File this under "Things, not what they seem." I got my first good look at the controversial Diavel on a cold, gray November morning at the football field-sized test track behind Ducati's Bologna, Italy, factory. I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't to see Ducati's lead test rider Alessandro Valia exit the factory's back gate sideways and spewing tire smoke, then launch into a three-gear power wheelie. Reaching the opposite end of the track at almost 100 mph, he toed the rear brake and pitched the duct tape-disguised prototype into a tire-howling, full-lock, supermoto-style slide. "That's not normal cruiser behavior," I thought to myself.
When word first surfaced that Ducati was building a cruiser, reaction from enthusiasts was swift and almost universally unforgiving. This was called the beginning of the end for the iconic racing brand. Ducati was accused of selling out its hard-earned high-performance heritage in exchange for a slice of the tacky, trendy, substance-free cruiser pie. When early spy photos surfaced, former Confederate Motorcycles designer JT Nesbitt denounced the Diavel as "a monumental breach of brand trust and honesty," citing the 240mm-wide rear tire as the first time Ducati had ever specified a component that "objectively compromised the performance of their motorcycle."
Criticism was hyperbolic and largely unwarranted. Although Ducati built its brand identity on uncompromising performance, recent models like the Streetfighter, Hypermotard and Multistrada have proven the company to be unusually adept at translating that signature performance undiluted into new and unexpected market segments. To assume the Diavel would be compromised just because it was a cruiser showed remarkably little faith.
Rather than issue another ignorant a priori rejection, we traveled to Italy to meet with Diavel design staff in person and answer these questions firsthand. Was this merely a tricolore-tinged bar-hopper built for pot-bellied posers too old or unskilled to handle a real superbike? Or was it, like company reps insisted, something remarkable-the ultimate musclebike? We set off for Bologna to find out.
Our search for answers started at the top, with Claudio Domenicali, who led Ducati's race department until 2005 when he was named general manager in charge of product planning. "The Diavel is not a chopper," Domenicali says, curtly. "It has some cruiser elements in the wheelbase and rake, but it's not a foot-forward bike." It's not a conventional naked bike, either. The riding position is similar to the Monster, and the handling too, though the Diavel is bigger in dimension and much more comfortable. Ducati's test department reports that this is the quickest-accelerating and best-braking bike the company has ever built-outsprinting and outbraking even the 1198-but it's certainly not a sportbike. It's a bike that defies categorization by design.
Like the original Monster in the '90s-and, more recently, the 150-horsepower Multistrada 1200 that introduced the idea of an adventure-touring superbike-Ducati intends the Diavel to be the prototype for a new category of motorcycle. By cleverly combining select elements of a superbike, a naked bike and, yes, even a cruiser, Ducati has created the first sport cruiser deserving of the name. "The Diavel is not a copy of anything else," Domenicali says. "It's something new and original. And, of course, it's an authentic Ducati, loyal to our core performance values in every way."