What the hell is the Diavel?

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The Ducati Diavel has been called a lot of things by people looking for a nice pigeon hole. Usually it’s cruiser, naked bike, sport cruiser or muscle bike, but a lot of people have added ugly, dumb and poorly designed to the list. HFL reader and RentaDucati.com owner David Johnson was nice enough to let me take his Diavel out to Palomar Mountain to find out for myself.

The first thing I learned about the Diavel is that it’s not a naked bike. We arrived at GP Cycles in San Diego to find the Diavel in quite a few pieces. This thing may very well be part of a massive breach of brand trust and honesty, but what started all that was actually the second generation Monster and its ridiculously complex plastic bodywork.

On old Monsters, you could take the seat off using the key, unlatch the tank and then prop it up for access to the motor. It was a simple, honest motorcycle free of complexity. Just an air-cooled twin with a steel tank, decent suspension and enough power to have some fun. Think of the old Monster vs. new Monster like you would a less extreme new beetle vs. original beetle.

The Diavel continues the theme of fake gas tanks, lots of plastic covers, many different fastener sizes and unnecessary complexity. The new Monster looked similar enough to the outgoing model and performed better, so a lot of people let that one slide. The Diavel is a completely different beast, with no history. I can see why looking at the numbers ($15,000, 240 tire), one would come to the conclusion that this thing is fairly pointless.

The last renter had pretty much trashed this bike. The tank cover had a hole worn in the paint from his belt buckle and that meant half the bike had to come apart to fix it. Looking at all the pieces and their fasteners sent me into terrible flashbacks of the few times I wrenched on side-by-sides and big quads. Anything more than four fasteners to hold a gas tank on is way too many in my book. The Diavel probably has more than 40. Once the tech had the bike back together, we headed off toward Palomar Mountain Road.

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Palomar is the kind of road that’s just about impossible on a traditional cruiser, but the Diavel does pretty well.

The first thing you notice riding the Diavel is the acceleration. It doesn’t seem possible that a stock bike, riding on stock tires and a stock wheelbase, should be able to accelerate the way this thing does. If you can get past having your arms pulled from their sockets and decide to hold it wide-open for a while, you’ll be rewarded with smooth and easy-to-control power wheelies.

But, if you’ve just watched a tech put together a seemingly endless pile of bits and pieces that make up the “tank” and other bodywork, the second thing you’ll notice is the lack of wind protection afforded by all that bodywork. I understand the appeal of a naked bike, but the Diavel has all the complexity and bodywork of a fully-faired Japanese sportsbike with none of the wind protection. It adds an air of fakeness.

Strange rubber curtains bolted to the fork to direct airflow, but no windscreen?

Third is the heat on your right leg from the header. Fourth are the too-low seat and pegs. Fortunately, these are all things that are easily fixed. Ducati will sell you a tall seat and touring screen right out of their accessory catalog and rearsets should be available shortly (Rizoma already makes a set, but they’re still low and with non-folding pegs, they look like a recipe for disaster). Alonzo Bodden, who just bought one, tells us the tall seat makes the Diavel much more comfortable and allows you to interact with it like you would a normal motorcycle.

One more decidedly cruiserish detail I noticed were the flexy-flyer rubber-mounted bars. They don’t move in a way that affects steering input, but there is more than half an inch of up and down flex.

Up on Palomar, things get interesting fast. Brutal acceleration and ridiculously strong braking combine with poor cornering clearance to create a strange riding experience. Forget all about carrying corner speed. Remember when JT said that the 240 tire would make the bike suck? Well, I’m sad to report it kind of does. You use a ton of lean angle to slowly drag your pegs around corners.

Brake late and be extra sloppy with your downshifts and it feels more like backing in a fast off-road bike on hard-pack than it does a street bike. Mid-corner speed is limited by clearance, but the second you can see your exit, stand it up and whack it wide open. I can’t stress this point enough: the acceleration is brutal. I would go so far as to bet that a stock Diavel is faster leaving tight corners than Ducati’s own GP12. That’s good, because its mid-corner speed is going to be slower than a Monster 696 (which is what Dave was chasing me on).

Turn-in was faster than you would expect and the low center of gravity and wide bars make mid-corner line changes effortless (so long as you’re not already dragging parts). The Diavel I was riding had a tendency to run wide and the front end felt numb, but I’m willing to let that stuff slide. I guessed in the setup and I suspect that fresh tires and a little more time spent twiddling clickers, adjusting preload and possibly even some different spring rates or higher rear ride height would make a pretty huge difference. Still, the stock bike is easy to ride fast and, on a tight road, a good rider on a Diavel should have no problem keeping up with an average rider on a sportsbike. You’ll just have to focus on squaring off corners so you can really whack that throttle open early.

I’m not a huge fan of it’s looks or ergos, but the harley riders I met all liked it.

So what is the Diavel? My best guess is that it’s what happens when Ducati has a second go at trying to build a cruiser (is everyone else just going to pretend the Indiana never happened?). There’s no clear purpose for the bike. It’s fast as hell in a straight line and handles well enough, but is crippled by dragging parts. It’s supposed to be a comfy bike you can ride all over town, but the seat is too low and the bars have too much flex in the mounts. It’s supposed to be a naked bike, but it’s got a helluva lot of bodywork with a zillion tiny fasteners to hold it all together and no windscreen. But despite all of these glaring flaws, it’s really not a bad motorcycle, just a kind of pointless one.

  • Thom

    Who the Hell cares what the Diavel is or isn’t ?

    I’m so sick of everyone trying to stuff any attempt at creativity or something new into their pretentious little boxes its pathetic .

    Plain and simple about the Diavel

    It Works ( damn well I might add )

    Its Fun ( and isn’t that the whole point of a M/C )

    It can kick a lot of serious ass amongst all the Narrow Purpose M/C’s out there

    You can use this little Bad Ass as a daily rider/commuter

    Pointless ? Well Sean . I rather think not . It may not serve your needs and thats OK , but guaranteed it’ll serve a lot other folks’s wants and desires .

    • Sean Smith

      I don’t mean that it’s bad, just that it’s made up of a lot of strange concepts that don’t quite work together as a polished finished bike.

      Yes, the bike works, but not nearly as well as it could. If Ducati gave buyers the option of a higher seat and pegs, the bike would be a lot better. Cruiser guys could have their uncomfortable ‘cool’ bike that lacks clearance but never loses a stoplight drag race and everyone else could have a neat standard that’s extremely capable.

      If it wasn’t so damn expensive and didn’t have a 240 out back, I could see myself living with one as a daily rider. I’d get the tall seat, touring screen and add hard mounted narrower bars. The 240 is only a deal breaker because there’s no choice in tires. You’re stuck with what comes on there from the factory. If the tire companies decided it was a good idea to make a few tall, pointy and sticky 240s for 17″ wheels, it would no longer be an issue.

  • HammSammich

    Rubber mounted bars seem weird to me…is that commonplace on cruisers?

    • Sean Smith

      It’s common on a lot of bikes actually. Rubber mounted bars that have this kind of squish and slop are decidedly cruiserish though.

      • muckluck

        My DR650 has rubber mounted bars.

        • HammSammich

          Yeah, my original question was asked out of ignorance. Looking at my Bonnie, it may well have rubber mounted bars too (there appear to be large rubber bushings visible with aluminum washers covering the top). I’ll take a look at the Haynes manual tonight to confirm. My bars feel completey rigid though, with absolutely no slop.

  • Richard

    I get what youre saying about the number of fasteners used on this bike but you forget that the demographic Ducati is focusing on for this bike will be brining their bike to the dealership for pretty much everything. Its not a concern for them.

    • Sean Smith

      That’s why I used the qualifier “If you’re me.” You’re right about Diavel owners, they’re not going to work on their bikes. It’s just annoying that a bike whose only piece of bodywork should be a boring steel gas tank has multi-piece side fairings, a fake gas tank and a zillion fasteners to hold it all together. That gripe applies to a lot more bikes than just the Diavel too.

  • Brendan

    The Ducati Indiana just makes me think of the Music Man.

    Much cooler hometown than Gary, probably.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    I love my M600 Monster, and would never, ever consider getting a Diavel (I always have to look up how to spell it). Given that, it is still pretty gnarly piece of kit.

  • Paul

    Out accelerates a ducati gp12, ridiculously strong braking, easy to ride fast and handles well enough vs. poor clearance, ridiculous rear tire girth and phony plastic bits. Deal.

  • Gene

    Too damn much plastic. I hate the plastic on my FJR, but at least it keeps me dry & warm. Between that and the goofy rear tire, I’ll keep my SV-650. It’s a simple WATER-cooled sport V-twin TYVM.

  • Gene

    What is the ghey thing in pic #8? That isn’t honestly meant to be a passenger peg is it?? Srsly?

    • Sean Smith

      It’s actually a pretty slick passenger peg solution. When not in use, they fold up and pretty much disappear completely. It looks flimsy, but I tried to break it by jumping on the thing and it held up just fine. The passenger grab rail that pops out of the back is pretty neat too.

    • Penguin

      I’ve rode bitch on one for a quick 10 minute pootle and although that isn’t enough time for a real assessment I thought it was pretty good actually – the grab rail and pillion pegs are a lot better than they look (function wise – aesthetics wise they are damn elegant), and I’m 6’2.

      As for the bike – one of the guys at work got a full blooded carbon coated one recently, cue much bemoaning from me “What the hell is that crap Harley wannabe thing, bad bad bad…” I have had to eat my words, it certainly is a weird bike – one I would never want or use but it is by no means a bad bike, the build quality is lovely, and the whole experience is quite special, in that way it does feel very ‘Ducati’.

      Most annoyingly of all in the carpark next to my CBR600 the RR looks plain and boring.

  • Justyn

    Well, I have a lot of fun with mine, but yeah, it has its limitations (you’re pretty much spot on with everything you’ve mentioned). Thankfully I have a CBR600 for everything else.

  • Rick

    It’s proportions just looked so unbalanced… Reminds me of the Dodge Tomahawk…but even the Tomahawk had a reason to be fat…

  • apriliajoe

    Are we sure Hardley didn’t buy Ducati?

    • DoctorNine

      Just for one night.

      However, instead of a nice, playful BJ, they went for it, and did the deed. When Ducati came up pregnant, HD was all for terminating the gestation, but Ducati, being Italian, nixed that.

      When the thing was born, its Italian mother could do nothing but love its strange ways, and gave it many kinds of special attention, even though no one else could understand why she did so.

      Then it grew up into have the strength of a Devil on wheels, and they understood. But it still was fat and somewhat lumpy, and made few friends.

      Things are like that sometimes.

      • apriliajoe

        lmao! Very creative, good job.

  • dux

    Reminds me of that SUV I rented a few months back: fun for the week, 99% plastic, didn’t handle too well, and not a tinge of remorse when I returned it to the rental agency.

    • dux

      Well, maybe a small tinge.

    • Sean Smith

      Ha, the handling isn’t bad at all, it’s just not that fast through the corners. With a few mods this could be a fun everyday bike.

      • dux

        Wait-if it can’t corner, then how does it handle well? :D

        • Sean Smith

          Ha, handling and speed are two very different things. A Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 handles incredibly well but it’s shit slow. An F1 car is a nervous beast just waiting for any excuse to tear your face off, but it’s the fastest thing on wheels. Handling is all about feel, predictability and control, speed is another matter entirely.

  • Dennis

    The Monster was Ducati’s second attempt at the US cruiser market, and it worked.

    The Indiana was a literal copy of a Harley, and it played against Ducati’s strengths. The idea of the Monster was to serve the same kind of buyer with the same kind of toy: simple, urban, cool, endlessly accessorizable. But not a copy: an Italian reinterpretation of the idea of a Harley. This is well documented. Look up Miguel Angel Galluzzi.

    I don’t know where the Diavel fits into that story. It’s their third cruiser offering, after the Indiana and the Monster. It’s hard to picture them still building Diavels in five years, but who knows? If they sell a bunch for three years and then quit and try something else, that’s not nothing I suppose.

    • Sean Smith

      The Monster isn’t a cruiser though, it’s a standard in the same way the sportster used to be. It’s obviously done very well and they’ve sold a ton of them. It was aimed at the harley/cruiser market, but it wasn’t actually a cruiser. Sure the pipes and pegs drag like hell in stock form, but most other standards have the same issue.

      Trying to put a motorcycle definitively into one genre is hard, but in my opinion, a cruiser always puts form over function in minor or major ways. Poor geometry, odd wheel and tire sizes, silly bars and unnecessarily low seats are some good examples.

      The Monsters have traditionally had crappy forks and shocks, but the basic components add up to a very strong bike. Swap the forks and shock, add sticky tires and rearsets, and you’ve got a bike that will have absolutely no problem keeping up with purpose built sportsbikes in the corners. The same can’t be said for any other bike in the cruiser category.

      That’s what I think about the Monster. Designed to lure cruisers over to Ducati without being a cruiser itself. The Diavel is much more a proper cruiser. Silly 240 tire, relaxed geometry and slow as hell in the corners. I bet I could get one to haul ass with an 17×6 rear wheel, more ride height out back, a much higher seat and custom rearsets, but that’s a lot of work and not the type of thing anyone who is attracted to the Diavel would want. I mean, why not just buy a Streetfighter, Superduke R, Dorsoduro 1200 or Speed Triple?

      Will they be building it in five years? I’d bet that depends on how much they have invested, how well it sells and whether or not it develops it’s own strong identity.

  • Johndo

    Well all I know is theres many great reviews about the bike and if I could afford 5 bikes in my garage it would probably be on the list.

    One thing though that by todays standards is unacceptable, is poor engineering of the plastic panels. How hard can it be to make parts simple to take on and off, others have been doing it for decades and it works.

  • Johndo

    Oh…unless they are just finding ways of making maintenance more expensive and make the dealers happy…

    • Sean Smith

      They’re just trying to cut costs, drop weight and chase what focus groups tell them is important. The name of the game here is novelty. Anything they can do to make “new and improved!” for less cash, they will do. It’s just the nature of big business.

  • jason

    Nothing says badass Harley guy like a leather covered top box, a giant goatee and bandana when you’re parked in front of the Gourmet Coffee shop.

    • Coreyvwc

      Haha definitely not a gourmet coffee shop, just mothers cafe at the top of Mount Palomar. I will say though, that coffee was a life saver the time I got stuck up there when it was 37 degrees and raining…

      +1 to everything else though, but at least the Harley dudes aren’t as bad as the cars that crawl up the mountain at 10mph and utterly refuse to get out your way!

  • Denzel

    I’ve seen them, static, on the floors of the Seattle dealerships, and they don’t stand out as overly awkward…just another interesting styling exercise. BUT THEN I saw one ‘cruising’ along the street, and the rider and bike didn’t meld very well. Sort of like a guy sitting on top of some big creation, like a Honda Pacific Coast.

    • dux

      …or a DN-01 (I’ve seen them both riding around and I agree)

  • nymoto

    Relocate the plate and that back end is sexy, to bad the front looks like John Goodman circa 98 after a night out in NOLA with an 8ball trying to stuff himself into another Blues Brother costume.

  • Esteban

    mmm, not so sure if its pointless..
    the writing feels a little light and superficial

  • jason

    All in all, I keep missing the simple, elegant designs of the earlier Ducati bikes…Lean and greyhoundish, these modern ones have grown fat and bloated, cluttered with too much plastic. I know this is true of many makers today, but just returning from a summer in Japan where 30, 40 year old bikes are everywhere and look stunning compared to their flabby offspring, I agree with JT.

  • rohorn

    If I RTFA’d this right, this bike accelerates well enough, but would be better with a higher seat, higher pegs, tighter steering geometry, and a narrower rear wheel/tire.

    In other words, Ducati should turn this into a V-twin B King (V King?).

    • Sean Smith

      They already make a bike kind of like that and they call it a Streetfighter. The Diavel needs minor fixes. Slightly higher pegs, slightly higher seat and the wheel and tire combo isn’t THAT bad. Yes, it limits corner speed, but it’s also a big part of the design and if you changed it to a more reasonable setup, it would look even more nose-heavy.

  • http://themotolady.com MotoLady

    I beg to differ when it comes to the seat. It’s seat height makes it very comfortable for ladies like I (5’7″), or Hannah Johnson (who is about 5’5″). Some bikes fit some people better than others, that doesn’t necessarily make it an overall flaw.

    • Sean Smith

      Ha, that’s why Ducati offers a a tall seat. What I don’t understand is why they don’t offer a lower seat and have the tall option as standard, seeing as the majority of riders are between 5’8″ and 6’3″ (or something like that). Riding home on the freeway actually got to be pretty brutal. I spent a lot of time standing up and sitting on the passenger seat. The Diavel in stock form is actually less comfortable for me than the a Hypermotard or even a 916.

  • Keith

    This seems to be one of those unusual bikes that may not be the best at anything but is unique enough to own and will one day be a sought after model.
    But the price?!!? ouuuuch……

  • zato1414

    All bikes sold need to be fitted to the rider. Handle bars, levers and pegs should be optionized at no extra cost to the buyer. Why should you have to buy your dream bike and have to budget for the proper fit?

    What ever manufacturer starts this as a part of normal business will see more customers.

  • David

    Added a windscreen to the Diavel and it’s freeway wind manners are much improved. Regarding cornering, as Sean mentioned, Palomar is tight. The Diavel will corner fast on big sweepers, albeit, perhaps dragging its pegs…

  • Alonzo

    Hey for all those hating on the Diavel, there is another option. Don’t buy one. Ducati didn’t stop making superbikes or Monsters or Streetfighters, they just added something different
    You guys sound like Harley riders, afraid of anything modern or different. Oh my God, there are covers and screws, electronics, the tire is fat???RUN!!!
    Yes the dealer does the maintenance, so what , the valve adjustment interval is now 15000 miles. On modern cars there is nothing left for the “do it yourself” type and they are better performing , more reliable and more comfortable than any cars in history. in the 60′s 400 hp cars would beat you up Now you can get 500 hp and heated seats
    Get over it. Ducati built a bike for those of us who realize we will never beat Rossi
    Its ok, nothing to be afraid of, just new technology, a bit different. You can still enjoy your bike
    I enjoy mine

  • Steve

    Who cares *what* it is- I’m tired of getting the same old thing from the same big manufacturers, or ‘styling’ upgrades to current models, yada yada. You guys are starting to sound like HD poseurs, worried about what you look like riding it, the size of the rear tire, etc. It’s a unique creation, a departure if you will, from a company that’s known for performance, and while it could stand some improvements, which I like that you suggested specific improvements, why not celebrate it’s awesomeness as something totally weird yet cool because of it, a la Vyrus or Confederate or Buell, you get my point. It’s the first model year, and I hope not the last- and hope Ducati takes some of the suggestions for improvement to heart. But the heart of this beast is the engine- and it sounds like it wins hands down on that count. Why expect it to perform like a middleweight- it’s apples to oranges, duh! Come on, get outside of your little box and embrace the weirdness and power! I say bring it Ducati and Ducatisti snobs be damned- this is the first Ducati I’ve ever been even remotely interested in!

    • Paul Balcombe

      Well said.

      I have gone from a sportster to a thruxton and now a Diavel because of the ride and feel… blows me away every time.