Ducati brings the heat to the dirt party for 2023 with its first full-on ADV motorcycle, the DesertX.
Ducati has kept us waiting long and hard on this one. We first saw signs of the brand new 2023 Ducati DesertX back in 2019 at EICMA, when the Bologna brand dressed up an 1100 Scrambler in some fancy new clothes that were inspired by the immortal Paris-Dakar Cagiva Elefant (sic) racers of 30 years ago.
The global pandemic could be blamed for a bit of the delay, but, as they say, it’s better to wait until something is cooked just right than pull it out before its time. Ducati chose to bide its time, and the result is the outstanding 2023 DesertX, their first purpose-built off-road motorcycle.
The DesertX comes into the market at its hottest ever point as far as mid-size ADV motorcycles go. This all-new motorcycle goes up against the KTM 890 Adventure R, Yamaha Tenere 700, Aprilia Tuareg, BMW F 850 GS/GS Adventure, and Triumph Tiger 800 XCA, all players who’ve been in the game a long time.
But Ducati isn’t playing tiddlywinks here. The 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. On tap is 110 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque, neatly wrapped in an all-new tubular steel-trellis chassis, wonderfully seductive bodywork that doffs the cap nicely to the Paris-Dakar racers of yesteryear, a chunky 46mm KYB fork and shock that’s fully adjustable and contain a massive 9.06 inches of front wheel travel and 8.66 inches at the rear, and an electronics package to rival everything from their own Panigale V4 to any bike within this category.
Said electronics consist of 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 with mission control a five-inch tall dash that looks very much like my iPhone.
These electronic aids/safety features are all standard fare with the DesertX. You’re not buying a base model and then unlocking various electronic paywalls to gain more performance. What you see is what you get. You can only buy the top spec, which is no doubt reflected in the $17,095 MSRP price tag.
But when all is said and done, it’s the ride that matters most and the DesertX delivers in spades. This is a motor supremely adapted to the task of off-road riding. Ducati has fitted a shorter first and second gear to the DesertX to help it controllably crawl down rocky embankments, a feat it does extremely well when you chose the highest level of available engine braking.
With 110 hp on tap, that’s more than enough for every off-road situation but forget the number for a minute. It’s the smoothness of the power delivery that’s impressive, the motor all the time willing you along without imparting a sense of trepidation at the twist grip, something 150 plus hp big bore ADV’s have extreme trouble in accomplishing.
The motor matches beautifully to the chassis, which is long, tall and with a rangy riding position. The 63.3-inch wheelbase gives the chassis excellent stability on the trail, although it does hinder tarmac agility, if only a little. Paired with admittedly soft suspension settings, the DesertX will happily tear up rocky hills and then crawl back down them with the best of them, which is no mean feat for a first time ADV manufacturer.
Which is exactly what Ducati is. The Multistrada can go off-road but it’s not an adventure motorcycle. Hell, it doesn’t even come with an off-road specific 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel. The DesertX does. This bike, resplendent in that dazzling pearl white that adorned the Lucky Strike racers of the 1990s, is an excellent adventure proposition. Not just an excellent bike for a first-timer, an excellent bike, full stop.
Images: Grego Halenda