2011 Ducati Diavel World Exclusive

What the hell?

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing, Thomas Maccabelli

This is the latest example of Domenicali's on-going effort to grow Ducati by increasing market penetration with innovative machines that make the company's world-class performance accessible-and attractive-to a broader spectrum of enthusiasts. The cruiser market cannot be ignored. More than half of all motorcycles sold in the U.S. are cruisers, mostly to affluent consumers "of a certain age" who have no appreciation for pretzeled ergonomics and track-tuned suspension. The challenge is to appeal to these non-traditional customers without alienating hardcore Ducatisi-and initial Diavel backlash suggests how difficult this challenge is. "We couldn't make just any fat-tire cruiser," Domenicali admits. "We had to start with nothing and create Ducati's idea of the perfect cruiser, without any compromise in handling or performance."

The Diavel was born almost as a dare: Could Ducati build a comfortable, stylish cruiser that still delivered handling and acceleration to satisfy the most demanding superbike enthusiast? It had to be a clean-sheet design; a big-motored Monster or fat-tired Streetfighter wouldn't do. It would give the illusion of being big, with a strong visual presence, but it would be unexpectedly lightweight and agile. It would be very fast, yet comfort was a priority, too. A fat rear tire was a must-have, but not at the expense of handling. The latest electronic technology, including traction control, ABS and variable drive modes, would be incorporated as well. It would be a cruiser Ducati wanted to build. Without this passion, Domenicali knew, the bike would lack personality.

Ducati Style Center Senior Designer Bart Janssen-Groesbeek was tasked with creating the new machine. Coincidentally, the Dutchman-who arrived at Ducati in '02 after a stint at GK Group, Yamaha's industrial design division-had already been sketching some Yamaha V-Max-inspired power-cruiser concepts. His first ideas weren't well received: "Everyone here is a sportbike fanatic," he says, "so there was a lot of skepticism. It's not easy to convince someone who spent his life saying 'cruisers are sh*t' that his company should now make one. The flame war on the Web? I had that same argument with the rest of the company two years ago!"

At first the project was Janssen-Groesbeek's alone, and he relished the freedom. "With a superbike-or even the Multistrada-everyone wants to be involved," he says. "The Diavel was a hot potato for a long time. No one wanted any part of it, so I was able to get away with many crazy ideas." Crazy ideas like side-mounted radiators, a horizontally mounted shock, "invisible" rear lighting and much more. "I pretty much did whatever I wanted," he says. "By the time the tech department bothered to look, the layout had already been done."

With the design finalized, Ducati devoted unprecedented resources to what was known internally as Project 0803. This was the biggest development project in 15 years, and the quickest, too, moving from sketch to final production in just three years. The Diavel test group numbered 15 people-three times that of a typical new model-because the company had no previous data or experience in the cruiser segment. "That's the confidence Ducati has," Janssen-Groesbeek says. "Any other company would do market research, then analyze everything and back it up. By then trends have changed, and you're three years behind the times. We do what we feel is right. We want to set trends, not follow them."

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