Now and again manufacturers, like actors, will step out of character to "play against type." Ducati's first effort at a Milwaukee-style cruiser, the Indiana, appeared in the mid-'80s, when the Japanese were also trying their hands at the Harley look. Most of the results were, shall we say, unfortunate.
To be fair, the 15-year run of Fabio Taglioni's brilliant bevel-drive V-twin was then coming to an end. But his cambelt, desmodromic 650cc V-twin powered
the new Pantah and the subsequent Alazzurra and Elefant marketed by new owner Cagiva. The latter rally bike donated its heavy-duty (and heavy) steel perimeter frame and engine to the Indiana. The buckhorn handlebar, scooped saddle, chromed (poorly) engine covers and raked fork invoked both the Yankee cruiser and chopper cues. What was wrong with this picture? Is that a real buckaroo or a drugsore cowboy?
The sporting Ducatisti looked on in horror. "Bastardo!" they cried. "What are they thinking?!"
What they (or at least the U.S. importers) were thinking was, "This thing will sell like hotcakes at the fair!" They were wrong, to the relief of those of who can't accept "Italian" and "ugly" in the same package. Plus, the machine brought to mind that old axiom: Imitation is the sincerest form of incompetence. And to do it badly?!
Nonetheless, what Ducati did well, they kept doing. The Elefant ultimately won the Paris-Dakar Rally and with the Paso, its road-going brother, eventually became a 900cc instrument of serious intent. The Pantah begat a series of sportbikes in a lineage that included the 750 F1, the 851 with four-valve heads and fuel injection, the 900SS, 888, 916, etc. And more than a few World Superbike Championships in the process. So Bologna was easily forgiven its brief flirtation with Bloomington.
In any case, everyone has to step outside their comfort zone once in a while. Harley's version of a Ducati café racer, the XLCR, was less than successful. Which speaks less to the capabilities of the machine, I would think, than to the equation that seems to dictate the results of getting too far out of your comfort zone. By the time the product comes to market, it's already too late. Of course there have been some efforts, like the BMW R1200C, for which no reasonable explanation has been found. If most Ducatis look as if they're going fast standing still, the Bavarian cruiser looks like an accident parked.
As the latest (and only Italian) bicep-cruiser on the market, the Diavel's mass-forward configuration may not win over many adherents from the V-Max brigade. But neither is it likely to suffer a short life of ignominy and shame, and be put to early pasture on the plains of Indiana. Who knows, maybe the bastard will grow on us....