Ducati Diavel UK road test

Kevin Ash

Pictures: Milagro

Ducati_Diavel_012

The Diavel has been a phenomenon, wowing reviewers, this one included, with its compelling mix of huge thrust, liquid power delivery, outstanding handling and wild, forbidding looks. But it's flawed.

You can read the full Ducati Diavel launch review here, and after spending 600 miles (1,000km) in the UK with a Carbon Red Diavel, I`d not modify anything I said then about the bike`s breathtaking dynamics. There are additions though, the sorts of things that you only find out by using a bike to go places and do things as you`d do if you owned it. And they do throw a different light on some aspects of the bike.

It should be no surprise this is not a machine for cruising at high speeds over long distances. The riding position is upright and exposed and the windblast inevitably takes its toll on neck and arms. I found 85mph (135kph) the highest I could maintain for a long period, and into a strong headwind it would be less. In addition, because you`re hanging onto the bars over an extended period - like the 250 mile (400km) ride I did from the English Midlands to Cornwall - the chunky vibration that`s not troublesome on shorter trips (most trips...) started to numb a couple of my fingers. Ducati does offer an accessory small screen, which is supposed to make a big difference to cruisability but I`ve not had a chance to try that.

The Ducati Diavel`s seat comfort is not bad, but three continuous hours is too much, you`ll be shifting cheeks to relieve the ache. I`ve ridden worse, including bikes specifically designed for covering distances, but there are better too, such as Ducati`s own Multistrada. It doesn`t help when trying to find a new position that your right heel is forced outwards by the exhaust heat shield if you move your foot back on the footrest - something of a Ducati trait this, but then when I was last in Italy and tried to buy some shoes, no shops carried my size 11, so this probably explains it, if it doesn`t excuse it.

A neat touch though is the provision of luggage loops beneath the seat. Lift it off and pull these down so they`re just visible below the edges of the seat and you can hook luggage elastics through them easily. They`re in just the right place to hold things safely on the passenger seat.

As for passengers themselves, finding one the right size is important. I came up trumps with Claire Warner, Diavel fan, cute, compact and a perfect fit. She found the seat itself exceptionally comfortable, very wide and supportive. “The footrests are in the right position too, if you`re 5`2”(1.57m), but for anyone much taller they`ll start to feel cramped and too high. No problem on the right side with a boot heel clashing with the exhaust heat shield.” It looks as if it might, but that wasn`t the case with Claire`s Italy-friendly size 4s anyway.

The T-shaped blade which is the grab rail slides out from beneath the rear of the seat - a locking mechanism holds it in place. Claire discovered a knack to using it: “If you try and grasp it in the usual way it`s difficult and uncomfortable, but if instead you rest your hand flat on the top and lock yourself to the bike that way it works fine. But no way can you rely on this alone - make friends with the rider and hold on tight! You depend on the rider or grab rail for support during braking too as the bike is long and low and the fuel tank is too far away to reach around the rider to brace yourself against, like you can on a lot of sports bikes.”

Windblast isn`t a problem: “You sit close to the rider and the height difference isn`t as much as you might expect looking at the seat. Sports bikes are worse, generally, but on the Diavel you`re not stuck up high in the slipstream.”

Adjusting the spring preload to deal with the extra weight is so easy you can even do it while riding along, as the remote adjuster is very accessible on the left side. It`s no big deal being seen adjusting it when your passenger is lighter than a well-fed Labrador but some could be sensitive about their weight, in which case the subtlety with which you can wind up the Diavel`s preload could save you some awkward explaining...

As you`d expect, the bike`s handling is little affected when two up, and the engine doesn`t seem too troubled by the extra load either.

So far so very good, all the thrill of the Diavel and looking reasonably practical too, even for carrying a passenger. Then you come to the fuel... The first thing you notice is that this is one thirsty motorcycle. At that steady 85mph cruise (a true 79mph (127kph)), it returns 37.5mpg (13.3km/l, 7.53l/100km, 31.2mpg US), and this was the best I got - the dash optimistically told me I was getting 41mpg at the time.

Use the Ducati Diavel hard, such as when you`re trying to impress a speed thrilled, cute and compact passenger, and you`ll see that plummet to 28mpg (9.9km/l, 10.1l/100km, 23.3mpg US). I`m sure it could go lower than that in the right - or wrong - circumstances. In itself this isn`t perhaps a major issue, this is a performance cruiser meant for mad blasts anyway, but it`s going to influence some buyers` decisions negatively as it impacts on the bike`s all round ability.

With a 3.74 gallon (17 litre, 4.5 gallon US) tank, that`s a best possible range of 140 miles (225km) and plenty of owners are going to be lulled into a false sense of security expecting plenty of miles remaining when the low fuel warning light comes on. But when it does you have less than 2 litres remaining: I pulled into a fuel station 15 miles (24km) after the light flicked on then managed to refill with 17.2 litres (3.78 gallons UK, 4.5 gallons US)... yes, it's a 17 litre tank! In other words, it was dry and I`d been very lucky, what you get beyond 15 miles will be measured in yards. Or metres, and there`ll be even fewer of them...

This is a real issue as inexcusably the Diavel has no fuel gauge. You can`t rely on the warning light as garages mostly are more than 15 miles apart, so all you have left is the trip. Forget to set that or pull the consumption down by using the bike a bit harder, rendering it useless, and you will far too easily get yourself into trouble. And it`s all so unnecessary: a fuel gauge is the obvious solution, or a warning light that comes on with a more reasonable reserve to spare, and surely with that vast expanse of dummy tank in front of you there`s room for a bigger real one beneath? As it is, make full use of the glorious motor and your range will plummet to 100 miles, and if you don`t slow down after the orange light calls time, you have 11 miles left.

More positively, the Ducati Diavel surprises with its ability on very tight and bumpy backroads, such as the single track Cornish lanes I spent some time riding. Other bikes will do this faster of course, due to their superior agility and more compliant suspension, but those are other bikes from entirely different categories. The Diavel is a performance cruiser where its style supersedes dynamic ideals, yet still it turns beautifully and smoothly, and while the suspension can rattle rider and passenger at times, it does a good job of keeping the tyres in touch with the ground when the going gets rough. The engine's torque is big compensation too... you'e never really in the wrong gear. Compared with the obvious direct rivals the Diavel is leagues better.

The big unknown after the press launch in Andalusia though was economy and range, and sadly these let the bike down enough for many riders to look elsewhere. They`ll be missing out on one of the great motorcycling experiences of the decade, but there are plenty of other bikes which are still a big thrill, and with much more practical fuel regimes too.