What in tarnation?
In this video, Ducati sets out to explain the Diavel’s design, presenting it as a simple, muscular allegory for a sprinter crouched on the starting blocks. The problem is, there’s a significant divergence between the design-conscious image Ducati is trying to present and the reality of the bike it ended up making.
To start things off, it should be said that we remain incredibly impressed by the Diavel’s mechanical specification. Making a cruiser of this size weigh only 210kg (dry) is quite an achievement and tech features like traction control and switchable riding modes as well as the low seat height make it accessible to the 50+ ex-superbike crowd that’s buying it. But if motorcycles were simply about numbers, then there’d be no need for a Ducati cruiser. As a premium muscle cruiser it’s intended to sell on emotion, not rationality. And the most significant emotional aspect of any motorcycle is its looks.
Ducati starts by illustrating two curves that it says define the Diavel’s profile. But, wait a minute, those curves might look great on paper, but they’re simply not present on the actual motorcycle. Well, they are, but only in these tiny areas:
The video also claims that Ducati started with a clean sheet of paper when designing the Diavel. This is simply not true — the bike is based around the Testastretta 11° engine — it’s instead limited by an apparent need to reference every Ducati ever made somewhere on its confused body. There’s the exposed steel trellis that’s made Ducati famous, the headlights off a Monster, the belly pan off a streetfighter and the swingarm off a 916. All, admittedly, great looking bikes, but also clearly making this anything but a totally original design.
The “synthesis of different worlds” statement is probably a more accurate description of the design process that went into this bike. The low-seat, forward-leaning profile is that of a cruiser, but the hulking engine and tank are reminiscent of a streetfighter. The riding position is that of a standard, but the components could have come off a superbike.
Ducati seems to be very proud of the minimal tail section, and it should be, it’s the most successful part of the design. Clean, simple and evocative of performance, we’d have liked to see more of this elsewhere on the bike.
The “highlighted” swingarm claim is somewhat less truthful. The very point of an SSS is to highlight the rear wheel, a component Ducati’s chosen to make as visually loud as possible, looking more like something that belongs on a modified Escalade at SEMA or like it was lifted from a Performance Machine Harley-parts catalog. The wheels scream “me, me, me!” naturally detracting from the swingarm, which is black anyways.
Having said that, the attention-to-detail that Ducati calls out is spot on, the holistic form and function of parts like the integrated, disappearing passenger grab handle, hidden pillion pegs, LED indicators and the trellis license plate holder are stunning.
The Diavel’s biggest problem arrives when Ducati claims “authentic materials.” Sure, the air-intake covers are aluminum, but despite what the video claims, they’re not structural and serve merely to cover plastic components. They also stick out like carbuncles, adding yet one more item of visual fuss where it’s not needed. The reason for exposing the aluminum is also not clear, especially as that material is evident nowhere else on the bike; as claimed, the frame they’re bolted to is steel, as is the fuel tank. Why aluminum? Also, a steel tank, steel frame and randomly included aluminum air intake covers are all well and good, but they’re hardly the only components on the bike. The cast handlebars, plastic headlight shroud, plastic panels below the aluminum intakes, plastic bellypan, plastic exhaust covers, plastic mirrors and plastic hugger are anything but Ducati’s interpretation of authentic and just incredibly fussy.
And there-in lies the core of the Diavel design conundrum. It suffers from the same problem as just about every faired sportsbike; each component looks like it was designed by a separate team, all operating independently of each other. If you’re going to build raw mechanical aggression into a design, then do just that, stop before you get to the point where you’re adding in functionless plastic cowlings for no apparent reason. The Diavel was Ducati’s opportunity to emphasize the usually-hidden components like the frame and the v-twin engine, but instead of stopping there, they pulled a sportsbike and covered them all up. Why?
Looking at the Diavel isn’t like looking at a crouched sprinter or simple lines evoking speed, instead the eye sees multiple materials made messy by exposed plumbing, a thousand different finishes and more body panel gaps than something made by British Leyland. Even the supposedly all-black version suffers from this confusion, featuring not all-black components, but instead a grey frame, grey brushed aluminum air intake covers, silver wheel highlights, natural steel exhaust pipes and grey calipers.
Perhaps the most successful Diavel angle is from the rear, where you see only tire and simple bodywork. From the angle the bike looks purposeful and menacing, which was the idea with the whole thing. But, then you remember that this look is still an affectation, with a handling compromising 240-section rear tire necessary to achieve the desired impression.
The problem with the Diavel is that it fails to honor that old adage: keep it simple, stupid.
The Diavel caps off a range of poorly-designed Ducatis, with the only notable exception remaining the Terblanche-designed Hypermotard. That’s saying something for a brand which once sold bikes based on looks alone. While modern Ducatis are faster, more reliable, more feature-rich and just plain better-to-ride than Ducatis of yore, there’s simply no getting around their unfortunate looks. The 1198 looks like an R1 that melted in the sun, the Multistrada a JAP with a coke problem, the Monster is just a literal update of Galuzzi’s masterpiece, the Streetfighter lives up to its modified heritage with messy looks and now the Diavel looks like a plastic-clad bin full of Ducati parts.
Feel like arguing this point? This picture of a Ducati Supermono renders your argument moot.