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.
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.
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.