Dancing with the Ducati Diavel

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Touring aboard the Ducati Diavel

As ideas go, I thought it was one of the more interesting propositions I have had in a while. What if you take an unusual new motorcycle and try and stretch the envelope of its design parameters on a ride the bike is not really designed for? What would you get? An interesting story? A riding challenge and new experience? All three?

That’s how I found myself hurtling down Mt. Pinos Road in the Los Padres National Forest outside Frazier Park, Calif. on an all-carbon, Testastretta-motored Ducati Diavel power cruiser, complete with saddlebags and tailbag, on a three-day jaunt with friends to the 2011 Laguna Seca MotoGP.

Don’t get me wrong, the Diavel is a fascinating bike. It is a big, powerful, cruiser that wears its weight well and handles competently, despite a relaxed steering angle, low seat height, and wide 240mm Pirelli rear tire. Add in the notion of hanging some bags on this bad boy and jumping on it for a little 350-mile ride one beautiful morning, and it makes for a potentially remarkable trip.

Before getting technical about the Diavel, let me be clear on one thing-this motorcycle is about power cruising, with a revamped Ducati Superbike-based Testastretta L-twin engine delivering loads of oomph.

Lots of torque and horsepower are on hand-94 ft/lbs with 162 horses on tap in Sport mode, per Ducati’s claims. All this power is available right from the start of the throttle’s twist on up to about 7000 rpm, where it starts to level off. Think “two-wheeled locomotive” and you get the picture.

The motor is referred to in Ducati-speak as the Testastretta 11 for the 11 degrees of crankshaft rotation when both the exhaust and intake valves are open (down considerably from the Superbike version’s 41 degrees). This engine puts most of its competition to shame, and not just on pure power, but also on personality.

It sounds like a cross between an old AMA flat-tracking Harley and the big block Chevy in a McLaren Can-Am car that I remember shaking the ground as it went by me at Road America in my youth. Distinctive. Big. Memorable.

The Diavel is different from other Ducatis, but still essentially part of the brand’s mystique, and without the straight-pipe obnoxiousness one often finds from highly tuned custom engines. Plus, this motor can be tuned at the push of a button thanks to Ducati’s three electronic engine settings that tailor the power delivery. Sport-touring with the Devil, here we come, once we figure out how to pack some bags.

Challenge 1: Saddlebags

As one of my friends on this ride commented, “It looks like an Italian Harley as styled by a Japanese designer.” Smugly put, of course, but the Diavel’s styling is startling as evidenced by the Question Factor. I have ridden lots of bikes in my life, and the Diavel easily sets a new personal record for comments and questions at rest stops, gas stations, and any other parking opportunity. If you own a Diavel, be prepared to talk about it-a lot. With that Question Factor styling comes some challenges, such as how to hang bags on the Devil.

My full-time job is in marketing at one of the leading gear manufacturers and distributors in motorcycling, so I have a few more options and professional insight than most riders have when it comes to putting bags on bikes.

The tail section of the Diavel offers some serious tests for luggage mounting, mainly due to the lack of tie-off points for mounting straps. The Diavel’s pillion pegs were not much help. These pegs fold in flush to the bike’s tail section when not in use, and are at such an angle in the folded position that straps for saddlebags and tailbags cannot purchase and become real taut. Fold them out and try to tie straps to them, and they just fold back in. Frustrating.

The tail section itself is also fairly flush and smooth, not offering any real mounting locations for straps. Lastly the license plate mount is part of a rear fender that is a suspended piece mounted to the sexy single sided swingarm. It was of no luggage mounting help either.

Challenge 2: Tank Bag

No problem, I think-I’ll just supplement a tail bag or backpack with a big tank bag that will be an easy fit on the Diavel’s big tank. A magnetic mount tankbag will not work, as the Diavel’s tank is carbon fiber. Strap mount is the way to go. I’ll pop the seat off to wrap the rear strap of a strap mount bag around the frame or on top of the rear shock mount location. Wait! That isn’t going to work as the Diavel’s frame is not exposed under the seat nor is the shock mount offering a wrap around location.

A quick call to the Ducati dealer where I borrowed the bike indicated that a Ducati-branded tank bag was in the works, with a rear strap mount featuring a custom large hook that would attach to the shock mount. Unfortunately, this genuine Ducati accessory is not quite available yet. No tank bag for the Diavel then, so we will have to make the saddlebag/tailbag work.

Challenge 3: Back To The Back

The solution came with Tour Master’s new Select Tailbag/Saddlebag system of bags (ed. note: the author works for the company that sells Tour Master products). These bags are a great value with fine storage and nice styling that works on a lot of motorcycles. They are also designed to work together as a system, and this was key to the solution of mounting the saddlebags onto the Diavel’s sexy tail. With the tailbag strapped around and under the Diavel’s pillion seat area-without the pillion cover attached-and then using the Select bag’s system of nylon clasps to secure the saddlebags to the tailbag, I got everything mounted on the Diavel. It took a few false starts, but patience won the day.

Once it was all hooked up, the Diavel now had some luggage capacity. With the bike’s upswept exhaust, I made a note to make sure the right saddlebag never touched the pipe for fear of dreaded bag burn. It seemed to have plenty of clearance for the bags, though-at least so I thought.

Challenge 4: Seating, or Lack Thereof

Big miles on any type of bike mandate a rider’s seat with several keys for comfort: firm and balanced support, the ability to move a bit on the bike, and enough padding to help soak up bumps and vibrations.

The Diavel has what I would kindly describe as a 50-Mile Seat, meaning you can ride about 50 miles before you need to get off the bike-not exactly sport-touring friendly.

The Diavel’s firmly padded seat is designed in an integrated way for the dramatic styling of the bike. It features a narrow front area, combined with a wide rear section to match the width of the tail section’s need to be in scale with and cover the 240mm rear tire. The net effect is something similar to an old time tractor seat’s shape, which isn’t bad until you hit the 50-mile mark. You just can’t move around on it.

You sit in the Diavel more than you sit on it, and with the saddlebags and tailbags, you are really locked in. After about 30 or 40 miles, I was standing on the pegs to reinvigorate my backside and taking rest stops every 60 miles or so. Not a terrible way to go, especially if you like to talk about the bike with others, which always is fun to do.

Challenge 5: Getting pegged

For riding, the position of the footpegs is perfect, and the rubber inserts dampen any vibrations you might feel from the big twin. However, they are shaped like pointy little surfboards and directly in the plane where I naturally put my feet down at stops.

Minor scraping sharpened up the pegs’ edges, and my inner shins and calves above the boot line took abuse to the point of my calves looking like they got into tiny knife fights with each other-so much for wearing riding jeans and low-rise boots on this bike. Your calves will thank you if you go with leather pants and taller touring or sport riding boots.

Enough Challenges: Let’s Ride

Up at the crack of dawn in suburban Los Angeles, I meet friends at 8 a.m. and we’re off. We ride through the Los Padres National Forest to Route 166, which takes us to the Pacific coast.

We join California Highway 1 near Morro Bay and then high-tail it up to our destination-Carmel Valley and the beautiful Los Laureles Lodge, a peaceful setting that is 10 minutes from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The ride went to plan, with plenty of great curves, great sites, and big skies right up to the heart of Highway 1 in Big Sur. Clouds and fog were encountered at three in the afternoon. It was not too dangerous, though certainly made for slower riding conditions.

The number of motorcycles seen on the way up was very encouraging to me. Most everyone was riding responsibly, as there was a law enforcement presence (they seemed to know it was MotoGP weekend).

I got caught behind a major accident on Highway 1, however, which allowed me a two-hour unscheduled rest stop with several other riders and motorists as we waited for the all-clear from the CHP. The time flew by, though, with questions answered about my run with the Devil so far and learning where everyone was riding from.

The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix was great-spectacular weather and a strong crowd made the event a highlight of the motorcycle year. Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner put on a professional display winning the MotoGP race going away, which you no doubt already know, and a good time was had by all.

The AMA rounds were quite good, too-except for my friend, and fellow Ducatisti, Jake Holden’s mishap in the Daytona Sportbike Race. Jake went down hard in the early part of the race, possibly ending his season-a tough break for a first class guy.

Lessons Learned

Putting bags on this bike was an interesting exercise for me, and I respectfully submit to you that it ended up being too much for most riders to overcome. The Diavel just ain’t built for it. Even with the clearances I had, the Diavel’s upswept exhausts aimed high temperature gases right at the bottom rear of the saddlebags. This managed to cook my right rear saddlebag to the point of a minor failure.

Rather than risk ruining this bag on the way home, I ran just the tailbag and a backpack; a friend who had driven up to the races transported the rest of my gear home.

The Diavel does a number of things well, and is a joy to ride for the most part. It is very similar in many ways to my Ducati Monster-just bigger and way more powerful than Il Mostro while offering a bit more legroom.

Think of the Diavel as the ultimate “bar hopper” bike with cool styling and reasonably good handling. It has ergonomics that allow for more spirited riding than most cruisers would ever permit, until you hit the 50-mile mark. Good conversations when you arrive-anywhere. Those are its strengths, along with a great big dollop of Italian power and noise to boot.

Power is so fundamental to the Diavel’s charm and design that it defines its existence and confirms the name. Without that motor, it is hard to justify the Diavel as part of the Ducati brand.

With the big power delivery, however, comes forgiveness for the Diavel’s shortcomings as a sport tourer. After all, Ducati never claimed it could be used as one, so I can’t take it to task too much for not playing along with my bright idea to stretch its envelope.

I had a memorable weekend of riding that I won’t soon forget, on some of the best roads in the country. I witnessed some great racing and had plenty of good times with friends and strangers-not a bad few days at all. I might not repeat it any time soon on this type of bike, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself. After all, the Devil made me do it.

Story from previous issue of Ultimate MotorCycling…to view the digital edition, click here.

Still Photography by Richard Kimes
Action Photography by Don Williams