on to give them so, so much more. There's the sound first of all, an aggressive, snarling tenor as you wind up the revs that curdles the blood, then with the throttle closed the bike responds with a demonic, frustrated awwww as if goading you for shutting it down.
It's a visceral, animated soundtrack that's more than matched by the astonishing response from the Ducati Diavel's engine. The torque at any point in the rev range is massive, the thrust huge when you turn the twistgrip, but more than that it's the immediacy of the motor's reaction that makes this the most compelling engine in motorcycling. Brush the throttle with the palm of your hand and the bike thunders forward with a crash of sound and muscle that would have the horsemen of the apocalypse turning tail and heading back into the darkness.
For charging along sinuous backroads the engine is perfection, happy to trickle down to less than 2,000rpm without complaint, wrenching your arms and neck with its explosive torque as the tacho climbs, then revving eagerly to its maximum where that 160bhp has it hurtling along like a missile. There's no flatness at the top end, no zone of weakness anywhere in the rev range, just a tsunami of power at every level, made all the more compulsive by its liquid smoothness - the handlebars are rubber mounted and only the shuddering lumps of torque at low revs can fight their way through, the rest of the time you're rewarded with a delicious creaminess.
The sensation is more addictive than crack cocaine, and if you thought the experience might be spoiled by the compromises imposed on the chassis through the necessity of competing in the cruiser sector, then you couldn't be more wrong. Despite that longest Ducati wheelbase, the most raked out forks, the fat 240 section rear Pirelli (a Diablo for the Diavel, what else?), this bike handles, and it handles superbly. At low speeds the steering is slow but beautifully balanced and natural, with feet-up, walking pace U-turns easy even for inexperienced riders. Up the pace (and that siren of an engine makes it impossible not to) and the bike turns and changes direction in an intuitive, willing fashion that'll have you hunting down corners until you drop with fatigue.
Never on a press launch have I seen so many journalists ride off at the end of the scheduled route to put more miles on a bike just for the sake of it... sorry, it's a Diavel, Bologna dialect for devil- for the hell of it. Most of the British contingent did the main section of the route all over again, the fabulous A397 from Marbella to Ronda, and still they wanted more.
There are imperfections (about time-). At high motorway speeds the Ducati Diavel's ride quality is not good, as the bike jiggles and jumps over bumpy surfaces rather than absorbing them. That raked out fork angle is to blame, along with the shortish travel and firm suspension. You'd not want to sustain high speeds into a headwind for very long either, as the riding position is more upright even than the entry-level Monster 696's, and despite sitting low on the bike you do cop a fair amount of windblast.
It's remarkably comfortable though. At first the seat feels like it holds you tight in one position, and after 15 minutes its rounded shape was putting pressure on me in slightly odd places, but a full day's riding later and I would still have been happy to spend more hours on the bike, and would have done if Ducati hadn't insisted on getting it back to prepare for the next group. Bear in mind that I'm 6'3” (1.91m), yet my legs weren't cramped, while shorter riders were very happy with the low seat and easy reach to the ground.
The view from the saddle is unusual as the tank appears vast and flat, stretched out in front of you around the headstock - Ducati was aiming to mimic the look of the expansive bonnet of an American muscle car, and you really can appreciate that. There are two levels of clocks, a small, conventional LCD display mounted on the bars and a second, high definition, full colour display on the top of the tank, used to change the bike's engine modes (which like the Multistrada's are operated via the indicator kill switch). You get three in place of the Multi`s four as there`s no off-road option, and do note the suspension is not affected by the modes, as it is on the Multistrada S models.
The display itself is exceptionally clear and easy to read, which makes the omission of any sort of fuel gauge or mileage range reading all the more unforgiveable. All you get is the old fashioned combination of low level warning light and trip, which on a bike at this price and sophistication level is not good enough. Ducati says there wasn't room in the Diavel's dash, but I would much rather the generally irrelevant engine temperature reading was replaced by a fuel gauge - a warning light would suffice for that instead.
Economy might well be an issue for some anyway. It was hard to judge on this first ride exactly how much the bike was using, and bear in mind it was being thrashed mercilessly for most of the time too, but I'd imagine in more realistic, everyday riding you'd get around 40mpg (14.2km/l, 7.1l/100km, 33.3mpg US), with that dropping significantly when you give in to the overwhelming urge to go wild with the throttle. With a capacity of 3.75 gallons (17 litres, 4.5 gallons US), that ´s maybe 120 miles (195km) before the warning light flicks on, so any kind of touring will mean plenty of refueling stops on the way.
Maybe the Ducati Diavel will use less in the Touring or Urban engine modes. In Sport it has a hard edge and instant response that riders moving over from cruisers rather than sports bikes might find intimidating at first, although in the end the throttle control is precise and dependable. What can feel like glitches in the response often are the traction control cutting in: if you crack open the throttle in the lower gears the bike lunges forward so suddenly the back tyre starts to spin up even in quite grippy conditions.
In Touring you get the same power (flagged in the dash as 162PS - Low) but doled out more gently, while Urban feels relatively tame and places a 100PS (98bhp, 73.6kW) ceiling on the output. In practice, experienced riders will remain in Sport or Touring most of the time.
The traction control can be kept busy on twisty roads too as the drive out of corners is epic - even that fat Pirelli is troubled by the torque. Heel the bike over and you need some quite severe lean angles to get the Ducati Diavel around corners - a long wheelbase, wide tyre and low C of G all increase cornering lean angles on a bike - but unlike conventional performance cruisers like the V-Rod or Victory Hammer S, the Diavel achieves them effortlessly and pretty rapidly too. Then it sits on its line like anything with a Ducati badge should, unflustered, neutral and entirely faithful to your bar inputs. Give it a series of turns to deal with and it sweeps through with an athletic majesty that's as rewarding as the engine, while ground clearance isn't an issue and there's plenty of feedback too as to how the rubber is coping.
The braking makes you laugh manically at its ferocity. Grab the front lever, stamp on the back and the bike stops so hard it makes your nose bleed. You'll fully believe an 1198 couldn't match this, although the flaw is that the uncompliant suspension has the front skipping and jumping on bumpy surfaces, and then the ABS starts to cut in regularly and extends the distances considerably. But stability is exemplary throughout, and it's yet another hugely satisfying aspect of the Diavel's performance.
Then there's the look. When the Ducati Diavel first appeared it was difficult to know what to make of it. But familiarity has a very positive effect: as you get used to the style the bike becomes more and more dramatically good looking, with a powerful visual balance that hunches everything forward over the front wheel, leaving the rear end lean and exposing the massive tyre to stunning effect. The detailing is fabulous, as cruisers need to have, with for example shaped aluminium fluid reservoirs for brake and clutch where a sports bike would have functional plastic items, while the rear footrests and passenger grab rail fold away out of sight to keep the back end clean.
The finish quality and fit is outstanding too, fully justifying Ducati's premium brand status and the £12,995 starting price. The dark and aggressive Carbon Black version is £15,495 while the stunning Carbon Red will set you back £15,895. The raised paint on this where the red has been applied over the carbon fibre will annoy some, but it's difficult to see how else it could have been done without lacquering the whole tank cover, which would then detract from the carbon fibre's appearance.
The Ducati Diavel manages to score a bullseye in places you'd expect, then perform breathtakingly well in other areas too. It has huge visual presence and looks absolutely knockout; its soundtrack is marked by the most evocative, angry voice in motorcycling; it is exceptionally comfortable, it handles beautifully and compellingly, and it has eye-watering performance in absolute terms, braking and accelerating up there with some of the fastest bikes on the planet- indeed, very often beating them.
The question of exactly what it is - performance cruiser, Monster on steroids, street drag bike or whatever - ends up as irrelevant, overshadowed by something much more simple to understand: this is the most exciting and rewarding motorcycle you can buy.
Ducati UK has already said the key to selling this bike is getting bums on seats, and I`d strongly recommend that too. The problem is going to be getting them off again... The Diavel deserves to be huge for Ducati.
Coming Soon: Diavel Technical and Diavel video...
Model tested: Ducati Diavel Carbon Red
Price: £15,895 (base model, from £12,995)
Available: end of February 2011
Engine: 90-degree V-twin, liquid cooled, dohc desmodromic 8v, 1198.4cc
Power: 160bhp (162PS, 119kW) @ 9,500rpm
Torque: 94lb.ft (127.5Nm) @ 8,000rpm
Tank/Range: 3.75 gallons (17 litres, 4. 5 US gallons)/ n/a miles
Transmission: Six gears, wet clutch, chain final drive
Chassis: Tubular steel trellis, cast aluminium rear subframe
Seat height: 30.3in (770mm)
Wheelbase: 62.6in (1590mm)
Rake/trail: 28 °/ n/a
Weight: 456lb (207kg) (dry) (+6.6lb/3kg base model)
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