First UK ride: Ducati Diavel 2014 review

Was there ever a more harmonious marriage of drama and performance?

FEW bikes can lay claim to creating a new class of motorcycle. The Ducati Diavel is probably one of them.

Ducati’s marketing catch line for the updated 2014 model is ‘Don’t call me a cruiser.’

Tempting as it is to therefore immediately call it a cruiser, it’s not really. Not just a cruiser, anyway. It’s the original performance cruiser. The first to show that not only could a cruiser have superbike levels of power, like Yamaha’s Vmax, but also superbike-like handling.

The original Diavel, launched three years ago, re-established what could be achieved and was met with almost universal praise.

For 2014, the 1198cc V-twin engine is twin-spark, with tweaks giving a claimed peak torque increase from 94 to 96.3lbft.

Ducati say a revised fuel-injection system gives a more refined feel, with more grunt throughout the rev range. Claimed peak power is unchanged at 162hp.

It’s also been given a modest restyling, with an LED headlight and indicators, bigger air intakes either side of the tank and new slash-cut stacked silencers.

It looks like it’s straight out of a Hollywood action blockbuster, probably a Batman film, and the sense of drama is amplified, literally, by the rumble of the superbike-derived Testastretta engine. How do they get these things past noise tests?

It could still be a cruiser though – until you show it a corner.

Fired down narrow, twisty, bumpy back roads, it’s totally composed, not a hint of a wobble or a wallow or a bounce. The suspension is firm and taught. 

With that huge 240-section rear tyre, you might expect turning to be a laboured affair. Not a word of it. The Diavel turns with willing enthusiasm. At 210kg dry, it’s already lighter than it looks, but the ease with which it is pointed in and out of corners belies its weight more.

The Brembo monobloc front calipers offer loads of progressive braking power, while the Diavel’s length helps limit front-end dive. ABS is standard. 

It doesn’t take too much cornering speed to make things touch down. There are hero blobs on the underside of the rider’s pegs but they’re so stubby your toes are as likely to ground first.

Ride with your toes on the pegs and, as with Ducati’s new Monster 1200, your right heel fowls the heat shield on the exhaust. There isn’t enough clearance. It’s an annoying but forgivable foible because in any event the Diavel’s riding position isn't particularly conducive to toes on the pegs.

It’s upright, like a naked bike, but with your feet slightly forward of the line of your body, rather than directly beneath it. Your feet aren't as far in front of you as they would be on a traditional cruiser – you're not travelling leg-splayed into the wind – but it's enough to give the Diavel a more laid-back feel than typical of bikes this fast. Meanwhile the bars are a little farther away, so your arms are straight, and low-speed turning can be a stretch.

Turning around isn’t what this machine is made for though. It’s for going.

One of the most un-cruiser-like things about it is that 162hp power plant, and what it does to the Diavel when you open the throttle.

The engine has masses of everything – torque, top-end, and enough mid-range to point the front wheel at the clouds, even though the Diavel is over seven-foot long.

It’s got Ducati’s latest traction control system, with sport, touring and urban modes, each of which can be fine-tuned according to your whim.

Whack open the throttle in Sport, and the front wheel takes off. Because of that length, it rises more progressively and controllably than a wheelie on a naked bike, allowing you more time to react.

The bike I tested had a false neutral which I occasionally inadvertently selected, I think between third and fourth. With all that torque, it’s alarming to release the clutch and find none of the powerful engine braking you’d anticipated.

The pillion seat cowl moves around when you tug it, just the like the Monster 1200's. It’s a shame Ducati can’t impart to every component the impression of quality made by the whole.

The Diavel is not as wildly impractical as it looks. It’s got a comfy seat, the riding position is relaxed enough to cover big miles and, somehow, the headlight cowl deflects some of the wind blast at high speed. I was perfectly at home on it after a day’s riding, and comfortable at motorway cruising speed. 

But I don’t believe anyone buys a Diavel for such practical considerations. They buy it for performance and drama, and I’m not sure there’s anything that combines the two better.

Model tested: Ducati Diavel

Price: from £13,995 plus on-the-road charges

Power: 162hp

Torque: 96.3lbft

Dry weight: 210kg

Seat height: 770mm

Availability: now

Read our Ducati Monster 1200S first-ride review