Ducati DesertX: Dakar bike for the road?

Exploration. Fun. Performance. And a great desire to take and leave towards the horizon. The identity of this bike leaves no room for doubt: just looking at it, it brings you into the atmosphere of Dakar racing.

The hark back to the Cagiva Elefant of the ’90s is very clear in the DesertX’s overall silhouette, but it’s a design that has contoured & finessed into the future. The twin circular LED headlamps along with the tall (non-adjustable) windscreen make this bike instantly recognizable.

It gets a large 21-litre fuel tank, but unlike most ADVs this tank manages to feel nice & slim where the rider’s knees interface while standing up. The ergonomics of this bike are well judged, whether you’re sitting or standing & a large part of that goes to the smart design with clean surfaces. The rear section is far simpler with the sleek oval LED tail-lamp, which gives the bike a feeling of purpose & ruggedness. Underneath the pretty bodywork is a very traditional trellis frame, no radical new Monster-esque front frame here & the chassis was fully developed in just 2 years.

The DesertX has a gigantic wheelbase of 1,608mm which is longer than even the Diavel & only 7mm shorter than the most stretched out Ducati: the xDiavel, though I never felt like this was an excessively long or lazy motorcycle & the number came across as quite a surprise when studying the spec sheet. 

I got a brief amount of time to ride it off-road, where the bike definetely felt tall but at the same time also quite easy to ride & light on its feet, which was enough to tell that with its 21-inch/18-inch wheel sizes, this bike is very capable & good fun off-road. The standing up ergos are spot on, the suspension has heaps of travel 230mm front/220mm rear & then there’s also the massive 250mm of ground clearance. 

The few things I could tell was that Pirelli tyres do a good job in dry dirt; the steering feels a little heavy when moving the handlebar from lock to lock at low speeds, as it does on most big ADVs & the seat while being slim, is quite tall; albeit India gets the low seat height option of 865mm as standard.

The familiar 937cc L-twin is just like what you’ll get in the SuperSport, Hypermotard, Multistrada V2 & the Monster, although in a different state of tune. With 110hp & 92Nm, its peak figures are in the ballpark of its siblings, but the DesertX’s engine has the most muted & mellow tune of the lot. And just like most Ducatis, this one also throws off quite a lot of heat on the riders’ legs & the hallmark hydraulic clutch is on the heavier side.

Overall the bike handles very well once you get used to the extensive movement of the long-travel suspension. It turns in quite easily, feels stable when leaned over & even side to side transitions don’t take much effort.

Braking is taken care of by twin Brembo M50 calipers in the front, but mated to a simple axial brake master cylinder. The resulting performance is just like the engine: not at all aggressive, but strong enough when you want it. 

The DesertX may be a rugged Ducati, but it’s still a very well equipped one. The sheer number of electronic features & rider assists are very likely the best in the segment. The new vertical TFT display looks nice & gives you control over almost all the same rider assists you’ll find in other Ducatis. It has 6 customisable riding modes, 4 power modes, multi-level traction control, wheelie control, cornering ABS & much more. Not only can you deactivate the rear ABS, but also the front system if you’re brave enough. Further luxuries come in the form of an up/down quickshifter, cruise control & heated grips, it really has almost everything you could need.

There is only one fully equipped variant, although Ducati will sell you a number of accessories, including a fantastic looking 8-litre auxiliary fuel tank that sits on either side of the pillion seat. 

It certainly lacks the punch of the lightweight Monster or the aural drama & aggressive responses of the Hypermotard. Power delivery is quite linear & there’s a good surge above 6,000rpm, but there were also moments where that strong Ducati kick I was expecting just wasn’t there when coming out of corners at about 3,000rpm. Ultimately, it’s a quick motorcycle no doubt, but while still being rather calm & approachable, which will appeal to the wider crowd. 

Photos: https://www.instagram.com/manya_surve2?igsh=ZWsyaHU0NmU2czRv

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Tanmay Kulkarni
Tanmay Kulkarni

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