For the past few years, and especially since the global coronavirus pandemic started, Ducati has controlled its own narrative by skipping many of the traditional motorcycle shows.
Traditionally, these shows have been the venues where manufacturers unveil their newest models for the following year for the first time. They’ve been the first chance for people to see these new bikes in person, which understandably, is a big deal.
Instead of attending these shows, Ducati has unveiled its new models in a series of online video campaigns.
For the 2022 model year, Ducati saved its biggest unveil for last with the DesertX. With all due respect to the Multistrada Enduro, the DesertX symbolizes Ducati’s most serious entry into the off-road market arguably in its entire history.
Why do we say that? Because unlike the Multistrada, that can trace its roots back to a touring road bike, the DesertX was designed from the start to tackle the demands of adventure riding. The inspiration clearly comes from the booming success of the middleweight ADV category.
To that end, the DesertX was first shown as a concept vehicle in 2019, where it was a big hit. From that point, the decision was made to bring the bike to production. But with anything Ducati, if it was coming to market, Ducati would have to do it right.
It’s safe to say the DesertX doesn’t look like any Ducati before it, although some might say there are shades of the Cagiva Elefant, with its round headlights inside a rounded-off enclosure. The rounded shape of the fuel tank and side fairings also have a slight Elefant influence.
But the red, gold, and black vertical stripes down the sides are more distinct nods to Ducati’s former owners, Cagiva.
Looking at the tank some more, its shape gives it 21L of capacity, but it’s narrow where it meets the seat so the rider can stand up with confidence.
For the more determined ADV riders out there, Ducati has auxiliary fuel tanks available as an accessory that mount to the rear of the bike. Think of them as replacements for saddlebags, offering an additional 8L of petrol.
The bike will default to the primary tank until a certain level, at which point the rider can activate a dashboard switch to transfer fuel from rear to front. In case there was doubt as to how serious Ducati was taking its ADV contender, this should be an indicator that it’s not taking it lightly.
From a mechanical standpoint, Ducati engineered a whole new motorcycle to handle rally raid-like conditions. With the middleweight ADV category being as hotly contested as it is, the DesertX needed to be able to compete right away, even if most of its owners won’t ever put the bike through those kinds of conditions.
Starting with the frame, Ducati did what it does best – design a new steel trellis frame. At the front is a 46mm inverted fork from Kayaba with 230mm of travel. Kayaba also provides the shock, with 220mm of travel. Both the fork and shock are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, as well as spring preload.
A 21-inch front wheel and an 18-inch rear wheel are further signs of its off-road intentions, but the Scorpion Rally STR tires it comes with may not be the most aggressive off-road tires. However, let’s not forget the DesertX is also a road bike, too. Good thing the 21/18 combination should give you plenty of tire options.
Those wheels combined with that suspension package give the bike 250mm of ground clearance, according to Ducati, which is in the ballpark for serious ADV worthiness in the class.
If you follow Ducati’s sportbike heritage, you’ll know the brand has a thing for single-sided swingarms. However, for ADV use, the DesertX gets a traditional double-sided swingarm.
Sitting between the trellis frame is about the only thing Ducati followers will recognize: the 937cc Testastretta 11º V-Twin also used on the Monster, Supersport, Hypermotard, and Multistrada V2.
The 11º valve overlap gives the engine strong torque characteristics, which should serve its off-road intentions well.
Ducati rates it at 110 hp and 92 Nm of torque – about the same as the other bikes sharing the engine – but its internal gear ratios are different to better suit ADV riding. The first five gears are shorter together, while sixth is tall to accommodate road riding. The Ducati Quick Shift system enables clutchless upshifts and downshifts.
Bringing the bike to a stop are more familiar items. Brembo M50 calipers are some of the best in the business, and they are paired with 320mm discs for excellent stopping power. The rear sees a 265mm disc and a two-piston Brembo caliper.
On the electronics side, Ducati has mated the all-important six-axis IMU to the DesertX, allowing some of the most sophisticated rider aids to date. There are six riding modes and four power modes. The ones you care about are the new Enduro Riding mode and Rally Riding mode.
The former (Enduro) tames the power and ups the electronics in an off-road setting, while Rally mode gives you full power and reduced electronics to really hang it out.
Other rider aids include Engine Brake Control (EBC), Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), the aforementioned Ducati Quick Shift (DQS), and Cornering ABS (which can be set to one of three different levels or turned off entirely in Enduro or Rally modes).
Perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of the DesertX is its dashboard. The 5” full-color TFT display is mounted vertically and resembles the rolling charts rally-raid riders use for their analog (paper) navigation notes.
It obviously displays all the pertinent ride information, along with the status of the different modes and aids.
Connecting to the Ducati Multimedia System with your phone will also display navigation, calls, and other items on the screen.
On paper, the Ducati DesertX seems to be the real deal when it comes to a middleweight ADV contender. Ducati hired several off-road experts (legends, even) to help with the development process of the DesertX, so the expectations for it are already rising.
It’s going to have some big competition in the form of KTM’s 890 Adventure, Yamaha’s Tenere 700, and even the Aprilia Tuareg, but something tells us the DesertX will be ready to compete right out of the box.