Off-road or on-road ?: Ducati DesertX – at home on all trails

land or road?
Ducati DesertX – at home on all trails

With the DesertX, Ducati proves that the Desmo V engine can do more than sport. Because now he drives an off-road motorcycle that recalls the successes of the Italians in the Dakar. It’s also a kind of sport, but very different from what Ducati otherwise earns its credit for.

With the display of an all-terrain concept bike in the style of Dakar racing cars of the 1980s at the EICMA 2019 Milan motorcycle fair, Ducati had no peace: off-road enthusiasts from all over the world seasoned those responsible with requests. and shares well-meaning advice. As a result of the euphoria, the production-ready derivative, the Ducati DesertX, was developed in a record time of just two years.


With DesertX, Ducati introduces a robust travel enduro to its range.

(Photo: Ducati)

Visually based on the concept bike and historical ancestors, the Italian is dressed in white with red trim and carries a distinctive double headlight integrated into the fairing with an imposing windshield. He remembers the Cagiva Elefant, which won the 1990 Dakar with a 900 Ducati V2 engine under Edi Orioli. Its shape is dominated by the mighty tank and exudes the typical narrow, long-legged attitude of a true off-road motorcycle, which is complemented by coarse-profile off-road tires measuring 21 inches at the front and 18 inches at the rear.

Designed for the real terrain

But not just the tires, the entire frame is designed for true off-road use. With a newly developed steel space frame, adapted steering geometry and fully adjustable high-quality Kayaba suspension elements with wide spring travel at the front and rear for a significant 25cm ground clearance, the DesertX it is well located for the aardvark. However, this construction offers a decent seat height of 87.5 centimeters, which means that not only people with short legs are looking for a suitable place to stop. While driving, the ergonomic triangle of rests, saddle and large handlebar results in a very generous space, definitely suitable for long journeys and a more than acceptable wind protection behind the non-adjustable windshield.


In addition to off-roading, the Ducati DesetX can also race around corners.

(Photo: Ducati)

Driving dynamics are the result of an old acquaintance, the 110 HP Desmo-V with 937 cm³, known from the latest Monster, from the Hypermotard, from the SuperSport 950 and also from the Multistrada V2. Although this transmission comes from the road, it was designed for off-road use with a shorter 1st and 2nd gear. As in the other models, the Twin is very cultured, delivers a lot of pressure right from the bottom and spins happily and linearly through the rev range.

To do justice to the various purposes, the pilot has four engine modes that change the character significantly. Bundled in six driving modes – two off-road modes, three tarmac and one rain – are stored various electronic settings that can also be customized for: engine brake behavior, traction control, wheelie control, quick shift and cornering ABS .

Very softly or more spontaneously?


Surprisingly good are the Pirelli Scorpion Rallye STR tires, which work not only off-road but also on the road.

(Photo: Ducati)

In touring mode, the engine responds smoothly to throttle and uses maximum torque of 92 Newton meters at 6500 crankshaft revolutions on asphalt for easily controllable driving pleasure. Sport gets to work more spontaneously, but also a little more spontaneously, then the Ducati whizzes with verve and a whopping 110 hp on winding country roads and behaves so obediently and neutral. That you almost forget about the big 21-inch front wheel and rather think you’re sitting on a compromise bike with a 19-inch front wheel. Great praise is due to the Pirelli Scorpion Rallye STR, which allows for atypical off-road lean angles with its extraordinary grip.

The steering damper is hardly needed here, especially since the long wheelbase still ensures a lot of stability, which makes the DesertX a bit stubborn. The fixed four-piston calipers in the front wheel are perfect for chasing asphalt, which can be metered with maximum precision and, if necessary, decelerate extremely sharply.


The interior of the Desert X is very contemporary.

(Photo: Ducati)

Unlike here, in Sardinia there are still countless dirt slopes, gravel and sand paths that are not only passable, but also act as real access routes. This is where enduro mode comes in, which limits the twin to 75hp and changes the ABS specifically for off-road use. It is convenient to ride while standing, while the handlebars, footrests and foot levers can be adjusted in a snap, which suits almost any rider height.

It makes controlled slides possible

If you still use the throttle spontaneously, the adapted traction control allows controlled gliding on the bumpy ground, which, thanks to the clean control, cannot scare even off-road beginners. Because of the shorter ratio in first and second gear, dust splashes out of curves under acceleration, the off-road ABS helps even less experienced drivers to cross safely and without falling. The DesertX masters potholes and deep throats very well thanks to the excellent spring elements.The steering damper pays off here by preventing the front from wedging.

With all kinds of bespoke accessories, the DesertX profile can also be sharpened at will. The offering ranges from species-appropriate aluminum panniers to a rally seat, LED auxiliary headlights and an additional fuel tank in the rear. Unfortunately, some essential travel features like heated grips and main kickstand can only be found as accessories, but that doesn’t take away from the stunning debut look: as a great blend of road bikes and serious adventure bikes, the DesertX does opens a new field that Ducati had not cultivated until now, even if the price of around 16,000 euros reaches the typical Ducati regions.

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