In 2011 John Hogan was the Features Editor of this very magazine and was the man on the original launch of the Ducati Diavel. At the time, the shock of Ducati making a cruiser was akin to Ferrari announcing it was building a new SUV that would have a Diesel engine and only be available in brown or burgundy. We thought they’d gone mad. John thought they’d gone mad, chasing after Harley Davidson’s profits instead of building insanely fast sports bikes. But within a few yards of the hotel, it was clear that when Ducati builds a cruiser, it still builds a Ducati. Fast, loud and still very capable of charging around a track. There are two quotes from John’s original launch report on this page that he stands by now and that sum the original Diavel up perfectly:
“Don’t worry what your mates will say, let them worry about how they’ll keep up.”
“The Diavel has completely changed my perception of a cruiser and you might find it will have the same effect on you.”
Three years on and Ducati has updated the Diavel, launching the new model in perhaps the most fitting location for this bike: Monte Carlo. Esteemed bastion of web-based knowledge, Wikipedia, describes Monte Carlo as “an international byword for the extravagant display and reckless dispersal of wealth”. Perhaps that’s a bit strong for the Diavel, a fourteen grand motorcycle that you can use every day is hardly a ‘reckless dispersal of wealth’. The out-there styling and ridiculous straight-line speed, however, definitely fall into the ‘extravagant display’ category. The Diavel is not a bike for the self-conscious. Keen to get to the bottom of the new engine and styling tweaks, we stayed out of the casinos and locked our credit cards in the safe. Well, until after the test ride anyway…
So what’s new?
In summary, for 2014 the Diavel gets tweaked styling, engine and electronics upgrades, a new seat and a fuel gauge. Forgive us for not pissing our pants with excitement. No supercharger, no accessory nitrous kit and no F1-derived hybrid push-to-pass boost button, what the hell? But hang on a second, we’re already talking about a 162bhp bike, with a 240-section rear tyre that is king of the traffic light GP and will still lap the Nürburgring fast enough to embarrass most cars. Does it really need a supercharger? Well, no, but it would be nice eh? I guess the fact is, there was never really much wrong with the old Diavel, so a radical rethink was never on the cards. It’s a touch fresher, a smidge more aggressive and looks and feels a shade classier than the old one.
Riding through a town filthy with Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris and Lambos, it would be pretty easy to blend into the background on most bikes. But the sight of 20-odd Diavels rolling through the streets had everyone stopping and staring. Even without the rent-a-crowd, a solo Diavel gets sunglasses lowered and heads spinning, announcing its presence early with a thunderous exhaust note. In the exquisite company of Monaco’s suited and booted, the Diavel held its head high and looked every bit as swanky as the quarter-million euro cars it was dusting off the lights.
So it looks and sounds right, but so does an iPod and they don’t cost £14k – what else has it got? In response to what ‘the people’ asked for, the new Diavel has a few more practical touches to make living with it a bit easier. There’s a neat fuel gauge on the colour TFT display, letting you see just how much fuel riding a 239kg bike with no fairing at 150mph uses. And, though it may not look all that different, the seat’s changed too, giving you a bit more room to move about. The old seat would socket you in place, like a bucket seat in a rally car, which was great for playing silly buggers at the drag strip. Trouble was, ride any distance and you couldn’t shift about to relieve the ol’ derriere and in the twisties you felt locked in one spot. And, of course, those with a, er, more substantial rear profile got their nuts squashed against the tank. Thankfully the new seat is fatty and fidget friendly, making the bike a nicer place to be in the bends and on longer trips.
With sitting and staring, posing and perching licked, it was an early start to get up into the mountains to ‘enjoy the ride and the view’. That was Ducati’s little way of saying ‘don’t ride like dicks’ and, you know what, they’re right. The Diavel will happily hustle through a set of bends, it will scrape footpegs at every turn and it will wheelie for miles, but that’s not really what it’s about. Dial it back a notch or two, let the motor shove you along and fire out of the turns, take smooth, sweeping arcs through them and save the wheelies for the odd well-placed crest. Obviously the more childish of us still wheel-spun them against the rev-limiter through the wet tunnels, cackling as the noise boomed off the walls, but hey, we’re only human. We stop for a quick breather, only to lose more breath looking at the next road on the menu. An endless sequence of switch backs provided the perfect spot to try out the biggest change to the Diavel for 2014 – the new Testastretta dual-spark engine.
The old Diavel wasn’t exactly a lurching, uncontrollable beast, but it did find things hard work if you rode it really low in the rev range. To be honest, until I’d ridden the new one, I was fine with the old bike, happy to pass the occasional lumpiness off as a fact of big-capacity V-twin engines. For this new model, Ducati has fitted the dual-spark version of the 1198.4cc Testastretta 11-degree motor, similar to the one found in the new Monster 1200. The big difference is having two spark plugs in each cylinder, allowing faster and more efficient burning of the charge. While we’re doing the geeky bit, the fuel injectors have been repositioned too, spraying onto the back of the valve now, rather than against the wall of the intake port. That fuel hitting a hot valve (rather than a relatively cool port wall) now vaporizes better, giving a cleaner, more efficient burn when the twin spark plugs do their bit. To top off the engine mods, there are new pistons and a higher compression ratio. And servicing – how about 18,500 miles before you need a valve check? If one more old-time know-all tells me how unreliable all Italian bikes are, I’ll feed him his Honda special workshop tool board…
All this engine work and the peak power figure hasn’t budged from the claimed 162bhp of the old bike. Drat. But what we do get is more torque and more power at the bottom end of the revs, in the ‘wheelies out of hairpins’ zone, perfect. And, as luck would have it, we had just such a hairpin-y road to attack. Brake hard, crank the big Duke over, muscle it round the turn and then braaaaaap, up she comes. Repeat until you run out of hairpins, arms strength, or fork seals, then sit and grin like a gibbon. Yep, there’s more grunt than before, which is an impressive thing considering that was already the Diavel’s strongest point. It’s like having jet-powered roller skates and fitting streamlining to make them go even faster. Brilliant. Or ridiculous. Probably both.
So what’s the verdict?
After every hairpin had been skidded into and wheelied out of, after every sweeping turn had a footpeg line ground into it and after everyone in Monaco had been introduced to the cold-tyre-out-of-control-burnout-race-start, the Diavels were parked back at the hotel. The line about ‘enjoying the ride’ worked for longer than usual – the Diavel does lend itself to a nice cruise about, enjoying the view and the power in equal measure. Once I was bored of looking at mountains, there was more than enough cornering performance to keep me entertained. In between bouts of freight-train acceleration, were long sweepy corners, working with the bike to get it round. The Diavel won’t drop onto your waiting knee puck and carve a line with zero effort; it has a 240-section rear tyre and a wheelbase measured in counties (compared to a superbike, anyway). But once you get used to how the Ducati wants to be ridden, it’s great fun, especially when you figure out just how much grip that huge hoop gives you to drive out of turns. The Diavel is well known enough now that your sports bike mates probably won’t laugh at you for buying one, but they will still be trying to figure out how to keep up.