A decade ago if anyone had said Ducati would make a cruiser and Triumph would make a Bobber, I would have laughed my six packs out. It would have been a ludicrous idea. Past the painful ribs the only motorcycle that would have appeared remotely plausible would be the Harley-Davidson Roadster. Yet, here we are, staring at what had seemed impossible just a few years ago – a Ducati cruiser in the form of the wildly exotic X Diavel S, the gorgeous Triumph Bonneville Bobber and the Roadster from Harley.
Just goes to show, there are no rights or wrongs in the world of motorcycles. Every single one of them is special, no matter how outlandish they might seem at the beginning. It is simply a matter of matching the bike to the biker. Cheesy as it may sound, it isn’t too different from what happens on any dating website. You scour through profiles, find a match and you’re sorted. Back to the bikes at hand, with each of these motorcycles, the respective manufacturer has set foot into the unknown. Right swipe to find out which of these three would most suit your lifestyle.
That’s what each of these three are. All three of them ooze sex appeal. The X Diavel S is the successor to the Diavel muscle bike that Ducati had launched seven years ago. The super hit Diavel however really was just a step in a direction. The destination it appears was this – the X Diavel S. Only the Italians could have wedded a classic cruiser to a sportsbike with such panache. It’s as exotic as their women. It is so sexy that the bike won two celebrated design awards, including the prestigious Red Dot 2016. Forget how I’m drooling all over this bike, just look at that form. It’s impossible to ignore.
Almost certainly so for the Americans. You see, the Ducati poses the greatest threat to Harley on home ground. Fact is, while brand Harley has been growing in Europe by 8.8 per cent, back home in the US, sales have headed southwards. So what do you think the Americans did? They made the Roadster. Quite frankly, it isn’t a new bike; more like an altered version of the decades old Sportster. Hell, even that Evolution engine is 30 years old really. It’s actually a classic case of old wine in a new bottle but this baby sure looks good with its macho stance, that teeny tiny peanut tank and chopped off rear fender. The seat is all new and so are the beautifully crafted five-spoke cast alloy wheels. A marvellous mishmash of bobber, drag racer and cruiser, the Roadster packages the best of Harley traits over the years.
And then, there is the Bobber. It looks like it was made for Uncle Sam but actually speaks the Queen’s English. Like all things British, it is typically understated with an air of vintage royalty. Triumph was criticised by purists who didn’t like the idea of a manufacturer entering the custom bike scene but who cares. This is a beautiful bike. Everything on the Bobber has been carved with painstaking detail. The catalytic convertor is cleverly hidden, the wheels are spoked and the battery box seems like it is straight out of the 1950s. And that solo seat in that aluminium pan is a work of art. Even the rear brake is designed to look like a drum for authentic old world charm. Where the Ducati is devilishly delicious, the Triumph is gorgeously dignified and the Harley is cool as only the Yankees can be.
All about style?
Hell no, especially in the case of X Diavel S. The Italian cruiser packs serious punch, courtesy that liquid-cooled DVT 1262cc V-twin. Say hello to a cruiser with superbike slaying 150 horses! In fact there is so much power that Ducati engineers had to ditch the usual Kevlar belt and get a carbonfibre one made instead. The X gets three riding modes – Urban, Touring and Sport. The adjustable 50mm inverted forks are raked out at 30 degrees while the wheelbase is 1615mm, which contributes to the bike’s immense stability on straights. Meanwhile a low 755mm saddle height means you can plant both your feet firmly on the ground; necessary for manoeuvring this 247-kilo beast out of the parking lot. The frame is a taut steel trellis – cruiser or not, it is a Ducati after all, and stopping power is provided by top drawer Brembo 4-pot M50 monoblocs chomping down on a pair of 320mm rotors up front and a two-pot calliper chewing a 265mm rotor at the rear. Then, there is the 3.5-inch full-colour TFT screen that will have you glued for minutes at a time.
Needless to say that you ride the bike in Sport mode unless you hate to set her free. And boy she can be scary when you let her loose. Now I am not easily scared but using the Ducati Power Launch has been the scariest thing I’ve done till date. It’s easy enough to operate – engage DPL, pile on the revs and then let go of the clutch ever so lightly. From a dead halt to 100kmph is just three seconds. Three excruciating seconds when your body becomes a parachute because sportsbike-esque performance notwithstanding, you’re still splayed out into the wind in cruiser bike riding posture. But if you do have the balls to use the DPL, you’ll realise that even above the roar of the wind you will be hearing the awesome thunderstorm like exhaust note. There are two surges of power, one at about 6000 revs when it shoots forward and then one more at around 9000rpm when you aspire to become Neil Armstrong. Thankfully there are 8 levels of traction control and cornering ABS to make sure Neil’s reputation remains unscathed. And it isn’t as if the bike is a straightline superstar. It handles like a dream too, feeling nimble yet stable. As far as I am concerned, the X is the craziest motorcycle in the world right now.
In comparison the Harley dates back to a different time period altogether. The 1202cc air-cooled Evolution engine has been around for a really long time and it doesn’t make a whole lot of power – something we know even if Harley doesn’t disclose power figures. At 96Nm, there is plenty of torque available however. Unlike in the case of the Ducati and the Triumph, the transmission of the Roadster is a five-speed unit that feels clunky. The short swingarm, compensated by a raked out front results in a 1505mm wheelbase. Frankly, the kit on offer isn’t top notch really but then again no Harley was ever sold for its technological superiority. The draw for Harley has always been a sensorial experience and on that count the Roadster is up there with the rest of them. It is slightly awkward to sit on with a drag racer like handlebar and mid-mounted pegs. As a result one has to re-wire the brain to remember to put your legs down behind those pegs and not in front as most of us are accustomed to when we come to a stop. The single pod instrument tells you speed of course, but in the case of the Roadster it’s engine speed and not the bike’s. For that data you’ll have to scroll through the info on the much smaller digital display inside the tacho. With most of its 96Nm available at the bottom and the middle of the rev range, the Roadster feels delightful when you accelerate. There’s a strong tug and the bike gathers pace briskly up to 6000rpm, after which there isn’t much happening from that motor. But by the time you’ve reached 6000rpm you would have already reached a healthy cruising speed, and in that sense the Roadster offers more than enough. It’s also less intimidating for novices since the power delivery characteristics are linear and it doesn’t really offer astronomical power output. Like all cruisers born on the west of the Atlantic and in spite of its European ambitions, the Roadster prefers straights to turns. That said, it is light for a Harley and turns better than most of its siblings.
The Bobber straddles the middle ground. Its looks good in a conventional way and that the liquid-cooled 1200cc parallel twin with eight valves and SOHC feels utterly modern and is smooth running. Yet, in a very old school way, it can only provide 75bhp – half that of the Ducati. The transmission, a six-speed again, is slick and shifts with a very positive note and the fuelling via the multipoint sequential electronic injection is immaculate. As a result, the engine’s grunt has been brilliantly spread. Meanwhile a modern ride-by-wire throttle ensures that you get a couple of riding modes too – Road and Rain.
The chassis is a tubular steel cradle with a tubular twin-sided swingarm that looks more like a swinging cage. Another gorgeous detail. Up front are 41mm KYB forks with 90mm of travel while at the back things get cushioned by a KYB monoshock with linkage providing 79.6mm of travel. Braking duties are taken care of by a 310mm disc with Nissin two-piston callipers up front and a 265mm disc with Nissin single-piston calliper at the rear. Fire her up and the engine burbles to life with a delightfully bassy growl. The real surprise however is just how modern this engine feels. It is completely free of vibrations and harshness. Delivery is crisper than toast and there’s so much of accessible grunt that even if you find yourself in a gear too high, the bottom end will pick up the bike and see you safely through. That 1510mm wheelbase and low stance – saddle height of 690mm, means the Bobber is super stable on the straights but it is equally at home on twists and turns. Perhaps a reflection of the country of its origin. You almost forget that you are not on an out-and-out corner carver as you tip it into every corner and come out the other end, smiling. The only thing that hampers the Bobber’s progress is India’s ridiculously high speedbreakers for ground clearance is an issue at times.
So which one wins?
Fact is, these three are radically different. To a point where you could say they are incomparable. The Harley will lure you with its old world American country music sort of appeal with its love for straight open highways. If you want a sensorial experience then you’ve struck gold here. The Bobber on the other hand is classically good looking and offers old world charm with genuine capability. The Ducati is for those who would want the fiery redhead leaving behind the buxom blonde and the dignified brunette at the party. This is exotic as exotic can be. It looks radical, behaves even more radically and has a temperament that will make you feel like god if you manage to tame it.