We love oddities and mold-breakers here at Gizmag. And in the motorcycle world, we're so used to seeing evolution rather than revolution that we get really excited when a new machine comes along that thinks outside the square. That's why we've been hanging out to throw a leg over Ducati's Diavel - it's the company's first foray into the cruiser market in recent years, and it takes a distinctly Italian approach to the genre. A laid-back musclebike style and enormous back tire make it look like a boulevard cruiser, but when you twist the throttle and unleash 160-plus horsepower through the screaming 1198 superbike engine it houses, you realize this is one right out of the box. Loz Blain and Noel McKeegan get to grips with the Ducati Diavel in the latest of our HD motorcycle review videos.
So here's what we understand a cruiser to be: a big, heavy, comfortable machine, with a gigantic twin-cylinder engine, preferably 1600cc or larger. Raked out forks to deliver stability at the expense of quick turning. Classic shapes to evoke the bad-boy, post Vietnam, Harley-riding outlaw gangs of the 70s, and low-set forward footrests that drag on the ground in the corners. Chrome everywhere, massive open exhausts, and lazy-torquey engines that emphasise foot-pounds over horsepower. Seats that look like saddles, and tanks that look like teardrops. Ornamental front brakes and strong rear ones.
The cruiser market is massive and growing as baby boomers age and look towards iconic shapes and relaxed rides. Ducati clearly wanted in, as part of its efforts to diversify away from its sports-only image in recent years. And here's what it came up with: the Diavel.
The Diavel Carbon, our test bike, looks like no cruiser you've ever seen. Its design is muscular and front-heavy, futuristic and foreboding - a far cry from a classic shape. Carbon fibre drips off its tank, front fender and rear seat cover, giving way to brushed metal and black paint finishes throughout. In place of the classic analogue cruiser gauges there's a twin digital dash, half LCD and half TFT screen.
And the differences between the Diavel and the rest of the cruiser class only get wider from there. Lazy engine? I don't think so. It's the high-revving superbike engine from the 1198 sportsbike. In a class where 100 horsepower is an impressive figure, the Diavel makes more than 160. Old-school tech never had a chance on this bike - it sports every one of Ducati's electronic engine management goodies, from fly-by-wire, to traction control, switchable engine maps and a lovely digital menu of options.
Even the brakes fly in the face of cruiser conventions; they're race-caliber Brembo monoblocs with ABS, and they combine with the Diavel's relatively high weight and long wheelbase to make this the fastest stopping Ducati ever built.
The riding experience has been described as very confronting for cruiser traditionalists, and that's no big surprise. Our Ducati contact told us that Diavel test rides either sell the bike immediately, or bring people back white-faced and swearing never to touch the brand again.
As primarily a sportsbike guy, I wasn't overly surprised by the acceleration - but it's certainly very fast, and with the front end so heavy, it tends to be the gigantic 240-section rear tyre that breaks traction before the front wheel leaves the ground - assuming you've switched the traction control off.
On the gas, you're very glad of the stock seat design, which wedges you up against the tank and gives your butt a backstop as the bike fires forward like a bat out of hell. But on the highway, it's downright diabolical. To get any relief for your poor sweaty bum you've got to stand up or sit on the pillion seat.
The Diavel out-handles any cruiser I've ever ridden by a large margin - ground clearance is quite decent and if you throw your body off the side you can get a decent lean angle going. On the other hand, that massive rear tire tends to talk to you a fair bit mid-corner, pushing back against you so you need to keep continual pressure on the inside bar to get around the corners. The further you lean, the more it pushes back, like a bad pillion.
While the Diavel is fun in the twisties, it's not a quick bike compared to a sporty or naked. And it's not a relaxing cruiser either - the engine demands revs and throttle at all times, so it's important to keep your focus, or else you'll run it into a corner too fast to get its bulk around.
So you're left with an odd machine full of contradictions. Treat it as a performance bike and you're disappointed - it goes and stops like a champion thoroughbred but slows you down in the turns. Treat it as a cruiser and it demolishes its class in handling, technology and pure nasty power output, but it's hugely uncomfortable on the freeway without the optional touring seat, and it demands that you ride it like a psychopath rather than a cool, laid-back cruiser guy.
It doesn't belong in either class. The Diavel is like nothing I've ever ridden, alone in a class of its own. Lighter and quicker than a VMAX, racier but slower turning than an MT-01.
And that makes it a significant bike - one that should definitely be on the test ride list for any prospective cruiser buyer, if you think you can handle it.
Oh, and shooting a bike review makes for great still photography opportunities - check out our Diavel photo gallery to see the results.