Kevin Ash tested the new Ducati Diavel for Insidebikes – and he hasn’t stopped grinning since.
Expectations can make a big difference when you’re about to ride a new bike for the first time. Honda created one of the biggest build-ups ever seen in the lead up to the introduction of the VFR1200F, to the point of claiming it would change motorcycling for the next decade. It’s a good bike, but not that good, which is how Honda contrived to make a decent motorcycle, albeit with a few flaws, something of a disappointment.
It was quite different with Ducati’s Diavel: not only did Ducati make few claims as to how the bike would perform, the rest of us had very little idea what to expect. Visually the Diavel appears to be pitched against performance cruisers like Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod and the seminal Yamaha V-Max. But it’s almost 100kg (220lb) lighter than the V-Max, and one of the claims Ducati did make was that the Diavel is designed to handle, and to handle very well.
So what is it? A cruiser, a sports bike, a high street poseur? Swing a leg over it, fire up the signature V-twin engine and all the Diavel questions will just evaporate, because you simply won’t care. Whatever else this bike is, it’s massive, overwhelming fun.
The engine is the same as ground-breaking Multistrada’s 1198cc V-twin, differing only in the exhaust and airbox layouts and with improved fuelling, although these changes have endowed the already muscular motor with an additional 12bhp, taking it up to a full 160bhp, not so far off 1198 superbike territory.
The chassis, although held together by Ducati’s trademark steel trellis frame (with an aluminium rear sub-frame), is unique to the Diavel, and includes Ducati’s longest ever wheelbase and by far the fattest rear tyre, a monster 240mm Pirelli Diablo II. Both of these should ensure lethargic, awkward handling, and that’s before you see the raked out forks and feel the very low centre of gravity.
Yet as soon as you pull away you’re struck by the bike’s perfect low speed balance and easy handling nature, inspiring confidence to try out the acceleration, which at a claimed 2.6 seconds for 0-62mph makes the Diavel faster off the line than the 1198 itself. You’re in for a shock: this motorcycle blasts forward with huge thrust and a truly epic soundtrack, a tenor bellow from the exhaust that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Shut the throttle again and the angry snarl sounds for all the world like the bike’s complaining at your temerity, goading you to get on the gas again for more of that fabulous horsepower action.
It’s phenomenally fast, and feels all the more so because it’s so stable and easy while you’re doing it. The stretched out and low chassis means the bike is a lot less prone to lifting the front wheel, so you can give it more power than a sports bike, and due to the upright seating position – which is surprisingly all-day comfortable – the force of the bike’s thrust is enhanced even further.
The real surprise is how breathtakingly well the bike corners. That low speed balance feel is maintained no matter how fast you go, the bike responding to inputs from the relatively high and wide bars with assured and rapid dependability, sweeping majestically through corners in a thoroughly satisfying way. There’s none of the heaving it into a turn that other cruisers demand, and although it takes a wide line it doesn’t run any wider than you’re expecting, and you get a decent amount of feedback too as to what the tyres are up to.
That feedback generally says they’re gripping a lot, and you can prove that by squeezing the brakes, top spec Brembo Monoblocs which scrub off the mph with ferocious power. The ABS cuts in late, as you’d want, although on bumpy roads the front suspension isn’t especially effective at absorbing imperfections and you end up with the front tyre chirruping and hopping as the electronics struggle to cope.
That leads to one of the few criticisms of the bike, which is its poor ride quality at speed. Because of the shallow angle of the forks they’re less able to deal with rough surfaces and instead the whole bike shudders and kicks at high speeds. It’s not dangerous or much more than an irritant really, although the Diavel doesn’t have weight on its side to assist suspension compliance like the V-Rod or V-Max.
On quick blasts for a bit of weekend fun you’ll probably not even notice, but you’ll pick up on it after a long haul down a motorway. You could even tour on a Diavel (and Ducati offers a soft luggage set for it) although I suspect the fuel range won’t be a lot better than 130 miles to low fuel warning, possibly less, as the tank is not big at 3.75 gallons (17 litres) and judging by the Multistrada, with the Diavel’s lower gearing thrown into the equation, I suspect it won’t generally return much better than 40mpg.
Sadly there’s no fuel gauge to help, a big oversight on a bike at this price level, all you get is a warning light and automatic countdown trip. Ducati says there wasn’t room on the dash, but bear in mind there are two displays on the Diavel, a conventional LCD type and an innovative new TFT full colour display, using similar technology to mobile phones. It’s crystal clear as well as pleasingly coloured, and it’s from here that you dial in whichever engine map you want of the three available. Riders coming from cruisers will do well to start off in Urban mode, which has a gentle throttle response and 100bhp maximum output, as in Sport mode the bike feels like a tiger on a leash… it’s aggressive and ready to leap forward at the merest whiff of throttle. Touring is a good compromise, offering all the performance but in a more manageable way, less tiring on longer trips. But with all the modes you get traction control to help tame the beast, and you need it more often than you’d think.
For all the technical details, the appeal of this bike – regardless of what you make of its bulldog, hardnosed looks – is the visceral, animated feel of the thing. Few bikes can fire up your adrenal glands like a Diavel, it’s such a sheer joy to blast down a sinuous road you will very probably turn around at the end and go right back again, just for the hell of it.
Whatever your expectations, whatever category you think the bike belongs in – or not – the bottom line is, it will put a bigger smile on your face than just about any other motorcycle. Fabulous!
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