With my feet tucked up in a semi-race position, arms stretched out in front of me like a Streetfighter, and the Spanish road dividers beside me traveling backwards at over 120 mph, it feels more like being in the latest Tron movie than out on a test ride. Futuristic electronic gauges feed me information, as we carve effortlessly through the Andalucía countryside. Big fat tires, loud, raucous engines and a pack of leather-clad riders around me fuel the excitement, as we blast along the interstate heading for the slower, more scenic mountain roads that will take us towards the town of Rhonda. Riding on the all-new Ducati Diavel is like nothing I have ever experienced in over a decade of testing motorcycles around the world, and my brain is in stimulation overload.
It’s a naked standard. It’s a custom cruiser. It’s a sporting muscle bike. No amount of shuffling and juggling with existing motorcycle terminology is going to help me adequately pin a definition on the latest Ducati. That the world Diavel is an Italian derivative for Devil is about the only thing that makes any sense, as I peel through a triple-digit sweeper and let loose all 162 horsepower again to keep pace with my group.
For the launch of their radical new Diavel, Ducati picked the town of Malaga in the south of Spain. As a central spot for the world’s press to converge, it affords beautiful views of the Mediterranean ocean with challenging climbs up in the mountains that frame out the coast in this area. With fast, open interstate sections, slower crawls through town, and a couple of hours bend-swinging as we made our way for coffee in the mountains, Ducati gave us a chance to test the Diavel in a wide variety of different conditions.
The Ducati launch wasn’t just essentially dealing with new graphics, styling, or minor upgrades like a lot of intros lately, and the press brief was enough to make my head spin. Jet-lagged and on some weird time schedule, and sitting in a warm, dark room is normally the kiss of death for staying alert and attentive. Not so this time, as the Ducati designers, engineers, and marketing staff told their stories. The new Diavel is so totally new and fresh, and jam-packed with such a plethora of advanced electronics, it actually ended up being a fairly long affair as we learned all the intimate details. From anti-lock brakes, to multiple-position traction control, different ride modes, keyless ignition and all the custom parts, the connection to the Tron movie actually started before I even rode the bike.
While the majority of the espresso-bar conversations about the new Diavel are undoubtedly going to focus on the styling, the most impressive part of the beast to me was the engine. Using what is called the, Testastretta 11 referring to the degrees of crankshaft rotation during valve overlap it’s also a lot more civilized than Ducati’s own Streetfighter: a machine that is darn right unfriendly on an open throttle unless you are on a deserted road. This doesn’t make the Diavel less exciting, as the big desmodromic twin is still kicking out 162 Italian stallions, it’s just able to mind its manners at low speeds before you get too rowdy with the throttle. Now get that throttle pinned and you had better be holding on, as the Diavel can apparently accelerate from 0-60mph in 2.6 second. I’m told it feels very similar to the new Multistrada, but I’ve not ridden it yet so can’t comment.
I have no reason to doubt this acceleration claim, as yanking open the throttle pins you back in the seat and demands your full attention. Using Ducati’s Ride-by-Wire (RbW) system this acceleration is immediate and flawless and it really starts to build once you get past 6,000 rpm. There is a choice of three different maps, or riding modes, and if you don’t want this full-power version, you can step down from this sport level to a touring mode. This will still give you the full 162 horsepower but with a more progressive delivery. Finally, there is a city mode that limits the Diavel to 100 horsepower, and after letting loose all the horses in the full-power mode, trying it out just didn’t feel like fun so I never used it again.
Besides, the new Diavel comes complete with full traction control, so worrying about putting too much power to the floor is never a problem. The sandy Spanish roads near the coast were as slick as anything I’ve ever ridden on and were almost as polished as a concrete floor in places. Twist the throttle any time and the traction control immediately kicked in, keeping the Diavel moving forward without drama. You know it’s working, but you also know it’s not spinning, and that’s very comforting with so much horsepower on tap.
Called DTC (Ducati Traction Control), there are eight levels of traction control to choose from. These are set for one being the least invasive for sport riding, with eight being the most invasive. The DTC is pre-set to a specific level in each of the three riding modes, but you can easily change this to suit your needs, or you can access the set-up menu found on the lower display and custom set each mode to your desired level of traction control. If you want to leave your choices, that’s fine, or there is a default option available that puts everything back to the factory pre-sets when you turn the bike off.
The secondary display molded into the fuel tank uses TFT (Thin Film Transistor) technology to show you which riding mode you are in and what level of traction control is active. It also has a gear-position indicator as well as mileage and trip counter. You will be familiar with TFT from your experience with cell phones and computer screens and the display is so incredibly vivid you wonder why no one has used it before. Of course, in keeping with the futuristic nature of the Diavel, the display will adjust between a black and white background depending on the light available.
While we are talking lights, there is no departure from the unique for the Diavel with either the headlight or the taillight. Up front a large aluminum body houses high and low beam double reflectors, with an additional strip of LED positioning lights for extra night vision. Once you’ve seen the Diavel coming at you, you’ll never forget it, or mistake it for any other bike. In the rear, you’ll find two clear vertical LED strips for tail light, braking light, and turn signals, and these are integrated into the under seat paneling for a cleaner look and greater visibility. This part of the bike looks somewhat similar to my buddy’s Desmosedici, but as much as I tried to like it, while following the group of Diavels around all day, it just always looked unfinished to me compared to the rest of the bike. Just my two cents, but I heard it from a couple of other scribes during the day, so clearly I’m not alone in my thinking.
For the more mundane stuff, like how far over the speed limit you are and how close to the rev limit, there is an attractive LCD display attached to the handlebar risers. This also houses all the usual warning lights as well as the time and temperature. It requires fairly good eyesight to keep up with the fast-moving electronic display, but it will be very familiar to existing Ducati owners. These risers also hold a set of wide, tapered aluminum bars that hold a pair of forged aluminum mirrors. It’s all very sparse and minimalistic and the mirrors actually let you see most of what’s going on behind, minus the usual amount of elbow. The switchgear took me a while to get comfortable with as you have to slide the kill switch cover up to engage the starter button the way you would use a trigger catch on a gun. The turn signal switch also doubles as a scroll button for changing the riding mode above and as a navigation tool for the control panel below.
The last time I rode toward Rhonda, it was pouring with rain with the clouds so low we couldn’t get out of second gear for lack of visibility. During the Diavel launch, there was barely a cloud in the clear, blue sky, and the air was so fresh and clean it felt sharp enough to cut. Swinging through one perfectly manicured bend after another, with the accompanying sound track of the booming V-twin engine and the occasional sound of the hero blobs marking their territory, the Diavel threw the next set of pre conceived ideas out of the window. Even though it has a 62.6-inch wheelbase, and a 240-series rear tire, it can really hustle through the curves. Now a sport bike it is not, and you always have to remain conscious you have a long bike to turn, so more thought is obviously needed. But as we carved our way up the beautiful mountainside, I realized I’ve never gone faster on a bike with this sort of riding position and comfort. My friend Arthur Coldwells, the owner of Ultimate Motorcycling, was riding with me, and we’ve put on some crazy miles around the world together. So when we arrived at the coffee stop, after profusely manifesting that we absolutely weren’t pushing it, his big shit-eating grin was all I needed to back up my feelings about the Diavel’s excellent handling.
Heading back down the mountain, we were taking it just as easy as I left progressively more foot-peg metal on the Andalucía tarmac. This gave a wonderful opportunity to put the brakes to test.
Looking like they were lifted straight from Ducati’s Superbike, there are two 4-piston Brembo Monobloc calipers up front clamping down on 320mm discs. Fluid makes its way to the pad via a radial-pump master cylinder stored in a uniquely styled reservoir. The lever is adjustable and the setup is not so strong that it overwhelms the front fork when you get aggressive. It lacks the initial bite of something like the 1198, but that’s fine for the street. It’s also got a nice sweet-spot for trail braking with all the power you need for getting the 456-pound Diavel under control when you pull a little harder. The rear brake is also very strong, and this setup comprises a two-piston Brembo working on smaller 265mm disc.
Suspension is a mix of Marzocchi forks up front and a Sachs shock in the back. A black-bodied 50mm inverted fork comes equipped with pre-load, compression and rebound settings, and is held in place by a beautiful, cast-aluminum, slash-cut triple clamp. These are blacked out and certainly add to the Diavel’s looks. In the rear, the spring holding your butt off the wheel is mounted horizontally under the chassis. It features an external adjuster for setting pre-load as well as compression and rebound damping adjustment.
Ducati quote figures of 28 degrees for rake, and 130mm of trail with a 24mm offset. Somehow, the people who have recently won a MotoGP world championship and more World Superbike championships than any other manufacturer have figured out how to juggle the numbers to achieve the impossible here. They have made a long wheel based, fat-tired motorcycle handle way better than it has any right to, better also than I had expected from looking at the spec sheet before our ride.
Parking the Diavel for coffee and sitting back to enjoy its visual footprint, I couldn’t help being attracted to the custom 14-spoke wheels. Looking more like something Bobby Fisher at Roaring Toyz would accessorize one of his custom bikes with, it’s going to be a tough job convincing people they come stock on the Diavel. The rear is a massive 8×17-inch rim, while the front is a more sporting 3.5×17. Of course the bike rolls on some specially designed Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires. With a more rounded profile than a traditional cruiser tire of this width, they no doubt contribute heavily to the bike’s handling manners, and it’s nice to know you have such high levels of grip available when riding with Mr.Coldwells at speed.
The two exhaust pipes hanging out off the right-hand side of the Diavel, beg to be removed and replaced with something smaller and more compact. Ducati already has this covered and we got to see a Termignoni carbon full exhaust system on the full-carbon display bike in the hotel. A must for new owners I’d say. This fully accessorized Diavel adds $3,000 to the $16,995 entrance price of the standard Diavel; if you can call a bike like this standard?
The bike uses keyless ignition: just put the fob in your pocket, hop on the bike, press the starter, and go. It comes in a choice of red or black, and Ducati are seeing big things for the Diavel in the American market. It’s wild, futuristic, and like nothing I’ve ridden before, and that’s what’s going to make it so appealing to the lucky few who buy one.
Words by Neale Bayly. Photos by Ducati.