Ducati DesertX Press Launch on Aspen Mountain
By Dutch van Someren - 17 Aug 22
The Ducati Desert X has made it’s US debut, and the good news is; it’s as good as it looks, and even better than it originally promised to be.
We were all excited to see the Cagiva Elefant style livery on the Adventure bodywork that was clothing a modified Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled in EICMA a couple of years ago (see above), but all the customer feedback said; “make it a proper adventure bike, with proper Ducati performance”, so the “Land of Joy” gave way to the high performance, high-tech world of pure Ducati Sport, in a brand new bike, built for adventure from the ground up.
Delivering 110 bhp in Rally mode this new bike carries it’s 937cc Testrastretta Desmodromic L Twin engine a full ten inches off the ground with high-spec, fully adjustable YSS off-road suspension, and a host of rider modes covering Sport, Touring, Urban, Wet, Enduro and Rally, which also allow Traction Control, Engine Breaking and ABS to adjusted on the fly. It’s like owning 3 or 4 bikes in one.
The bike also has a proper 21 inch front wheel and 18 inch rear, shod, on our test day, with tubeless Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs which work very well on the dirt, and use a grippy enough compound for the road.
With a dry weight of just over 200kg (445lbs) this bike hauls proverbial ass and defies it’s apparent size as it commands steep rutted inclines and large boulders, although I was grateful for the low seat option.
Sneaking-in at the high spec, larger cc end of the middleweight adventure bikes, this new motorcycle will likely outperform most of the close competition on the dirt, while threatening the big mile-munching heavyweights too.
Equally importantly, it’s a seriously good-looking head-turner, and manages to look thoroughly modern and thoroughly classic at the same time.
So what about the riding experience?
Let me start out by saying that my dirt bike riding days are far behind me. Until a very recent trip to Hungry Valley’s Adventure Off Road Park a couple of weeks ago, on a rented Honda CRF230, my last two-wheeled time in the dirt was about 7 years ago at the Yamaha Off-Road School in the UK, and even then I was very rusty.
When I was invited to join the Ducati Desert X North American Press Launch I did mentioned not being any kind of off-road rider and was assured that I’d be fine and that little skill was required.
On arrival I discovered I’d be riding 80% off road all day, up a 12,000 foot mountain, with Mint 400 champion Jordan Graham and Pro TT and BSB Racer Jake Zemke, along with 4 journalists who write for ADV mags. … Gulp.
I was very nervous.
Two things made it all ok. One was Jake’s patience and support in guiding me through the steep and rocky terrain, and the other was this incredible bike. Uphill rocky ascents on a bike with big wheels and decent suspension just takes some balls, but steep descents are another thing altogether. As you pitch forward on a steep rocky decline that finishes with a 180 degree downhill hairpin turn on the side of a mountain, things can go very wrong, very quickly.
Under Jake’s guidance I selected Enduro Mode, limiting me to 75bhp, plus we manually set the Engine Braking to Maximum. In first gear I didn’t even need the back brake, as the engine took me down hills on idle - leaving me to concentrate on looking where I wanted to go, instead where I was pointing!
On a couple of tricky occasions I panicked and instinctively grabbed the front brake, which would have seen my front end wash out from under me on most dirt bikes, but the sophisticated Enduro setting’s TC simply didn’t put the front brake on, and I steered round the turn without crashing.
I honestly don't think I would have made it down that mountain on any other bike without many more hours of dirt riding under my belt. This is the first time I’ve really appreciated (or benefitted from) modern, high tech technical intervention on a motorcycle. Up until now I’d relied on my own riding skills, and saw all this tech as being unnecessary for most experienced riders. In this application I was very wrong.
I did try the Rally Mode a couple of time on the dirt and it turned the bike into a fiery beast, with a full 110bhp on tap and no TC or ABS. I can see why Jordan Graham felt the bike was race-ready straight out of the box, but the Rally setting was too much for me on this terrain. At least, this time around.
We had a few miles on proper pavement (tarmac) roads, carving through the stunning Colorado mountains and forests.
In Touring Mode, Sport Mode and Urban Mode the bike was transformed again and again, with fantastic road manners, handling and power delivery in all settings.
Looking at the photos and video that Ducati created for this riding event, I’m surprised how well-composed the bike looks underneath me, and how good the bike looks with a rider on it. My screensavers might not change for a while!
Do I want one?
I have too many bikes on my wish-list, but when it comes to Adventure, I think this may be The One, and in practical terms I don’t think I’ve ever ridden any bike that offers so many levels of riding experience from City to Freeway, Trails to Dirt, with aftermarket options to suit the longest of adventures.
On a good day I could probably ride this bike on Hungry Valley’s trails and surprise a few dirtbike riders, knowing that it was also my ride home, ... taking the long way.
I’m interested to hear what the Adv Pros make of the bike, but the smiles on everyone’s faces suggest some rave reviews might be due.