Donovan Fourie finds out that the XDiavel is Ducati’s first true venture into the world of cruisers. Apparently, the standard Diavel doesn’t count, being more of a muscle bike than a thoroughbred cruiser.The XDiavel has forward footpegs, backwards-slanting handlebars and the savage look, but after the looks, Ducati strayed somewhat from the traditional cruiser…

Ducati XDiavel front
Looking at the XDiavel, the only word that comes to mind is “badass”.

The English language has more than one million words, and journalists endeavour to use as great a variety of them as possible in order to portray the world in the most sophisticated and professional manner. But, even with the top echelon of vocabulary at their disposal, often when tickled by the pink nebulae of severe emotion, it is somehow more fitting to express such a metaphorical inferno by delving into the alternatives from the slang network, perhaps even extending to the more benign expletives.

Thus, we have to admit, that the best word to describe the new XDiavel is “badass”.

Ducati seems to be growing, not just as a factory and a brand, but emotionally too, with a massive dollop of maturity. At least, their research and marketing department has. The engineers and designers are exactly the same mischievous delinquents Ducati fans have come to love and cherish.

The first sign of the maturing marketers is Ducati’s commitment to building a cruiser, a real cruiser. We imagine that the same principle was envisioned during the conceptualisation of the normal Diavel, but you get the impression that the designers accidentally slipped in a powerful 162hp engine, sit up footpegs and actual handling, all things cruisers shouldn’t traditionally have. While possibly not what was envisioned, it certainly was a hit, inspiring a whole new segment of Ducatisti, and spurring further growth in the company.

We imagine a scene where the marketing crowd went back to the somewhat smug designers and said: “All right, you got lucky, but we still want a cruiser. And this time we are watching.”

Thus they set forth designing an actual cruiser, and to help them realise this goal, they went to America to research cruisers, and then decided to spend more time in America doing research, and finally decided to spend a very long time there doing ”research”. Especially, we imagine, in places that serves drinks and the famous Californian girls frequent.

Ducati XDiavel bridge
The famous San Diego bridge.

This is quite possibly why the World Launch was hosted in the “stay classy” city of San Diego, Southern California, a short distance north of the Mexican border. If Los Angeles is Durban, then San Diego is Ballito. It is smaller (1.3 million people in the city compared to LA’s 3.9 million), cleaner, more relaxed and certainly more beautiful, which set the scene for the unveiling of the XDiavel.

Actually, they didn’t unveil the XDiavel. When we went down for pre-dinner drinks, it was sitting there plain as day, with people giving it a curious run over, but were not utterly enamoured. It is a fine machine, worthy of the Ducati badge and being sculpted by the descendants of Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael, but it didn’t knock your socks off, which was disappointing. In the pictures it looks gracious, inspiring and jaw-droppingly good looking. Have we missed something? Does it look good only in photos? Does it require a catalogue of add-ons?

While still stuck in this quandary, we were ushered onto a boat that set sail unto the far reaches of San Diego’s harbour. Where this sheltered corner of sea is different to many others on our fair earth is that it doesn’t contain a port. This is partly to do with Los Angeles having a substantial one a mere 200 km up the coast, but probably more to do with San Diego having a naval base, where three camouflaged war ships sat ominously in their docks, like rabid pitbulls chained to a post in a scrap yard.

For this reason, the harbour is almost entirely empty, except for a medium-sized marina and a boat filled with journalists. Here, while the dazzling lights of the city reflected off the calm waters, Ducati unveiled a second bike, this time called the XDiavel S. Anyone who actual took time to properly read the press releases during the EICMA Show would understand that there are of course two models of XDiavels, like Ducati have done with almost every model they have ever released.

Ducati XDiavel show off
The XDiavel is nothing more than the Italians showing off.

The covers slid off the bike effortlessly, like macabre milk from an undertaker’s urn. Like many a dark coal, beneath hid a diamond. The XDiavel S is truly the Italians showing off. For decades the Americans have ruled the cruiser roost, adorning their bikes with chrome, intricate patterns, glittery paint work and delicate motifs. Here, the Italians show their heritage, one of making things look astounding. Good looks and beauty come embedded in their genes, in their way of life. It makes sense, then, that should they put their mind to it, and momentarily forget their racer machines, a cruiser should come naturally.

While in America the Ducati designers learnt that the engine is a major theme in a cruiser’s looks, and have thus taken their base 1198, 90º V-twin (L-twin for the pedantics) and turned it into a work of art. The entire unit is now a polished black, with a polished aluminium strip that outlines the cam belts. The water pump has been moved to inside the depths of the motor, that way it negates the need for messy radiator pipes, thus it has none, leaving the motor open to be admired without tubular carbuncles besmirching it.

Both XDiavels break another Ducati tradition – they are not available in red. Instead, they will be found in a choice of two colours – black and black. The XDiavel is finished in a fetching matt black, while the paint scheme of the XDiavel S matches its polished engine in a gloss black.

On the S model, the wheels are 12-spoke machine-finished, and are quite possibly the most exquisite wheels ever fitted to a production motorcycle. The frame plates and footpeg plates are machine-finished, the mirrors are billet aluminium and the swingarm has a natural, brushed-effect anodising. It is truly a work of art.

Ducati XDiavel cruiser
The XDiavel is proper foot forward cruising.

Also while in America, they learnt that all cruisers need to have forward pegs and swept back handlebars, which is another first for Ducati. Also, the top of the bike should be shorter and bottom longer, hence the tailpiece is non-existent and the passenger seat is short and stubby, the headlight is almost tucked in between the forks and there is no form of fairing or chassis protruding forwards.

The rear tyre is a fat 240, and complements the bike like a giant bicep on an arm wrestler.  It is driven by a belt, another first for Ducati, which they say better transfers torque, but also looks neater, makes less noise and doesn’t throw chain lube all over your beautiful swingarm and wheel.

Also, the wheelbase has been extended to 1615mm compared to the standard Diavel’s 1580mm, this is in part thanks to an increased rake of 30º, as opposed to the Diavel’s 28º, giving it that long overall look of a genuine cruiser.

It’s at this point though that Ducati sort of lose the plot. The cruiser plot, that is.

Ducati XDiavel hotel
And here we have 30-odd XDiavels outside a San Diego hotel.

The next morning we were met by the dazzling sight of 30-odd XDiavels parked in a row against the hotel curb (translation: pavement). It was a perfect scene – the downtown streets of San Diego were their usual spotless and fresh selves, verdant trees lined the walkways, the sky had bold cloud cover and the XDiavels looked vibrant and exactly at home.

We climbed aboard, slightly taken aback that a bike with the Ducati insignia required an Easy Rider seating position, which is all thoroughly adjustable, with five different seats (two pillion options), four footpeg settings and three handlebar settings, resulting in 60 variations of ergonomics.

The key is a remote jobbie, so we stuffed them in our pockets, thumbed the ignition button, which has a cool red backlighting, and the swanky colour dash lit up like a mini plasma television.

Thumbing the starter button spun the engine with a shudder, and then there was very little sign of life, not more than a faint vibration, like a phone ringing on a king-sized bed. The two cylinders idled with a smooth yet confident purr, but as the adolescent inside us all dictates, the motor requires a compulsory rev while in neutral, which we did.

This resulted in the docile kitten growing tiger-sized claws, sabre fangs and a demonic temperament, roaring savagely at the mildest nudge of the throttle. It was all wrong. Cruisers are supposed to grunt grudgingly, offering rebellion at the call of their riding, behaving like a bull dog at puppy training, a cat at a pet show, an EFF member at SONA, not with athletic obedience.

We nudged first gear on the upward-oriented, cruiser-styled gear lever and set off in convoy through the San Diego streets. At these slow speeds, the motor was calm and placid, ticking over happily as we embodied our Easy Rider persona. The wind was gentle, the temperature was mild and the streets were nearly empty. Pedestrians donned cellphones in excitement, eager to social media this troop of strange non-Harleys that have manifested their town.

Ducati XDiavel still showing off
The XDiavel still showing off, this time with San Diego as a backdrop.

After we all felt more comfortable in our seats and skins, we began experimenting with the throttle a bit. Obviously, we were still in convoy, led by a Ducati marshal keen on not getting arrested by stern US police. The trick was to let the person in front of you pull a small gap, then change down to first, open the throttle and then….woah!

That’s not supposed to happen. Not on a cruiser.

The engineers listened to the marketers, who insisted that cruisers should be about chugging around at low speeds, shooting the breeze, enjoying life in the placid line, therefore the engine should be less about horsepower and more about torque, so that’s what they did. It is based on that of the Multistrada but, as per the request of the marketers, they obediently (probably while smirking uncontrollably) dutifully detuned the engine from the Multistrada’s 160hp to 156hp. You have to love the Italians.

Also, the torque has been retuned to 129Nm, down from the Diavel’s 130Nm, but where the Diavel’s torque curve is linear, in that it gradual slopes upwards with the revs, the XDiavel’s is linear more in the way that it shoots up to around 129Nm and stays there for most of the rev range. They have done this through the Desmodromic Variable Timing, that adjusts the lift of the valves to suit the revs at that point, and by increasing the traditional capacity of 1198cc up to 1262cc.

The result is that when you open the throttle in first, this low-slung, cruising machine shoots the front wheel into the air in a flurry of rampant acceleration, making it impossible to reach the redline in first without, in fact, ending up upside-down. They have given the XDiavel the slogan “low speed excitement” and we fear that this is provided by the fact that when you open the throttle at low speeds, you will very quickly be doing high speeds.

Ducati XDiavel business end
The business end of the XDiavel

To help tame this treacherous performance, the Ducati engineers have also wisely accompanied these now straining “cruisers” with a host of electronic aids, the same as those conveniently used on their Panigale superbikes, which are supposed to be mental and unmanageable. They use a ride-by-wire throttle, allowing for the traditional three rider modes, together with the Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit, that provides an eight-level traction control, electronic cruise control, cornering ABS (on the Safety Pack) and – and this is certainly another Ducati first – Ducati Power Launch, which is a launch control.

The latter also has three settings, and when engaged, the rider need hold the throttle fully open, the revs are limited, and then let the clutch out in a normal race start, with the IMU controlling power delivery and wheelies, much like cruisers normally don’t do.

After some in-town larking, and a trip over San Diego’s breathtaking bridge (which was probably designed by a racetrack enthusiast, because it has a corner in it), we made our way beyond the city limits, and into the nearby mountains. California is made up of a fairly flat coastal strip, followed by mountains, which eventually mature into the full Rockies.

During this 240km loop, we came within a spitting distance of the Mexican border, and celebrated this by being pulled over at a check point by the humourless border police, who revelled in this group of Europeans, Australians, Asians and one African. Passports were produced and they grudgingly let us on our way.

After watching movies like Dusk Till Dawn and other obvious border-crossing movies, Mexico looks like a barren wasteland of dust and destitution, yet here we were seeing nothing but lush greenery, rolling hills and rich vegetation over its border.

What this nebulous topography did provide is mile upon mile of corners, revealing another uncruiser element of the XDiavel – its ability to go round them. The engineers cunningly snuck in a good deal of ground clearance, resulting in possible lean angle of 40º, which is around 39º more than the traditional cruiser can lean.

Ducati XDiavel corner
The XDiavel has 40º of cornering ground clearance. That’s 37º more than most cruisers.

To assist with this newfound agility, the engineers have fitted the XDiavel with fully-adjustable, 50mm Marzocchi forks (with DLC coating on the S version) and a Sachs rear shock. With the added wheelbase, we cannot say that it handles like a pinball, but it does manoeuvre through the bends with grace and dignity, never wobbling like it has a hinge in the middle, never resisting lean and wanting to carry on straight like a wayward freightliner and never scraping, unless you attempt corner speeds somewhat untoward for a rider of a cruiser stature, in which case it will eventually touch the peg, and not once complain until then.

The brakes are by Brembo, with the S getting the M50 calliper, again the same as that used on the Panigale. Both the standard Brembo and M50 versions have exactly the same stopping power, but the M50 has more feel during braking, giving the rider more of an ability to trail brake into corners, much like cruisers don’t.

We have been giving Ducati a hard time throughout this story because they have seemingly completely missed the laid-back, relaxed point of cruisers, but a dollop of sincerity should probably be injected at this point. They have worked hard on this bike, attempting to make it something truly special. The name XDiavel insinuates that it is merely a modification of the existing Diavel, but the truth is that the only parts the XDiavel shares with the Diavel is the tyres, the brakes and the last six letters of its name. Everything else is completely unique.

Ducati might have built this bike too powerful, too racey and even too over-engineered for the tastes of your traditional cruiser rider, but then again it is exactly right for the Ducatisti. It is exactly what you would imagine a Ducati cruiser to be like. If it was tame and gentle, it wouldn’t be worthy of the Ducati badge.

As we have said many times before, there is no such thing as a boring Ducati.