Comparing three of the newest power cruisers on the market
Cruisers generally don’t need to change much to sell. In fact, models that offer classic silhouettes tend to outsell progressive designs—regardless of performance. And while traditional bikes remain the bread and butter of the cruiser world, in an effort to attract new riders to the segment and to sell more machines, makers push designs in new ways.
These three motorcycles—the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob 114, Harley-Davidson FXDR 114, and Ducati’s Diavel 1260 S—are here to shove a piece of cruiser market into a new era. These three bikes sit atop the evolving genre as the fastest, most aggressive cruisers out there. And the faster and more aggressive they get, the less they tend to look like traditional cruisers. In fact, this comparison could be called the shootout of weird headlights. We’ve come a long way from a 7-inch round sealed beam…
But the overall designs are just symbolic of another broader departure. Most traditional American-style motorcycles still replicate the design language introduced by the Harley-Davidson Knucklehead in 1936, and this silhouette typically hasn’t represented all-around hot-rod performance. So when manufacturers want to stretch the category and attract new buyers who might be thinking of transitioning from another sportier category, they try to do something different.
We were big fans of the 2018 Fat Bob 114 because it offered seemingly impossible dynamics from this chunky-tired chassis and big-bore engine. It was such a fun “cruiser,” and pushed the styling boundaries so hard, we picked it as Cycle World‘s Best Cruiser of 2018. This year, Harley-Davidson again forged ahead with the FXDR 114, delivering burly drag-racing-inspired styling to the mix but still on the Softail platform. The Ducati Diavel is also a previous Ten Best Bikes winner in the cruiser category for bringing an Italian superbike ethic to an American-style bike, though no one would ever mistake the Diavel 1260 S for anything but a Ducati.
To test these machines, three of us rode Southern California’s roads from our Orange County headquarters to the California historical landmark of Julian, a quaint town with a long history of serving exceptional apple pie at roughly 4,200 feet of elevation. This route meant that straight highways led to long, meandering turns as we neared our destination, and the final sprint up the mountain contained nothing but tight corners as we rocketed up in elevation. Through fast and slow, straight and twisty, we used Bluetooth comms to talk with each other in our helmets, comparing and evaluating the bikes as we rode.
Southbound on California’s main motor artery that is Interstate 5, all three bikes chugged along at an effortless and relaxed 75 mph. With us twisting the throttle to pass cars at speed, seat-of-the-pants feeling had the Fat Bob responding a little more quickly than the FXDR, but the Ducati easily left both Harleys in the dust. Ducati’s superbike heritage explodes from the liquid-cooled 1260 S engine, despite its “cruiser” role, while Harley-Davidson’s air-cooled “big blocks” are high-performance versions of a purely American kind of motorcycle powerplant.
The Harley-Davidson models are both equipped with 114ci Milwaukee-Eight engines—the largest available in the Softail lineup. These 1,868cc, air-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, 45-degree V-twin engines brought the Softail lineup into a new era (along with all-new chassis), but still offer that big-flywheel, torque-intensive character Americans love above all other large-displacement motorcycle engines. And while you might expect these two V-twins with identical displacement and gearing to offer identical performance, they exhibited different characteristics on the road as well as on the Cycle World dyno. The Fat Bob made 82.3 hp and 111.39 pound-feet of torque, while the FXDR was about 3 hp and 4 pound-feet down on those peak numbers, due, Harley-Davidson said, to normal production variation.
Out in the real world, seat-of-the-pants feeling also gave the nod to the Fat Bob, which felt like it launched off the line a little quicker than the FXDR, a somewhat unexpected outcome considering the drag inspiration of the latter and its 240mm rear tire. Winding up to the top of the revs, the FXDR also vibrated more than the Fat Bob, leaving us favoring the Fat Bob in both high and low rpm. The Ducati meanwhile was in a world of its own.
With customizable ride modes and the new 1,262cc Testastretta DVT motor, the Diavel S is an incredibly powerful beast, but not wild or unwieldy. It hammered out 138.5 hp and 85.4 pound-feet of torque on the dyno, its massive emphasis on peak horsepower instead of torque a clear philosophical difference in Italian versus American engine tuning. Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) changes cam timing to help the engine deliver clean, responsive, broad power no matter the revs. Reduced valve overlap makes for smooth, crisp throttle response at the low end, as well as reduced emissions and increased torque. As revs climb, overlap is increased, letting the engine breathe more freely for equally crisp response and more horsepower toward the top of the rpm range. The Diavel’s previous 1,198cc engine was lurchy at lower rpm, surging even with steady throttle and constantly spurred the rider to bring it into a higher rev range where operation was smoother. But the new engine’s smooth and linear power delivery makes it far better used in a more cruiser-esque model, giving you all the power when you want it, but only when you want it.
As we moved off big highways and onto more technical, twisting roads, the Ducati continued to excel. With fully adjustable Öhlins suspension front and rear, mid-mounted footpegs, and a 27-degree rake, the Diavel 1260 S was fast and smooth. The Diavel held the intended line, unimpeded by passing bumps on the road, and the riding position and seat let the rider adjust body position to further enhance cornering response. And on straight sections, the combination of top-shelf suspension and a comfortably padded seat made the bike smooth riding and enjoyable. It was plush and controlled, with excellent overall stability, and was the best-handling bike in this comparison.
The Fat Bob, meanwhile, with its 28-degree rake, dropped into turns easily and stayed there, though its high-profile front tire was a little twitchy feeling, reacting to every little bump or input. This is great for those looking for responsive, low-effort handling, but it also takes more attention to ride smoothly. The FXDR’s 34-degree rake and 240mm-wide rear tire make accelerating through longer turns difficult, as the bike stands itself up with power application or trail-braking input. Both Harleys had a little bit of tail sway or wiggle brought about by midcorner bumps, and with only preload adjustments available on the rear shock, there wasn’t much we could do to curb the problem other than slow down and ride through it. Further, both the Fat Bob and FXDR are fitted with forward controls, making it difficult to fully utilize available chassis lean angles without the rider’s heels contacting the ground and dragging from the footpegs. On these bikes, more rubber was burned from the soles of our boots than the tires this day.
The FXDR’s drag-race-inspired style means all-day ergonomics weren’t a priority, but the forward foot controls and relatively clip-on (above the top triple clamp) handlebars fold the rider over like a wallet. The Fat Bob has similar forward controls and slightly higher handlebars, making it more comfortable but still fairly aggressive. Higher bars or mid-mount foot controls would be more comfortable on both the H-Ds, but that would counter the aggressive styling of both bikes. There are a large number of handlebar and riser options in the accessory catalog, though there are no mid-mount foot controls available. Flip a coin regarding which of the two had the better seat. Both were comfortable with a firm feel that didn’t leave us hurting at the end of the day, though paired with the forward controls, riders are essentially locked in one seating position for the duration of their ride.
Diavel ergonomics were relaxed and comfortable, but also versatile. The bars come back far enough to keep the rider upright. Mid-mounted foot controls and a seat that narrows toward the front lets the rider shift position when needed, but the saddle’s wide rear section gave plenty of support for comfortable cruising.
Both H-D models come with dual 300mm discs up front gripped by four-piston fixed calipers, with a floating two-piston caliper working on a single 292mm rotor in the back. By design, upon first application of the lever, bite is mild. As you brake harder, response is linear, if a bit high effort. In fact, the level of effort for hard braking is surprising considering these are the only bikes in the current Softail lineup with dual front discs. The 1260 S is equipped with dual 320mm discs, M50 Brembo calipers, and a PR16/19 master cylinder. These are wonderfully precise, powerful brakes, with light effort, but if you go grabbing at that lever like you would on an American cruiser, you might be in for a rude awakening—some might consider this setup abrupt. Like with engine tuning, there is a philosophical difference between how an Italian sporty motorcycle company designs brake response versus an American one.
Is your accountant in the room when you make a purchasing decision on motorcycles like these? Probably not, but there is no denying that the Fat Bob 114 at $18,849 in Vivid Black is the bargain (ahem) of this group, though the FXDR’s $18,999 (price for Vivid Black, reduced from $21,349 after initial launch) is hardly different in the grand scheme. The aggressive drag-race style of the FXDR will make the bike irresistible for some, but the ergonomic and handling sacrifices made for that style are concessions you have to want to live with.
The Fat Bob is simply a more versatile and more comfortable motorcycle with better all-around performance and its own burly (if controversial) style. It is remarkably nimble given its measured 670-pound wet weight. Models like the FXDR and Fat Bob show how H-D has advanced chassis and engine tech enough to step into the ring with race-bred machines like the Diavel, while still maintaining enough of the proven Harley formula to strum the heartstrings.
The Ducati Diavel 1260 S, meanwhile, costs the most by quite a bit at $22,995. That extra five grand does translate in the hardware and software: powerful Brembo brakes, fully adjustable Öhlins suspension, programmable electronic ride modes, and lean-sensitive traction control. It’s very much a sportbike wrapped in cruiser lines and ergos. The Ducati is an amazing machine. It’s powerful, agile, and comfortable—three very clear reasons for a win in this shootout. It’s also unconventional—as most winners are.
2019 Ducati Diavel 1260 S Specifications
2019 Harley-Davidson FXDR 114
2019 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob 114