Running With the Devil
2013 Ducati Diavel Carbon Review
Two years ago, Ducati apparently decided that making racing bikes and superfast hypermotards wasn’t enough for them. Perhaps they felt that the racing bike market was too limited for them. Perhaps they felt that people weren’t buying hypermotards because “hypermotard” is a stupid name that makes you think the motorcycle is developmentally disabled. In any event, Ducati wanted to break into the cruiser market, and more specifically, the power-cruiser market, which is dominated by the Yamaha V-Max and the…uh…well, the Yamaha V-Max.
The thing about cruisers is that they are fairly underpowered by Ducati’s standards, with anywhere from 65 HP to about 95 HP for run-of-the-mill bikes. The V-Max, of course, famously stonks out 200 HP. Equally famously, however, the V-Max turns with the agility of an asteroid. Both low horsepower and bad handling are anathema to Ducati.
First, the people at Ducati regard any bike with less than 100 HP as a scooter. Second, they think that any motorcycle that can’t be taken out and raced on a proper track is a complete waste of time. So, their mission was to create a motorcycle that looked acceptably cruiser-like to the leather chaps crowd, while retaining Ducati’s racing spirit for the more performance-oriented segment of that market. The result was the Diavel, which is Bolognese slang for “devil”.
How it looks
It looks like a lion! Rawr! No, I’m not crazy. Stay with me. The shape of the Diavel reminds me of the basic anatomy of a lion, in that it’s got a huge, wide, muscular front, which tapers off to a smaller, but very athletic, rear. The Diavel’s massive gas tank is like the lion’s mane, enlarging the front for a more aggressive visual impact. It is lithe and muscular, like a lion. It looks like it hunts down and eats lesser motorcycles, like a lion does its prey. And now, I’ll move on from the lion analogy, before it starts to get really creepy.
Underneath the gas tank is Ducati’s 164 HP Testastretta 11° L-Twin, sourced from the 1198 Superbike, with its exhaust pipes curling out of the engine to the mufflers like some sort of vaguely menacing weekend plumbing project. The steel trellis frame—which has the engine as a stressed member, slashes diagonally under the tank to the seat, with the front of the trellis hidden by a shroud that mounts the vertical LED turn signals on either side of the lateral radiators. The front headlight is split, bisected by a row of LED running lights.
Out back, the first thing one notices is the massive 240-section rear tire hanging off the single-sided swingarm, and mounted on 17” forged aluminum Marchesini wheels. It looks like it was just made for burnouts, but its width makes you wonder if you’ll be able to turn this beast—this mighty lion!—when you need to. The taillights and rear turn signals are also LED arrays mounted vertically under the rear seat.
Overall, it’s a menacing-looking bike, an impression that’s accented by the color, which is black, mainly, with carbon fiber body panels that contribute to the Carbon edition’s lighter weight. It’s somewhat cruiser-like in appearance, I suppose. It looks like a cruiser that just finished doing 18 months for an Assault with Grievous Bodily Harm, knocked over a liquor store, then dropped by for some rough sex with a Harley-Davidson ElectraGlide’s wife after the ElectraGlide went off to its job as a dentist.
The reason it’s called the Diavel, in fact, is that when a Ducati worker actually saw the bike for the first time, he said, in Bolognese, “It’s the devil!” and the name stuck. That’s the story, anyway. The point being that, when random strangers look at you, and their first thought is that you might be a close associate of Beelzebub, you probably don’t give off a gentle, inoffensive vibe. And the Diavel doesn’t, either.
For the rider’s instrument panel, the Diavel has two separate screens. One is an LCD screen between the handlebars, showing you the tach and speedometer, surmounted by the usual array of warning lights. One is a TFT color display atop the tank, and it displays the gear indicator, the riding mode, and the state of your suspension and traction control.
How it rides
Honestly, if you’ve been riding sportbikes a lot, all you’re thinking about when you start up the Diavel, and hear the L-Twin roar—lion-like!—to life, is the size of that rear wheel. You wonder if missing your turn will require a circumnavigation of the earth to get into position to try again. What takes your mind off of that, initially, is that when you start off aggressively in first gear, you realize that 94 torques can pull 463 lbs of Diavel to 60 MPH in about 2.9 seconds. Less than 8 seconds after that, you’ve already traveled a quarter mile.
The Diavel Carbon, at $20,495, is a pretty pricey bike. On the other hand, about the cheapest car you can get with that sort of performance is a Nissan GT-R that will cost about 5 times as much. And the Diavel will still beat it in the quarter mile. To beat the Diavel in a quarter mile, I’m afraid you’ll need a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a McLaren MP4-12C.
Clearly, we are well out of the cruiser performance envelope. But not, as it happens, outside the cruiser sound envelope. Cruiser riders are renowned for their love of loud pipes, and the Diavel’s factory setup recognizes this by operating with a constant growl that tops out in a basso roar at higher speeds. Basically, it sounds fantastic, though I expect it annoys the hell out of anyone not riding it.
Sooner or later, though, the moment of truth arrives, and you are going to have to change directions, and test whether the huge truck tire in back will affect the Diavel’s turn radius. As near as I can tell, it doesn’t affect anything at any speed higher than trundling about in parking lots. I don’t know how this is possible. You expect the huge rear wheel to be a noticeable impediment to handling…and it just isn’t. Perhaps the wide handlebars give you so much leverage, you just don’t notice the turn effort. Perhaps Satan is, in fact, directly involved with the Diavel’s physics. Whatever is going on, it simply works.
You can, with little effort, flip the Diavel from side to side when the road gets twisty. It’s not only no big deal, it’s actually pretty confidence-inspiring, because one thing the big rear wheel does do is help keep the Diavel rock-solid in turns. Put it into a line, and the Diavel stays there until you tell it otherwise. Turn-in is not, perhaps, as sharp as a full-on sportbike, but it’s a) close, and b) puts the average cruiser to shame.
This really does give you an odd sensation, with a little cognitive dissonance. The riding position is relaxed, with forward pegs. It’s got a comfy seat that’s also pebbled and grippy, which makes it hard for you to move your butt from side to side to shift your weight in turns. The bars are rather high. The riding position just isn’t sporty at all, which means that, based on past experience, you expect to drag hard parts any time you try to corner aggressively. But the lean angles the Diavel can reach are insane by cruiser standards, so you never drag anything. Instead, you sit in what seems like a big easy-chair tipped at a 45-degree angle, while taking turns at more than double the posted speed limit.
It’s really quite mad.
The Diavel Carbon is an unfaired bike, and has no windscreen, which usually means you have to fight a lot of wind resistance. It’s not really that bad on the Diavel, though. At highway speeds, the wind and buffeting can get pretty tiring, but at anything below 50 MPH you just don’t notice it all that much. I’ve ridden cruisers without windshields where, at anything above 30 MPH, fighting the wind becomes a problem, as wind resistance tries to drag you off the bike. The Diavel isn’t like that. I suspect the massive, aerodynamic front helps deflect wind away from you, especially since the Diavel’s seat is much lower in the frame than most cruisers, putting a lot more bodywork between you and the wind.
The Diavel, like all Ducatis, comes with a wide array of electronic gadgets to fiddle with. First, you have your riding mode, which can be set to “Urban” for less horsepower and more relaxed power delivery, “Touring” for full power delivery but with a more relaxed throttle response and a cushier ride, and “Sport” which is the full Ducati experience, with sharp power delivery and firm suspension. Each mode has its own traction control setting, as well.
You can also experiment with different levels of traction control, or set the suspension for multiple riders and baggage, and save your personal favorite configurations. The different settings actually do something to the bike’s setup, and you can feel the differences between settings. This electronic wizardry was developed in World Superbike racing, and is shared across the entire Ducati product line. It really works, and works well.
What’s good about it
The performance is Ducati-level performance, which is to say, amazing. It has a sophisticated and useful set of on-the-fly riding modes and suspension settings. Its seating position is relaxed and comfortable. Vibration levels are relatively low, and that means the rear-view mirrors are useful at highway speeds. The keyless start is cool. It looks the business, and has the performance to match. The ABS brakes are good, too, and I couldn’t induce any noticeable fade in spirited riding. Despite its massive appearance it is much lighter than it looks, and lighter than any other full-sized cruiser in production.
What’s bad about it
It’s unfaired, and, unless you get a windscreen, it’s a tiring bike to ride on the highway. It has a chain drive, which means you’re going to have to lubricate the chain every couple of hundred miles, and replace chain and sprockets every ten thousand miles or so. Passengers will be uncomfortable, and most likely terrified, so you’re better off putting the carbon fiber seat cover on the passenger seat and riding alone. It looks better when you do this, too. There’s no luggage, so it’s not very practical in stock form, because that—and the lack of wind protection—takes it out of serious touring use.
Honestly, I don’t know what the Diavel is. It has sort of a cruiser look to it, but it’s got race-bike performance. It’s light, and agile and fun, while being loud and aggressive, with in-your-face styling. I don’t even know what its actual competitors are, or what bike segment it falls into. What I do know is that Ducati didn’t cut any corners on performance or handling in building their “cruiser”.
At the end of the day, maybe we don’t have to try to put the Diavel into some convenient niche, or try to figure out what it competes against. Maybe we just have to accept that—whatever it is—it’s a great motorcycle, and we should just take it for a good long ride with lots of twisty bits in the road.
No matter how big the rear tire is.