The 2020 Ducati Diavel 1260 S is a big muscle cruiser with the soul of a sport bike. It is a great everyday ride that delivers impressive power and handling without sacrificing comfort.
(Full Disclosure: I asked Ducati to borrow one of its bikes for a 5,000-mile road trip, and it offered me use of this 2020 Diavel 1260S. I picked it up in the San Francisco Bay Area with a full fuel tank and a full kit of accessories and luggage. I emptied and refilled the fuel tank numerous times. I returned the Diavel in largely the same condition it was in when I took delivery, save for a few scratches in the paint on the tank and a torn seam in the right-side soft pannier. The company also arranged for the bike to receive its first scheduled maintenance service at one of its dealerships while it was in my care.)
(Testing Conditions: I used this Diavel for three weeks, including a road trip from my home in Reno, Nevada, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and back. I loaded it down with all of the gear, clothing and supplies necessary for a cross-country trip and took off. I saw temperatures as low as 27 degrees F and daily mileage as high as 880. In addition to all the highway miles, I also took it up and down several mountain roads. More on the story of the road trip itself will be revealed in a future story.)
The Diavel is an enigmatic member of the Ducati family. Ducati calls it a sport cruiser, which seems reasonably accurate. The Diavel was first introduced a decade ago as a way for the Italian brand to connect with American riders, particularly courting Harley-Davidson V-Rod owners. It has since received a few visual and ergonomic updates, and for 2019 received the same 1260cc V-twin engine that I tested early this year in the Multistrada.
The engine — liquid-cooled, twin-plug with desmodromic valves — is good for 157 horsepower and 95 lb-ft of torque. The engine manages to sound a bit better in the Diavel than I recall it having done in the Multistrada, roaring through the midrange in a way that reminded me of an AMG V8. Pushing around some 500 pounds of bike and about 300 pounds of me, the engine was plenty powerful; it’s capable of 0-60 times in the high two-second range with an expert rider.
You can get a base model Diavel 1260 for a not-insubstantial $20,295. Order up the little S badging and you’ll get Ducati Quick Shift Evo no-lift-gearchange, big Brembo brakes, Öhlins adjustable suspension at both ends, lighter cast machined wheels and full LED lighting. My test model was upfitted with the Touring accessory package, which added heated grips, a passenger seatback and a pair of semi-rigid side panniers. The upgraded S trim bumps that price tag to $23,395, and the Touring pack is an extra $1,938. As you’ll read below, another few thousand dollars worth of accessories were also present.
As much as this bike can easily lope along all day at highway speeds in top gear, it really doesn’t like to do that, and you really don’t want to do that kind of riding on this bike. This is a bike that begs to have spurs dug into its sides and gallop off into battle with a sinewy road at max rpm. It feels like a big chunky cruiser, but when you find a smooth strip of tarmac with more than a few curves in it the Diavel comes alive. On my long road trip I couldn’t help but feel that I’d fitted a racehorse with saddle bags and trotted across the plains when what it really wanted to do was lead the pack at the Kentucky Derby.
In a motorcycle world practically dominated by high-performance naked standards, the Diavel sort of fits in. The Diavel rides a bit like an extreme sports machine with its extremely low seat height and prodigious grip, but grand-touring ergos and a rear tire as wide as my midsection after Thanksgiving give it a feel more like the highly stylized American cruisers it was built to chase.
It won’t set any lap records, but the Diavel would be perfectly at home at a track day if you so wished.
Pressed into service as a proverbial pack mule, I managed to trek across a good deal of this great country astride the Diavel without it offering so much as a whimper. It was smooth and comfortable and returned decent fuel economy. Even loaded down with another hundred pounds or so of gear and aerodynamically hindered by my all-weather touring gear and a set of side bags, it still had plenty of performance. Overtaking a slow car on a two-lane was positively effortless. The mule could let its racehorse loose with the flip of a downshift and a twist of the throttle.
The Diavel is an ergonomic masterpiece, in my opinion. I’m 6-foot-2 with relatively short legs for my height. While sitting in the saddle for hours at a time is never quite comfortable, the Diavel’s seat was among the better ones I’ve tested, and while the low seat was comparatively close to the foot pegs, they were positioned in a way that I didn’t suffer from leg cramps. Even on a nearly-900 mile riding day, I found stretching at fuel stops and the occasional leg stretch in-transit to be more than enough to keep me comfortable.
Despite the Diavel’s huge V-twin and a decent helping of horsepower, when I was riding in a more form-fitting summer jacket and bereft of the side luggage, I managed to return fuel economy deep into the 50s on the highway. Even running through the mountains with the throttle in sport mode and wringing it all the way out, I saw reasonable fuel economy, going around 150 miles on the 3.6-gallon fuel tank. When riding on the highway in full aero-drag mode on my road trip, I still regularly saw 150 to 170 miles per tankful.
The short smoked-plastic fairing was surprisingly effective. While I knew that a cross-country ride on a bike with little wind protection wouldn’t be a walk in the park, I didn’t figure this little flip up at the front of the bike would do much at all, if anything. Raising the wind from beating about my chest probably saved me from tons of fatigue. Instead, the oncoming wind found its way up around the middle of my face shield. This was only a problem when my helmet was buffetted around while trailing a big rig.
The heated grips were absolutely clutch in the weather that I experienced aboard the good ship Diavel. With three modes to choose from, and high being extremely hot, my paws were saved from freezing.
I’m not sure if it was rose-colored glasses, or if the Diavel’s transmission is simply artificially chunk-ified for the American audience, but I didn’t like the shifting action of Ducati’s Quick Shift Evo setup on the Diavel as much as I did on the Multistrada.
I would have liked an integrated USB charge port for my iPhone. At the price this bike costs, I’d think that something this simple should be included. I was using my phone to find great routes and thought ahead to bring an auxiliary charging battery pack, but should I have needed to? I say no.
From a visual perspective, I would have much preferred this Diavel to have been painted red instead of this very 2007 matte-finish black. Hell, even the optional silver metallic would have been preferable to this black. It’s far too understated for a bike like this. Admittedly, I was constantly stopped at gas stations and even in traffic to ask about the bike, despite the subdued color. It’s definitely an attention-getter.
I never really got comfortable with the clutch lever. Even after hundreds of starts from a stop and hours of traffic, I still managed to stall the bike leaving a gas station this very morning. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s a stiff hydraulic lever with very little feel transmitted to my finger tips, and I never got the hang of it.
It’s time that we stop making motorcycle fuel caps that you need a key to open. The flush-mount racing-style cap on this bike was attractive to look at, but it actually had a second little plastic key needed to open it. This is a minor but annoying feature of pretty much all motorcycles; I’m still going to gripe about it.
Listen, riding a motorcycle is pretty much as unsafe as it gets. That said, the Diavel offers a pretty thick coating of safety on an unsafety brownie. With Bosch Cornering ABS Evo, Ducati claims you can “make a panic stop while at full lean, without crashing.” I never had necessity to test that theory, but apparently the computers were there to help me if I needed them. It also has an advanced traction control setup, a trio of riding modes with power and throttle adjustment, and Ducati Wheelie Control Evo to help keep the front wheel in touch with the ground.
It’ll still mess you up if you do something stupid.
The Diavel I was riding was equipped with pretty much every accessory offered for it, whether flashy or functional. I’m in no position to be buying $25,000 motorcycles, but if I were, I’d definitely opt for the 1260 S so I’d get the advanced suspension and brakes. If you plan to take road trips on it, the Touring pack is actually quite handy, and even if you aren’t, the heated grips and mini fairing are worth the upgrade.
Ducati had also equipped my test bike out with every Rizoma-developed accessory piece that could be fitted. The list included adjustable brake and clutch levers, billet aluminum mirrors, machined aluminum brake and clutch fluid covers, frame plugs, a racing-style fuel tank cap, handlebar cellphone holder, sprocket cover and clutch cover. Of them all, the mirrors and cellphone bracket were nice, and the adjustable levers were certainly worth the cash. Get those, leave everything else.
As mentioned before, there is very little that competes with the Diavel on equal footing. It was once a higher-class Harley V-Rod fighter, but the V-Rod no longer exists in the H-D line. The way I’m looking at it from my seat on the Diavel, the current crop of competition (and I use that term loosely) in the low-seat high-style performance cruiser segment is Harley’s $19,000 Fat Bob 114 or FXDR 114 and maybe Triumph’s $22,000 Rocket 3 GT (below).
Over the course of 5,000 miles with this motorcycle I really expected to fall in love with it. I knew that I would succumb to a form of Stockholm Syndrome with this bike. I went into this trip knowing that the Ducati Diavel 1260 S would be tough to love, but I would fall deeply and madly into it. It’s Italian. That’s what Italian bikes do.
I was wrong. This bike isn’t tough to love at all. It’s so incredibly easy to love. Yeah, it’s a lot of money, but this is the kind of bike that most riders could be happy owning for the rest of their lives. Even if they didn’t have another bike. It’s a near-perfect all-around riding experience.
God, it’s a hell of a lot of money, though.