Ducati DesertX Review | Motorcycle Test

Ducati DesertX Review | Motorcycle Test

Ducati DesertX Review

Motorcycle Test By Rennie Scaysbrook

By any measure, the Ducati DesertX has probably been the most eagerly-anticipated motorcycle to come out of the Bologna factory since the Panigale V4 made its oh-so-loud public debut in 2018.

As governments around the world slowly but surely clamp down on what makes a Panigale V4 so exciting (speed), many riders are rediscovering the pleasures of off-roading in the form of adventure riding, and the mid-size ADV segment is now one of the biggest cash cows for the major manufacturers. If you don’t have a mid-size ADV in your line up, why the hell not?

DesertX is a whole new move by Bologna into a harder-nosed adventure option

Ducati now joins the likes of class stalwarts KTM, Husqvarna, Yamaha, BMW, Triumph, and new boys Aprilia in creating a sub-1000cc, sub-four cylinder motorcycle whose primary design focus is when the road gets rocky. Ducati’s all-conquering Multistrada V4 (one of my absolute favourite motorcycles available today), was always coined as the four-bikes-in-one bike—capable of respectable off roading but you weren’t going to put it against a KTM 890 Adventure R in a head-to-head shootout…

Ducati DesertX Review
The Euro5 engine benefits from the improvements seen on the latest Monster and Multistrada 950 V2

The DesertX is a different proposition. Channelling the colours and aesthetic lines of the immortal Lucky Strike Cagiva Elefant (sic) Paris-Dakar racers of the late 80’s and early 90’s, the DesertX is Ducati’s first real adventure bike, the first to come with a dirt-specific 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel set-up. 

1990 Edi Oroli Cagiva Paris-Dakar Racer
Ducati’s DesertX channels a bit of form from the 1990 Edi Oroli Cagiva Paris-Dakar Racer – Image Phil Aynsley

Ducati’s had the motorcycle in development for the best part of five years—at least a couple of years before we saw a dressed-up teaser Scrambler 1100 at EICMA in 2019—and the Italians have left no stone unturned in their efforts to make the very best ADV fist of it they can.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX Review

The $24,200 2023 Ducati DesertX uses a version of what is now Ducati’s most widely used motor in the 937cc 11-degree Testastretta, desmodromic L-twin, a motor that’s seen duty in the Multistrada V2, Supersport, Hypermotard and more recently in the Monster (you can read that test here: https://www.mcnews.com.au/2021-ducati-monster-review-motorcycle-tests/). 

However, Ducati hasn’t simply shoehorned a streetbike motor into an ADV chassis and called it done. Particular attention has been paid to the gearbox, with a shorter first and second gear ratio (third, fourth and fifth gear are also shorter, just not as much as first and second) so the motor can help the chassis crawl down embankments in much the same fashion as low range does in your 4×4. 

Spoked rims clad in Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres, a 90/90-21 front and 150/70-18 rear, tubeless

Get the Testastretta up and burning and it’s easy to see its sporting persona shining through. Ducati is claiming 82 kW and 92 Nm of torque for the DesertX, putting it almost on par with the KTM 890 Adventure R (76 kW/98 Nm) and Triumph Tiger 800 XCA (70 kW/78 Nm) and ahead of the smaller capacity Yamaha Tenere 700 (55 kW/67 Nm) and Aprilia Tuareg (60 kW/69 Nm).

Ducati DesertX Review
Surfing the broad mid-range is where it’s at

It’ll happily rev out to its 10K rpm redline but keeping the revs below 7000 rpm is where the motor is its happiest. Peak torque is measured at 6500 rpm—rev it harder than that and you may as well be racing Daniel Sanders in the Hattah. This is a big twin, after all, and the Ducati is quite content to stay below 5000 rpm for the majority of off road tasks. Pick a higher gear and let the motor take care of the rest, lugging you along the trail with a deceptively quite exhaust note you primary companion. 

The DesertX is very much a case of multiple platforms working in unison to create the ideal riding experience. The revised motor pairs with six riding modes—including an Enduro and Rally mode—four power modes of Full, High, Medium and Low, three-stage Engine Brake Control (EBC), eight-stage Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Ducati Quick Shift (DQS), cruise control, and three-stage Cornering ABS, all of which is fettled in one way or another by the Bosch six-axis IMU.

Ducati are promising service intervals of 15,000 km or every 24 months, with valve clearance checks due every 30,000 km.
Ducati are promising service intervals of 15,000 km or every 24 months, with valve clearance checks due every 30,000 km.

All this information is accessed by a dash that looks like my phone. At five inches tall, it can take a little to get used to the layout, particularly as the current trend seems to be for wider dashes, not taller. Give it a bit of time and you’ll probably come around to it, particularly when you’re doing turn-by-turn navigation as that’s how most people have their phones set up in their cars.

The recommended ride away price in Australia will be $24,200, or $24,995 for New Zealand
The recommended ride away price in Australia will be $24,200, or $24,995 for New Zealand

Ducati has been a master of the electronics of late, given their experience with the Panigale V4 range, and they have applied the lessons learned brilliantly with the DesertX. That said, an experienced rider will likely want to save one of the six modes available (this was Rally mode, for me), where there are no electronic interventions. No TC, no wheelie control, full power, full fat. Doing this highlights just how nicely the Ducati engineers have played the game between raw mechanical aggression and finite chassis balance. 

Ducati DesertX Test
Radial Brembos and 320 mm disc rotors

Running chunky 46 mm KYB fully-adjustable forks and shock and four-piston Brembo M50 brake calipers that first saw the light of day on the Kawasaki ZX-10R from half a decade ago, the hardware of the DesertX is top-notch. At 98 kg, fully geared up, I’m a touch heavy for the standard suspension settings and ratcheting up front and rear pre-load, plus turning in on front and rear compression and rebound, gave the chassis are more balanced feeling and allowed me to really attack some of the rocky sections on our test ride in the impossible beauty of Aspen in Colorado, USA. 

The standard suspension settings make for quite the spongy streetbike, which is fine if you have no intention of hitting the trails with any real force, but if you want to play out some of those Lucky Strike Cagiva Paris-Dakar dreams you’ve been having, you’ll want to break out the spanners and flat blade. 

Total ground clearance is 250 mm and the dry weight being quoted by Ducati is 202 kg, with the kerb weight 223 kg with a 21 L tank of fuel.

While still a very large motorcycle, tipping the scales at 223 kg of kerb weight (that’s including all fluids and a 90 percent full tank of fuel to you and me) with a seat height of 875 mm, the Ducati is far from an intimidating proposition if you have even limited experience in ADV riding. 

The all-important rider triangle of handlebar, seat and foot-peg position is best described as roomy. High-mount handlebars encourage stand-up riding, allowing the tubeless 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels laced with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR rubber to soak up the hopefully many corrugations the rocky road beneath the chassis throws your way.

Rally mode gives full power and minimal intrusion from the electronics
Rally mode gives full power and minimal intrusion from the electronics

The ride position feels like a cross between the Yamaha Tenere 700 and Triumph Tiger XCA 800 and the position and shape of the tank is a bit old-school when you compare it to the low-slung fuel tank of the KTM 890 Adventure R—but it feels like a pee-wee compared to something like a BMW R 1250 GSA!

Ducati DesertX Test
Seat height is 875 mm

The two-person seat doubles up as a hitching point for the optional auxiliary gas tank that comes part of the accessory catalogue developed in-house by Ducati. The standard tank fills up to 21 litres, with auxiliary tank netting an extra eight litres. The result is a bike with far less weight than something like a GSA, but only seven litres less of fuel tank capacity—trust me, you’ll want to stop and fill up long before you run out of petrol… It is not quite a GS when it comes to day long mile eating comfort. 

The tank itself clips onto the back of the passenger seat body-work and is enabled when fuel reaches a certain level, at which point you get a light on the dash telling you it’s time to switch via a switch on the handlebar. However, rather than just drip feed fuel into the fuel rail, the auxiliary tank’s payload is transferred in one hit back to the main tank, the benefit being the weight distribution isn’t all mangled with eight litres of fuel at the back of the bike and none at the front. And, you don’t have to stop while doing the transfer. Neat.

Ducati DesertX Test
Accessory rear fuel tank adds eight-litres to bring total capacity up to 29-litres

And if I really think about it, that’s probably the best adjective I can use when describing the Ducati DesertX. It’s a very neat motorcycle. Cleverly thought out, classily doffing the cap to the heroic Cagivas of yesteryear while being a thoroughly modern motorcycle underneath, I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised at its capabilities, especially for a first-time model. 

Ducati DesertX Review

The good thing about the DesertX is you’re only buying one bike. Unlike so many others on the market there’s no electronic paywalls you need to break through to gain higher levels of performance. Yes, the DesertX’s price reflects that, but I’ve hardly seen a GS out there that isn’t optioned to the hills, making the sticker price somewhat redundant. 

Ducati DesertX with optional protection packages and soft luggage
Ducati DesertX with optional protection packages and soft luggage

Ducati has done a very good job with the DesertX. It’s got the right motor for the job, the suspension, while being a little plush in standard settings, is fully adjustable and thus you’re able to get around those issues, and there’s every electronic bell and whistle you could ever need. It’s a neat adventure motorcycle. 

Ducati DesertX Specifications

2022 Ducati DesertX Specifications
ENGINE Ducati Testastretta 11°, L-Twin cylinders, Desmodromic valvetrain, 4 valves per cylinder, liquid cooled
BORE X STROKE 94 x 67.5 mm
POWER 110 hp (81 kW) @ 9,250 rpm
TORQUE 92 Nm (68 lb-ft, 9.4 kgm) @ 6,500 rpm
FUEL INJECTION Bosch electronic fuel injection system, Ø53 mm throttle bodies with ride-by-wire system
EXHAUST Stainless steel single mufler, catalytic converter and 2 lambda probes
GEARBOX 6 speeds
PRIMARY DRIVE Straight cut gears, ratio 1.85 : 1
RATIO 1=38/14, 2=31/17, 28=28/20, 4=26/22, 5=24/23, 6=23/25
FINAL DRIVE Chain, front sprocket Z15, rear sprocket Z49
CLUTCH Slipper and self-servo wet multiplate clutch with hydraulic control
FRAME Tubular steel trellis frame
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB Ø 46 mm upside-down fork, fully adjustable, 230 mm
WHEELS Cross-spoked, tubeless, 2.15 x 21in, 4.50 x 18in
REAR SUSPENSION KYB monoshock, fully adjustable, remote preload adjustment, aluminium double-sided swingarm, 220 mm travel
TYRES Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR,  90/90 – 21 M/C 54V M+S TL (A), 150/70 R18 M/C 70V M+S TL,
FRONT BRAKE 2 x Ø 320 mm aluminum flange semi-floating discs, Radial mount Brembo monobloc 4-pistons calipers, Bosch Cornering
REAR BRAKE Ø 265 mm disc, Brembo floating 2 pistons caliper, Bosch
INSTRUMENTATION 5’’ TFT colour display
Dimensions & Weights
DRY WEIGHT 202 kg (445 lb)
KERB WEIGHT* 223 kg (492 lb)
SEAT HEIGHT 875 mm (34.4 in)
RAKE 27,6°
TRAIL 122 mm
FUEL TANK CAPACITY 21 l  (5.54 US gal)
SAFETY EQUIPMENT Ducati Safety Pack (Cornering ABS, Ducati Traction Control), Riding Modes, Power Modes, Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Engine Brake Control (EBC), Ducati Quick Shift up/down (DQS),
STANDARD EQUIPMENT Cruise control, full LED lighting system, DRL, Ducati brake light, (DBL), USB power socket, 12V socket, self canceling turn, indicators, Steering damper
READY FOR Ducati Multimedia System (DMS), Antitheft system, Turn by turn navigation via app, fog lights, heated grips, auxiliary fuel tank
Warranty & Maintenance
WARRANTY 24 month, Unlimited mileage
MAINTENANCE SERVICE INTERVALS 15,000 km (9,000 miles) / 24 months
VALVE CLEARANCE CHECK 30,000 km (18,000 miles)
Emissions & Consumption
CO2 EMISSIONS 133 g/km
CONSUMPTION 5.6 l/100 km
RRP $24,200 Ride Away
Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX Review

Photography Grego Halenda

See the Ducati Australia website for more information.

Ducati DesertX Review | Motorcycle Test

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