Get ready for launch!
Emma hopes the Ducati Xdiavel’s launch control will help her beat an expert rider off the line and turn her into a drag queen
Spiders? No problem. Heights? Easy. One hundred miles per hour-plus kneedown corners? Not even a flicker of heart rate increase. Launching a big bike from a standing start, however, leaves me a trembling mess. Just the thought of all that dormant power waiting to be unleashed, the mechanical tension, the tightrope balance of throttle and clutch, and the worry of being spat off sideways in an embarrassed heap.
Firing a bike off the line turns my normally daring disposition into cackhanded cowardliness.
So it was with knocking knees that I decided to test the Xdiavel S’s launch control function to see if it could help me – a launch-a-phobic – overcome my fear and improve my performance.
And if it could do both those things, could it put me on a par with an expert rider like MCN’S performance tester Bruce Dunn, who has 0- 60mph tested every new motorcycle of the last 25 years? I had high hopes for the system and was looking forward to an afternoon of brain- out, fear-free, super- quick launches.
The theory is simple. Ducati’s Power Launch (DPL) system fitted to the S-model Xdiavel manages the output from that 1262cc V-twin so all you need to do is pin the throttle right to the stop and let the clutch out. Offering three levels of assistance depending on your riding experience, the DPL then controls the amount of wheelspin and wheelie to ensure you get the safest, quickest and most enjoyable getaway. Easy.
Time to get under starters orders. With a GPS datalogger strapped to the Xdiavel, both Bruce and I will do six launches, three unassisted and then three using the Xdiavel’s DPL system, then we’ll record our best 0- 60mph time. Laying the gauntlet down first, Bruce rolls the Xdiavel up to our Bruntingthorpe starting line and then launches the bike towards the horizon. Instead of pulling away smoothly, the bike jumps and lurches before finally getting into its stride. He returns red-faced, with a 3.42s 0- 60mph to show for his troubles, and demands that the bike’s traction and wheelie control be turned off; the level of intrusion is preventing him from getting a clean getaway. His next two runs are a vast improvement and he manages a best time of 2.99s.
Now it’s my turn, also with launch control switched off. I know exactly what I need to do: select first gear, hold the revs just below peak torque, which on the Xdiavel is at 5000rpm, then release the clutch as smoothly and as quickly as possible, but I still sit there motionless, staring at the horizon. Let’s get this over and done with – three, two, one – clutch out and wind the throttle on. The big Ducati is utterly planted and much smoother than I expected, but I wuss out by holding on to the clutch for too long and post a fairly miserable 3.84s.
Gee’d up for my next attempt I focus all my attention on releasing the clutch lever almost instantly; the Xdiavel’s rear tyre scrabbles for grip and the front floats above the Bruntingthorpe concrete. I’m concentrating hard for those initial split seconds, so don’t get the chance to sit back and enjoy the ride, even though my data reveals a 3.10s 0- 60mph, which isn’t too bad at all. I’ve actually surprised myself. If that’s what I can do au naturel, imagine what I’ll be capable of with the help of Ducati’s clever Power Launch system.
On a high, I set about activating the function. First I have to turn the traction control back on, then pressing the dedicated button on the right-hand switchgear takes me to the launch menu, which informs me I’ve got three launches available. Feeling empowered by my unassisted launches, I select Level One for expert riders, which allows both wheelies and wheelspin. The dash tells me to pull in the clutch, engage first gear and open full throttle. I obey its command and the Xdiavel bounces off the rev limiter while the dash flashes red and tells me that it’s ready to launch. It feels totally wrong hearing the revs screaming with all the dash lights strobing red at me, but I smoothly but swiftly release the clutch and the Xdiavel floats away with the perfect-feeling mix of drive, wheelie and traction. It feels brilliant.
“Slower,” states Bruce somewhat unsurprised. What? How could it be slower, it felt brilliant. “Try it again.”
With the Xdiavel informing me that I now only had two launches available, I repeated the process but concentrated on releasing the clutch as quick as possible. Yet another perfect-feeling launch followed. “Better, but still slower than without the DPL,” said Bruce, “let me try.”
With the last remaining launch, Bruce tried his hand with the system, and posted a time even slower than mine. The DPL system fitted to the Xdiavel is brilliant fun and definitely makes starts feel effortless. But if you’re planning a day on the drag strip, the fastest way off the line is disabling traction control and using good old-fashioned rider skill.
‘The Xdiavel floats away with the perfect-feeling mix of drive and traction’
Bruce attaches datalogger with Ducati Corse duct tape, naturally