Riding the 2016 Ducati XDiavel

Cruiser motorcycles never featured on the list of motorcycles I would like to own or even ride one day.  My opinion about these bikes has always been subjective, either linked to the looks of these bikes or the lifestyle associated with owning them.  But then things changed.

Before a ride, let's test the access to foot controls...

Before a test ride, let’s test the ergonomics of forward foot controls

This changed this last couple of years when manufacturers started producing bikes with cruiser ergonomics, especially forward foot controls, but with somewhat of a sport aggressive demeanor with a motor that goes with it.  These bikes can been referred to as urban sport cruisers. Three bikes among this group of bikes, very different from each other, I see them as cool urban bikes, drew my attention: the Ducati XDiavel, the Victory Octane, and the Moto Guzzi V-9. Yes, the Guzzi is more different than the other on this group of different bikes.

This report is about my thoughts about urban sport cruiser machines, but primarily it is about the XDiavel.  I will discuss in more detail this bike, will provide my riding impressions on it from the perspective of someone who had never ridden a cruiser before.  I will also speculate whether there is change on the urban motorcycle scene, since I believe I’m not the only one who has become interested in cruisers for the first time as part of this crop of interesting urban motorcycles coming out in the last few years.

An XDiavel line up - ready for organized test rides in the PIR, May 2016

An XDiavel line up – ready for organized test rides in the PIR, May 2016

The Background

If you have been following my stories, I’ve been posting thoughts on what would an ideal urban motorcycle be, a motorcycle someone could use on a daily basis.  This search has been very predictable for me, an adventure and enduro motorcycle rider, leading me straight to “standards” of the scrambler variety, like the Ducati Scrambler and the BMW R NineT Scrambler.  Old habits die hard, I know.

This search, however, brought to light other interesting motorcycles on a style I’d never paid attention before, bikes that are definitely out of the adventure riding box.  On this vein, the XDiavel was one of the bikes I was most interested in riding because I’m familiar with this brand and have ridden most of its products. Therefore when Ducati organized a national tour to offer test rides on the XDiavel, I jumped at the opportunity.

The XDiavel promotion tour, truck with motorcycles and merchandise was at Portland International Raceway on May 2016

The XDiavel promotion tour, truck with motorcycles for organized test rides and merchandise, was at Portland International Raceway on May 2016

Before getting into the Ducati, though, let’s talk about the other two bikes on this short list.  The Victory Octane became an interesting option for me especially because at some point it had been rumored we would see a Victory model based on Project 156.  Many of us heard about project 156, as the promotion was well orchestrated especially around the Pikes Peak event.  Just in case you haven’t heard about it, Project 156 was the result of Roland Sands teaming up with Polaris to deliver a concept bike under the Victory brand with the design and the performance to conquer Pikes Peak in 2015. The bike did not win it but it certainly left a mark.  Job well done, Victory.

Project 156: Roland Sands and Victory, teaming up to conquer Pikes Peak

Project 156: Roland Sands and Victory, teaming up to conquer Pikes Peak. Great looking motorcycle.

Some say the descendant of the 156 is the Victory Octane, which it turns out, has the look and feel more to a cruiser, much more similar to its Polaris cousin, the Indian Scout, than the more upright and standard or even aggressive stance of Project 156.

race-to-the-clouds-logos

On the other hand the Victory Octane motor delivers a more aggressive riding experience than the Scout does, according to reviewers (I have not ridden the Victory Octane nor the Indian Scout), and the Octane certainly looks more aggressive than the Scout.  The Octane’s 1179cc motor is a V-Twin rated at 104HP at 8,000 RPM and reaches a maximum of 76 ft-lbs of torque at 6,000 RPM.

What this motor can possibly deliver in terms of performance is what makes the Victory Octane interesting to me.  The riding experience described by others resonate with what I’m looking for, especially because it comes on a compact package, with an interesting, very urban demeanor.  Meanwhile, Polaris, here is my question to you: is the Octane really the bike meant to have been originated from project 156?  That is, will we see something more upright like the 156 instead of the Octane and the two other Octane-derived concepts (the Ignition and Combustion concepts)?

2017 Victory Octane

2017 Victory Octane: shinier version.

The other urban sport cruiser that has caught my attention is Moto Guzzi’s V-9 in bobber style.  The controls are not too far forward, more of a standard look, but still offering a relaxed approach to riding.

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

The motor is an attraction on itself, an 853CC transversely mounted V-twin in Moto Guzzi tradition. This motor is attractive not for its performance, but for what it represents, its tradition, a true classic and one of the remaining air cooled motors. From several reports from the people who have ridden it, they say although rated at only 55HP, the way its torque is delivered (the maximum torque is 47 lb-fts, but at a very low 3,000RPM) they never felt power was a missing element on the riding experience. On paper and on looks itself, this seems like a great urban machine to me.

An interesting aside here is that Moto Guzzi appears to live in a special place in the mind of moto-journalists.  On all reviews they are very quick to point out the limitations on these bikes, and there are several limitations.  On the other hand, they hardly dismiss these bikes for their short-comings.  Quite the contrary, they always seem to find something positive to say about these bikes. Is it because these bikes deliver a feeling, a riding experience that can take you to years past, but with traction control, fuel injection and ABS, and perhaps 21st century reliability? Is this today’s interpretation of what a true motorcycle is?  It only makes me curious about this bike, and I think it deserves a test ride.

Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

Since I’ve been discussing the BMW R NineT Scrambler on several posts, including this one, and it is on my short list of bikes I would like to own one day, let’s see how it rates in comparison to the Victory Octane and Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber in terms of specs.

Air-cooled boxer motor: going, going...

BMW R NineT Scrambler, One Moto Show, Portland, February 2016

The BMW R NineT Scrambler, if the motor is the same as the R Nine T for the United States market (for the European market it has changed to meet Euro 4 standards) is likely to be rated at 110HP at 7,750 RPM and reaching maximum torque at 85 lb-fts at 6,000 RPM, figures that put this bike very evenly matched to the Victory Octane.  But BMW edges the Victory on torque and is set on a lighter weight, “scramblerized” package. These are different leagues of bikes, in terms of style, but the BMW is probably a bike that you can take for a ride with your sport bike friends and not be left behind.  The Victory Octane, who knows. The BMW is a more versatile machine. But I digress. From this short list of bikes, with two of them closely matched in performance, the Moto Guzzi sits alone with its lower HP and torque. It should be about the subjective riding experience, right? That’s what counts in the end.

What about the Ducati XDiavel?

Talking about the importance of the riding experience, let’s get back to the main protagonist of this post, the Ducati XDiavel. The XDiavel is a departure from the Diavel concept, more refined and clearly more defined towards the cruiser domain.

2016 XDiavel S

2016 XDiavel S

The Diavel immediately looked out of place when the XDiavel was put next to it with its more sophisticated appearance, trellis frame exposed, more traditional shapes for the tank and seat. And foot controls set forward. And we are not even taking in consideration the DVT motor yet.

The XDiavel and the Diavel

The XDiavel and the Diavel

Thanks to Ducati’s marketing campaign which remains bold on motorcycle launches, they brought the motorcycle “launch” experience to me on a truck that toured several parts of the country.  In May of 2016 the XDiavel truck was in Portland with several motorcycles on board for a three-day window of organized test rides. I was there for the experience and I got to ride the XDiavel twice.

Ducati's mobile "launch" of the XDiavel in Portland, May of 2016

Ducati’s mobile “launch” of the XDiavel in Portland, May of 2016

Incidentally, Ducati still makes use of umbrella girls. I confess I find it difficult to criticize Ducati for using this approach to draw attention to their products, who knows when this practice will end. I bet they were happy to get a check for this work. And they were very nice as well, and patient and dedicated to their jobs, they posed for me.

Nice motorcycles

Nice motorcycles

Since the XDiavel has been out since last year, you probably already know its specs.  But just in case, and because I mentioned the basic specs of the Victory Octane and the Moto Guzzi V-9 (and also the BMW Scrambler), I should talk about the Ducati as well.  Although the Victory Octane brings a new level of performance to the urban sport cruiser scene, the XDiavel is on another league in terms of power and technology, it is a different beast altogether.  Let’s not forget, it is a Ducati.  So let’s see those numbers.

XDiavel Specs (from Ducati’s website)

The motor is a new Ducati Testastretta DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing), L-Twin, with 4 desmodromically actuated valves per cylinder, dual spark, liquid cooled and driven by a belt (instead of chain).

Here are some numbers:

  • Displacement: 1262 cc (77,0 cu in)
  • Bore x Stroke: 106 x 71,5 [mm] (4,17 x 2,81 [in])
  • Compression ratio: 13:1
  • Power: 156 hp (114,7 kW) @ 9500 rpm
  • Torque: 95,0 lb-ft (128,9 Nm) @ 5000 rpm

If this summary of the motor specs are not enough, or because of them, the Ducati comes with a full host of riding technology aids that is usually associated with high-end sport, touring and adventure motorcycles.  Its standard equipment includes riding modes, Bosch cornering ABS, traction control, a power launch (for when you want to safely show off this bike’s power to your friends or for those unsuspected encounters at red lights), ride by wire, cruise control, self-cancelling turn signals, full-led lighting, backlit handlebar switches (quite nice actually), bluetooth module, infotainment system, and I think I may have missed something or another.

This is no ordinary cruiser.  The Victory Octane, as mentioned before, is a departure from the usual scene, the Ducati XDiavel even more, and so much so that it needs a power launch control.  Some people have been referring to these bikes as muscle cruisers. Maybe you could say that in relation to the Victory Octane.  You can hardly say that for the Ducati, as it is too sophisticated and technologically packed for that association, although it has a lot more power than the Octane.  I’ll stick with urban sport cruiser, a much better match in my opinion.

Ducati Power Launch - DPL

Ducati Power Launch – DPL.  A muscle cruiser? Or a sport cruiser? Who cares, it moves fast!

The Design – attention to detail and exclusiveness

You can see from the motor and technology package that this is a special machine. Maybe you would realize all of that by just looking at it, especially the S version, with its glossy black paint, machined belt covers, premium seat, machined aluminum mirrors, and a myriad of other details.  As you’ve seen on my previous post about this bike, the attention to detail is incredible on this machine. It is a Ducati on its soul, besides the power, this bike’s appeal comes from its styling and sophistication.

Everything about this bike talks about style, refinement, but also aggressiveness

Everything about this bike talks about style, refinement, but also aggressiveness

It is a very attractive motorcycle. Power that is unmatched, style and sophistication is what Ducati brings to the segment, something that has not been available before.  Of course, you would not be surprised, it comes with a hefty price tag. Yes, it is a Ducati.

Short exhaust exiting on the side with a dual pipe configuration , if we can call that a pipe...

Short exhaust exiting on the side with a dual pipe configuration , custom wheels, beautiful and sophisticated in all details

As a final result of this package, when I saw this bike for the first time at the local Ducati shop back in March, I immediately wanted to ride it.  I patiently waited until the truck arrived near me, with the bikes, the umbrella girls, and all the marketing paraphernalia.  They even gave me a T-shirt along with the ride.

XDiavel: "Are you ready for change?" summarizes the concept and the campaign about this motorcycle.

XDiavel: “Are you ready for change?” summarizes the concept and campaign around this motorcycle.

So let’s see what riding this machine is all about!  Am I ready for change?

Riding the XDiavel

I arrived at the PIR on a late Saturday afternoon, so I got to ride this bike on one of its last groups for that day.  Then I came back Sunday morning and took another ride.  Lets start with the Saturday afternoon ride.

Following my ride, one more tour is heading out

Following my ride, one more group is heading out

Organized group test rides are very limiting, as one important priority on such rides is about keeping moving as a group which limits the attention you may want give to the bike and its riding experience.  You are not encouraged to accelerate out of the pace of the group, you are not allowed to stop whenever you want to document the bike, and you have to ride the route they planned for you at the pace they selected for you, for the duration they consider will be enough for you.

Bikes ready for action!

Bikes ready for action!

On the Saturday guided test ride, besides the lead and sweeper riders, there were about eight test riders, a relatively large group.  The route was to leave the PIR area and head east towards the airport area on the other side of I-5 using back roads and then ruen south before going west again to return on a parallel road to the PIR.  It was about 40 minutes long, at speeds averaging between 30 and 40 miles per hour.  As I mentioned already, it is a bit lame to ride in a group but since we were testing a motorcycle with cruiser ambitions, maybe it makes sense to ride on a parade mode. We want to make sure the bike rides well on a slow pace.  Even if it has 156 hp at the ready.

The bike offers three positions for foot control adjustment. I picked a bike with the foot controls in the middle.  And I thought it was still too far forward to me.  That is something one has to get used to, if they’ve only ridden adventure or sport motorcycles. Once you are moving it is all good, the problem is when you stop.  If you remove both feet from the pegs, once you start going again it is difficult to really know where your feet go to reach the foot controls.

Left foot controls positioned at the most forward setting

Foot controls (in this case for the left foot) positioned at the most forward setting. I picked one with controls in the middle position, it still felt too forward to me

Therefore here there is an advantage for being compliant with what you learned on your motorcycle safety course: if you keep one foot on the controls (bike in first gear, right foot on rear brake as recommended) it is very easy for the left foot to find its way back to the peg because you have the right foot as a reference.  Problem solved.  Anyway, I assume after a day or two of riding the new tall and forward foot controls position are going to be learned and become automatic.

I put the bike in sport mode, what’s new, and I could immediately feel the power, lots of it.  How to tame this beast for slow riding is the challenge we expect from powerful motors and this bike felt a bit lumpy on 1st gear when trying to move at constant speeds of below 20mph.  Of course those are speeds you only use when leaving a parking area.  Most of us will spend very little time at those speeds, so that is basically okay.  The bike I rode on Sunday morning, also on sport mode, felt better on those same speeds, same riding mode and it should be noted that when I tried urban mode for a little while, the bike felt better at slow speeds and you can change back to sport mode on the go.

Somewhat lumpy below 20mph in first gear

Somewhat lumpy below 20mph in first gear

Once we got to the riding speeds programmed for this tour, between 30 and 50 mph, the bike felt good.  You have to use the gear box, though, you have to be on a proper gear for a smooth operation on this bike.  That is, if you are at 30 mph, in third gear, on a slight uphill and you want the bike to accelerate quickly, you will be better off by downshifting to second gear.  This bike’s motor has been designed to deliver a good amount of power at the lower end of the torque curve, but it still feels and deliver better performance at higher RPMs.

Therefore, you need to use the gear box to enjoy the power and quick acceleration you get when at the 4,500 or 5,000 RPM and above.  That’s where the power lives.  That is, it is still a typical Ducati, it has torque down low, but it still is a motor that revs high to deleiver performance of a true sports bike.  You need to appreciate the rush of power delivery going past 5,000 RPM to really enjoy what this bike is all about. Believe me, it is fantastic.

Bike feels much better and more responsive at about 5K RPM

Bike feels much better and more responsive at about 5K RPM

Yes, each bike has an appropriate or best gear for a certain speed and acceleration depending on gear ratios and motor design.  Cruisers by tradition will actually tractor well at low speeds but they will top off too soon on the RPM range. It is one of those compromise situations.  The XDiavel is coming from the other side, it is a performance motorcycle with capacity to ride at low speeds.  Therefore, it is not a cruiser in the traditional cruiser sense. It is a sports bike, with classy urban looks, with cruiser ergonomics.  An urban sport cruiser.

Perfect at slow cruising speeds, 36mph on 3rd gear

Perfect at slow cruising speeds, 36mph on 3rd gear and 3.5 K RPM

Having said that, the bike felt very good on 3rd gear at above 30 mph speeds for cruising. If cruising is the thing to do, you can also resort on its cruise control.  I did test it at slightly less than 50 MPH on 4th gear.

Cruise control engaged

Cruise control engaged (green light on the right side of the upper dash)

With the cruise control engaged the bike traveled very smoothly at those low speeds.

Cruise control on (green light on the right side of the upper dash) set at 48mph, 4th gear

Cruise control set at 48mph, 4th gear, smooth operation and riding experience

Eventually we started our way back to the PIR and I felt this ride was not enough for me to get a feel for this motorcycle.  The event organizers told me they would be back at 9am Sunday morning, that on early mornings they have had less people show up, so they could take me on a different route.

One thing to note is that this bike has self cancelling turn signals.  I’ve always been skeptical about these systems thinking they would not work well or that they would not be timed to work the same way I would do manually. But the reality is that it worked really well, it never failed, and the timing was perfect.  Together with cruise control and cornering ABS this is something I would like to have on my next premium motorcycle.

Sunday morning I showed up at 9am ready to ride.  No other riders were ready to go at that time, so I got to ride only with the lead and the sweeper.  I felt I was riding escorted by two guards, one ahead and one behind me. Yet, we rode a little bit faster, and we took a different route.  This time we went to the opposite direction, west towards St. John.

Leaving St John

Leaving St John

We crossed the Willamette river, which was already a much more interesting route than looping on the south area of the airport.

Crossing the Willamette

Crossing the Willamette

And from there we took the short cut going up towards the Skyline Boulevard. Since it has a great amount of curves, I had a chance to see what else this bike can do.  It leans very nicely, fast and sharp despite its long wheel base.  It is a bit of a strange position to have your feet up and way forward when trying to ride more aggressively.  This bike may not be able to keep up with sport bike riders on the hills, but they better keep their game up or the sport bike in cruiser disguise may catch up with them.

Cornering with the XDiavel

Cornering with the XDiavel

We reached the Skyline Boulevard and turned around from there, back towards the PIR, so the ride would be a total of 40 minutes long to be back and ready for the next group (the guided tours leave on the hour).

Back to St Johns and the PIR

Back to St Johns and the PIR

Back at the PIR, at the headquarters of this tour, I could reach more informed conclusions about this bike. The Sunday ride with more variation of terrain and speeds gave me a better impression about this bike.  It can cruise well, it can accelerate very nicely (its best performance feature in my opinion), and it can lean and be ridden aggressively on curves, which is not a surprise, considering it is a Ducati.

In essence, it is a cruiser in shape and form, but don’t think the cruiser ergos will stop you from enjoying other experiences with this motorcycle.  A case in point is that as another group got ready to go on their guided test, I went with the local shop guys to a back road to test the Ducati Power Launch (DPL).  By the way, once you’ve used the DPL three times in a row the system will only be actuated again once the bike cools down (from time from the last time or miles ridden since you last tried it).

Testing the DPL

Testing the DPL

And that was it.  Overall, thank you Ducati for allowing me to test ride this wonderful machine.

The Urban Scene

The Ducati XDiavel, along with the other bikes described on this post, form a new group of cool bikes to enter the motorcycle urban scene. We’ve seen the scramblers, roadsters, cafe racers, and there were already cruisers as part of this group.  But the Ducati XDiavel and the Octane bring performance to this group of cruiser-styled bikes.  The Moto Guzzi brings a more classical and traditional performance, it seems.

These bikes are all after the cool factor that comes from the riders who created a path themselves by making modifications on their bikes to create beautiful, exclusive and desired machines. Manufacturers design motorcycles that look somewhat like these custom machines, but built on an integrated factory-built platform that allows performance, safety and reliability for real use.

Bikes lined up for group test rides at the PIR

Bikes lined up for group test rides at the PIR

These bikes will never be as cool as a well designed custom creation, but they are likely to perform better, and they allow more riders,who do not have the skill or the time, perhaps,  to have access to cool bikes. That larger access diminishes somehow the cool factor and here is where the Ducati comes in:  with its style, sophistication and performance, the associated price tag is likely going to keep some level of exclusiveness.

To summarize, this is a unique bike, the one you could ride wearing a tuxedo for a gala event, or ride it with your scuffed leather jacket to your local riding club, or don your race leathers and take it on a spirited canyon ride with your sport riding friends. It would do well on these three scenarios. You would potentially look cool in at least two of these three scenarios. Three for three will depend on how good your riding friends are, they would have an advantage if they ride sport bikes.

Will I buy one?

Well, I liked it, but I will likely not buy it this point.  And it is not something against the XDiavel in particular.  It is something that would apply to the Victory Octane as well, even though I never test rode one (and I still want to test ride one).

The reason is simple.  Although I find these bikes very cool, and the XDiavel is a wonderful performance machine, I just did not get comfortable with the forward foot controls.  Whenever I crossed cruisers on the road in my many years of riding, guys with their feet forward, backs arched, I always thought maybe, just maybe, there s something special about that riding position, maybe it is even a comfortable riding position.

This bike is about style and performance in cruise disguise

Style and performance in cruise disguise

But in reality, I learned with two 40-minute rides, I’m much more comfortable with a more upright riding position.  It allows me to ride on a more relaxed mode.  But when things get more interesting, the upright bikes allow me to move my body so much more easily on the bike to assume a more aggressive posture. On a cruiser, you are more of a passenger on your own motorcycle, and it does not leave much room for movement.  I’m glad I had a chance experience what would be to ride a motorcycle with cruise ergonomics.  I’m not going to say “never” but for now I say: not yet.

As others have mentioned before, and I will say it again, it is really great to be a motorcycle rider these days. The XDiavel in particular is bringing something that was not available before, with its extreme power and sophistication.  I am looking forward to seeing these bikes on the road and hopefully try them again, just for the sake of experiencing that nice motor.

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