Charging full bore into the middleweight ADV segment is the 2023 Ducati DesertX, primed with all the off-road fixings that any aspiring adventurer could want. Ever since the Italian firm proofed its air-cooled DesertX concept at EICMA 2019, ADV fans were left champing at the bit, drawn in by its alluring vintage veneer and trail-capable equipment.Well, that was then, and this is now. What emerged from the factory gates is a thoroughly modern motorcycle, replete with a liquid-cooled 937cc twin-cylinder engine, long-travel suspension, and a first for Ducati in the contemporary era—a set of tubeless cross-spoked 21- and 18-inch wheels. Those tidbits take the headlines, while advanced rider aids and top-tier features are also in play.
Adventure is the operative word, and that’s precisely what we did with the 2023 Ducati DesertX. We darted through the urban sprawl, exploring canyon roads and ridgeline routes to hit you with the Fast Facts.
The 937cc Testastretta 11° flexes versatility. Powering the DesertX is a known quantity in the brand’s repertoire, cleverly repurposed for life out on the dusty trail. A model-specific intake, airbox, and tune net a claimed 110 horsepower at 9250 rpm and 68 ft-lbs of torque at 6500 rpm, and it’s still a torquey eager pleaser. Shortened gear ratios in first to fifth gears give that loping low-end and lovely midrange grunt an extra dose of tractable pick-me-up, well-suited for scrabbling through technical terrain or spinning it up and steering with the rear. That gumption doesn’t go to waste on the street, where that sporting pedigree shines to the redline.
There is plenty of bite with a bark to match, just how we like it. After all, this is the same mill found in the sultry-sounding Monster, Multistrada V2, SuperSport 950, and Hypermotard 950 Our tester spiced the exhaust note up with the homologated Termignoni silencer ($2000). However, if you’re after performance gains, you’ll need the full Termi racing system ($3000) that boosts output by seven percent across the board. We’ve noted some engine heat with this engine, though that’s a non-issue when you’re in the wind.
A sporty gearbox with an up/down quickshifter is in store. The DesertX benefits from recent upgrades to the Testastretta engine, which include a lightweight, eight-disc assist-and-slipper clutch, plus a bearing-mounted gear drum that improves shifting actuation. The important bit here is how the tighter gearing plays well in any environment, helping stave off low-rpm shuddering or feeling like you’re losing steam up top. Meanwhile, the quickshifter works nicely when pouring it on, though upshifts can feel slightly jumpy in lower gears.
Six ride modes can be tailored for every occasion. Think of the 2023 Ducati DesertX’s four street (Sport, Touring, Urban, and Wet) and two off-road modes (Enduro and Rally) as a corral for your customizable IMU-supported rider aid settings. Each mode has a unique throttle map, with the Sport’s crisp, full-power response winning me over on the streets while Touring tames things a smidge. Urban and Wet chill things further still, cranking the nannies up and cutting total hp output.
When the pavement ends, Enduro and Rally begin. Enduro is designed to be the more reasonable of the duo, curbing engine performance to a controllable 75 peak ponies with rider aid settings to match. Those characteristics benefit anyone, especially riders getting their boots wet with ADV riding and coming to grips with traction off-road. Salty veterans might opt for it when dealing with loose rocky surfaces, slick conditions, or tricky hill climbs—all situations where too much power goes to waste. Rally lets the Testastretta 11° hit the smelling salts, unleashing the 937ccs with the lowered nannies for full-tilt trail blasting, lighting it up on exits, and sliding around to your heart’s content.
Top-tier electronics do their part to keep things in check. Four engine power modes, three-level cornering ABS, eight-level traction control, four-level wheelie control, engine braking management, a quickshifter, and cruise control make the list. Advanced riders might revel in the tractable engine and disable everything. Still, there’s plenty of reason not for others to lean into them, though WC isn’t necessary as the power delivery is predictable. The TC maps in lower settings are well-sorted, allowing enough slip to kick out the back end without letting go. Cornering ABS works flawlessly on the streets, with the off-road ABS settings earning top marks, allowing you to use all the braking power available on ultra-low grip surfaces. ABS level 2 modulates locking the rear, while ABS 1 disables it entirely. Conveniently, all your settings are retained after you shut the DesertX down, unless you’ve chosen to turn ABS off completely.
Settings are at your fingertips on the five-inch full-color TFT display. The 2023 Ducati DesertX’s dash is vertically oriented and is visually reminiscent of roadbooks. That point is driven home in the Enduro and Rally riding modes when a rally-style navigation bar is displayed. Turn-by-turn navigation is optional. As it stands, the UI doesn’t allow you to change TC on the fly, which is handy when facing changing terrain. A workaround would be to reprogram entire ride modes that don’t get used, though it’s a less streamlined workaround.
The long-travel suspension is up to the task—on or off the trail. ADVs have a tough job, as they must perform on and off the tarmac, and those two needs sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye. In a word, the fully adjustable KYB suspension is plush. A smidge over nine inches in the front and a touch above 8.5 of travel in the rear are enough to soak up anything on tarmac, and it’s all incredibly supportive when you’ve dialed in your settings. The suspension’s poised nature on the street carries over to the dirt, where big hits are taken on the chin in stride, keeping the steel-trellis frame in line. The DesertX doesn’t snap at you even if you hit the bump stop while barreling off a kicker or charging a gnarly patch.
The DesertX aims for the pointy end of the class when it comes to road handling. Given Ducati’s roadracing accolades, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve managed to instill huge amounts of cornering confidence in a motorcycle boasting a 21-/18-inch wheelset. Often, prioritizing off-road prowess saps the street manners of a motorcycle, and getting a 492-pound machine to feel dexterous is no small feat. Keeping the sportbike lads at bay on any given Sunday doesn’t seem farfetched, with a solid amount of edge grip on the tarmac. Despite the lanky ADV geometry, it puts on a display of agility and stability.
The street-going handling trends continue off-road. That comfortable ride holds its own on the trail. That means quite a bit, considering what kind of weight we often hustle around in this class. Bikes of this size can be tricky in slower, technical terrain, though it handles challenges admirably. The DesertX has a knack for collecting itself quickly if things get out of shape, and the steering damper is a nice touch. A good front-end feel allows riders to push their envelopes. I tackled whatever crossed my path on some faster fire roads, a few rocky climbs, and whatever most will see in a day’s ADV work.
Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires are standard fitment on the 2023 Ducati DesertX. A fair amount of credit can be delivered to the Pirelli rubber for this steed’s road-going abilities. Ample grip on the street is accepted with open arms, and those big blocks bite in moderate off-road terrain. However, the STRs tend to lack front edge-grip in soft conditions.
Brembo M50s bring the stopping power. The four-piston monoblock M50 calipers used to be the superbike standard until Brembo’s Stylema model usurped them. No matter; there’s loads of braking force on tap and good feel at the axial master cylinder. Unlike a radially mounted master cylinder, the traditional configuration takes the edge off braking performance for braking in low-grip scenarios. The rear brake can be modulated nicely, and the two-piston caliper works with a 265mm disc. The brake pedal tip can be flipped to increase height—a nice touch when getting to the trailhead.
Ergonomics are built for the long haul. Ducati struck a good balance between comfort and control when standing above or sitting in the 34.4-inch seat height (tall and low options are available). Don’t let that big number fool you, as the baked-in suspension squish and svelte chassis allow my 32-inch inseam to reach the deck. My 5-foot-10-inch frame seems to be in the sweet spot; the cockpit feels spacious when nestled around the 5.6-gallon fuel tank, and the handlebars greet my reach when standing, allowing me to manipulate this steed nicely. There’s solid wind protection, though I’d appreciate an adjustable windscreen—a higher touring option is available for taller-trunk folk.
Notice a few accessories on our test bike? Well, there’s plenty more where that came from. Ducati launched the DesertX with a bevy of accessories and has curated them into Sport, Touring, Rally, and Off-Road packs. If you’re planning on hitting the trail out of the gate, the robust bash guard ($500), crash bars ($700), and radiator guards ($165 and $165) are beefy. We also had a spiffy handlebar bag ($75) for small items. Lastly, we enjoyed heated grips ($388).
The 2023 Ducati DesertX has the right stuff to take on the middleweight ADV class. Doubtless, Ducati took its time with the DesertX, taking notes on the competition and checking them twice. As a result, the list of growing pains for a model breaking new ground for the brand is brief. What you’re left with is a real go-getter on or off the pavement, beginning with high-quality suspension and chassis composure. Of course, the peppy twin-cylinder engine already stood firm on its merits, earning another gold star in this application. Meanwhile, a great electronics package helps keep it looking tip-top.
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Motos and Friends—the weekly Podcast brought to you by the editorial team at Ultimate Motorcycling.
My name is Arthur Coldwells.
In this week’s first segment, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the much anticipated Yamaha MT-10 SP. That’s the model with the Ohlins semi-active suspension. It’s only been available in Europe for the last couple of years, but finally the good news is, that it’s coming to America. The big question is, whether the extra 3k you’re going to have to pony up for the Ohlins is actually worth it, or perhaps there’s just not that much improvement over the stock KYB suspension that has suited the Yamaha MT-10 so well until now?
In the second segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams chats with Val Collins. Val grew up on motorcycles and learned to love speed, however her real love is Formula 1 tunnel-boat racing. These are the guys and gals that are strapped into a tiny cockpit and then hurtle down the straights at 120 mile per hour and pull 5G in the corners. We attended the recent season finale in Lake Havasu and watched our friend Mike Quindazzi try to take the win. Val chats with Teejay about her love for two-wheels and tunnel-boats. Yeah, it’s crazy stuff.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode and have a great Thanksgiving Holiday!