2011 Ducati Diavel First Ride World Exclusive

The devil is in the details

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

What exactly is the Diavel? Ducati refuses to categorize this bike, beyond saying it's "unlike anything else on the market." We were originally tempted to tag it with the oxymoronic "sport-cruiser" label, or worse, "chopper." Then we took it for a ride. With a 162-horsepower Testastretta V-twin, a dry weight under 460 pounds and an ergonomic triangle that's tighter than the Monster 1100, this is not the blinged-out bucket of compromises either of those previous labels imply. It's more accurate to call the Diavel the rowdiest-and perhaps the most beautiful-naked bike ever built.

The Diavel not only defies your expectations, but your immediate impressions as well. It's long, but agile. Huge, but light. Comfortable, but very fast. High-tech and complex, but very easy to use. Center-dense styling makes the bike look larger than it is. The 30.3-inch seat height is the lowest in Ducati's lineup. Mid-mount footpegs are comfortable and very non-cruiserlike, and the slight forward reach to the wide, tapered handlebar makes the Diavel feel like a naked bike. With the bars located 1 inch closer and 1 inch higher than the current Monster, it feels unexpectedly compact.

The Diavel is powered by a hot-rodded version of the Multistrada's 1198cc Testastretta V-twin. Equal-length, 58mm exhaust headers, a larger airbox, revised porting and more aggressive cam timing increase torque to a claimed 94 lb.-ft. Three selectable drive modes modulate power delivery. This is the first bike to compel me to voluntarily choose the mildest Urban setting, slashing output to "just" 100 horsepower. The Diavel's low-end response is so overwhelming in Sport and even Tour settings that it was annoying in downtown L.A. traffic.

In addition to selectable drive modes and a ride-by-wire throttle, a full suite of Superbike-derived electronics, including eight-level-adjustable traction control, race-grade Bosch-Brembo switchable ABS and keyless ignition make this one of the most sophisticated motorcycles on the market. The dash is split into two sections: The upper level is a conventional LCD tach/speedo, while the lower level contains a cutting-edge TFT display just like your iPod, presenting all data related to the accessory electronics in an exceptionally informative, easy-to-navigate visual menu.

The view from the saddle, over the massive fuel tank, resembles straddling the hoodscoop of an NHRA Pro Stock racecar. Cracking the throttle inspires more drag-racing comparisons. The 62.6-inch wheelbase and low, forward center of gravity help resist wheelying. Instead the Diavel squats, and once the massive, traction-controlled rear tire hooks up, the bike slingshots forward like a stretched-and-slammed Hayabusa dragbike. There's no reason to doubt Ducati's claim that this is the quickest-accelerating bike they make. It feels like it would be untouchable in the quarter-mile.

The oversized rear tire that caused so much controversy when this bike was unveiled turns out to be a non-issue. The added width of the 240/45ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II, developed specifically for this new model, is virtually undetectable on the street. The carefully tuned carcass and unique tread profile completely eliminate the Weeble Wobble characteristics we experienced on other 240-equipped bikes. Turn-in is neutral and, once leaned over, the Diavel easily holds a line without requiring additional steering input.

What's more noticeable is the added length of the swingarm, and the unusual sensation that the big wheel is trailing behind you in turns. This isn't problematic behavior, just unfamiliar. Overall, the Diavel is surprisingly easy to ride fast, aided by Superbike-spec Brembo radial-mount brakes, a firm, 50mm Marzocchi inverted fork, a perfectly controlled Sachs shock and generous cornering clearance allowing a claimed 40-degree lean angle. Slicing and dicing through downtown L.A. traffic on a busy Friday morning, it felt much more like a broad-shouldered Monster than a V-Max or any other so-called "sport cruiser" that has come before.

It looks better, too. The level of fit and finish is the finest we've seen on any Ducati-maybe on any bike. Brushed-aluminum radiator shrouds and the color-stitched saddle exude luxury. The tailsection is engineering genius. Look at that seamless cowl that slides off to reveal a full-size pillion pad. Check out how the folding passenger pegs are flared into the subframe, and how the trick, retractable grabrail pops out on-demand. Sleek, well-hidden LED turnsignals mark all four corners and a sophisticated LED running light cuts horizontally across the headlamp. And there's no need for a rear fender eliminator; the swingarm-mounted aluminum-trellis license-plate hanger with integrated LED takes care of that.

It's an impressive machine that attracts attention even from non-riders who don't know a Ducati from a Dodge. That's the one trait it does share with a custom chopper: Everyone notices this bike. Call it whatever you'd like, but the Diavel is one bike that's impossible to ignore.

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