By Bart Madson, Editor

2011 Ducati Diavel

Ducati’s Diavel has caused much consternation amongst the Ducatisti. Before it was given a public name, the much-rumored model was simply known as the “Ducati power cruiser.” Lamentations! Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Ducati loyalists. How could their beloved marque go sully itself by abasing in American cruiser lucre? Once spy shots, genuine or choreographed, leaked out to reveal a bike that didn’t quite reflect the worst fears, there was some relief. Maybe this wasn’t quite a cruiser after all.

Cue to the public debut at EICMA and spec sheet revelations confirmed as much. This Diavel ain’t a cruiser, power or otherwise – at least not one we’ve ever ridden.

The power cruiser label carries a lot of weight, literal and figurative. Rides like the V-MAX, M109R and Rocket III boast impressive power stats, but also sport portly curb weights. The Diavel is a different beast. While monstrously powerful, it’s not a monstrosity. Having taken the new Duc out for a spin at the international press launch in Marbella, Spain, Motorcycle USA can vouch for the Diavel’s true nature, and sooth any lingering fears for the Ducati devout.

Toss a leg over the living, breathing Diavel and it’s far less imposing than the hype or photo images suggest. This is not a “big” bike. Reach to the ground is unintimidating, thanks to a 30.3-inch seat height. Flip up the kickstand and the Diavel balances its 463 pounds without effort. That’s the claimed dry weight for the regular model with the Diavel Carbon claiming 456 pounds dry. Figure an extra 50 pounds for the full curb weights and the Ducati still weighs in hundreds of pounds less than its proposed power cruiser rivals (Triumph Rocket III – 809 pounds, Yamaha V-MAX – 689, Suzuki M109R – 778, Harley-Davidson V-Rod – 620).

It’s not until the Ducati Twin rumbles to life that notions of big come to play. Powering this new rig is the familiar liquid-cooled Testastretta L-Twin, with four-valve heads and, of course, Ducati’s signature desmodromic valve system. The Diavel mill shares all the familiar internal dimensions, including 160mm bore, 67.9mm stroke and namesake displacement of the 1198 Superbike. But the Diavel makes use of the Testastretta 11 engine, the 11 referring to degrees of crankshaft rotation during valve overlap – a brief interval at the end of the exhaust stroke when intake and exhaust valves are both open. The Superbike engine features 41 degrees of overlap, delivering higher engine performance but at the expense of smoothness.

The Testastretta 11 made its production debut in the redesigned Multistrada, but Ducati engineers unfettered an extra 12 ponies on the Diavel mill courtesy of a freer flowing exhaust. This is one of the most powerful motors ever put on the public roads by Ducati (remember, we are dealing with a company that produced a literal MotoGP replica). Peak power claims are 162 horsepower at 9500 rpm and 94 lb-ft of torque at 8000 rpm. Every bit as potent as the 1198 on the bottom end, it isn’t until the upper revs where the Superbike gets the better of its high-performance kin. This equates into vicious acceleration and Ducati claims the Diavel covers 0-60 in 2.6 seconds.

Thumb the starter button and the Diavel’s stainless steel exhaust sings pure Ducati Twin harmony, a particularly pleasant growl coming at idle and after rolling off the throttle. Twist the grip and the Diavel flies. Our test ride started with a hop on the freeway, where the Andalusian countryside quickly blurred. Impressive 0-60 claims ring true based off our seat-of-the-pants performance testing, but from 60 mph on up the Diavel keeps screaming at an exhilarating pace. Getting up to 200 km/h on the dash took no time at all. Certainly faster than it took our American brain to compute the felonious 125 mph conversion. And that brief high-speed blip on a lonesome stretch of the Autostrada was just a shade of its true potential, with plenty more in the tap and a 160 mph top speed claimed.

The engine isn’t all about raw aggression, featuring a versatile and broad powerband. It’s quite easy to loaf along in the lower revs at a relaxed pace, no need to blast along in the mid-range where the Duc picks up into maniac levels of acceleration between 6-10K on the digital tach. Fueling from the Ride-by-Wire system is immediate and adjustable courtesy of the three different riding modes: Sport, Touring and Urban.

Differences between the engine maps are distinct and include variable settings of the Ducati Traction Control (all these electronic systems standard fare on the Diavel). Riders can further customize the settings to sate their own performance lusts. In Sport mode, crack the throttle and the front wheel hops as the full 162 horsepower rip with the most aggressive fueling setting. The DTC is set at its minimum level too, so the rear tire in Sport will light up without much effort. Touring still delivers the full horsepower load, but with a mellower throttle response. The Touring DTC setting cuts in quicker too, and is ideal for dirty road surfaces or wet conditions. The final Urban setting lowers horsepower to 100 and features the highest DTC setting. Appreciation for the Urban setting grew after stepping out the rear in Sport mode on one of the ubiquitous European roundabouts. Mind the throttle hand, as this Duc will bite!

Tapping the turn signal cancel button toggles between the three maps, with changes available on the fly. Sport and Touring modes require disengaging the throttle to kick in – Ducati doesn’t want those extra 62 ponies catching the rider unawares. Riders always know what mode they are in thanks to a lovely full color TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display, located just above the fuel cap and the lower half of the Diavel’s split-level instrumentation.

The TFT display also features a prominent gear position indicator for the Diavel’s six speed transmission. There’s no dry rattling clutch on this Ducati, with a wet slipper clutch delivering silky gear changes. The slipper function works well, much appreciated on ill-advised downshifts. The Diavel sports a final chain drive, not notable for a Ducati but something not seen much nowadays in the cruiser realm.

Braking comes courtesy of top-shelf components. Radial-mount four-piston Brembo monobloc calipers up front bite into a pair of 320mm discs. Out back is a single 265mm disc pinched by a two-piston Brembo caliper. The initial bite is superb. The same can be said of the lever feel afforded by the radial master cylinder. One-finger stopping power and supreme braking confidence are bolstered by a new version of the Bosch-Brembo ABS. More compact than its predecessor, the ABS is unobtrusive and can be switched off at the rider’s discretion, programmable into the various ride modes.

A 50mm Marzocchi fork anchors the front end of the Diavel. Its stout look is cruiser-esque, though its full-adjustment capabilities are not. Compression, rebound and preload are all adjustable, with convenient tool-less clickers resting atop the fork caps. The Diavel Carbon offers a similar fork setup, but is coated in low-friction DLC coating. A progressive Sachs shock mounts at a near complete horizontal angle out back, offering compression and rebound adjustment, along with easy preload modification via remote hand knob.

Prominent on the Diavel is the Ducati-required steel-tube trellis frame. It teams with an aluminum subframe and swingarm, with a steel trellis license plate holder and back fender tacked onto the end. Gorgeous 17-inch Marchesini wheels, both adorned with Pirelli’s sporty Diablo Rosso II tires, complete the rolling chassis. The attention is drawn, of course, to that controversial 240mm rear. More on that later…

At 62.6 inches the Diavel wheelbase marks the longest in the Ducati line, a full half-foot more than the 1198 and over two inches longer than its nearest kin – the Multistrada. Rake is also the most relaxed of any Duc at 28 degrees. The less aggressive geometry and steady suspension equate into pure stability on the road, which is compromised only at higher speeds due to wind resistance on the exposed rider.

The geometry doesn’t hinder handling, with the Diavel right at home in the sweepers and tighter terrain. Once on its side the Duc holds a steady line but accepts correcting inputs immediately. The security of DTC delivers a confidence boost, knowing a grin-saturated mind might push things a little further than prudent. Another psychological edge comes with the high 41-degree lean angle. Brave souls touched down a footpeg feeler once or twice during our day’s ride, which included a pair of spectacular inland mountain routes. Cranked over at speed only saw the occasional toe-slide from this reviewer, and those were on leans that would have had a comparable cruiser in the weeds. (It’s worth noting that after four waves of clunk-headed motojournalists, with our wave alone featuring 30-odd riders, not one Diavel was binned during the introduction – we reckon more credit for that stat goes to Ducati’s electronic aids than test rider restraint!)

Now for that 240mm rear tire. The Diavel seems to have been designed around a wide rear mandated by the styling department. Far and away the most cruiser-ish feature on the Diavel, perhaps its most distinctive styling trait, the rear sets serious limitations on handling expectations. The most amazing feat on the Diavel may be how well Pirelli delivered on this tough tire specification. Fitted to an eight-inch rim, the new Diablo Rosso II features a 240/45 profile. The sharper profile (opposed to a more typical 240/40) was made possible by the 17-inch rear, as most fat backs source an 18-inch hoop. Grip isn’t an issue with the rear Pirelli, nor is high-speed stability straight up or leaned over. In fact, the Diavel is probably the best-handling fat rear we’ve ever sampled.

But that’s somewhat damning praise, as there are inherent issues with the rear. Some in our journalistic riding troupe vocalized zero flaws, but we noted a hinky sensation on low-speed maneuvers. Sharp hairpins exhibited a flopping sensation when pitching over. Quick transitions, more noticeable at lower speeds as well, also delivered an awkward feel. The 240mm rear didn’t have us bitching and moaning as a deal breaker by any means. It just left us wondering what that Diavel could been had it been delivered with a more conventional tire choice.

Rider ergonomics are neutral. No forward sporty lean or slouching cruiser posture. Reach to the handlebar was a faint stretch but pegs felt comfortable for our 6’1” frame. The seat felt odd at first, sloping downward on each end and providing cramped real estate for our nether regions. After a full day’s ride, however, I was more than happy with the saddle, successfully lobbying for some extra seat time when the day was done (and I wasn’t alone, as many journos were clamoring for more).

A hands free ignition system borrowed from the Multistrada requires a key fob to activate the ignition within a 6.5-foot proximity. The mechanical key, incorporated into the fob, is required for popping the gas cap and seat. Though not a huge fan of key fob systems, we’ll allow its convenience, though our particular fob was finicky owing to the transponder’s low battery, forcing us to take it out and place it close to the receiver near the LCD dash.

The styling of the Diavel has proven divisive since its first appearance (just check the reader comments in our Ducati Diavel First Look article). In person we found the styling pleasing and overall fit and finish quite refined. The Marchesini wheels are nothing short of stunning, befitting a full aftermarket custom. Instrumentation is sharp looking, though the monochromatic LCD display, with its digital speedo and tach, now pales compared to the full-color clarity of the TFT display below it. LED lights proliferate throughout the model and look fantastic. The twin radiators are artfully integrated into the design, not detracting from the look. As far as the Diavel’s polished aluminum air scoops, a direct affront to the Star V-MAX image, while they look fine enough they didn’t appear quite as solid as expected – leading to some queries from journalists pondering their material fabrication.

And now for the big question: Will the Diavel thrive, or become an interesting curiosity in Ducati history? Company reps seems quite confident of its success. In fact, they sound downright bullish about the American market and the company’s current trajectory. While overall U.S. sales were down in 2010, along with the rest of the American market, Ducati rallied in the third and fourth quarters thanks to brisk sales of its Multistrada and EVO models. The Italian marque projects sales to grow in 2011, with the Diavel expected to anchor the boom. Dealers are certainly banking on the Diavel’s drawing power, with Ducati North America’s Public Relations Manager, John Paolo Canton, claiming the new model makes up 15-20% of 2011 inventory orders.

But who is the target demographic for this bike? Ducati reps at the tech presentation compared it to the Monster lineup in its ability to reach for a new riding segment. We never heard the C-word uttered from any of the Ducati staff, except in reference to the Diavel’s competitors on the sales floor. And the Diavel figures to poach riders from the performance cruiser segment. Ducati reps named the Harley-Davidson V-Rod and Yamaha V-MAX, in particular, as Diavel targets.

Canton says early dealer feedback regarding pre-sales of the Diavel reflect a surprising clientele, including female riders lured by the low-ish seat. Typical future owners, however, are former Ducati customers now returning to the brand after a go on those aforementioned power cruisers. This jives with other market research we’ve been hearing this press season, like the Ninja 1000 where Kawasaki reps touted frustrated power cruiser owners, specifically the M109R, as a prime candidates for ownership. It seems riders have been willing to compromise sporting performance for creature comfort. Now the sporting OEMs are looking to gather their lost sheep.

At $16,995 for the standard Diavel and $19,995 for the Diavel Carbon (an extra $400 for the Carbon Red featured in our photos), the new Ducati takes dead aim at the $19,950 V-MAX. The Diavel’s target from Old Milwaukee, the V-Rod, retails right at the 15K mark.

The Diavel, by our reckoning, is not a power cruiser – not by a long shot. But it may be exactly what power cruiser riders are looking for. As for the Ducatisti, breathe easy folks. This new Ducati is more than worthy of the Italian firm’s high-performance lineage.