Ducati attempts to explain Diavel design, fails

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In this video, Ducati sets out to explain the Diavel’s design, presenting it as a simple, muscular allegory for a sprinter crouched on the starting blocks. The problem is, there’s a significant divergence between the design-conscious image Ducati is trying to present and the reality of the bike it ended up making.
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To start things off, it should be said that we remain incredibly impressed by the Diavel’s mechanical specification. Making a cruiser of this size weigh only 210kg (dry) is quite an achievement and tech features like traction control and switchable riding modes as well as the low seat height make it accessible to the 50+ ex-superbike crowd that’s buying it. But if motorcycles were simply about numbers, then there’d be no need for a Ducati cruiser.  As a premium muscle cruiser it’s intended to sell on emotion, not rationality. And the most significant emotional aspect of any motorcycle is its looks.

Ducati starts by illustrating two curves that it says define the Diavel’s profile. But, wait a minute, those curves might look great on paper, but they’re simply not present on the actual motorcycle. Well, they are, but only in these tiny areas:

The video also claims that Ducati started with a clean sheet of paper when designing the Diavel. This is simply not true — the bike is based around the Testastretta 11° engine — it’s instead limited by an apparent need to reference every Ducati ever made somewhere on its confused body. There’s the exposed steel trellis that’s made Ducati famous, the headlights off a Monster, the belly pan off a streetfighter and the swingarm off a 916. All, admittedly, great looking bikes, but also clearly making this anything but a totally original design.

The “synthesis of different worlds” statement is probably a more accurate description of the design process that went into this bike. The low-seat, forward-leaning profile is that of a cruiser, but the hulking engine and tank are reminiscent of a streetfighter. The riding position is that of a standard, but the components could have come off a superbike.

Ducati seems to be very proud of the minimal tail section, and it should be, it’s the most successful part of the design. Clean, simple and evocative of performance, we’d have liked to see more of this elsewhere on the bike.

The “highlighted” swingarm claim is somewhat less truthful. The very point of an SSS is to highlight the rear wheel, a component Ducati’s chosen to make as visually loud as possible, looking more like something that belongs on a modified Escalade at SEMA or like it was lifted from a Performance Machine Harley-parts catalog. The wheels scream “me, me, me!” naturally detracting from the swingarm, which is black anyways.

Having said that, the attention-to-detail that Ducati calls out is spot on, the holistic form and function of parts like the integrated, disappearing passenger grab handle, hidden pillion pegs, LED indicators and the trellis license plate holder are stunning.

The Diavel’s biggest problem arrives when Ducati claims “authentic materials.” Sure, the air-intake covers are aluminum, but despite what the video claims, they’re not structural and serve merely to cover plastic components. They also stick out like carbuncles, adding yet one more item of visual fuss where it’s not needed. The reason for exposing the aluminum is also not clear, especially as that material is evident nowhere else on the bike; as claimed, the frame they’re bolted to is steel, as is the fuel tank. Why aluminum? Also, a steel tank, steel frame and randomly included aluminum air intake covers are all well and good, but they’re hardly the only components on the bike. The cast handlebars, plastic headlight shroud, plastic panels below the aluminum intakes, plastic bellypan, plastic exhaust covers, plastic mirrors and plastic hugger are anything but Ducati’s interpretation of authentic and just incredibly fussy.

And there-in lies the core of the Diavel design conundrum. It suffers from the same problem as just about every faired sportsbike; each component looks like it was designed by a separate team, all operating independently of each other. If you’re going to build raw mechanical aggression into a design, then do just that, stop before you get to the point where you’re adding in functionless plastic cowlings for no apparent reason. The Diavel was Ducati’s opportunity to emphasize the usually-hidden components like the frame and the v-twin engine, but instead of stopping there, they pulled a sportsbike and covered them all up. Why?

Looking at the Diavel isn’t like looking at a crouched sprinter or simple lines evoking speed, instead the eye sees multiple materials made messy by exposed plumbing, a thousand different finishes and more body panel gaps than something made by British Leyland. Even the supposedly all-black version suffers from this confusion, featuring not all-black components, but instead a grey frame, grey brushed aluminum air intake covers, silver wheel highlights, natural steel exhaust pipes and grey calipers.

Perhaps the most successful Diavel angle is from the rear, where you see only tire and simple bodywork. From the angle the bike looks purposeful and menacing, which was the idea with the whole thing. But, then you remember that this look is still an affectation, with a handling compromising 240-section rear tire necessary to achieve the desired impression.

The problem with the Diavel is that it fails to honor that old adage: keep it simple, stupid.

The Diavel caps off a range of poorly-designed Ducatis, with the only notable exception remaining the Terblanche-designed Hypermotard. That’s saying something for a brand which once sold bikes based on looks alone. While modern Ducatis are faster, more reliable, more feature-rich and just plain better-to-ride than Ducatis of yore, there’s simply no getting around their unfortunate looks. The 1198 looks like an R1 that melted in the sun, the Multistrada a JAP with a coke problem, the Monster is just a literal update of Galuzzi’s masterpiece, the Streetfighter lives up to its modified heritage with messy looks and now the Diavel looks like a plastic-clad bin full of Ducati parts.

Feel like arguing this point? This picture of a Ducati Supermono renders your argument moot.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you point out that the design makes it look like it’s ashamed of the engine. Its a power cruiser! The massive engine in the whole point! Why hide it? The rest of the design just distracts from what should be the focal point; its badass L-twin motor. Hell, I’m actually surprised they put the water-cooled engine in it.

    I was going to suggest a few design tweaks to it, then realized I basically described the Streetfight. Oh well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

    Excellent writeup, Wes. I feel like I can, if I strain hard enough, see that top curve they were going for. Sure, they screwed it up with an angled frame, but it almost happens. If I just strain hard enough…

    Of course, that sort of strain causes strokes hemhorrhoids. So, I’ll just stop.

  • carter

    Outstanding design analysis.

  • Your_Mom

    Not only does the arc they allude to not exist in the bike itself, the bits at the front lack integration. The aluminum “scoop” at the front looks nice in some views but does not flow into the tank or frame. And that panel which is fitted between the tank, seat and frame looks tacked on – and a bit cheesy.

    I – personally – think the seat-tail unit is too abbreviated and chunky. There are these large masses at the front of the bike – every bit of space from the tank to the bottom fairing is filled – and then this curved swooping seat just hangs there – and looks completely out of proportion to that huge visual mass at the front.

    To me, it is best summed up as disjointed. And I wanted to like this bike – but cannot.

    Oh – Wes, your observation about the wheels is totally on point: they look to be plucked from a PM catalog. How pathetic.

  • BMW11GS

    Ahh The supermono photo! I know there will be disagreement, but I dont think any of today’s bikes even the F3 can match the holistic beauty of that bike. The strong lines in the trellis perfectly matched to the complementary angles and swoops in the tank and lower fairing. As a youngster (21) exotic bikes from that era still fire childhood memories of how a bike should look like.

  • Ducky

    What bugs me about this design are the belly-fairing, the exhaust (which in my opinion is the ugliest thing to come out since the Honda VFR’s), and the side aluminum scoops.I think what Ducati was trying to do was break up the huge expanse of side that the bike had while adding some ‘performance functionality’, but in my opinion it was poorly executed. At the very least, it doesn’t have to be textured and coloured so differently as to stick out like a sore thumb.

    The bike most certainly has styling potential, I think it does look mean and muscular and the curved line the top of the bike follows is pretty awesome. But the execution is lacking.

  • fasterfaster

    I think, while generally accurate, you’re being hypercritical. Ducati has accomplished quite a bit with this bike BOTH mechanically and aesthetically. The realities and complexities of function and production always take their toll on design purity, and Ducati has remained more true than most. I will completely agree that Ducati’s in house design has become much more conservative and derivative than the days of Tamburini and Terblanche. They don’t invent, they synthesize and evolve. I think that’s too bad in the grand scheme of things but it’s doing wonders for their sales.

    In corporate speak, “clean-sheet” means the designers can choose what they want from the world… the synthesis you described. It means no one told them up front it had to have a trellis frame or a v-max profile. They selected those elements because it made sense of their goals of fitting a ducati into a muscle-cruiser context. Contrast that with Eric Buell being mandated use of the Sportster engine… in this case, I think the designers were quite happy to have access to the 11 and actively chose it. If they built a clean sheet bike the way you describe it, devoid of context, it would look like something out of star trek.

    While the two arcs are lost, the posture, gesture, and the form created by the two arcs remain. It’s not my cup of tea, but to me it certainly maintains a shoulder-heavy stance that is.

    My biggest disagreement is the need to expose the engine. While I love seeing air-cooled engines, it’s a very established aesthetic, and ill-applied to water cooled lumps. Water-cooled ducatis just weren’t meant to be naked (S4R, anyone?), and they’ve have a great history of beautiful faired bikes (supermono, 916, paso). They’ve exposed the gorgeous exhaust, the frame, the wheels, and the swingarm… I think a really interesting choice that speaks more to structure, chassis, and handling, than to muscle. I think that’s appropriate for this bike relative to other muscle cruisers.

    Where I think you’re right, but only the design perfectionists among us will care, is the the false statement about authentic materials. Again, in corporate speak this means they don’t try to hide the surface materials. Plastic is plastic… not painted to look like something else. I suspect in the original designers vision, those air intakes really were aluminum, but engineering and production couldn’t pull it off. So exposing the aluminum is “authentic” to them, but it’s not a structural/functional element in the way I think of “authentic.”

    All in all, it’s far from perfect and not my style of bike, but it is a magnitude leap ahead of anything any other large manufacturer has been able to achieve and I think a strong first effort.

  • Ken D

    In the past Ducati’s stylists were people with genuine public profiles. Tamburini and Galuzzi became legends. Terblanche presented and defended the 999 personally. Whatever you thought of that bike, there was no doubt it was the product of a unique vision.

    Who’s coming forward to claim the Diavel. It’s hard to escape the impression that there has never been a clear idea of what this bike should look like, and that everything’s been led by sales analysis and focus groups. They’ve just kept fiddling with it until the sign-off deadline.

    Who do we name and shame here?

  • seanslides

    Hi-five for awesome usage of the term JAP.

  • jonoabq

    It quite simply looks like it’s trying too hard…and ends up looking somewhat cartoonish as a result. I see people buying it and then having a fashion aneurysm trying to figure out what to wear with it.

  • Holden

    The trellis of the Supermono is clearly a sculpture of a man in the missionary position. You gotta admit that’s sexy, even if your idea of sexy is more along the lines of a woman in the missionary position. (I’m a doggystyle guy, myself.)

    The trellis of the Diavel? Look at the top photo, of the left side of the red Diavel. That’s a Christian fish. You know, the symbol you see on the backs of minivans dozing in megachurch parking lots. What could be more sexless than that?

    Ducati might as well plaster a Viagra logo on the side of the Diavel, like the Michelin logo adorning the Missionary Supermono.

  • Alex

    It is a very interesting read but personally I think that the color has a lot to do with the overall effect of the design. In black I feel it looks downright mean, a sort of streetfightered V-Max with an obvious Ducati touch. I might be in the minority here, but I like it.

  • Frank

    I’m 44 and I’m not getting any younger. Sitting on an 1198 is painful, riding it is a joke. I sold my Monster 696 because it was underpowered and uncomfortable. I sat on this bike and it seemed comfortable (except for the nut pinching which will probably be fixed by the touring seat or a custom seat) and it should have enough power. I’m sold.

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      Yeah, 162 hp ought to be just enough power


      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        As long as you avoid highways and high-speed urban traffic I think you’ll be ok…

  • AHA

    I think Ducati have got it more than 50% right with their first attempt at a racing-power-cruiser. Their next version in 4 or 5 years time will proably be even better. This two step improvement cycle has already happened – with the Multistrada (if you ask most people, although I actually prefer the MkI.)

  • ursus

    +1 on the Multi Mk1.
    I also agree with the comment regarding derivative and conservative design. What is not gained with this approach is soul. Without people like Terblanche, Ducati may wander in the design wilderness for awhile.