The thing about cruisers is, you can see your feet. I don’t mean you can see your feet when you make a concerted (and dangerous) effort to look downward while in motion but rather you can see your feet with a quick downward look, a furtive glance really, like you’re sizing up what’s in front of you top-to-bottom. It’s subtle. Folks who ride sportbikes never have this experience, what with our knees bent at a fetal angle, our feet somewhere aft of our posteriors. The feet are superfluous to the sportbike equation, except for leverage. (And not falling over when stopped of course.) No, the feet to a cruiser rider are key; forward outriggers splayed into the low winds, always arriving before the rider, shifting and braking, yes, but mainly hanging out and projecting a “hang loose” vibe.
The other thing is this, until recently I’d never before seen my feet when riding a motorcycle. I now have, thanks to the Ducati XDiavel S.
(Thanks to Reno’s Powersports, in Kansas City, MO, and Ducati North America for the recent extended test ride on the XDiavel S. Thanks also to Allan Lane from Sportbikes Inc for his insight and participation in the event.)
Ducati is certainly not well known for its historical commitment to the cruiser motorcycle market. Prior to the introduction of the Diavel at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milan in 2010, Ducati had produced only one cruiser, the Indiana, which it made from 1986 to 1990. (A bike manufactured by Cagiva, in fact, and not actually Ducati, though it was powered by the Ducati Pantah engine. It’s not remembered fondly.) Ducati’s racing machines and aggressive street naked bikes have graced several generations of little boys’ bedrooms in the form of slick posters (this little boy included), and the Bologna company continues to make some of the most lust-worthy and significant performance machines on the market today. (And in fairness some brilliant touring and motard bikes as well.)
But the Diavel marked a departure. It was Ducati’s first real foray into the budding “power cruiser” market best represented by the Harley Davidson V-Rod, Victory Hammer, Honda Valkyrie, and Yamaha Star VMAX (and my previous favorite, the Moto Guzzi Griso). Designed under guidance by Pierre Terblanche, the Diavel rolled out with a slightly detuned version of the 1198cc motor from the 1198 superbike. It’s a slightly unusual beast, a power cruiser that superbike and Monster owners could hop onto and feel reasonably comfortable given the modified seating position. The controls and general disposition are what I’ll call “modified cruiser,” and the Diavel rides like a pumped-up standard more than a true power cruiser. Thus it’s been a great cross-over bike for sportbike riders wanting something a bit more relaxed but also traditional cruiser riders who want something a bit more aggressive. It’s a great middle ground and looks like nothing else. I once asked a Ducati rep to whom the Diavel was intended to be marketed. “Harley guys who’ve decided they actually want to turn and stop” he replied. The sales numbers show that Ducati has found a lot of takers.
Slotting into Ducati’s lineup next to the Diavel, the XDiavel is a new machine for 2016. It is something else entirely. As a true interpretation of a cruiser, the XDiavel hits most of the marks. Forward controls? Check. Belt drive? Check. Silly-crazy-wide rear tire (240mm)? Check. Zany-long wheelbase (63.6 inches)? Yep. It also has the requisite big honkin’ large-displacement motor, using a 1262cc version of Ducati’s Testastretta Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) L-Twin Dual Spark engine with all the latest electronic gizmos offered by the Italian brand.
And the XDiavel is a looker, or at least certainly looks the part of a sinister power cruiser. All cruisers are romantic machines. It’s impossible to think “Harley Davidson” without seeing Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper cruising the American Southwest on their way to New Orleans, or Randall “Tex” Cobb burning up the highway on his way to avenge those little Nathan Arizona tykes (though Cobb's character is actually riding a Honda rather than a Harley). It’s that last image I had in my head when I first saw the XDiavel, one of foreboding and sinister abandon.
The bike is all pissed-off tarantula hawk wasp, it’s curvaceous sheet metal and sculpted billet aluminum gleaming menacingly, it’s stubby exhaust exiting bluntly in front of the massive rear tire, it’s rear wheel an intimidating turbine blade of polished alloy. What isn’t painted black is brightly polished metal, with no blingy chrome anywhere in the vicinity. The rider sits cantilevered out over the rear tire with no visible support, arms extended to the handlebars and feet extended to the forward controls with the disproportionate-seeming bulk of the bike’s mass in front, mechanical bits always leading the way. The XDiavel is not Captain America’s cruiser. It’s a dark anti-hero’s bike. And it’s beautiful. (The design industry seems to agree. The XDiavel just took home a 2016 Red Dot Award for “Best of the Best”.)
I am not normally a motorcycle cruiser guy. Leisure has never been a priority for me on my rides, which is why you'll still see me swathed in leather and gear appropriate for a MotoGP race (“Dress for the crash, not for the ride”) as I contort my frame over silly-powerful sportbikes with an ever-decreasing dexterity. I’m also not unfamiliar with Ducati bikes. I’ve owned a number over the years and have both a 1199 Panigale R and a lovely garage-queen MH900e in my stable right now (along with an Aprilia Tuono 1100 V4 Factory I recently profiled on this blog.) And the only motorcycle I’ve ever regretted selling was a beloved Ducati S4RS, the last of the “old school” liquid-cooled Monsters. But with all the positives written about the Diavel, and now the XDiavel, I was immensely intrigued about how the machine would ride.
So how does it ride? In a word: Amazing. In another word: Surprising.
The knock on power cruisers, or perhaps the design brief, is that they go like hell in a straight line but just don’t try to turn or stop. The open road is the typical playground of these bikes, long stretches of pavement gobbled up effortlessly, the horizon line stretching out forever and all that. But for those of us who live to carve, the long lonesome is sometimes a wasted proposition. So imagine my amazement when I first leaned into a turn on the XDiavel and it not only responded but did so almost telepathically. Visually the balance of the bike seems all wrong, like the center of gravity would be somewhere way up front, but in practice the bike pivots under the rider as responsively as the newest Ducati Monster machines. The front end is nicely weighted but not nervous, and the bike steers from the seat as much as from the handlebars, counter-steering effortlessly. It’s confidence inspiring and makes the rider want to push deeper and harder into turns than seems possible on a cruiser.
The XDiavel certainly doesn’t want for acceleration. The bike’s power band is progressive and linear, and the electronic throttle has the same responsive feel as all modern Ducati’s, which is to say wonderful. The torque curve is fat, with the maximum of 95-ft/lbs reached at only 5000rpm, so that the trip up to 9500rpm (with a max at 10,000) is a progressive locomotive ride. Maximum power is 156hp. It’s more than enough. And it sounds the part, the classic Ducati twin rumble and burble exciting the senses, with the clutch managing a traditional “dry” rattle even though the mechanism is now bathed in fluid. When this bike pulls up, people can’t help but stop and stare.
The XDiavel S I rode was tricked out with an extensive list of bling from the Ducati accessories catalog and it looked the part. From various Roland Sands-designed bits to a stubby Termignoni exhaust system with an absolutely vicious looking baffle (think cheese grater from Hell), every single nut and bolt and component on the bike was a joy to take in. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a production bike that had such universal detailing (short of a quasi-custom like a Bimota); this is a bike that rewards the visual senses to the same level it rewards the auditory, and manages the difficult balance of being both hyper-designed and not overwrought at the same time. Well done, Ducati.
And a quick word about the XDiavel’s TFT display: It’s a marvel, easily the best on any bike I’ve ever seen. Bright with excellent contrast, the colors vivid in all light levels, easily configurable with left-thumb (back-lit!) controls. Just great stuff.
(One small irritation is the presence of an electronic proximity key to start the bike up, but that’s a nit about modern vehicles in general I’ll rant about, er, write about in a future piece.)
The XDiavel is a winner on many levels: Style, performance, uniqueness, sound, visceral thrill. It’s a massive departure from what folks think of when they think “Ducati” and that may ultimately be the point. As a styling exercise, this bike hits all the marks, and as a runner the XDiavel offers more than enough for even the most jaded sportbike rider or naked bike fan to appreciate and enjoy. I will admit to being somewhat bemused about the very idea of a Ducati power cruiser, and when I first pulled away (and figured out where the damn foot controls were located), I wondered, who is this bike for? After about thirty minutes on a variety of roads and at a variety of speeds, I thought to myself, I get this thing; I totally get this thing. Truth be told, I liked this bike way more than I would have ever imagined. I even got used to seeing my feet.