Riding one Ducati generally makes for a very good day out. So riding three must be a fairly incredible event… And that’s what your lucky scribe had last month, when an email invite arrived for the Ducati UK Media Day 2023.
The Bologna firm has had this gig the past couple of years: it gets all its new bikes, and a load of current models out of the press fleet, asks a load of journos and other worthies round, and there’s a day of blatting round Northamptonshire’s highways and byways.
Add in some excellent pizza, and classic Italian coffee, and you have a pretty sweet happening.
But it’s the bikes which we’re here for of course, and I’m very keen to sample a few of the all-new models for this year…
First up is a couple of hours on one of the new 2023 800 Scramblers – the Nightshift. Now to my old brain, nightshifts bring back memories of working in a computer factory in my late teens as a summer job, where the main features were being super-tired all the time and falling asleep in the toilets, while enjoying the benefits of double time pay, woo.
I don’t think the Scrambler designers had the same thoughts in mind tbf. The Nightshift seems to get its name from the dark midnight-blue paint as much as anything else. It also comes with wire-spoked wheels rather than cast, bar-end mirrors and trick indicators, to mark it out from the other bikes in the Scrambler range – the Icon and Full Throttle.
If you think these seem like minor, mostly styling changes, you’d be right: expect the three Scramblers to ride in a very similar fashion, since the power is an identical 73bhp across the range, and stuff like tyres, frame, suspension and brakes are also the same.
Indeed the only standout number in the specs is on the Nightshift, which weighs in at 6kg more, no doubt thanks to the spoked wheels.
I’d ridden up to Ducati HQ in Silverstone from London on my trusty Yamaha Fazer 600 – a true retro machine – so there was a bit of a time machine culture clash when I got on the Scrambler.
All the little signs of a brand-new machine were there: crisply-responding controls, tight chassis bearings with nothing in the way of slop, firm seat cushion and bar grips. And of course we have a truly modern riding experience, dominated by the new full colour TFT LCD screen that’s a big part of the Scrambler update.
It’s not as enormous as on some 2023 bikes – but is still a pretty luxurious setup, that uses similar menus and interface controls to the bigger Ducatis.
We set off on the route planned by Ducati, and the little Scrambler immediately puts me at ease. The flat seat, wide bars and low pegs make for a comfy perch, and the power delivery from the air-cooled 803cc Desmodue V-twin motor is super-friendly.
There’s ride-by-wire throttle operation for 2023 – a well-established bit of tech these days – and it’s giving faultless response from my very much analogue right wrist. It’s quick enough on the B-roads we’re on, and the grunty V-twin motor has pleasing drive out of slower bends.
It’s strong enough to lift the front end without too much provocation, assuming of course you’ve had a word with the traction control previously. These systems are getting smarter every year, and easier to use, but part of me does still miss the simplicity of older machines, where you don’t need to pre-book your intentions…
Top end speed permitted by the 70-odd bhp will be the far side of a ton, depending on the wind direction and how determined you are.
The suspension is a little on the soft side for both my non-target-buyer mass (just under 90kg) and (probably) non-target-buyer throttle style. There’s a fair bit of moving about down below when getting on and off the power and onto the braking.
It’s not a problem, and to be expected really on this type of machine, built for comfort, fun and style rather than startling chassis performance. Ditto the brakes: the single Brembo caliper up front is responsive enough, but fans of the proverbial eye-popping experience will need to shop elsewhere in the Ducati range.
But enough of all this – the Scrambler doesn’t promise superbike-level braking, suspension or horsepower. What does promise is fun – and I’m having plenty of that.
I’m chasing a lead rider on a Streetfighter V4, and the other journos in the group are all on far speedier mounts than me. So it’s one of those rides where you’re constantly stretching the throttle cable (okay, ‘distorting the ride-by-wire sensor assembly’) to keep up.
We’re on dry, bright, late-spring British roads with the dual dangers of farmers’ tractors and unmarked speed camera vans, so no-one is going insane. But the Nightshift needs working to keep up – and it’s coping just fine.
So, as we head back to Ducati HQ to swap onto the next bike, the 2023 Scrambler gets a thumbs up – it looks good, is great to ride, and fulfils the remit of being a softer, entry-level Ducati perfectly. It’s not cheap at £10,995 – but then, what is these days?
If I’m honest, this is the bike I mainly schlepped 100 miles up from Surrey for. Ducati’s Diavel completely rocked my world when I first rode it back in the mists of time (okay, 2012).
I was working at SuperBike magazine at the time and borrowed it for a few days just to see what all the fuss was about, and I very quickly found out that the hype was real: it was a fantastic piece of high-powered cruising nonsense.
I’ve always been a fan of silly-power cruisers. When I started working as a journalist, that meant Honda’s Gold Wing-based Valkyrie, complete with 1,520cc flat-six engine and audacious styling.
Then came Harley-Davidson’s V-Rod, which offered nearly the same buzz from a Porsche-designed water-cooled V-twin motor. Triumph’s Rocket III was a revolution when it arrived in 2004: a 320kg 140bhp 2.3 litre behemoth that actually went round corners fairly well.
That first Diavel was the biggie though. Ducati had taken the guts of its Panigale superbike at the time – including the flagship 1198cc desmodromic V-twin engine, bolted into a bespoke steel tube frame and single-sided swingarm – and transmogrified it into a low-slung cruiser.
The running gear was all superbike-spec too, especially on the later 1260 S models, and with almost as much power (162bhp) and reasonable mass (210kg dry), it went like hell.
For 2023 though, Ducati’s finally given its Diavel a V4 motor, to match the rest of its premium big-power range. It’s a more modern lump, designed for all the current and future emissions regs, and is packed with the latest tech, including rear-cylinder deactivation while cruising on small throttle openings and at idle.
It’s the Granturismo version of the V4 shared with the Multistrada V4, so has normal valve springs rather than desmodromic valve operation (allowing very long service intervals), and it also makes 168bhp – wild.
Jumping on the new Diavel, the experience is immediately as high-tech as anything I’ve experience on two wheels. It might be a cruiser, but the technology and equipment is Ducati’s very latest.
Massive colour screen, backlit switchgear, easily-accessed menus for phone linking, rider aids, power modes, traction settings, engine brake control, wheelie control – it’s got the lot. The only thing missing is electronic semi-active suspension – you’d maybe expect that to appear on a future V4 S or ‘Carbon’ variant mind.
It’s almost too much to take in before we set off, but I’m confident that all is in hand below as I click into gear and pull away. Compared with the little Scrambler I was on half an hour ago, the Diavel feels more like the Starship Enterprise.
Not only from the dash and the tech, the quickshifter and the cruise control, but the sophistication of the engine and chassis. There is A LOT of stuff going on below you, with the mighty V4 motor grumbling away at my small throttle inputs and the beefy 50mm front fork following the road surface intently.
Once we get away from the Silverstone circuit, the roads open up a bit, and I get the chance to gas it. It’s quick! The big advantage of a cruiser is the length of the chassis, and the weight distribution.
Where a superbike will be on the point of wheelying, with the electronics stepping in to tame the power, a long, low hot-rod like this can keep applying thrust at the back tyre for a little longer.
That’s usually not so relevant on a heavy, underpowered traditional cruiser like an old Harley or a Japanese factory custom. But when you have a 1,158cc superbike-derived V4 motor churning out 168bhp and 126Nm, and a 211kg dry mass, it adds up to a pretty wild experience.
It’s almost too quick for the small twisty country roads we’re on – but once we get onto some faster bits of asphalt, the laughs just keep coming. In Diavel V4 land, you inhabit a weird netherworld where you’re sat in a relaxed, comfy spot, with a fast-forward button for the landscape whenever you like.
The sounds coming from down below are immense: deep throbbing intake roar and a sweet note from the four-outlet exhaust can. And when you get to an inconvenient bend, the Brembo Stylema brakes step up with the proverbial brick-wall stopping power.
Get onto a bigger, faster road and the chuckles keep coming. You have the sheer horsepower of a super-naked bike, and are tucked away out of the wind a bit more, so there’s more potential to sit at a faster pace. Light touring on a Diavel V4? With the cruise control, heated grips, and phone/navigation/media integration, why the hell not…
My time on the diabolical Ducati is all too short, but as I park it up, my world has most definitely been rocked once more.
The final episode in my day of Ducati-ing is quite an exclusive one, which is a bit of a change for the model in question – the Monster. When the firm launched the original Monster in 1993, it was an entry-level naked roadster, with a simple, classy design, air-cooled 900 V-twin and steel tube frame.
Designer Miguel Angel Galluzzi had worked wonders with bits from the parts bin: a 900SS engine, modified 851 frame, 750 SS forks, random lights and switches – but it got its own bright red fuel tank.
The Monster was a huge hit, and the range exploded through the 1990s and 2000s, from a 400cc machine up to the crazy 1200 R and 1200 S models in the 2010s.
Now, though the Monster is a far rarer beast, restricted to just this one model in the UK, using the 937cc V-twin shared with the Multistrada V2, DesertX, Hypermotard and Supersport 950.
The engine is bolted into a modern Ducati aluminium ‘front’ frame – which isn’t as evocative as an old 851 steel tube trellis but is much lighter and stiffer. A braced dual-sided swingarm, USD fork and Brembo brakes rounds off the basic spec, and it makes for a lively 111bhp, 166kg dry roadster.
The Monster’s old role has been squeezed from both ends: the Scrambler is now the gateway machine for Ducati, while the V4 and V2 Streetfighters offer the brains-out full-beans performance hit of the old Monster 1200s and the like.
The base Monster is also used as the base for a couple of premium variants – the Monster Plus with a flyscreen and pillion seat cover, and the SP model we’re riding here. That gets posher Brembo Stylema brake calipers, Öhlins forks and shock, and a Termignoni silencer which looks gorgeous but is (sadly) a road-legal unit in terms of sound output.
A weight-saving lithium-ion battery and steering damper rounds off the spec, together with posh SP paint, neat seat cover and higher-spec Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV tyres.
It looks great, and falls almost perfectly between the Scrambler Nightshift and Diavel V4 I rode earlier in terms of power, size, mass and complexity. Would it turn out to be the ‘Goldilocks’ experience of the day – not too big and fast, not too small and steady, but just right?
The sun’s still shining as we pull away from Ducati’s HQ for the final time, and the Monster immediately feels good. The handling is light and super-manageable, like the Scrambler, but the bumpy roads around Northants soon show up the value of the much posher Öhlins suspension.
Where my 90kg mass was crushing down the rear shock on the little Scrambler, the Monster is providing plush, perfect, bottom-cosseting wheel control. Ditto the brakes: they have the power of the Brembos on the Diavel, but have far less mass to haul down so do some great work.
The Monster motor continues the theme. The Testastretta 11° V-twin is a very well-developed design, and it makes its 111bhp in a grunty, satisfying fashion. There’s a premium set of riding aids, again with a bit more than the Scrambler and a bit less than the Diavel.
The colour dash is smaller, but still gives great access to all the info and settings you need, and should you need to dial in a bit less safety for a wheelie or the like, it’s easily done. There are three riding modes – Sport, Touring and Rain – and you can also customise in whatever traction, ABS and power delivery you fancy.
The Öhlins suspension is a bit lighter than the base bike parts, and has much better damping, but it also raises the ride height a little, giving more ground clearance.
Looking at the pics after the riding day, I was impressed at just how far away from the deck the Monster sits: you’ll need to be going some to get anything decked out at all, on road or track.
As it is, the Monster SP is simply a genuinely fun bike to ride. On the twisting backroads, lanes and byways around Silverstone, the performance is spot-on, with easy-access power, strong drive, and more than enough chassis to deal with it all.
The Pirelli rubber is top-drawer road sports gear, the Stylemas and Öhlins package live up to their golden reputation, and with the subtly-enhanced rort of the Termi can, the Monster SP delivers on the Ducati dream for sure.
It’s a pricey option in the class – the Yamaha MT-09 SP, Triumph’s Street Triple 765 and KTM’s Duke 890 are all cheaper, albeit with less posh kit. But as we have to keep saying, that’s the Bolognese deal nowadays: as with an Apple laptop, or an Audi car, the price is steep, but the experience returns the rewards.
The Monster SP is £13,995, or £2700 more than the basic bike, which is actually a pretty good value upgrade: you’d struggle to buy a set of Öhlins NIX30 forks and a rear shock, plus a pair of Brembo Stylema calipers for that.
Add in the posh paint and the other trinkets, and you can see how the accountants justify the price hike. Worth the extra bit of cash each month on the finance or PCP deal? I’d say so…