Nobody needs to explain these things. They’re hot-rods, and any hot-rod worthy of the name speaks a universal language. Visual. Powerful. Visceral. Loud. Hopefully cool, and above all, quick. From its origins on the dry lakebeds of 1930s Southern California, it's a language that has been redefined and retranslated countless times with consistently inconsistent results. Some look better than they work. Others have the opposite effect. Where Ducati’s Diavel and Yamaha's Star V-Max slot in depends on your personal performance aesthetic. But despite striking physical and philosophical differences, they are two ways of saying the same thing boys and—if they’re really honest— girls have been saying since fifth grade: I’m stronger/faster/quicker/cooler than you.
Someone else’s way of being all that could be miles from yours, but you know it when you see it. And so it is with the Diavel and the V-Max: two divergent expressions of the two-wheeled alpha hot-rod. One from Italy. One from Japan. One slinky eight-valve V-twin trying to one-up a sledgehammer of a 16-valve V4.
Which one is cooler? We’ll leave that up to you and concentrate on settling the stronger/faster/quicker question if that’s okay. And we’ll settle it the way such things have been settled for centuries: head to head. Mano a mano. One on one. At the dragstrip, where timing slips do the talking and bovine excrement walks away to take another call.
Welcome to Grudge Night, or in this case the Twilight NHRA Street Legal Drags at Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California. Two bikes, two qualified triggermen and a staggering assortment of adrenaline-dependent humanity pulling the trigger on a more staggering assortment of hot-rods. We learned plenty about this pair on and off the strip, from the enlightening to the unmentionable and all points in between. Some things you’d expect. Others you won’t. And everything happens in a hurry. As it turns out, picking between the two is easier than dreaming either one up in the first place, but not by much.
A quick V-Max run is all about the launch. Hook up from the start and you’re good, but if
Mr. Max has been beating logic with brute force since 1985. His outward appearance has changed a bit since then, gaining 84 lbs., 481cc and 50 horsepower in the 2009 transformation that made him what he is today. But climb on board, push the starter and what you get is more of the same. A whole lot more. The muted Gatling gun idle gives nothing away. Sitting taller and more upright than you do on its Italian adversary, you'll find the fly-by-wire throttle is a bit harsh just above idle, and there’s more slack in the shaft final-drive than we like. Otherwise, the V-Max rolls into motion with the authority you only get from a twin-cam V4 that makes 110 lb.-ft. of torque ... or a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine.
It navigates stagnant commute traffic and supermarket parking lots easier than the USS Toledo, but with all that weight balanced on a 67-inch wheelbase behind a laid-back front end, steering is heavy below 20 mph. Above that, you’d swear the big boy doesn’t weigh an ounce over 500 lbs. You’ll also be swearing at nasty lumps and holes in the pavement, even with minimal compression damping at both ends. Despite that taller seat, higher mid-mount footpegs mean less room for long legs, which are forced to straddle those polished aluminum scoops instead of slipping neatly underneath. The subtle V4 rumble you feel in the grips helps make the Max a surprisingly capable long-hauler, assuming you’re under 5-foot-11 and don’t mind sitting or stopping for gas every 100 miles or so.
Regular use of the virtual V-Boost above 6000 rpm will drop mileage into the low 20s and push the big, orange speedometer needle well to the right of 150 mph for as long as you can hang on. After one trip to 9000 rpm, there are more pressing things to think about. Like easing your eyeballs back into position for another trip, just to make sure that wasn’t some weird vestibular anomaly or a bad Red Bull flashback. Except one more is never enough. You’re itching to pull that 169.6-horse trigger up the next freeway on-ramp, running pointless errands over long stretches of straight pavement just to feel that human cannonball taste on your tongue again.
Twisty roads are an interesting diversion. The V-Max goes around corners as well or better than 700 lbs. of anything else. Then you realize that wrestling this much metal into a dozen tight corners and laying down long strips of 200/50-18 rear rubber on the way out can’t touch what happens in a straight line. At that point, your only hope is a trip to the dragstrip—the only place to pull the trigger without ending up in the back of a squad car.
The dragstrip is where Mr. Max comes alive—and where his rivals go to die. Halfway through a hot, windy Fontana afternoon, we dropped rear tire-pressure to 20 psi, giving hired gun Gene Thomason enough grip for a 10.04-second run at 140.9 mph. Good enough to beat the Diavel—literally by less than the blink of an eye.
Off The Record
Tim Carrithers, Exparte Editor
Age: 53 | Height: 6’3”
Weight: 219 lbs. | Inseam: 35 in.
Addictive as it is, the V-Max functions more effectively as a fossil-fuel disposal unit or an adrenaline delivery medium than it does as a motorcycle. V-Max owners tend to see things differently because denial is stronger than that river in Egypt. I like pulling the 170-horse trigger and reducing rear tires to molten uselessness, but not nearly enough to drop $20,000 for the privilege.
Ducati’s more seductive Diavel isn’t nearly as good at playing Saturday-morning superhero, but it’s much better at being a motorcycle…and roughly as practical for everyday wear as a $700 pair of Prada loafers. I’d be happier in a pair of Tony Lama cowboy boots with a Monster 1100 Evo in the garage and another $5000 in the bank.
More grip helps make the lighter, less powerful Ducati easier to launch, especially for jo
Nobody wanted Ducati to build a cruiser, including Ducati. So they built this instead. Regardless of whether you see the Diavel as an abomination or a breakthrough, it’s definitely a Ducati, and definitely not a cruiser. It is long, low, lean and mean enough to impress the Starbucks style council for $2985 less than the V-Max. More comfortable ergos and three electronic drive modes mean you can slow down and cruise Main Street to give everybody a better look.
The hot version of Ducati’s Multistrada 1198 sounds like a muffled Pro Stock V8 at idle. Lateral-mount radiators keep the bike narrow and running cool. Sportier geometry and less daylight between the axles make the 531-lb. Ducati a scalpel in traffic. The engine tolerates trolling below 3500 rpm. Another 2000 rpm on the LCD tach pulls your arms straight with a teaser of coming attractions.
Ease onto the freeway, click into sixth gear, and vibration fades. Find your sweet spot on the seat. Assuming you’ve softened up the suspension as well, the Ducati is a surprisingly comfy freeway ride. Averaging 36 miles on every gallon of super-unleaded—about 145 on a 4.5-gallon tankfull—this Italian spends less time at the pump and more on the road.
Though it won’t threaten Ducati’s sportier 1198 or even a big Monster, a well-ridden Diavel has the V-Max covered in the corners. That phat, 240/45-17 Pirelli injects some non-linear weirdness into the steering, and it always feels like there’s a lot more Diavel out back than up front. Get over that and handling is far more intuitive than the specs suggest. Quad-piston Brembo Monobloc front calipers generate more feel and initial bite than Mr. Max’s six-pot Sumitomos. Cornering clearance is adequate, and with some help from that stickier rear tire, Ducati’s excellent adjustable traction control minimizes unwelcome excitement exiting corners on the gas.
Grab a large handful at 5500 rpm and the seat of any accurate pair of leather pants registers 145 peak horsepower. Imagine our surprise, then, when our testbike managed a relatively underwhelming 129 bhp at 9300 rpm, especially when Ducati specs claim 162 cavalli at 9500. What gives? We’re not sure, but other press bikes make about the same power. Disappointing? Sure, but the lighter Diavel is still astonishingly quick at the strip.
How quick? With the DTS traction control switched off, Gene Thomason found the lighter, less powerful Diavel easier to launch. Journeymen triggermen agreed. That makes low 10-second runs easy—if you’re Gene Thomason. The Ducati’s best 10.13-second run at 135.9 mph wasn’t, and it wasn’t enough to beat the V-Max at the strip.
Even so, on the street the Diavel is better at most everything else for nearly three grand less. That beats winning by nine-hundredths of a second at the strip 10 times out of 10— unless you’re Gene Thomason.
Off The Record
Brian Catterson, Editor-in-Cheese
Age: 49 | Height: 6'1"
Weight: 215 lbs. | Inseam: 34 in.
Try as I might, I just don’t get power cruisers. The original ’80s V-Max was cool for what it was: a standard-style motorcycle disguised as a muscle car. But this new one is damn near as big as an automobile! I don’t deny that there’s a primal appeal to straddling a powerful V-motor, but if I wanted that, I’d go all-in and buy a Boss Hoss.
The Diavel is little better—basically a stretched and slammed Ducati 1198 Superbike, shorn of its good looks. Is that what it’s supposed to be? I’m as confused as it is…
You want a comfortable streetbike with lots of power? They make those already—they’re called standards. If that’s not sexy enough for you, get a naked bike. They're the same thing, really.
V-Max seating is a bit more upright. Everything wraps around that enormous V4, including relatively high footpegs which are mounted farther back than the Ducati’s. That’s fine if you’re 5-foot-10, but confining and a tad cramped if you’re 6-foot-3.
Getting all that power to the rear wheel is easy. Putting it on the ground is the hard part. The V-4’s smooth, linear delivery makes it easy to write a check with the YCC-T throttle that the 200/50-18 rear tire can’t cash.
Engine type: l-c 65-deg. V4
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Bore x stroke: 90.0 x 66.0mm
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate, slipper
Frame: Aluminum-alloy twin-spar
Front suspension: Soqi 52mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Soqi shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Sumitomo six-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Akebono single-piston caliper, 298mm disc
Front tire: 120/70R-18 Bridgestone BT028F
Rear tire: 200/50R-18 Bridgestone BT028R
Rake/trail: 31.0°/5.8 in.
Seat height: 30.5 in.
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 700/676 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 169.6 bhp @ 8750 rpm
Measured torque: 109.7 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 10.04 sec @ 140.86 mph
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 38/21/29 mpg
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: Yamaha Motor Corp., USA
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630
With its handlebar and footpegs farther from its seat, the Diavel lets you lean into the wind more than the V-Max, making everything from quarter-mile runs to extended freeway travel a lot more comfortable. Remove the seat cowl, slide out the grabrail and passengers prefer the Diavel as well.
The yawning gap between Ducati’s 162-horsepower claim and 129-horsepower reality is compounded by the fact that our Diavel still managed a 10.13-second quarter-mile and feels blindingly fast on the street. Especially when the power curve gets steep above 7000 rpm.
Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v desmodromic
Bore x stroke: 106.0 x 67.9 mm
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate, slipper
Frame: Tubular-steel trellis with aluminum single-sided swingarm
Front suspension: Marzocchi 50mm fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Sachs shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 120/70R-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
Rear tire: 240/45R-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
Rake/trail: 28.0°/5.1 in.
Seat height: 30.3 in.
Wheelbase: 62.6 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 531/504 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 129.1 bhp @ 9300 rpm
Measured torque: 74.2 lb.-ft. @ 6400 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile: 10.13 sec @ 135.91 mph
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 42/28/36 mpg
Colors: Black, red
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: Ducati North America
10443 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014