YEARS OF DUCATI
ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL Continued over
My visor is pushing hard against my face. The pressure on my skull from the windblast is immense. My eyes are bulging in their sockets, and the pain is compelling me to back off. But I won’t.
As the Xdiavel’s speedo creeps past an indicated 160mph I’m finding it hard to keep my boots on the feet-forward chopper-esque footpegs. My thigh muscles are on fire as I strain to keep my legs together. All the while, the wind is slowly edging me back off the stylish Ducati seat until I’m perched precariously on the comically small pillion pad. The only thing stopping me from sliding off the seat and introducing my prized possessions to the rapidly spinning 240-section rear Pirelli is my grip on the bars – and that’s starting to loosen.
In 15 years of speed testing some of the fastest bikes ever built, the new Xdiavel is physically the hardest to hang on to. Yes I’ve ridden quicker bikes, like Kawasaki’s H2R last year at a recorded 204mph, but the mighty Kawasaki had a fairing and a more compliant riding position. Anything above 140mph on the Ducati is pure torture. The Xdiavel should come with a free ‘building arm strength’ training DVD – because you’re going to need one.
Getting the Ducati off the line isn’t much easier, and it’s just as physical. There’s three-stage launch control, which makes the initial getaway less intimidating, but it’s still a battle to keep your feet on the pegs whilst changing gear quickly. The windblast treats the soles of your shoes as air brakes, and wants wrap them around your head rather than leave them up front.
The clever electronics are always working overtime down the quartermile strip, preventing wheel-spin and trying to keep the front wheel on the ground. We tried a few conventional runs, doing fully manual launches with the traction control set to its lowest setting, and that’s what gave us the best result of 11.34s @ 126.93mph, but no matter which method we used, or how physically brutal we were, the Ducati couldn’t match the mighty VMAX on the strip. Maybe size does matter.
By comparison, the Yamaha is a doddle to get off the line, it just sits on its haunches, and the shaft drive propels you forward like it’s connected to a rail in the tarmac. It will happily spin its rear tyre in the first three gears – there’s no traction or launch control here – so you have to balance the power delivery with your throttle hand. But once the rear has found traction it will propel its huge weight over a quarter mile in an impressive 10.73 seconds at 134mph. Interestingly, the Yamaha is restricted and won’t rev past 8000rpm in top gear, which limits the top speed to less than 140mph. There’s no doubt it’s got the mumbo to deliver more, and the riding position means that you’re not trying to grip the horizon like you are on the Xdiavel.
Over the years I’ve seen a few VMAXS, both old and new, tearing up drag strips, and I can see why. The big Yam is still the king of the strip, but it’s not all about power and speed. Although we may not like to admit it; looks, image and that wow factor are just as, if not more, important. And the Ducati wins this category hands down.
There’s no denying the Yamaha looks mean, but it also looks dated and cumbersome. It’s attractively grotesque, if that’s not an oxymoron too far. The Ducati looks sublime in the flesh. Yes it’s brutish rather than beautiful, but it wears its aggression like a well-toned Bond villain in a tailored suit, rather than a bomberjacketed doorman looking for a fight. Go under the skin, and the Xdiavel’s refinement continues to out-shine the VMAX. The electronics package is a world apart from the Yamaha’s stark simplicity – boasting only ABS to help save you from yourself. The VMAX is heavy, too – a whopping 63kg heavier than the Ducati. That’s only a couple of kilograms shy of carrying Valentino
‘The Ducati Xdiavel should come with a free arm strength
Rossi with you on every ride as ballast.
When the VMAX returned in 2009 it cost an obscene £21,624, but it did set a new benchmark in both looks and performance, and had no tangible rivals. It still has the grunt and the performance, and the price tag has reduced by a considerable margin – but so has its allure.
Just take a look at the new Ducati Xdiavel, I’d argue it’s the most attractive new bike of 2016. Even people who don’t like cruisers think it’s a looker. As our photographer put it: “It even makes Chad look cool; I want one”. The Xdiavel is one of those bikes you can sit back and admire and will never get bored of looking at. The wheels are stunning, the twin-exit exhaust, single sided swingarm, lovely sculpted seat, informative dash… it’s all mouthwatering. There’s a lot of lovely detail, and even by Ducati’s high standards, it’s one of the most impressive bikes to exit the Bologna factory.
Its physical attractions are backed by cornering ABS, traction control, anti-wheelie, three rider modes, launch control, and cruise control all as standard – not forgetting the very clever Desmodromic Valve Timing motor. The full-colour digital dash changes depending on which mode you’ve selected, and there’s keyless ignition, too. The VMAX gets ABS, and an auxiliary tank-mounted information panel that’s almost impossible to see on the move and boasts the sort of screen graphics you’d have laughed at on Pac-man when it was released in 1980.
But let’s not put the Yamaha out to pasture just yet. It hides its weight well for such a behemoth, and swings through corners with pendulous security. The V4 motor is insanely smooth, and the fuelling is damn near perfect. At just 3000rpm the Yam is making over 95ftlb of torque, that’s more way more than the Ducati, and it’s barely ticking over. The VMAX still deserves that bad boy reputation and will spin its 200-section rear tyre pretty much at will (sometimes yours, sometimes its own). It’s not a bike for the faint hearted.
Comfort isn’t bad either. In fact, if I were going to take on some serious mileage, the VMAX would be my choice of the two bikes here, especially if I had a pillion. Even Kylie would struggle on the back of the Xdiavel.
In standard trim, the Ducati was always going to be a bit of a physical reach for me as I’m only 5ft 6in, but we can’t ignore that there are five different seat options and three different handlebar and foot-peg positions. Personally I’d fit the sporty footpeg kit, which brings them further back, just because the feet-forward position feels unnatural to me. When setting off I always initially flapped around for the first few meters as my feet failed to find the pegs. They’re great to brace against on the brakes though.
Talking of which, the Yamaha’s six-pot calipers do their best to haul up the big girl, but the Ducati’s radial Brembos are in another league. It’s the same with the handling; the Ducati is lighter, more forgiving, easier to turn and will hold its line more accurately, whereas the Yamaha has a tendency to run wide. But again, none of this makes the Yamaha a bad bike, it’s just Ducati have moved things on. It’s like comparing an American muscle car to a modern Ferrari.
Let’s not forget the price tags either. Yamaha dropped the price of the VMAX from £21,264 to £15,750 a little over a year ago – not great if you bought one in 2014 – making the VMAX more tempting than ever. It’s actually £45 cheaper than the standard Xdiavel, and a fairly hefty £2645 cheaper than the S model. Who would have thought the VMAX is starting look financially viable?
138.9mph 2.97 5.88 10.73s @ 134mph 7.37s