2023 Ducati DesertX

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The DesertX’s retro-modern styling makes it an attention grabber. There’s a lot of performance behind those uniquely designed fairings too.

The DesertX’s retro-modern styling makes it an attention grabber. There’s a lot of performance behind those uniquely designed fairings too. (Ducati/)

Ups

  • Chassis isn’t afraid of the dirt
  • Excellent electronics for all conditions
  • Flexible and fun Testastretta 11° engine

Downs

  • Expensive for a “middleweight” ADV
  • Lots of menu navigation to get settings dialed

Verdict

Riders looking for a hardcore adventure bike that’s lighter, more agile, and can be ridden much more aggressively than open-class bikes have a great option in the Ducati DesertX. This dirtworthy adventure bike will go places Ducati’s more travel-oriented Multistrada wouldn’t dare.

The DesertX’s suspension is very well controlled, especially on big hits.

The DesertX’s suspension is very well controlled, especially on big hits. (Ducati/)

Overview

Ducati’s DesertX fills a void in Ducati’s adventure-bike lineup as a more hardcore middleweight ADV intended to tackle rougher terrain than a street-biased adventure bike. An early design goal was to ensure that the bike came equipped with 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel sizes, opening the door to much more aggressive knobby tire options. Chassis dynamics were also intended to align better with the expectations of riders used to off-road enduro machines. Manually adjustable long-travel Kayaba suspension, well-balanced geometry, and a riding position optimized for riding while standing make the bike feel more like a large enduro than a downsized Multistrada.

Ducati’s Testastretta 11° engine is a great fit. This engine is intended to provide an ideal balance between power and tractability. An expansive suite of electronic rider aids ensures that you can find the right combination of power output, traction control, and engine characteristics for every type of terrain from asphalt, dirt, sand, and mud.

A full line of accessories also means that the DesertX can be tailored for any rider’s intended type of adventure riding.

Updates for 2023

The DesertX is a brand-new model for 2023, though it shares an engine with its distant cousin the Multistrada V2. The X was designed to provide a more off-road-oriented adventure model in Ducati’s lineup.

It’s easy to see that the DesertX is designed for exploring and serious off-road adventure.

It’s easy to see that the DesertX is designed for exploring and serious off-road adventure. (Ducati/)

Pricing and Variants

The DesertX is priced at $17,095 and comes in a single variant; however, a variety of accessory packages are available to choose from to tailor the bike to a rider’s wants and needs. There’s a $2,805 Touring package, with aluminum side bags and mounts, heated grips, and centerstand; a $1,550 Off-road package, with engine guard plate, radiator guard, steel tube bars, and hand guards; a Sport package, pricing TBA, with homologated silencer, number plate holder, and billet aluminum fuel tank cap; a $1,320 Urban package, with aluminum top case with top rack, handlebar bag, and top-case cushion; and a $1,850 Rally package, with a 2.1-gallon rear-subframe-mounted auxiliary fuel tank, front headlight grille, and rally seat.

Competition

The middleweight ADV category continues to grow in terms of popularity, so there are many great models from multiple manufacturers.

Standout options in this space include: Aprilia Tuareg 660, Yamaha Ténéré 700, KTM 890 Adventure R, BMW F 850 GS Adventure/850 GS, Husqvarna Norden 901, and the Triumph Tiger 900 models.

The 937cc engine is the same as used in the Multistrada V2, but with revised first and second gear ratios, a lower-ratio final drive, and fresh calibration designed to deliver as wide a spread of power as possible.

The 937cc engine is the same as used in the Multistrada V2, but with revised first and second gear ratios, a lower-ratio final drive, and fresh calibration designed to deliver as wide a spread of power as possible. (Ducati/)

Powertrain: Engine, Transmission, and Performance

The DesertX is equipped with the liquid-cooled DOHC desmodromic four-valve Testastretta 11° L-twin, with 94-by-67.5mm bore and stroke measurements. It’s fed by a pair of 53mm throttle bodies with ride-by-wire control, passing exhaust gases through a stainless steel exhaust system with a single catalytic converter into a single muffler. The engine produces a claimed 110 hp at 9,250 rpm and 68 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 6,500 rpm. Valve check intervals are 18,000 miles apart, with 9,000-mile maintenance intervals.

In Cycle World’s First Ride Review, we said, “The Testastretta 11-degree engine is a great choice, providing just the right amount of power while also keeping overall weight down to respectable levels. The DesertX was set to Sport mode to start, as the ride began on asphalt and we wanted to get a feel for the engine’s unmuzzled power and street settings. Power delivery is crisp and responsive with throttle response defaulting to Dynamic, and power at maximum, while DTC is set at a very conservative 5, and wheelie control at 2. The new bike definitely doesn’t have the shove of its big brother the Multistrada V4, but since the DesertX weighs about 40 pounds less, it doesn’t feel that far off. The Touring mode is quite similar to Sport, however; it uses the Smooth throttle response, which would likely be most people’s preferred mode for cruising around at a less aggressive pace.

“Think of Rally as Sport mode for the dirt. The default settings are Full power with Dynamic response, ABS on its minimum setting, wheelie control off, and traction control at 2. This is the most playful setting available on the DesertX. With just a touch of safety net provided with the ABS and TC, the bike can be ridden aggressively with just enough peace of mind in case the rider does something stupid.”

The DesertX has incredible on-road manners for a bike with such a clear off-road bias.

The DesertX has incredible on-road manners for a bike with such a clear off-road bias. (Ducati/)

Chassis/Handling

The core features that engineers focused on to ensure good off-road capability were an off-road-ready chassis with a tubular-steel trellis frame and double-sided aluminum swingarm. Wheel sizes of 21-inch front and 18-inch rear allow the use of aggressive off-road tires. The bike has a near-10-inch ground clearance and long-travel, manually adjustable Kayaba suspension front and rear; the wheelbase measures 63.3 inches between the axles, while front-end geometry is set with 27.6 degrees of rake and 4.8 inches of trail. Ducati’s claimed wet weight is 492 pounds with fuel filled to 90 percent capacity.

The DesertX is very well balanced for off-road riding, with great front-to-rear weight distribution. Hit a jump and the bike flies level and straight without any drama, giving the rider the confidence to tackle technical terrain. What’s more impressive is the bike’s composed attitude while navigating through rocks and chop. Hit an unexpected grapefruit-sized rock and the chassis simply deals with it, snapping the wheels back into line almost instantly. That’s a quality even some enduro bikes don’t have.

Brakes

Braking is handled by a pair of radial-mount Brembo four-piston Monoblock calipers and 320mm discs at the front, while a twin-piston caliper and 265mm disc reside at the rear. The system is managed by Bosch’s lean-sensitive ABS, which gets info from the six-axis IMU.

The DesertX’s Brembos provide very good feel both on and off road, with ample power and progressive, smooth ramp-up. From the ride review: “When combined with the sophisticated ABS, the front brake could be used hard when needed, while the off-road modes allowed good control of the height-adjustable rear brake while allowing riders to switch it off completely and be able to lock the rear wheel for better control in the dirt.”

Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG

Cycle World has yet to put a DesertX through a long-term test and acquire fuel economy numbers.

More signs of Ducati’s serious off-road intent. The DesertX’s footpegs are seriously aggressive.

More signs of Ducati’s serious off-road intent. The DesertX’s footpegs are seriously aggressive. (Ducati/)

Ergonomics: Comfort and Utility

The DesertX’s riding position is a major contributor to the way the bike handles. Ducati spent a lot of time and effort to dial in the layout, especially for standing up on the pegs, and the test riders nailed it. For a 5-foot-11 rider, the reach to the bars feels nearly perfect. Not only does the rider feel totally in command when standing, but the bike reacts with complete predictability, allowing riders to find traction, break traction, or get a better feel while braking.

The DesertX comes with a 5-inch TFT display that’s been turned vertical for easy viewing seated or standing.

The DesertX comes with a 5-inch TFT display that’s been turned vertical for easy viewing seated or standing. (Ducati/)

Electronics

In the convenience and comfort department, the bike has cruise control and an up-and-down quickshifter. The DesertX features six riding modes, a Ducati first, with Sport, Touring, Urban, Wet, Enduro, and Rally on tap. All modes have presets for three levels of Engine Brake Control (EBC); eight levels of Ducati Traction Control (DTC); four levels of Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC); three levels plus Off of Cornering ABS; four power settings, Full, High, Medium, and Low; and the ability to set throttle response to Dynamic or Smooth.

There’s a 5-inch color TFT display, cleverly rotated to a vertical orientation so as to be easier to see while the rider is in the standing position. All lighting is LED, and USB and 12V sockets are included.

Warranty and Maintenance Coverage

The DesertX comes with a 24-month, unlimited-mileage warranty.

Quality

The fit and finish on the DesertX is very nice, with its beautiful White Star Matte Silk paint and retro vibe making it stand out instantly.

2023 Ducati DesertX Specifications

MSRP: $17,095
Engine: Testastretta 11° liquid-cooled L-twin; 4 valves/cyl.; desmodromic valve train
Displacement: 937cc
Bore x Stroke: 94.0 x 67.5mm
Compression Ratio: 13.3:1
Transmission/Final Drive: 6-speed/chain
Claimed Horsepower: 110 hp @ 9,250 rpm
Claimed Torque: 68 lb.-ft. @ 6,500 rpm
Fuel System: Bosch electronic fuel injection w/ 53mm throttle bodies, ride-by-wire
Clutch: Wet, multiplate slipper and self-servo; hydraulic actuation
Frame: Tubular steel trellis
Front Suspension: KYB 46mm upside-down fork, fully adjustable; 9.1 in. travel
Rear Suspension: KYB monoshock, fully adjustable, remote preload adjustable; 8.7 in. travel
Front Brake: Radial-mount Brembo Monoblock 4-piston caliper, dual 320mm semi-floating discs w/ Bosch Cornering ABS
Rear Brake: Brembo floating 2-piston caliper, 265mm disc w/ Bosch Cornering ABS
Wheels, Front/Rear: Cross-spoked, tubeless; 21 x 2.15 in. / 18 x 4.5 in.
Tires, Front/Rear: Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR; 90/90-21 / 150/70R-18
Rake/Trail: 27.6°/4.8 in.
Wheelbase: 63.3 in.
Ground Clearance: 9.8 in.
Seat Height: 34.4 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gal.
Claimed Curb Weight: 492 lb.
Contact: ducati.com