2019 Ducati Diavel 1260S Review – First Ride

Gabe Ets-Hokin
by Gabe Ets-Hokin

When a thing isn't like the other things

Jet lag is the price I pay for some good parts of life, like flying to Spain’s Costa del Sol to ride Ducati’s pretty-much-all-new Diavel 1260S. And it was a very good part, because Spain has very good roads, and the Diavel 1260S is a very good motorcycle.

2019 Ducati Diavel 1260S

Editor Score: 89.5%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 10/10
Brakes 10/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 7.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score89.5/100

Yeah, I said it: an unqualified very good motorcycle, at least based on about 200 miles of riding on smooth, winding roads. It’s fast, it’s easy to ride, it looks good and works as a package. But that was no surprise to me; I rode the original Diavel 1198 back in 2011 (for a different website; not all who wander are lost), and it surprised me, a cruiser-shaped thing that handled and performed like a sporty-standard-type thing. That’s a good thing, and an even better thing is that Ducati didn’t get bored with it and now, eight model years later, has made lots of tasteful and useful improvements without losing the basic goodness of the badness that is Diavel.

You see, over the last three decades here at the MO, we’ve ridden scads of “power cruisers” and “muscle cruisers” and other two-wheelers that make similar promises; cruiser sound, looks, and comfort with sportbike-level performance and handling. It’s usually just cosmetics; slap some inverted forks and radials on that mutha’, black out some chrome, think of a tough-sounding name and call it a day. Testing those Frankenbikes usually had me writing stuff like “the inverted front end inspired greater confidence,” but even if you put Sisley Paris Hydrating Long-Lasting Lipstick ($57) on a pig, it’s still just a potential source of delicious smoked meats.

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Il Diavel is something different. “Originally, it was to be a ‘mega-Monster,’” said Ducati Product Manager Stefano Tarabusi at the tech presentation, “a blend of sport-naked and sportbike.” But then, the powers-that-be at Ducati, perhaps feeling panicky about the global debt crisis of the late ’Oughts, had the folks in the design center add the cruiser shape into the mix, resulting in that hulking, sort of guppy-shaped profile Tarabusi described as a sprinter on the starting blocks.

Ducati design sketch showing either Ducati’s design vision for the Diavel or an unnatural act. I wasn’t 100% at the briefing. #jetlag

Stare at it long enough and it grows on you, and guess what? Ducati managed to ride out that recession – and the massive shrinkage of the global heavyweight motorcycle market – not just alive and kicking, but profitable and with a larger share of the US market, if not much of an actual increase in units sold. Eight years on, and Ducati has sold 35,000 Diavels, with the US market soaking up a healthy chunk of that number. That means the Diavel did its job, helping to expand Ducati’s market and keeping that little red ship afloat, which benefits all of moto-kind; Ducatisti or not, do you really want to live in a world without blood-red Italian sportbikes?

As a reward, the Diavel gets a total refresh for 2019, a refresh aimed not at changing it into something it isn’t but at making it better at what it does best. To that end, the smooth and muscle-y 1262cc motor from the XDiavel gets some cosmetic changes – new covers to clean up the aesthetics – as well as chain drive to match the previous Diavel, and some other alterations that bump power up a few horses and pound-feet to 159 (157 for the USA, to meet EPA sound regs) and 95, respectively.

XDiavel’s motor got some changes; chain drive, cosmetic covers, a new exhaust and more.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Peak torque now arrives 2,500 rpm higher, but there is way more of it lower down on the tach, especially compared to the old Diavel motor. That’s likely thanks to the DVT (Ducati Variable Timing), although perhaps the new exhaust, designed to expose the rear wheel, helps. Dual plugs and other tricks keep the motor clean burning (Euro 5 compliant) as well as fuel efficient and affordable (by Italian vehicle standards) to maintain: Oil changes are called for every 9,000 miles and valvetrain inspections every 18,000. Oh, and Ducati owners rejoice: they told me your desmo belts no longer have a chronological life, so don’t panic if it takes you five years to hit that 18,000 mark. You don’t have to worry about your belt snapping.

The rest of the bike is also heavily reworked. A new frame bolts onto the front of the motor, a new subframe and swingarm bolt onto the back, there’s a new 4.5-gallon fuel cell and all-new bodywork to boot. Even the tires are revamped – Pirelli Diablo (of course!) Rosso III’s – although Ducati didn’t really explain how they’re different from the aye-ayes other than having an extra Roman numeral. Suspension and brakes are similar to the older Diavels: the 1260S gets full Öhlins, with a 48mm front and TiN-coated fully-adjustable rear shock, race-spec Brembo M50 radial-mount monobloc calipers and 320mm discs for the front brakes. The standard 1260 gets fully adjustable Marzocchi stuff, with a 50mm inverted front end. Standard customers will get the Brembo M4.32 monobloc calipers, which don’t exactly suck, either.

Another slide showing how much of the 1260 is new.

Modern bikes (especially the ones priced like midrange sedans) get modern electronics, and the Diavel is bristling with them. Basically the same package as the XDiavel, the 1260 gets adjustable power modes, adjustable riding modes (Touring, Sport and City), full Bosch Cornering ABS Evo (which can be adjusted to allow rear-wheel slides and other silliness), Ducati Traction Control Evo (allowing more silliness), Ducati Wheelie Control Evo (you’re getting it), Ducati Power Launch Evo (burn them tires!) and cruise control for when you come down hard off a burnout-induced highside and break your wrist. In all seriousness, bravo for Ducati for offering this stuff, because it really is life saving, and no, I didn’t write that last sentence because Evans made me.

Some numbers: Ready to roll, with a full tank, the Diavel 1260 (either version) weighs in at a claimed 538 pounds, seven less than the XDiavel’s claimed heft, but 15 pounds more than the old Diavel. Wheelbase is a bit longer than the X at 63 inches, but rake and trail – 27° and 4.7 inches – are steepened up. The lean angle goes up a degree to 41, the pegs get mounted mid, the wide handlebar gets a bit closer to the rider and the passenger seat becomes wider, perhaps to appease Editor Brasfield’s spouse. Oh, and a new swingarm, shock and linkage give us a whopping 5.1 inches of rear-wheel travel – that’s the same as the Katana Mr. Burns tested last week. MSRP for USA customers is $19,995 for the standard model or $22,995 for the S.

The redesigned bike presents a narrow, aggressive front end, aided by moving the radiator to the front of the bike. Note the omega-shaped LED running light as Ducati is very proud of it. Be nice.

Surprisingly, Ducati only had the 1260S for us to ride this trip (si, Sr. Domenicali, I’ll come to Italy to ride the 1260, but business class this time, please), so I really can’t tell you about the standard bike other than recite the spec sheet. Note the two bikes weigh the same; the S gets different, but still cast wheels rather than the forged units most high-spec Ducatis get; gotta save money somewhere to bring this bike to market at this price point. But you do get a quick shifter, the Ducati Multimedia System (which links with your smartphone and allows you to manage your phone’s audio functions through the handlebar controls and dash display, a system previously only available on the Multistrada 1260), a seat covered with an Alcantara-like material and the option to get the bike in glossy Thrilling Black as well as the standard bike’s Sandstone Grey.

2019 Ducati Diavel 1260S

And now, the riding impression. We rode about 120 miles on some really great two-lane twisty stuff, roads that put some of California’s finest to shame with their lack of double-yellow lines (even in blind corners! Yes!) and ironing-board smooth-itude, not to mention motorists who are – get this – aware of motorcyclists and get out of their way when they need to pass.

And pass we did. It shouldn’t surprise you that this bike rips, but it’s also very smooth and refined while doing it. Second gear? Fourth gear? Whatever. It doesn’t matter, and acceleration was always smooth and easy, with torque pouring out of the back Rosso III like olive oil pouring onto tapas. Whack open the throttle and the bike tears ahead with a tastefully muted but still lively exhaust note. My personal ride (an EBR 1190SX that I still don’t hate) delivers similar power but with much less refinement. So, the Diavel feels softer… but never slow. I did find fault with the fuelling on steady or slight trailing throttle, but we big V-Twin owners are used to this, as we are stout and hearty souls and enjoy spending money on FI tuning.

I played a bit with the electronics, switching between Sport, Touring and City (you can use the app or the on-bike controls to fine-tune all this to perfection), but I left it on Touring because I liked the smoother power delivery (it still gives you full power) and it automatically displays the full rider info display, rather than the abbreviated display of the Sport mode. You can, if you have more time and aren’t all jet-laggy, customize displays to show exactly the info you need; the TFT display is really well done, intuitively designed, and useful. I won’t write anything mean about other experiences I’ve had with similar products.

TFT display is bright, highly visible and easy to use.

Diavel makes big power, sure, but power is boring without handling, and I loved the Diavel 1260’s. It is not like riding a cruiser in any noticeable way; I’d liken it more to a very heavy flat-tracker, or maybe a big UJM with a scooped-out seat. The giant doughnut in back makes steering heavy, but the big handlebar makes it easy to steer – if you like slow, steady, predictable steering. Chalk that balanced feel to the bike’s 50/50 weight distribution; amazing for something that looks like this.

Once leaned over, it holds a line nicely, and you’re going pretty good if you drag a peg (I didn’t). The suspension is compliant and very controlled, impressive for 538 pounds with so much power, but again: smooth roads. Braking was as good as you’d expect, and when it comes to the Bosch ABS, I honestly didn’t use it much, but when I did, I was glad to have it, especially when it saved me from crashing into a stopped rider ahead of me.

Diavel 1260S is a pricey bike, but it’s equipped like a pricey bike, too. The S’s $3,000 premium price gets you at least $6,000 worth of superbike-level kit. Each one of those calipers is about $800.

The Gabe-saving power of the electronics didn’t stop there: I also avoided a to-the-moon highside while passing some cars in a tight, low-speed turn, something I never seem to learn not to do. I felt the big back tire sliding, saw the warning lights on the dash and then…I was upright, uninjured, passing the car, and thankful I wasn’t experiencing a Spanish life-flight helo. What I’m trying to say is, never lend me your motorcycle.

That’s because it’s probably not as confidence-inspiring as this new Diavel. I’m a little dude, with 5 foot 6 of height and 30 inches of inseam, so I usually need a while to get confident on bigger bikes. Not so with this one. The super low seat, which is wide and comfortable, lets me flat foot my feet, yet the mid-mount pegs aren’t high enough to cramp the knees. The longer-legged may disagree. The bike’s weight is masked at low speeds – riding around town is simple, and the steering radius is better than I expected, tight enough to make a U-turn on a narrow country road. Easy to handle at low speeds and in city traffic; so it is like a cruiser, at least in that respect.

It’s also not a bad place to spend a riding day. The seat doesn’t lock you in place like I thought it would (taller riders, you may disagree), giving you room to move around, but the riding position still is cruiser-y enough to cramp my knees and put my ass to sleep after a few hours. Wind blast was tolerable, but you may want to get the accessory screen if touring is your thing.

As I wrap this up, I’m surprised I have so much to say about a revamped existing model like the Diavel 1260. But it’s a really well-executed motorcycle, far from the afterthought many cruisers turn out to be. That’s because it’s not really a cruiser, not in the traditional sense. It’s so non-traditional, encouraging an aggressive, confident riding style that rewards a skilled, engaged rider. Ducati calls the Diavel concept “disruptive,” using the language of Silicon Valley to emphasize how not like a cruiser it is. Whatever it is, I like it, and you might too.

2019 Ducati Diavel 1260S

+ Highs

  • Handles, goes and stops like something that isn’t cruiser-shaped
  • Comfortable, fun and engaging to ride
  • Pricing hasn’t moved much since last big update

– Sighs

  • Some fuelling issues at steady throttle
  • For $23k let’s get some Skyhook suspension and forged wheels up in here
  • Looks aren’t too bad but it still looks like a motorcycle that ate another motorcycle

2019 Ducati Diavel 1260 Specifications

EngineL-Twin, liquid-cooled, Desmodromic Variable
Bore x Stroke106 mm x 71.5 mm
Fuel SystemFuel injection
Transmission6-speed with standard quick shifter and slipper clutch
Horsepower157 hp at 9,250 rpm (claimed, US model)
Torque95 lb-ft at 7500 rpm (claimed)
Front Suspension48mm Öhlins fully adjustable inverted forks, 4.7 inches of travel
Rear SuspensionÖhlins linkage-equipped shock with fully adjustable rebound & spring preload, 5.1 inches of travel
Front BrakesBrembo radial-mount monobloc calipers, 310mm discs with Bosch cornering ABS
Rear BrakesBrembo single-piston caliper with Bosch cornering ABS
Front Tire120/70 ZR17 (58W), tubeless
Rear Tire240/45 ZR17 (73W), tubeless
Rake / Trail27° / 4.7 inches
Seat Height30.7 inches
Wheelbase63 inches
Curb Weight538 pounds (claimed)
Fuel Capacity4.5 gallons
ColorsSandstone Grey/Black, Thrilling Black and Dark Stealth
Gabe Ets-Hokin
Gabe Ets-Hokin

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2 of 34 comments
  • Martin collins Martin collins on Apr 04, 2019

    Ducati working very hard to prove they aren't a cruiser company.

  • Fred Fred on Jun 02, 2019

    I had a 2015 Diavel. The brake reservoirs leaked because they're painted - had them replaced and the new ones leaked too. The chain slapped when shifting. The bike lurched at low speeds and the key-less ignition would not always work. Add on the 65% depreciation over 2 years (Yes, 65%) and you have the perfect Ducati experience. Go ahead, buy this bike.