2016 Ducati XDiavel review

Ducati's XDiavel ditches tradition for an entirely new riding experience

The XDiavel blends cruiser comfort and sport bike performance with an irresistible Ducati design.
The XDiavel blends cruiser comfort and sport bike performance with an irresistible Ducati design.
The XDiavel blends cruiser comfort and sport bike performance with an irresistible Ducati design.

Highs

  • Smooth, endless power
  • Jaw-dropping style
  • Customizable ergonomics
  • Sporty yet supple suspension tuning

Lows

  • Naked design = strong wind resistance
  • Lofty price tag

The world loves to hybridize. Every good thing is at some point successfully (or not) blended with something else for a new creation. If a toaster means crispy and an oven means thoroughly cooked, then a toaster oven is sheer brilliance.

This logic is behind some incredible product and technology innovations, but it doesn’t always work out. It seems like 80 percent of Shark Tank pitches are ill-conceived commodity combos, while only a handful have broad appeal.

So when Ducati introduced its XDiavel, promising cruiser ride quality and sport bike performance, more than a few eyebrows were raised. But the Italian motorcycle manufacturer tends not to act without confidence, and its products can hardly be called half-baked. This may just be a hybrid niche worth filling.

Always flexing

Only Ducati’s breed of imaginative designers could have turned a blank design canvas into the XDiavel. Beyond some traditional cruiser characteristics like foot-forward pegs and tall handle bars, the bike looks nothing like your standard Harley, Indian, or Victory road warrior.

2016 Ducati XDiavel

Without argument, the XDiavel S has presence. Its long wheelbase, massive rear tire, LED horseshoe daytime running light, 12-spoke machined rear wheel, and ornate dual exhaust system commands attention. The naked frame and stubby tail are markings of a sport bike, but the moment your legs wrap around the bike’s wide frame, there’s no confusing the XDiavel for a traditional, well, anything.

The XDiavel comes standard with a customizable 3.5-inch TFT display, cruise control, one-touch turn signals, and several other features. Choosing the ‘S’ variant equips machined wheels, black aluminum mirrors, a gloss black engine coating, Bluetooth, Brembo M50 monoblock front brake calipers, a unique seat, and the aforementioned LED DRLs. The overall design is equal parts minimalist and burly, like bulging muscles beneath a plain black t-shirt.

A contemporary cannon

Look all you want, but to understand what sets the XDiavel apart, you’ll need to saddle up and crank your wrist. Powering the XDiavel is an L-twin motor with Ducati Variable Timing (same as the Multistrada) for improved low-end and midrange power, inherent to a cruiser. The powertrain is far smoother than the 2011 Diavel predecessor and boasts increased displacement at 1262cc.

The standard XDiavel and its shinier S counterpart are mechanically identical, producing 156 horsepower and 95 pound-feet of torque. Peak power is available at 5,000 rpms, but a double-bump torque curve means another mountain of grunt appears at around 7,500 rpm. Though output is down compared to the Diavel, the broader power band mitigates dead spots in throttle response.

The overall design is equal parts minimalist and burly, like bulging muscles beneath a plain black t-shirt.

So what’s it like riding on the back of a Cruise missile? Intimidating. Due to the foot-forward, elevated-hands riding position, the rider’s body takes on a parachute shape. That means under aggressive acceleration, billowing wind shoves the rider back and away from an ideal position to shift or brake. It’s not so much force as to rip your arms from the handlebars, but it’s enough to cut into your sense of control. Of course, this isn’t news to those familiar with cruisers, but a sport bike rider might find the transition a bit awkward.

And that’s before you discover Ducati’s Power Launch (DPL) system. Tab the unassuming button above the throttle and you’ll initiate one of the most hilariously fun/frightful experiences of your life. Ducati offers three tiers of crazy: a launch from 4,000, 8,000, or 8,500 rpms. Unlike automotive launch systems, however, dumping the clutch is a big mistake. Not only will you do permanent damage, Ducati says that’s the fastest way to land on your ass and watch a $20K toy make friends with a tree. Easing off the clutch is still plenty exciting, I promise.

Lean it like you mean it

Outside the fearsome bounds of DPL, the XDiavel maintains smoothness to its power delivery that rivals can’t match. There are higher displacement cruisers on the market, but all are handicapped by significantly greater heft. At 545 pounds, the XDiavel is only about 20 percent heavier than a sport bike, benefitting riders both in the corners and during low-speed maneuvers.

“You planning any track time with this guy?” asked the Ducati rep as he handed me the XDiavel key. I let out a hearty laugh in response before realizing he was quite serious. “Uh, no,” I mumbled. “Too bad; it’s a ton of fun,” he shrugged. I maintained that he had been kidding right up until I pitched the XDiavel into a corner. Without hesitation, the cruiser tucked neatly into the bend with the same confidence as when asked to blow past a big rig. Ducati says the XDiavel will lean up to 40 degrees, and while I lack the courage to approach such an angle without my feet bent beneath me, I firmly believe that stat.

The XDiavel’s cornering ability isn’t just owed to its comparatively featherweight frame or 240mm Pirelli rear rubber. Ducati’s stellar traction management system (DTC) and Bosch Inertial Measurement (IMU) keep you upright by tracking pitch and roll angles at varying speeds. All you have to do is counterbalance from a cruiser riding position – which, admittedly, ain’t easy.

Can it cruise?

Novel though it may be to chaperone a cruiser through arduous curves, even modest sport bikes can perform better for cheaper. The XDiavel still needs to treat riders to the comforts and conveniences of a traditional road warrior.

This is no Frankenstein; it’s a chance for riders on opposite sides of the fence to find common ground.

On all but the most neglected street surfaces, the XDiavel’s suspension is sublime. While firm, the ride quality is never punishing – an absolute must for any bike targeted at cruiser buyers. The relaxed riding position and ergonomic seat complete the supple experience. And while the long wheelbase makes the rear fender look stubby, there’s enough space for a passenger to join in the fun. The XDiavel isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair, either. There are 60 possible riding positions, including four different footrest spots, five available seats (of different paddings and heights) and three unique handlebars. Heck, if you’re vehemently against the foot-forward configuration, you can even model the XDiavel with a leg-tucked arrangement.

If the XDiavel struggles in one criteria of comfort, it’s the aforementioned lack of wind protection. Due to its naked design, riders will become fatigued after long periods in the saddle, unlike full-faring cruisers. Stacking a hybridized moto against 800-pound Harleys isn’t quite fair, but don’t expect the XDiavel to be a pleasure cruise over great distances.

Hope for hybrids

At $19,995 for the XDiavel and $22,995 for the XDiavel S, there are a number of bikes that will enter the minds of shoppers before settling on Ducati’s flavor of engineering. Can the XDiavel behave like a sport bike? Yes. Will it cruise comfortably for reasonable distances? Yes. Does it match motorcycles designed specifically for these characteristics? No.

So does the XDiavel fail as a hybridized invention? Only if you mistakenly cling to the idea that you’re buying one type of bike or the other. If you’ve tried the low-speed comforts of a cruiser and want something with modern style and a thoroughly more enjoyable riding experience, the XDiavel is a breath of fresh air. Similarly, if you’ve scared yourself one too many times on a liter sport bike and desire a more casual motorcycle with an irresistible design, the XDiavel won’t disappoint.

This is no Frankenstein; it’s a chance for riders on opposite sides of the fence to find common ground.

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