The newest Ducati, the XDiavel, is the first feet-forward cruiser from the Italian super-bike maker, and it’s an attempt to win market share from the dominant U.S. producer, Harley Davidson Inc.
Ducati's tag line for the 1262cc L-twin is "low-speed excitement," but there's nothing low speed about it. With 156 horsepower and technological innovations that include a cornering ABS system ordinarily reserved for race-bred machines, the XDiavel is an American-style cruiser for speed freaks.
"Any bike we make, it's got to have the Ducati DNA," said Stefano Tarabusi, product manager for the XDiavel, at the launch in San Diego, Calif. "We call it a techno cruiser."
Not even Harley's V-Rod, the muscle bike famously designed in collaboration with Porsche, comes with "launch control," a feature that allows full-throttle starts without losing traction. The LCD screen on the XDiavel, which connects to your smartphone via blue-tooth to show you what tunes are playing and who is texting you while you're riding, has a "track" setting to display the bike's vitals while you're on the race circuit.
When journalists got a first taste of the XDiavel, it wasn't at a Mediterranean Grand Prix track, where Ducati normally previews bikes, but rather within spitting distance of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet headquarters in San Diego Bay. The location should serve as a warning shot across the bow of the American Big Twins, which make up more than half of all the "heavy bikes" sold in this country.
The XDiavel is based on the futuristic 2011 Diavel. (Could Ducati have picked a less confusing name? I think so.) It has a beautiful, unique trellis frame. It was introduced in November but until now, no one outside Ducati's factory has ridden one.
So it was with great anticipation that I joined an international group of 20-odd journalists for the launch in California. We rode east from San Diego into the desert to sample some of the best motorcycle roads America can offer.
Even before we got out of city traffic, I noticed that this bike is light. The XDiavel weighs 556 pounds soaking wet—about 200 lbs. lighter than most big bikes.
It also pulls hard, hitting its maximum torque of 95 ft-lbs at a lowly 5,000 revolutions per minute. That's a big deal for Ducati, most of whose motorcycles need to be revved up to 8,000 rpm or higher before they hit peak pushing power. The Bologna, Italy-based engineers spent a few months testing in the U.S. and realized they'd have to move that figure much lower to satisfy American cruiser customers.
To put this into perspective, a Harley will put out almost a hundred lb-ft of torque by 3,000 rpm, making it much easier to power out of a corner. That's one reason—combined with amazing brand loyalty and the addictive sound of a 45-degree, air-cooled V-twin—that Harley-Davidson sold 168,000 motorcycles in the U.S. last year. Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A. just posted record sales for 2015, up 14 percent, to 12,132. It has room to grow.
"An American guy who loves luxury premium brands often has more than one bike in his garage," Tarabusi said. "He must have a Harley when he wants to ride with the boys, but sometimes he wants something different, something more exciting, something from another world."
At $19,995 for the base model XDiavel, that something different is priced just slightly higher than Harley's Dyna line. The more expensive S model, at $22,995, comes with Marzocchi forks that have a "diamond-like coating" for smooth action, bigger M50 brakes from Brembo, LED daytime running lights, and a glossy paint job.
Opening It Up
Once we got out of the city, I was able to open up the bike and test out the new belt drive (another first for Ducati), the engine, and the high-end suspension. The latter is about as un-Harley as you can get.
Full disclosure: I am an avowed Ducatista. You can find me rooting for the team on any given Sunday, and my garage at home is packed with Ducatis. I have room for only one little Harley, a Sportster 48, and I never ride it. I just listen to it in the garage.
The XDiavel, on the other hand, begs to be ridden hard from the factory. On the test ride, we were ripping around corners at speeds more than twice the recommended limit. To my amazement, it was working,
The first time a sport-bike rider takes a sharp turn at 80 miles per hour with feet in front, it's a disconcerting feeling, to say the least. I quickly get used to it and start to push the bike over as far as I can at each corner.
I can push it far because the XDiavel has 40 degrees of lean angle, closer to its Ducati super-sports cousins than to a cruiser. Most Harleys can lean only about 25 degrees before they start dragging pipes and pegs on the pavement.
The XDiavel feels a little cramped after a few hours in the saddle, unlike a big bagger. But it's possible to move the pegs farther forward (or back), and switch out the seat and the handlebars. Ducati says there are 60 possible variations.
Were I to buy this bike, I would spring for the accessory mid-controls and the forward-set bars in the sport pack, and I'd rip up the canyons. But then it would be just a better-looking muscle bike, not the cruiser it was designed to be.
Plus I already have a muscle bike. Herein lies the rub for Ducati—the sport bike guys don't really need a cruiser that goes super-fast, and the Harley guys already have Harleys. The question is: Will they want more?