Ducati Diavel - The future is now

Published: 12:31PM Mar 4th, 2011
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The brief was simple: create a cruiser that handles like a superbike, is easy to ride, bristling with technology and goes like a greased bat off a slippery shovel... and it’s got to look good too. Make the 916 Superbike in cruiser form then. Easy.

Ducati Diavel - The future is now

Look, let’s not beat around the foliage here. This bike is good. Very, very good. It’s a motorcycle that’s redefined what motorcycles can do. And we’re not suffering from a case of first-ride euphoria about this, the Ducati Diavel is just about as good a motorcycle as you’ll find these days. It is. Quite simply. Stunning. That’s partly due to the Diavel using the same revamped version of Ducati’s liquid-cooled 1198cc Testastretta Evoluzione eight-valve Superbike motor as fitted to the best-selling Multistrada introduced a year ago.

Practically, it’s useful (service intervals at 15,000miles isn’t to be sniffed at), but forget that because the first, searing and arguably longest-lasting impression the Ducati leaves behind is the way it delivers the 162bhp and 94ft-lb of torque.
That’s 12bhp up on the donor motor which has been retuned via revised cylinder head porting combined with radical adjustment of the cam timing, for that extra big hit of torque peaking at 8000 revs, the boost in bhp comes from a larger airbox and revised exhaust system.

This Diavel version fitted with a heavier flywheel has had its compression lowered from 12.7:1 to 11.5:1 compared to the 1198 Superbike, and its valve overlap reduced to just 11° from 41° in order to smooth the power delivery, improve fuel consumption and emissions, and especially to improve low down and midrange response.

And boy does it improve low-down and midrange response.

You can’t believe how good and how much fun this bike is to actually get out there and ride. Crack the throttle open and you have to consciously hang on to the bars to stay in touch. It accelerates like some-thing from a science fiction movie. On fast forward.

But that’s not all, there’s plenty of clever stuff going on with the big bike to keep you on the straight and narrow, even with all that amazing power on tap.

As on the Multistrada, the desmo V-twin comes with an array of electronic rider aids, with eight-position DTC/Ducati Traction Control systems, and a choice of three different electronic riding modes accessible via the indicator cancellation switch on the left handlebar, against the Multistrada’s four. Sport delivers the full 162bhp, but with a sharper response to the ride-by-wire throttle map, and a level three default position for the DTC (which you’re free to override anytime, with level eight giving most intervention, and level one the least).

Touring again offers 162bhp but a smoother, more progressive delivery, and level four DTC, while Urban has just 100bhp on tap, and level five DTC. This is monitored via the closer of the two separate digital instrument displays to the rider, a colour TFT/thin film transistor display on the fuel tank/airbox shroud which looks straight off an iPhone – Ducati claims this is the first time TFT has been used on a production motorcycle – showing riding mode, gear selected, dual trip meters, ambient temp, battery voltage and a trip computer, although there’s no fuel gauge, just a low fuel warning light. The more conventional LCD display mounted above the upper fork yoke and surmounted by a row of warning lights, shows speed, revs, DTC intervention, time, water temp etc.

Unlike on the Multistrada, whose Sport ride-by-wire engine map is generally too aggressive for the use that kind of bike enjoys, the equivalent on the Diavel is ideally tailored for helping Ducati’s latest live up to its name, with a crisp but controllable pickup and authoritative acceleration all the way through the powerband.

But there’s some transmission snatch using full throttle up to 3500rpm, albeit even in Sport mode you’re unlikely to encounter the digital throttle’s soft-action 10,500rpm revlimiter. That’s because you soon realise that the hot tip to making motion with the Diavel is to ride the torque curve, working the smooth-action six-speed gearbox to stay within the muscular V-twin engine’s 4000-8000rpm happy zone as you crank what is an unexpectedly agile package from side to side round third and fourth gear turns, short-shifting through the gears to the background aria of the twin-cylinder tenor that’s the tubone exhaust.

Best-sounding Ducati

Honestly, thanks presumably to the revised airbox and pipe combo, this is the best-sounding Ducati in the firm’s current catalogue – make that anybody’s twin-cylinder roster – both under vivid wide-open midrange acceleration, and especially on the overrun, where you also notice that the Ducati men have left in just enough engine braking dialled in via the slipper clutch settings to aid the Brembo brake package slow the bike from speed.

This fabulous setup is worthy of a Superbike, with twin 320mm floating front discs gripped by Monobloc radial calipers, but the added reassurance of Bosch ABS as standard front and rear, means that however hard you squeeze, and even if you also use the large 265mm rear disc with twin-pot caliper hard, as is customary among the cruiser cult, you won’t lock anything up. Add in that long wheelbase and the low seat, and the result was great stability even stopping the Diavel from upwards of 75mph into a downhill hairpin down a Spanish mountain.

The Ducati is also a new benchmark for cruiser-class handling, and that’s in spite of steering geometry that’s rangier than on anything yet to leave the Bologna assembly lines. With that long wheelbase and a 28º rake to the fully adjustable and very meaty Marzocchi 50mm forks delivering 120mm of wheel travel, with copious amounts of trail dialled in, you’d expect the Diavel to be a real handful in tight corners along city streets or mountain roads – but it isn’t. Instead, even riding it as I did later that day in Touring mode up another much slower mountain road, full of short squirts and second gear hairpins, demonstrated this is a bike you don’t have to fight to get it to steer.

Turn-in is especially great – the Diavel just tips easily and controllably into the apex of a turn with relatively minimal rider effort required, and holds a line well both at speed and going slowly, as the well dialled-in suspension shrugs off any bumps. This would actually make what was designed as a powercruiser into quite a handy weekend tourer, especially with the easy-access 18-click remote preload adjustment for the fully adjustable Sachs rear shock complete with progressive-rate link, whose horizontal location makes the low seat height possible, without sacrificing any of the 120mm of rear wheel travel.

I’m 5ft 11in tall, and the low stock seat height meant my legs got pretty cramped during a day spent wedged in place aboard a bike you sit very much within rather than on, and I couldn’t move my legs enough to stick my toes on the footrests, hence the destruction of a pair of toe sliders cranking the Diavel on its side through the fast sweepers. But that’s not an issue when you select Urban riding mode for a spot of chilled out boulevarding aboard the Diavel to your local café or club, which is a bit like driving your Porsche Cayenne Turbo to the country club. If you have one.

I couldn’t envisage using the Urban mode anywhere else except plonking round town at low speeds – or in the rain – since engine performance is really minimised, and the TC too invasive. It’s as if Ducati replaced the Diavel’s Testastretta Superbike motor with an air-cooled 1100 desmodue lump.

But the devil is in the detail on the Diavel, and not only in terms of the literally awesome performance package it delivers, but also the optimum fit and finish of the whole bike, including its numerous design touches which prospective owners will relish, which include:

■ The clever fold-out passenger footrests and retractable grab handle behind the seat, which except in use don’t spoil the look.

■ Or the brushed aluminium radiator shrouds, cast aluminium mirrors (which don’t vibrate and are very effective), steel 17-litre fuel tank, etc. – Ducati is justly proud that what you see is what you get in terms of materials, and there are almost no plastic parts.

■ The LED running lights set horizontally across the single headlamp, matched by the incredibly bright LED turn signals and tail-lights which are practically invisible when not illuminated.

■ And the so-distinctive single-sided aluminium licence-plate mount with integrated LED which doubles as a rear mudguard, while matching the cast aluminium single-sided swingarm it’s mounted to.

■ Ducati’s trademark trellis frame made from large diameter steel tubing with two lateral die-cast aluminium sections that flow into the rear techno-polymer subframe; Brembo’s new integral brake and clutch master-cylinders custom designed for the Diavel complete with milled reservoir tops; the weapon-like trigger-catch that slides down to cover the starter button when activating the kill-switch; the keyless Harley-type electronic security system actuated by a remote sender you keep in your pocket, which communicates with the bike within a distance of two metres – and also, after parking up, you can actuate an electronic lock on the steering simply by applying full steering lock, and pressing the ignition-off button a second time.

The list goes on and on, for Ducati has made sure that what for the company is very much a flagship model in a new segment for it, while showcasing the latest technology is also tailored to entice the older, more affluent customers in the premium cruiser sector, without at the same time straying too far away from its traditional sportbike clientele.

This is a motorcycle that’s completely unlike anything that’s been made before, and you gotta try it to believe it.

Watch the video of this test >>

Words: Alan Cathcart    
Photography: Milagro

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