First Ride

First ride: Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled review

Another Ducati Scrambler? Hell yeah. This one’s designed to go off-road so we sent Llewelyn Pavey into the desert to do some skids



THE RETRO café racer, scrambler, 1960’s bike fashion revolution is running stronger than ever and that means we’re getting more off-the-shelf bikes that look more custom-built. Ducati is leading the charge with its expanded Scrambler line, which includes the new Desert Sled.

The Scrambler of 2015 and 2016 is a solid bike. It’s not great but it is good. The price was fair, the styling both Ducati, retro and inoffensive, and it's likeable. It had some quirks that left me wanting a little; the suspension felt cheap and harsh and the power delivery from roll on was as abrupt as Ducati could make it but it’s good enough that if you like the the styling, you’d probably be a pretty happy bunny cruising around on it.

Now 2017 is here, we’ve entered into an age of more severe emission rules and more versions of the same model. The Desert Sled is a Scrambler that has been re-tweaked and beefed up to go off-road in a throw back to the late 60s when off-road bikes were road bikes that had were adulterated in a workshop.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled

Just like those desert smashing bikes to which the hipster revolution is paying homage, the Scrambler Desert Sled has been under the angle grinder too and although it uses the same Scrambler engine and basic frame, a lot of the bits around it are new.

The biggest change is the suspension and wheel size combo. Ducati went bigger on the suspension, stretching things out to 200mm of wheel travel at both ends. That’s more than KTM’s 1190 Adventure and a BMW R1200GS. The components of the suspension are entirely new. They’re a much higher spec than the standard Scrambler, offering a fully adjustable fork and a rebound and preload adjustable shock. That also means a new triple clamp design to keep the rake and trail and thus the handling as similar as possible to its little brother.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled

With that increase in travel, the seat height has bumped up to 860mm (optional 20mm lower version available). Ducati has also narrowed the front of the seat to make it easier to get a foot down.

The wheel size has gone up at the front to a 19-inch wheel and the rear tyre is a little narrower. The 19-inch front wheel is intended to make the Sled work better on the dirt and is a pretty common size on adventure bikes for its all-round friendliness. Ducati and Pirelli also worked together to develop a new, extremely good looking version of the Scorpion Rally tyre to fit the Desert Sled as standard.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled

The rest of the chassis has also changed. Ducati has beefed the frame up around the engine/swingarm mounts, so it can take more of a pounding. The swingarm is now 25mm longer and the relationship between the footpegs, seat and handlebars is completely different. The bars are a more off-road design, with a cross brace and the weight is up to a beefy 191kg dry thanks to all the heavier, more expensive bits.

The last step on the list of changes is to fit the Euro 4 emissions regulations. We’ve now got some filter thing that helps with emissions but Ducati claims that the power and torque from the 2017 model is identical. More importantly, they’ve added a shaped cam in the throttle to improve the delivery and reduce the slightly unnerving surge of the previous years.