All roads lead to Rome, or so the saying goes. Once literal (all roads in the ancient Empire actually did lead to Rome), the expression in popular culture reminds us that different paths can lead to a common goal. Just like the new Ducati Diavel Dark and Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom. Two iconic Italian manufacturers, two unique power cruisers, one definitive result: Badassery.
Despite the obvious apple-to-orange aesthetics, these two muscle bikes share more than bravado and Italian birthrights. Each offers a sophisticated ride-by-wire injection system with three ignition mapping modes, traction control and world-class Brembo brakes with ABS. And yes, they both use sizable Twins for propulsion, though each mill is situated in a distinctive manner.
The Guzzi wears its 90- degree “V2” longitudinally so that the huge cylinders jut from either side of the chassis like burly fists. Even the fuel tank has been purposefully shaped to frame the engine’s beautifully finned and finished valve covers. This design was first introduced to Europe in the early ’60s, and made its way to the U.S. in 1970 as the V7 Ambassador, the bike that famously became the first import chosen for use by the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD ordered its bikes with fat seats, pull-back bars, floorboards and loads of chrome, a look so universally envied that Moto Guzzi released a “California” edition to the public the very next year.
|2013 Ducati Diavel Dark||
|2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom||
Since 1971, there have been seven generations of the California with four progressively larger versions of its V-Twin, and now this bold, brawny reiteration whose oil- and air-cooled 1380cc engine is the largest twin-cylinder engine ever produced by a European motorcycle manufacturer.
While the California Custom carries the torch of heritage, the sinister-looking Diavel Dark is 100-percent New School. It, too, uses a pair of cylinders: Ducati’s 1198cc desmodromic, water-cooled “L-Twin,” adapted from the popular Multistrada. While the engine isn’t much of a visual element in this Batman-esque Dark version, it makes its presence known the minute you touch the keyless ignition. It snarls like an animal. A vicious, pent-up animal. And so follows the Diavel’s nature.
The visual character of these two power cruisers might divide the riding community on a superficial level, but it’s switching between seats and twisting open each throttle that will separate us spiritually.
The Ducati’s temperament is exactly as its outward appearance implies. The machine erupts from idle and spins up tightly through thick, potent torque straight to its impressive peak power output of 135.5 hp at 9220 rpm. Everything about this motorcycle is sharp, from its physical lines to its snappy, arm-straightening acceleration, quick steering and superbike-worthy stopping power.
In many areas where the Ducati is razor-edged, the Moto Guzzi is smooth and unhurried. For example, the Custom also dishes out meaty low-end torque, but its mapping allows you to live in it. The bike will roll away smoothly from a stop in third gear and mosey along back roads without asking for a shift. Yet when it comes to slowing down, the California makes haste, with stopping distances even shorter than the Ducati’s, despite being heavier by 166 lb. The ABS works well on both bikes, though the lightweight Diavel’s beefy rear tire can skitter under a heavy foot.
ON THE STRADA
Overall, the Guzzi ride experience is much smoother than the Ducati’s. Vibration from the 1380cc Twin, which is affixed to the frame using a new kinematic support system, is nearly absent once the cruiser is underway, yet at stops, the quirky torque reaction of the longitudinal-crank Twin is there to remind us we’re sitting on a unique motorcycle. In contrast, the busy nature of the Ducati’s engine can be felt throughout the powerband, as uncomfortable thunking below ideal revs, and as a high-frequency buzz at higher rpm.
Handling characteristics of the California are likewise comfortable and neutral, with the hefty 46mm telescopic fork and dual shocks providing solid feedback no matter how tangled and rutty the road. The Diavel is quick to steer and fun to ride fast, but not exactly relaxing in any situation. In tight walking-speed maneuvers, the Ducati can also feel a bit top-sided, while the longer Guzzi, with its lower center of mass and heavier steering, proves easier to usher.
Both bikes feature three different engine-mapping modes, which can be switched on the fly as long as the throttle is slack. The Diavel’s system changes both engine response and the level of intervention from the Ducati Traction Control system. A switch from Sport to Touring softens engine output and increases the intervention of the DTC, while thumbing into the Urban setting decreases available horsepower and keeps the rear in even tighter check. “Urban” on the Ducati is great for a rainy ride, and matches Moto Guzzi’s “Pioggia” setting, which softens throttle inputs and engine braking. The California’s Sport setting, “Veloce,” sharpens throttle response a little too much, however, making transitions feel abrupt and negating the bike’s selling point of smoothness. The more relaxed, flexible “Turismo” setting is where the California shines.
Besides traction control (which can be shut off and has three levels of intervention), the Moto Guzzi California also offers cruise, which can be employed in gears three through six and is important to have on a cruiser, something the $14,990 California 1400 Custom undoubtedly is. The $17,695 Diavel remains an enigma. A cruiser in wolf’s clothing, or a wolf without a species. Either way, a wolf it is.
In almost every riding situation, Moto Guzzi’s new muscle bike is more relaxing to ride than Ducati’s Diavel, but, of course, comfort is not what everyone wants. Some of us value cutting-edge technology more than nostalgia. Power instead of Pull. Pegs over Floorboards. Art vs. Soul.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2013 Ducati Diavel Dark||2013 Moto Guzzi California
|Dry weight||515 lb.||681 lb.|
|Wheelbase||62.2 in.||66.9 in.|
|Seat height||30.2 in.||29.3 in.|
|Fuel mileage||36 mpg||34 mpg|
|0-60 mph||2.6 sec.||3.7 sec.|
|1/4 mile||10.48 sec. @ 129.9 mph||12.48 sec. @ 105.6 mph|
|Horsepower||135.5 @ 9220 rpm||87.5 @ 6620 rpm|
|Torque||82.9 ft.-lb. @ 7825 rpm||79.2 ft.-lb. @ 4930 rpm|
|Top speed||153 mph||126 mph|
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