Auto review: Ready for the adventure

Auto review: Ready for the adventure

The Ducati DesertX is more than capable of off-road excursions

The Ducati DesertX is a concept bike that has created a strong impact on riders around the world for various reasons.

To the writer, it instantly reminds of the Paris Dakar racer powered by the L twin 900ss from the late 1980s with its desmodromic valve system and tobacco sponsors like Marlboro, Rothmans, Chesterfield and Gauloise as well as Lucky Strike.

Ducati's Desmo engine was also used in the Cagiva that won in 1990. The rider was Edi Orioli, a four-time Paris Dakar champion, having won in 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1994.

The DesertX displayed at the Eicma in Italy in 2019 was based on the Scrambler chassis, which was so perfect that I told myself that if it ever went into production, I would get one.

I've been following news on this model for the past two years and learned that the bike has been redesigned with a new chassis and other components. Along with the 937 engine, the new bike also gets quick-shift DCT, DWC, EBC and various riding modes, including Rally and Enduro.

Despite the totally different chassis, the exterior design is almost identical. The 21in enduro/rally front wheel is mated to an 18in rear wheel.


Organised by Ducati Asia Pacific, the riding event for the DesertX took place in the northern part of Thailand, routing through Chiang Mai, Phayao and Nan. An international group of 10 riders participated in the four-day, 1,500km journey.

The DesertX is not large in dimensions, and the fuel tank is not too bulky. With a full tank, it can cover up to 390km. A special foot adjustment on both sides makes it convenient for riding boots.

However, the seat seems to be a bit low for a 175cm rider -- a rally seat will offer extra height that matches the riding aerodynamics better.

Starting out from Chiang Mai, the bike handled surprisingly well on winding mountain roads despite running on a 21in front wheel with Pirelli Scorpion STR 90/90/21 tyre, which is not the type you'd use for the hundreds (if not thousands) of curves or the off-road conditions we were heading to.

The chassis performed brilliantly to provide smooth cornering characteristics with easy entry and exit. This shows that DesertX has been deliberately designed to offer a sport-touring type of cornering performance.

Meanwhile, the various ride modes had unique characters that were easy to sort out.

The Sport 110hp engine provides quick response and smooth revs, while in Rally 110hp (my favourite), the smooth throttle is responsive, and the ABS can be deactivated in order to spin the rear wheel during off-roading.

In Enduro, the power is lowered to 75hp and assistance systems are deactivated to offer a raw riding experience. You can confidently use more throttle to cross obstacles in rugged conditions.

In Touring 110hp, there is as much power, but the throttle response is a tad slower and intended for highway cruising.

The cruise control is located on the left handlebar and is very easy to use, offering some relief when riding long distances.

The group encountered rain on the winding mountain roads, and the Wet ride mode came in handy, offering added confidence.

The quick-shift gearbox is practical and works with the EBC (Engine Brake Control) system before entering a corner, allowing direct downshifts.

Assistance systems, including EBC, DTC (traction control) and DWC (wheelie control) can be further calibrated via a 5-inch display and controls on the right handlebar.

On the dirt track, I tried both Rally and Enduro modes with DTC off, and the DesertX could powerslide out of second- and third-gear corners with great balance. In Enduro mode, you can use the throttle more generously without the fear of overpowering.

During four days, the KYB suspension also performed flawlessly, whether when riding over damaged roads or speed bumps.

The Brembo M 50 brake also added confidence when riding on tarmac or dusty roads.

On narrow mountain roads, the DesertX was easy to manoeuvre despite being a 1,000cc bike, and the suspension could iron out low-speed shocks very well.

Good balance also makes it feel light and easy to turn around, and it's super easy to find the neutral gear when parking or stuck at the red light.

While the engine power isn't way up there, the engine mapping is wonderful in every mode, performing flawlessly, unlike in the past when power cuts were not done as smoothly.

And although it may not feel as powerful as sports bikes, if you want more torque, perhaps the full system exhaust upgrade from Termignoni that has been co-developed with Ducati (including the ECU mapping) could be a good move.


The Ducati DesertX caters to riders who like off-roading with a well-balanced package that's not too heavy nor too powerful to control, along with roadworthiness characters.

Chalermphol Tienmanee is CEO of Dirtshop Thailand.

Pros: Looks great, great handling, well-calibrated ride modes
Cons: Low seats, can feel underpowered

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