Ducati are on a roll right now, with the Multistrada accounting for a good chunk of the company’s record breaking sales.
I’ve run and owned loads of them over the years, and they are fantastic bikes. But where Multistradas are brilliant road-going touring bikes that can cope with a bit of gentle off-road, the geometry and wheel sizes mean they have never been truly happy on an actual muddy trail. That’s why the Desert X has been developed for 2022, giving the Ducatisti a go-anywhere adventure bike with genuine off-road capabilities.
It’s the first Ducati (since the 1960s, at least) to use a 21-inch front and an 18-inch rear wheel. That means that any decent 50/50 adventure trail tyres or even full enduro knobblies will fit, genuinely opening the world of Ducati riders from just beyond the road to anywhere you want to take it.
As standard, it comes fitted with multi-purpose Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres. The Desert X is designed to be a proper adventure bike to take you around the world, down that dirt trail, dune riding in Morocco, and on a true adventure to cope with serious off-road, but a bike that’s also more than competent on the road.
Some claim, right? But fear not, Ducati has got this bang on. It’s one of the best motorcycles the Italian firm has ever produced.
I first borrowed a Desert X for a few hours earlier this year, to take on the 20km trail at the Adventure Bike Rider Festival, or as I like to call it, the Gore-Tex Glastonbury. The second I rode it off-road on those dusty trails I was doing sums in my head, working out how I could fund buying one. It’s that good.
The way it copes with high-speed road use, with bags of comfort and stability, and then fires you down a trail the next minute, hovering over tracks with its 250mm of ground clearance, is unlike anything else on the road.
Although Ducati doesn’t talk about it much, the Ducati Desert X is the spiritual successor of the 1990s Cagiva Elefant. Design-wise, the Elefant had been dropped into a design time machine and emerged as the 21st century Desert X, with cutting-edge lines and those distinctive LED ring headlights. Look at the styling; it’s pure eighties Dakar throwback but brought bang into 2022.
And the specifications are bang on today’s money too. The steel trellis chassis is all-new and mated to an aluminium swingarm; there are fully adjustable 46mm Kayaba front forks with 230mm of travel on the front and a Kayaba rear shock on the rear with 220mm of travel - all fully adjustable. That suspension and chassis recipe give riders a massive 250mm of ground clearance.
The motor is the 937cc liquid-cooled twin taken from the Multistrada V2, but with shorter gearing in the first five gears and mapping to suit its new intended purpose. It makes 110bhp in full power mode. The whole bike weighs in at 202kg.
There’s an up-and-down quick shifter, cornering ABS that can be switched on and off or just on the front, depending on the surface. There are six rider modes and four power modes, all adjustable for levels of traction control and adjustable electronic brake distribution to give you different levels of engine braking.
With a seat height of 875mm, there’s no question this is a big bike. I’m six-foot four inches tall, so I have no problem with that. But even more diminutive members of our film crew could get their feet flat on the ground thanks to the slender saddle.
The riding position is designed to work when standing up on trails, but is equally comfortable on the road and when blasting down trails.
The screen could be a bit higher for my liking but there’s a touring screen for anyone longer in the leg or body. Ducati supplied us with this loan bike and I did 500 miles in just over a week. It was comfortable and easy to live with on motorways, backroads and even in town.
In full 110bhp Sport mode, the motor has just the right amount of grunt for 50-70mph overtakes. And at 70mph, it’s pulling 5000rpm. Change it to Urban, and you get 75bhp, Touring mode has a softer power delivery and 95bhp, and Enduro also uses a 75bhp map set up for better response off-road.
For more experienced off-road riders, there’s Rally mode. That puts it in 110bhp with a more responsive fuel map for getting over obstacles and adjusts the traction control and ABS levels to allow it to lock the rear wheel and slide the rear. The electronics in any mode are about as good as they get. More nervous riders can leave everything on, allowing you to be throttle happy over bumps and crests and on slippery roads, and knowing you have an electronic safety net around you.
More experienced riders can dial down the electronics and live on the edge more. Or just leave a small amount of wheelie control and traction control on to reign it in when the bike gets a bit lairy. The combination of that high-up riding position, the long-travel suspension, the quick shift, and that grunt motor means the way this bike covers the ground in the pot-hole-infested world we live in defies belief for a 110bhp motorcycle.
And if you get lost with all the levels of electronic adjustments, then you can go into the easy-to-use menus and reset it all back to default. The full-colour, 5-inch, TFT digital dash can be set in either standard or rally mode and it’s all effortless to get used to.
Up front, there are twin Brembo M50 monobloc radial four-piston calipers on twin 320mm discs and a massive 265mm rear disc with a double-piston caliper. It has a lovely amount of power from some of the best brakes in the market and a lot of feel at the lever on and off-road.
Even the tank range is good. With 21 litres on board, I managed to get 235 miles of fast riding on all types of roads and trails. And, if you fancy it, there’s an option for twin tanks to boost the Ducati’s fuel load by an extra eight litres of fuel. They look cool too, and enhance those authentic Dakar bike looks even further.
Ducati could have given us a new Multistrada variant but, instead, they’ve made the commitment to develop a proper go-anywhere adventure bike. They’ve created a brilliant motorcycle that’s a hoot on the daily commute, capable of riding two-up to Scotland for the weekend or equally happy spending a dirty weekend on the trails.
I was genuinely sad to hand the bike back at the end of the test. I was so sad, I stopped off at my local Ducati dealer to put down a deposit for my very own Desert X.
It really is that good…
Words: Marc Potter
Pictures: Too Fast Media/Ducati
Video: Too Fast Media