The biking world can be set in its ways, and cruisers like Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod are meant to be big, heavy, powerful and loud. They’re wrapped in black and chrome and nowadays are normally ridden by bankers over 45.
Plonk one on the U.S. east coast, drive it in a straight line to California, rotate it, then drive it back. It’ll go fast, make noise and chug happily along all day. Just don’t expect it to steer much better than an oil tanker.
So when Ducati released the first photos of its $16,995 Diavel, a so-called power cruiser to compete with the likes of the V-Rod and Yamaha’s V-Max, and claimed it would handle almost like a sports bike, there were howls of disbelief. The Bologna, Italy-based builder of the world’s most famous sports bikes had sold out, betrayed its traditions.
Then people began to ride the Diavel, and there were entirely different howls of disbelief. I rode it and I didn’t want to give it back.
The Diavel is stunningly futuristic, one of the most daring factory designs to date, and the most head-turning. This is a machine for people who like to be stared at. Still, its front-heavy profile, long wheelbase and huge rear tire suggest that it should have the agility of a water buffalo.
Lowering myself into the deep seat, the enormous front end looms ahead like the nose cone of an aircraft, the brushed aluminum air scoops on either side like turbines, an impression enhanced when I flick the starter switch and the twin displays flash to life, accompanied by the whirring and sighing of motors.
It’s a bit unnerving. Even at a standstill, the bike feels like it needs manhandling, and with 162 horsepower on tap I don’t want to be worrying about whether this thing likes to turn.
Pressing the starter button brings to life one of the most satisfying engine sounds in motorcycling: deep, gurgling, throaty and rich with menace. I select Touring -- one of the three riding modes -- which offers full power, softens the throttle response and bumps up the traction control level.
Then, as I ease it away from Ducati’s Singapore showroom into a slow, narrow 90-degree bend, all sense of size and weight disappears. It’s almost magically easy to steer, seemingly confounding the rules of engineering.
Picking up speed and confidence, I zip round the next bend to discover a flat-bed truck is parked in the perfect spot to swallow motorcycles, blocking my path on a blind corner on a slippery, painted concrete surface. Uh-oh.
This is my early chance to test the Brembo brakes, which stop the Diavel with room to spare. By the time I emerge onto the highway 10 minutes later, all concerns have vanished. I’m having fun. Lots of it.
The acceleration from the 1,198cc engine is phenomenal -- we’re talking 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.6 seconds -- yet it isn’t terrifying. Even in Sport mode, with full horsepower and the sharpest throttle response, the delivery is smooth and the torque seems endless, making you hunt constantly for overtaking opportunities. On twisty roads it’s supremely able, very stable and only marginally less nimble at flicking between corners than its smaller cousin, the Ducati Monster.
It’s happiest on smooth, constant-radius bends, when you can pick your line, roll on the power through the apex and slingshot out the other side without unsettling the bike even slightly. Even on the soggy Singapore roads after a torrential tropical downpour it felt nailed to the tarmac, solid and assuring, the traction control and those astonishing brakes providing an extra layer of confidence.
Suddenly comparisons with the V-Rod -- cheaper than the Ducati at $15,000 in the U.S. but 1,000 pounds more expensive in the U.K. -- felt ridiculous. The upright, comfortable riding position is cruiser-like, but the similarities end there. This is really a different class of bike.
The Diavel isn’t perfect. The gearbox was occasionally stiff; the low-speed fueling from the 11-degree Testastretta engine is better than last year’s Multistrada yet still not perfectly smooth; the factory suspension settings were too hard, making heavy work of bumpy roads -- though it wasn’t difficult to dial this out -- and the wide seat began to chafe the inner thighs after five hours in the saddle.
Those minor niggles aside, the Diavel is a phenomenal machine.
The Ducati Diavel at a Glance
Engine: 1,198cc, 90-degree twin, with 162 horsepower (or 100 in Urban Mode) and 94 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Speed: 0 to 60mph in 2.6 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 40.
Best features: Incredible engine, supreme stability and agility.
Worst feature: Low-speed lumpiness.
Target buyer: Riders seeking sportsbike thrills without back-breaking discomfort.
(Matthew Oakley writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)