Ducati, purveyors of fine sporting motorcycles, has had a crack at making a cruiser. And I am happy to report that in many ways it has failed miserably — while at the same time making a striking and oh so entertaining bike.
Cruisers are built by just about every manufacturer, but in truth the best of the breed comes from the US. It is there, after all, that the cruiser was born.
Harley-Davidson and some Johnny-come-latelies, like Victory and Indian, have done an admirable job of carving out a viable niche within this segment, where tradition is valued more highly than newfangled technology. Or performance. Or comfort. Or, indeed, aesthetics.
We like to think of the motorcycle manufacturers as forward-looking and innovative, whereas the most successful cruisers come from brands that seem to spend more time looking backwards.
That’s a sweeping generalisation of course, because Harley-Davidson and Victory are busy developing electric cruisers. But when a modern twist on the cruiser arrives — like H-D’s V-Rod — the diehard fans throw up their hands in horror and start muttering about witchcraft and burning certain designers at the stake.
Much as these successful companies might like to push the boundaries just a little, they are understandably wary of alienating their core customers, and so invention and daring design are never features of a new cruiser launch.
Until now. Ducati has rattled the cage with its new X-Diavel S, undoubtedly one of the most arresting-looking bikes to debut in many years.
Before we take a ride and get some impressions of this Italian cruiser, let’s tick off the relevant cruiser requirements, just to make sure the X-Diavel S can legitimately claim residence within this very protective segment.
Low seat height? Check. Foot-forward controls? Check. Pulled-back handlebars? Check. Fat rear tyre? Check. Long and low stance? Check. Belo final drive? Check. Big ol’ V-twin? Check.
So far, so cruiser. But that’s where the similarities with its competitors end.
If Ducati was intent on securing itself a profitable slice of the action in the States, it might have opted for the status quo and gone for a low revving, relaxing V-twin.
But no, what it has here is a barely disguised engine from World Superbikes that makes at least double the horsepower of most of the bikes it’s up against.
Part of me wants to grab the designer, shake him by the shoulders and tell him the clue’s in the name — cruising does not need mega-horsepower.
Then again, another part of me that wants to grab the same person and shake his hand for having the courage to ignore the supposedly sacrosanct rules of cruiser building and bring something new to the game.
Something that is as dynamically entertaining as any pure sport bike, something that doesn’t chug along like a tugboat, or wallow and scrape through the turns like a drunk elephant.
Before I regale you with a brief description of the X-Diavel S’s ground-breaking performance, let me (unfairly) have a bit of a moan.
All cruisers have little rear suspension travel in order to get that low-slung look at the rear end, which means that no cruiser can handle bumps — unless it incorporates the rider’s spine as part of the suspension.
Ducati hasn’t solved this problem, which surprises me a little. I was hoping for some innovative suspension linkage that bestowed off-road levels of travel while maintaining the necessary aesthetics.
Apart from this single, unrealistic expectation, everything about this Ducati deserves the accolades that keep piling up on its doorstep.
There’s more technology in this bike than there is in the entire range of some manufacturers, and the same can be said of the performance.
The engine is a slightly larger version of that found in its stablemate, the Multistrada, and with its new Desmodromic Variable Timing, doles out monster torque with serious power — 116kW of it, to be precise. Electronic safety systems and riding modes abound in a way most sport bikes can only dream about.
The result is quite shocking: a cruiser with all the bark and bite of a superbike.
Acceleration is borderline shocking, yet the bike will happily cruise at more sensible speeds. Handling is acceptable given the huge rear tyre, which may look great but infringes on cornering performance by introducing a healthy dose of understeer.
And then there are those looks, the S version of this new Diavel in particular highlighting the Italians’ ability to make any machine — whether it be coffee makers, cars, fridges or boats — into something that resembles pure art.
The X-Diavel S is one of those rare beasts that fulfils its aesthetic promise with a matching level of performance. It has rewritten the rules of the performance cruiser class and surely portends the arrival of a response from the big boys of the cruiser world.
This bike is so good, that I think you’ll have to wait some considerable time before a genuine contender emerges from the competition. So if in the meantime you want a cruiser that doesn’t skimp on the adrenaline factor, you know where to look. – Mat Durrans