Ride Review: 2011 Ducati Diavel

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Even before its launch in Milan last year, the 2011 Ducati Diavel has been the talk of the motorcycle industry since its first spy photo was released. It amuses me that Ducati chose to name the Diavel (say: dee-ahh-vole) after the Bolognese word for the devil. The linguistic foreplay from Ducati is just asking for a response from motorcyclists who feel that Bologna company has over-stepped its prescribed branding boundaries, and sold its soul to the Devil of bottom-line thinking.

While rife with metaphor, there is an important financial reason for the genesis of the Ducati Diavel. As I’ve already explained the business reasons behind Ducati’s choice (or non-choice) to make the Diavel in a previous article. My analysis continues from there, and brings us to the question of: How does the Ducati power cruiser ride, 240mm-wide tire and all?

Setting out to the City of Angels (I seriously couldn’t ask for better fodder from Ducati here), I swung a leg over the Ducati Diavel for a day of riding on some of Los Angeles’s finest and most well know routes. The short answer to how the Diavel fared: damningly well.

First Impressions:
Walking up to the Ducati Diavel, it’s instantly apparent why the name Mega Monster was floated about as a possible name for the machine. Ducati again retained the services of Bart Janssen-Groesbeek to head the Diavel project, the same man who began revamping the Ducati Monster line with the Monster 696 in 2007. Ducati borrowed extensively from its Monster designs for its new bike, and according to the company, the Diavel is the synthesis of three different styles of motorcycles: a standard, a sport bike, and a cruiser.

When I first saw the spy photos of the Diavel, and subsequently the studio photos of the bike, I was put off by the incorporation of the Monster’s headlight into the design. I never cared for the headlight on the street-standard, and on the Diavel it does little to invoke the idea of a muscle machine for strong burly men. I was raised with the understanding that hate is a terribly strong word to use (dislike intensely was the preferred nomenclature in the Beeler household), that being said…yes, I hate this part of the Diavel. That’s how strongly I feel about Janssen-Groesbeek’s aesthetic choice here.

I was hoping my first impression to the Diavel would be much like my introduction to the Ducati Streetfighter, which also did little for me in two-dimensions (I screamed “shoot her!” upon first sight of the press photos), but upon experiencing the Streetfighter in the flesh, the Italian company quickly departed with $14,000 or so of my hard-earned blogging dollars. Such was not the case with the Diavel, and is perhaps the largest real criticism I can levy against the machine. As with all things on aesthetics, your mileage will vary.

Saddling Up:
As you take a seat on the Diavel, you’re presented with a fuel tank that feels like a place setting at the grown-ups’ table. The tank sprawls out in front of you seemingly forever, interrupted only by a fuel cap and secondary dash unit. The effect is a lot like one of those infinity pools you see in the backyards of the über-rich, and only exacerbates the long reach to the Diavel’s handlebars.

Even with my six-foot wingspan, I found the Diavel’s reach from seat to bars to be something of note. Mix the seat-to-handlebars-distance with an almost chair-like but crouching seating posture, and Ducati has seemingly built a bike for riders who are both simultaneously under and over six feet tall. These ergonomics surely come from the bike’s design synthesis, as the bars are clearly cruiser in nature and style, while the footpegs herald from more of a sportbike design, and seat resides two inches lower to the ground.

My initial thought when saddling the Diavel was how strange it was to have my legs crouched like I was on a 1198 Superbike, yet upright and reaching like I would be on a V-Rod. Blasting through Topanga Canyon and cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway though, it’s clear that Ducati intended the Diavel to be used in a sporting, yet comfortable nature. It’s a weird thing to behold at first, but seems pragmatic when put to task. As for my legs, they were no worse for the wear after a day’s ride, though the shifter and rear-brake lever had to be adjusted to accommodate my touring boots.

With the handlebars turning inward more than my hands would like, my only real complaint with the ergonomics is that I’d replace the handlebar if a Diavel found its way into my garage, and I had some extra cash in my wallet. Otherwise the ergonomics were comfortable, and it’s refreshing to finally find a motorcycle seat that firmly tells your ass where to be during both braking and acceleration. Couple that with the fact that the Diavel’s seating position puts you in the prime location to handle the bike at speed, and you’ve found yourself at the part of the review where I tell you how this Ducati power cruiser handles in the corners.

Apex Dreaming:
The Diavel employs the Bologna company’s extensive knowledge in sport bike design, and it’s apparent that those years of experience have paid off. Before the Diavel’s official launch, perhaps the biggest bone of contention for desktop critics was the 240mm tire mounted to the rear of the motorcycle, which seemingly every other manufacturer has found a way to make handle like a 747 jumbo jet on ice.

Ducatisti can sleep well tonight though, as I can definitively tell you that the simile in the last paragraph does not apply with the Diavel. Teaming up with Pirelli, Ducati ensured that a 240mm rear tire could work in a sport application. Developing a tire with a taller profile and 17” wheel form factor, Pirelli’s new Diablo Rosso II tires performed admirably as we carved our way through the hills and canyons of LA — escorted by a Los Angeles Motorcycle Sheriff no less.

It’s in the canyons and open road where the Diavel shines its Ducati heritage, and puts the mind of a Ducatista to ease. Tractable and predictable, the Diavel is a surprisingly easy bike to maneuver at slow speeds, and is a sure-footed monster at a higher clip – no matter how heavy-handed your throttle hand becomes.

How much of the Diavel’s road prowess is owed to the Pirelli, and how much of it comes from Ducati’s chassis and suspension designs? In short, it’s impossible to tell from our time with the machine, but it is an interesting question to hear the response to, when asked separately to the two parties involved. Seeing as how Pirelli is the only shop in town for would-be Diavel owners who want to keep the stock tire dimensions, we imagine it’ll only take a few thousand miles (Pirelli vaguely rates the Diablo Rosso II’s life span as 2,000-6,000 miles) to see what happens when someone mounts different rubber to the bike.

That being said, the Diablo Rosso II’s fetch a modest price, and do their job oh-so-well that we imagine many owners will keep the OEM package as they put on the miles (likely something Pirelli is counting on).

Weird Science:
At this point it’s worth mentioning Ducati’s ride control package, which lets you toggle from Urban, Touring, and Sport mode. Each setting can be individually tuned for horsepower output, traction control interference, and ABS sensitivity (yes, you can even turn off the anti-lock brakes). The effect is that each ride mode in its default setting is suited for various riding situations, and can be further refined by the rider to suit his or her tastes.

Despite being limited to 100hp, the Urban mode packs-in plenty of punch, and makes the 1,198cc Testastretta 11° v-twin motor more manageable at slower speeds (however, Ducati still seems incapable of making a silky smooth v-twin motor at sub-20 mph velocities). From here, a simple flick of the switch can take you into Touring mode, where all 162hp and 92 lbs•ft of torque are on-deck for your maximum momentum enjoyment (while the same motor as found in the Ducati Multistrada 1200, the Diavel’s freer-flowing exhaust and intake account for the 7hp power increase). Traction control is placed at a higher setting (limiting your wheelie efforts with a disapproving electronic intervention), and the throttle response is set at a value that should be quantified as “safe for maintaining retinal attachment.” Moving the dial over once more into Sport mode changes things however.

The Diavel’s Sport mode is Ducati’s way of appeasing the Italian faithful. Out of all the models in Ducati’s line-up, you’d be surprised to learn that the Diavel makes more torque in the first half of the RPM range than the Ducati Superbike 1198. It’s at this setting that I think most riders will choose to enjoy their Diavel while having a romp on their favorite Sunday morning ride…and the Diavel won’t disappoint. While you Sinners of Swerve won’t be dragging a knee on Ducati’s latest creation anytime soon (there’s a challenge in there somewhere), the Diavel can take you right up to that point in the pace that qualifies as “questionably imprudent for street riding,” and begs you not to enjoy that fact in pious restraint.

Street Level:
The suspension is sure-footed and provides ample feedback on what the bike is doing fore and aft – and I’m just talking about the lower-spec Ducati Diavel Diamond Black here. The Ducati Carbon, with its forged Marchesini wheels, machined brake disc carriers, and diamond-like coated forks, promises even more un-sprung goodness should you wish to cough up the extra $3,000. Turn-in is neutral, and confidence inspiring, and the Diavel tracks well while willing the ride-by-wire throttle to ludicrous speed for optimal corner-exit speed. I found some wallow mid-apex with the stock settings (although I had to go looking for it), but it was sorted easily enough with some rebound dampening on the rear and a couple turns on the remote preload adjuster.

True to the power cruiser label many have been affixing to it, the Diavel provides a cushy ride on rutted roads, which is surprising considering the prior paragraph where I praised its canyon carving ability. Riders pampered by the plush seats and trampoline-like suspension of a Harley-Davidson will likely find the Diavel stiff, and providing too much tarmac feedback, yet it won’t ever be jarring. Pitching the bike to a sportier clientele, I think most Diavel owners will be thankful for Ducati’s choice to keep the bike closer to the sporty side of the spectrum, not to mention that decision plays well into the Italian company’s ethos.

Parting Thoughts:
As a died-in-the-wool sport bike guy, to be candid the Diavel is a hard bike to review. I don’t think Ducati is making any fronts that this bike is aimed at its current legion of loyal customers (myself included), but is instead fishing into new waters. That being said, as a self-proclaimed performance enthusiast, the Diavel appeased my need for top-speed horsepower and throttle-cracking torque. If that doesn’t squarely put the Diavel in Ducati’s wheelhouse of fine Italian machines with a racing heritage, then I don’t know what does in this market segment.

At $16,999 a pop for the base model and $19,999 for the Diavel Carbon, Ducati’s newest machine doesn’t come cheap, though it does price well against the Yamaha VMax’s $19,890 MSRP and Harley-Davidson’s $14,999 V-Rod. The differentiation between the two Diavel models though is going to be a tough sell (I imagine the Diavel Carbon will be a more image/aspirational purchase for its owners); however the Diavel itself is going to be a no-brainer acquisition for riders looking for a relaxed street bike that can more than easily embarrass an unsuspecting sport bike rider out in the twisties.

Ducati’s line-up needed a Monster-derived water-cooled performance-based standard (say that three times fast), and the Bologna brand has found it in the Diavel (balancing the bike well with the already available Superbike-derived Streetfighter). The fact that the Diavel also adeptly plays into the performance cruiser segment descriptions, bringing a new facet to the jeweled company, extends the bike’s differentiation from both the Monster and Streetfighter. Customers finding themselves unengaged by the aforementioned bikes should head to their Ducati dealership to try out a Diavel on a test ride to see if it suits them (the Diavel should be at North American dealers by now), I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with what Ducati has produced in the Diavel.

Photos: Riles & Nelson

Helmet: AGV T2 Sergeant White; Jacket: Dainese G. Rebel Pelle Estivo; Pants: Dainese P. Alien Pelle; Gloves: Dainese Guanto 4-Stroke; Boots: Dainese ST-TRQ Race OUT