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Ducati DesertX Review | Aussie Blue Mountains launch

Ducati DesertX Review

One of the more hotly anticipated arrivals this year, in what has already been a fairly standout year of new model introductions, Ducati’s Desert X is officially here on Aussie soil. It fills the middle-weight Adventure hole in Ducati’s line-up, and edges further into the off-road capability side of things, picking up from where the Multistrada starts to become a little harder to handle.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX is $24,200 Ride Away in Australia

I will happily state that I had high expectations ahead of the Aussie launch in the Blue Mountains. In photos, the styling looks just superb, harking back to Cagiva Dakar bikes of old. But it’s even better in the metal. It’s a very, very pretty thing indeed. Beautifully styled, well proportioned. And those twin led headlights are like little Italian jewels up front.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX

Surprisingly however, it was not a bike I fell in love with immediately. I had a fair idea of what to expect, given that the driveline is shared with a number of other Ducati models, including the Monster that I rode not long back. First impressions were that it didn’t have quite the shove off the bottom, or as fat a mid-range as I remembered the Monster having. On top of that, the journey out from Sydney’s inner suburbs highlighted that the suspension and gearbox in particular were very tight off the showroom floor. I had trouble finding neutral when I first hopped on… But a lot of the press bikes had very, very low kilometres on them and were far from bedded in.

Ducati DesertX Review
The new bikes were a bit tight to start with, which made Wayne ride a little tight too…

Out on the road the Kayaba suspension seemed reluctant to soak up surface changes and pot-hole hits very well at all, particularly at the top of the stroke. It didn’t feel like 230 mm of front travel. Which had me scratching my head a little. I hadn’t connected the dots at the time, but I suspect that in turn, the tight suspension contributed to a seat that had me wanting to stand up after about 40 minutes to give my butt a rest. On the seat, there’s a few options there. You could go for a taller, shorter or even a one piece rally seat that looks particularly good to my eye.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX seat height is 875 mm

By the time we found some sand and mud after lunch, I still hadn’t fully gelled with the bike. We’d had a little play with the front settings, but I still wasn’t getting enough feel to be super confident to go full send for the pics. The Pirelli STR tyres that come fitted were probably out of their depth on that surface as well, which didn’t really help things. Some proper knobbies might have given me the feel I needed, but by the end of the first day I was still definitely in the ‘I’m not sure what to think of this’ camp.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX makes 110 horsepower at 9250 rpm,and 92Nm at 6500 rpm

Day two saw us head back from Bathurst and I’d tweaked the front settings again, this time putting the compression back to standard and took some rebound out, to see if that would help. It definitely did, but I also felt the bike starting to loosen up in general. We found our way to some nice gravel roads in the hills alongside the Turong river and it started making way more sense. 

Ducati DesertX Review
Then the bike started to loosen up and come a bit more alive…

Those STRs were much better suited now. Confidence started rising. I started relaxing. The bike started working better. I relaxed a little more.. the bike worked better again. Things were on the up. We’d been told that the suspension would loosen up and start to work better once we had some distance under our wheels – I was sceptical at first but that certainly seemed to be the case.

Ducati DesertX Review
46 mm KYB inverted forks are fully-adjustable and offer 30 mm of travel

The turning point actually came when I jumped on another bike that had around 1700 kilometres already on it. The difference was really noticeable. While it ran stock settings on the front, it had a little pre-load added to the rear which I think helped encourage the forks through the top of the stroke a little. A good reminder that it’s often the rear that’s affecting the front and it can be worth starting there… Either way, the result was a bike that handled like I wanted and expected it to. Quite nicely indeed. Gravel roads became a playground. Effortless snakey drifts out of bends were a doddle. Pot-holes and wash-outs were soaked up nicely. All was good with the world.

The KYB shock is also fully-adjustable and provides 220 mm of travel

It’s quite nicely balanced actually. The transition from slip back to grip is super gentle and predictable which highlights the good job they’ve done with the chassis. Lots of mechanical grip on this one. 

That fuel tank holds its 21 litres reasonably centrally. It’s really quite thin across the top of the bike as it covers the air-box, then it essentially wraps around the top cylinder and down each side. It’s definitely not as top heavy in feel as something like a Tenere, but then not as nimble as the KTM 890 R. It’s somewhere in between, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

Ducati DesertX Review
21-litre fuel tank offers plenty of range but Ducati also offer an optional auxiliary tank that holds another eight litres

The front steers well too. It’s nice and agile without being flighty. The steering damper might be doing some things to help there but whatever it is, it works. Change of direction feels natural and the front can be placed where you want it without much effort or thought. It can be lifted reasonably easily too and although it took me a while to tune in to the balance point, it turned out to be a fine bike for stand-up wheelies once I was dialled in.

Ducati DesertX Review
Giddy up…

That air-box location needs mentioning. It’s nice and high, with a supposed wading depth of nearly a metre  but it comes at an accessibility cost. To clean or change the air filter, the tank does have to come off. And the steering damper. And then the ECU. All up it’s about 45-minutes work apparently.

The Desert X comes delivered with a paper filter, but foam filters are available and recommended for Aussie dust. I’d definitely be looking to have one fitted at the 1,000 km first service. Realistically I don’t see that as being a showstopper. I’m tipping buyers will fall into two camps. They either probably won’t do a heck of a lot of super dusty or sandy riding, and will be happy for the dealer to handle that at service time. Or, they will be keen to get amongst it, will already know and understand the importance of air filter maintenance in Australia, and will just get on with it.

937 cc Ducati Testastretta engine
15,000 minor services and 30,000 km valve clearance checks.
Timing belts will also need to be replaced every few years

On the go the 937 cc Testrastretta engine is a little deceptive in its delivery. The fueling is superb, it’s happy to lug from very low and yet revs with ease, offering plenty more revs than you might at first imagine. On gravel roads it’s just lovely. 

If you want this bike, you also want this…

But I must admit that after riding a bike with a Termi full system on it, I could NOT buy one without ticking that option. Oh my great giddy Aunt – what a revelation. Seven more ponies, a noticeably fatter bottom end and mid-range courtesy of an EVO fuel map, some liberated decibels and a two kilo weight saving. Yummy. Oh – it also gives you a little more ground clearance directly ahead of the rear tyre, as the pre-muffler box is omitted. Very nice. There is something to be said for a proper V-Twin exhaust note…

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX Review

The brakes also took a little for me to get used to. They had far more lever pull than I was used to or expecting. Plenty of power and great feel from the Brembo stoppers, as you’d expect, but the first pull of that front had me wondering if it needed bleeding, as it came a third of the way to the bars. Seems to work though.

Ducati DesertX is $24,200 Ride Away in Australia

We should talk electronics for a bit. Yes it has the standard preset modes that can be swapped reasonably easily on the go. And you can also fine tune each mode if you dive into settings which is nice. For instance you can have full power with a sharper throttle control, full power with a softer throttle, medium power (~95 ponies), or low power (~75 ponies). You can also adjust traction control and wheelie control from 7 down to 1 or off, as well as engine braking (3 stages) and ABS modes.

Some of the options available to you…

Rally mode gets you the full power sharp throttle by default, Enduro mode softening up the throttle a little. I found the traction control to be quite conservative personally. Even in the mud and sand on the dual purpose tyres I actually wanted it to be less than 1 even in the slippery mud and sand. In the end I turned it off and was happy with it that way, but it’s good to know that for riders not as familiar with getting slideways, they can fine tune things while they build up their confidence. I also ran wheelie control off, cos.. wheelies, engine braking at 2 and ABS 1, which turns rear ABS off.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX

And I do need to call out the nice job they’ve done keeping the switch-gear nice and simple. Major kudos there. It’s not a million buttons with a multi toggle setup, even though they do include buttons for heated grips and fog lights (despite not including those as standard equipment). There are some press and hold activated functions, like changing ride mode, but otherwise it’s all fairly intuitive. For what it’s worth I actually left mine in Rally mode. Even on the tarmac. It gives a nice little added burble on over-run that I got slightly addicted to..

Ducati DesertX Review
Switchger is simple and the set-up reasonable intuitive

Other notable mentions. The front screen gets a tick for a design that allows you to easily clean the back of it – that’s a pet hate of mine, screens designed without any thought of keeping the buggers clean. But it’s a compromise in terms of wind protection. It’s not adjustable, yet does an ok job. At just under 6 ft (181 cms) the wind would hit the peak of my lid, resulting in what I’d call turbulence rather than buffeting. I think depending on your height and helmet shape, you might consider the larger screen option that is an extra 40 mm higher and a little wider. Personally I’d probably live with the stock one.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX Review

I also question the rear grab rail design above the brake light. At first I thought it was a nice touch until I realised that there was no rear platform for luggage. Which seemed at odds with a bike like this. Yes you can get one as an option, but shouldn’t that come standard?

2022 Ducati DesertX

And the metal fuel tank. We returned through Sydney’s delightful afternoon traffic and even on a 30 degree day the thermo fans were transferring some noticeable warmth into that tank. You could definitely feel it on your knees. I reckon it could get interesting in traffic on a 40 degree day… And I do wonder how long that white paint would stay looking nice after being out in the dirt and dust. Perhaps some tank protection might be in order, some clear vinyl wrap could be a good idea. Speaking of tank protection.. two of the bikes on the launch that were dropped did seem to cop a bit of damage around the lower front edge of the tank, so I’d think very seriously about the engine protection crash bars options…

Ducati DesertX Review
The crashbars might be a wise investment if you plan on getting rugged

That tank will get you past 350 or a bit more kilometres by the way, but fear not if you want more range. There’s actually a nifty auxiliary rear tank available that sits under the rear mud-guard and connects up with the front tank. It comes with its own transfer pump that will pump the fuel into the front when the front hits reserve. The extra eight litres it holds will push the range out to 550 kilometres or thereabouts, but it does stick out an extra 80 mm or so each side of the guard. Which would then impact your rear luggage options I’m guessing. If it was me, I’d just go with ‘normal’ rack and luggage options and a bladder for the small number of times I’d be needing more fuel range. But it’s good to see Ducati looking seriously at the various options customers might like to consider and providing thoroughly engineered solutions off the shelf. 

Factory option for added fuel capacity intregrates nicely.

In the end I was firmly in the ‘I like it’ camp. Skids and wheelies will do that for me, but there’s more to like about this bike than just that. Once settled in the bike was quite happy back on tarmac too. Sure it’s not as comfortable as the Mutlistrada, but it’s not supposed to be. It has dialled back the creature comforts to dial up the off-road capability. I think it’s a damn solid first model effort and there will be plenty of happy customers who should see a lot of grins from their Desert X. If you’re up for a test ride, be sure to find a bike with a thousand kilometres on it or more is my tip. That way you’ll have a better idea of its real potential.

Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX Review

Where does this sit amongst the mix? It’s probably somewhere in between the KTM 890 Adventure R and the Tiger 900, closer to the Austrian in terms of off-road ability, which is backed up by the suspension travel numbers of each. Note also that the Desert X is without some of the luxury options the Tiger offers out of the box, if that’s your thing.

Ducati DesertX Review
21-inch front always makes the rough and sandy stuff so much easier to ride

While it does have the 21-inch front which means it’s well suited to getting dirty, I don’t think it’s quite as nimble as a Tenere 700 and certainly not as agile as the new Tuareg 660. Both of those bikes are probably skewed even further towards off-road and solo riding. The extra power from the bigger 937 cc Italian will likely make two-up riding a far more enjoyable prospect on the Ducati though.

937 cc Ducati Testastretta engine15,000 minor services and 30,000 km valve clearance checks. Timg belts will also need to be inspected/changed when required, but these days they generally only require replacement every few years
937 cc Ducati Testastretta engine
15,000 minor services and 30,000 km valve clearance checks.

Timg belts will also need to be inspected/changed when required, but these days they generally only require replacement every few years

So while it doesn’t quite have the suspension to match the 890, it’s plenty good enough for everything other than the bigger jumps. It’ll handle whatever most punters will throw at it I’d say. And with the Termi full system, it’s a noticeable step up in power over both of those options too. Plenty to like.

Ducati DesertX is $24,200 Ride Away in Australia
Ducati DesertX is $24,200 Ride Away in Australia

I think it’s pretty sharply priced at $24,200 Ride Away, getting up around 28k if you tick the Termi option. Which you’d have to, surely. And probably the engine protection bars, some proper bark busters to replace the OEM plastic ones. By then you’re probably looking at around 30k. Which gets you a seat on arguably the best looking middle-weight Adventure bike, with more power than its sub 1000cc direct competitors. The only thing left to do then is to throw your soft luggage on and get out of Dodge.

Ducati DesertX is $24,200 Ride Away in Australia

Adventure bike riders have never had it so good. Some many great choices available to us right now! 

Why I like the Ducati DesertX:
  • What a pretty looking thing. Very stylish. A fresh take blending retro Dakar and modern themes
  • Once settled in and setup it’s quite the blend of agility and poise
  • That proper V-Twin note is hard to beat, especially with the Termi full system
Ducati DesertX Review
If white is not your bag, the DesertX is also arriving shortly in this new colour scheme
I’d like the Ducati DesertX more if:
  • Should have a rear luggage rack I’d have thought
  • Adjustable screen would be nice. And heated grips should come as standard
  • That Termi full system bumps the price up a bit though doesn’t it… and the crash bars… which I’d put in the must tick option 
Ducati DesertX Review
The Termi and crashbars are two options that would be wisely ticked

Ducati DesertX Specifications

2022 Ducati DesertX Specifications
ENGINE Ducati Testastretta 11°, L-Twin cylinders, Desmodromic valvetrain, 4 valves per cylinder, liquid cooled
BORE X STROKE 94 x 67.5 mm
POWER 110 hp (81 kW) @ 9,250 rpm
TORQUE 92 Nm (68 lb-ft, 9.4 kgm) @ 6,500 rpm
FUEL INJECTION Bosch electronic fuel injection system, Ø53 mm throttle bodies with ride-by-wire system
EXHAUST Stainless steel single mufler, catalytic converter and 2 lambda probes
GEARBOX 6 speeds
PRIMARY DRIVE Straight cut gears, ratio 1.85 : 1
RATIO 1=38/14, 2=31/17, 28=28/20, 4=26/22, 5=24/23, 6=23/25
FINAL DRIVE Chain, front sprocket Z15, rear sprocket Z49
CLUTCH Slipper and self-servo wet multiplate clutch with hydraulic control
FRAME Tubular steel trellis frame
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB Ø 46 mm upside-down fork, fully adjustable, 230 mm
WHEELS Cross-spoked, tubeless, 2.15 x 21in, 4.50 x 18in
REAR SUSPENSION KYB monoshock, fully adjustable, remote preload adjustment, aluminium double-sided swingarm, 220 mm travel
TYRES Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR,  90/90 – 21 M/C 54V M+S TL (A), 150/70 R18 M/C 70V M+S TL,
FRONT BRAKE 2 x Ø 320 mm aluminum flange semi-floating discs, Radial mount Brembo monobloc 4-pistons calipers, Bosch Cornering
REAR BRAKE Ø 265 mm disc, Brembo floating 2 pistons caliper, Bosch
INSTRUMENTATION 5’’ TFT colour display
Dimensions & Weights
DRY WEIGHT 202 kg (445 lb)
KERB WEIGHT* 223 kg (492 lb)
SEAT HEIGHT 875 mm (34.4 in)
RAKE 27,6°
TRAIL 122 mm
FUEL TANK CAPACITY 21 l  (5.54 US gal)
SAFETY EQUIPMENT Ducati Safety Pack (Cornering ABS, Ducati Traction Control), Riding Modes, Power Modes, Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Engine Brake Control (EBC), Ducati Quick Shift up/down (DQS),
STANDARD EQUIPMENT Cruise control, full LED lighting system, DRL, Ducati brake light, (DBL), USB power socket, 12V socket, self canceling turn, indicators, Steering damper
READY FOR Ducati Multimedia System (DMS), Antitheft system, Turn by turn navigation via app, fog lights, heated grips, auxiliary fuel tank
Warranty & Maintenance
WARRANTY 24 month, Unlimited mileage
MAINTENANCE SERVICE INTERVALS 15,000 km (9,000 miles) / 24 months
VALVE CLEARANCE CHECK 30,000 km (18,000 miles)
Emissions & Consumption
CO2 EMISSIONS 133 g/km
CONSUMPTION 5.6 l/100 km
RRP $24,200 Ride Away
Ducati DesertX Review
Ducati DesertX Review

See the Ducati Australia website for more information.


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