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Ducati Diavel Review – A Case of Mistaken Identity

ducati diavel in a corner

Some media types have been calling the new 2011 Ducati Diavel a cruiser. Now, that’s just plain wrong says Bertrand Gahel.

The Fat Boy is a cruiser. So is a Vulcan or a V-Star. “Cruiser” is a very well defined motorcycle genre, into which the 2011 Ducati Diavel simply does not fit. It doesn’t even come close, though some motorcycle writers seem to think it does. Their rationale? The Diavel’s 240mm rear tire. Really? So, following that logic, a Gold Wing, GSX-R1000, ZX-14 or even a freakin’ Ruckus equipped with big rubber automatically becomes a cruiser? 

To support their flawed classification they’ll also tell you the Diavel’s seating position is cruiser-like. Sorry, that doesn’t fly either. I’ve ridden practically every cruiser sold today, and I know first-hand what the cruiser seating position is. Even if you’re talking about one of the rare models with mid-mount foot controls like the Sportster 883 SuperLow, the posture dictated by the new Ducati still isn’t that of a cruiser. In that regard it’s actually closer to street standards like the Monsters or the XR1200X.

ducati diavel parked black carbonThe same writers who say these things offer more “evidence” in the form of market analysis. The cruiser segment, they’ll argue, is simply too lucrative for anybody to ignore, especially given the current economy. Consequently Ducati could no longer limit itself to niche markets like high-end sportbikes, even if that meant ruffling the feathers of its usually very traditionalist clientele. 

That would all make sense if the Diavel was indeed a cruiser and Ducati actually expected big sales numbers from it. But that’s not the case. 

The factory promotional materials don’t refer to the Diavel as a cruiser. Nor do Ducati staff, whom I button-holed on the point during the model’s North American press intro.

Though they regard the Diavel as a very special motorcycle, expectations aren’t high in terms of volume sales. “It’s a very tough one to evaluate,” said Ducati North America public relations manager John Paolo Canton. “We’ve certainly never done anything like it, and it doesn’t neatly fit into a distinct niche or class, so it’s very difficult to expect a precise unit sales number. We’d be happy if it does about the same as the Streetfighter. Very roughly, that would split our sales into something like about a quarter Superbike, a quarter Monster, a quarter Multistrada and a quarter Diavel and Streetfighter combined.” 

So a volume bike the Diavel isn’t, or at least isn’t expected to be. Moreover, Ducati certainly isn’t stuck in a super traditional universe. That business model was actually broken years ago with the Multistrada.

Obviously Ducati hopes its Diavel draws as broad a consumer base as possible, but the real focus is on the muscle bike fan, with Yamaha’s VMAX and Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod squarely in the crosshairs. What needs to be clarified here is that VMAX and V-Rod owners aren’t interested in cruisers. These aren’t cruiser amateurs, they are muscle bike lovers. And that’s what the Diavel is: a muscle bike. More precisely, a standard or naked or streetfighter-derived muscle bike. I threw the Muscle Naked designation at Canton, who nodded in agreement. 

Technically, the definition sticks. The 2011 Ducati Diavel is built exactly like a Ducati Streetfighter and nothing like a cruiser. The chassis is pure sportbike spec: massive single-sided swingarm; huge, fully adjustable upside-down forks; powerful, Superbike-spec brakes; classic trellis frame; and, last but certainly not least, a 162 hp, 1198-derived V-Twin with a Multistrada 1200-like state of tune. 

At $20,995 ($2,000 more than the base Diavel), the Carbon version even adds a bunch of weight-saving carbon fibre parts, anti-stiction coating on the fork and gorgeous Marchesini wheels. ABS and traction control come standard on both versions. 

So, take away the very distinctive body pieces, and what you have is a traditional, purebred high-tech Ducati standard without a single link to the cruiser world. 

As for that 240mm-section rear tire, it serves as a tie to the tuning universe where it’s actually a must-have item on slammed and stretched Hayabusas, ZX-14s and all sorts of heavily modified sportbikes. Along with the sweet-looking wheel it’s mounted on, that tire has nothing to do with the chopper world.

The Muscle Naked classification sticks on the road too. You sit on the Diavel somewhat like you do on a Monster, although the seat height itself is very low. The pegs are slightly ahead, (maybe by an inch or so), of the straight down position they’d be on a normal naked. Ride with your toes on the pegs and it will feel almost like a regular standard, albeit one with an unusually low seat. 

As for the handlebar, it’s pure standard stuff: low, flat and forward, your hands fall naturally on it with your back remaining straight. If anything, the Diavel’s seating position feels somewhat like a drag bike—essentially what it is. Combine that kind of horsepower with a low, sportbike-like dry weight of 210 kilos (207 for the Carbon) and a longish wheelbase, and what you have is a bonafide bullet. With the power mode selector set to Sport, which means full power and minimal intervention from the traction control (power and traction settings are individually adjustable outside of the suggested Sport, Touring and Urban modes), a handful of throttle will generate an instant arm-stretching rush forward. 

I was sure the relatively long and low 2011 Ducati Diavel would resist wheelies like, say, a VMAX does. But if you keep it pinned in first it will stand on its rear tire, and rather brutally so. It’s much easier to launch from a stop than an 1198, but keeping its nose down in first gear on a quarter-mile run certainly is not child’s play. 

Rich and abundant torque at low revs make the typically Ducati-sounding engine a joy to use under everyday conditions. Opting for the lower power modes gradually tames performance electronically in case you don’t feel like doing it manually, with your right wrist. 

Ducati’s reputation for producing good handling bikes could have easily been compromised by that 240mm rear tire, but the factory worked with Pirelli in the development of fat rubber that doesn’t intrude too much on the quality of handling. 

Still, the effect of the super-wide rear tire is immediately noticeable. There’s some resistance and a slight awkwardness when leaning the bike slightly and at a moderate pace. But get to a seriously twisty piece of tarmac, up the pace a notch or two, and things magically fall into place. In that context, the Diavel still doesn’t feel completely normal, but it does handle well by showing superb stability and precision in corners. It even makes you work pretty hard before any parts start grinding on the pavement. You won’t break any lap records, but with the intent of having some fun and maybe even bruising a few egos, you could bring it to a track.

Take away all the controversy surrounding the Diavel’s exact nature, and you’re left with a good bike that handling and performance-wise is a reflection of the sum of its parts. Ducati didn’t build a cruiser. It built a risky variation on the standard/naked/streetfighter theme that should attract a very specific breed of buyer. 

by Bertrand Gahel Canadian Biker #272


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