2022 Ducati DesertX on and off-road review


Visordown has been putting some miles on the 2022 Ducati DesertX this month, touring the UK and taking on some green lanes and byways

FIRST revealed as a concept at EICMA in 2019, the Ducati DesertX was unveiled as a homage to Ducati's success in the mid-90s Dakar Rally, courtesy of the Cagiva Elefant and its Borgo Panigale engine.

While commentators at the time (us included) were excited by the prospect of the bike, many (us included) were of the opinion that if Ducati ever did make the bike, it’d certainly not look anything like the concept machine sat on the stand.

The original Ducati DesertX concept bike

Well, how wrong we were, as on a cold and frosty morning I’m standing on Harling Drove in Thetford Forest, staring at a machine that is basically identical in appearance to the bike shown at EICMA. Identical it is not though, and gone is the wheezy (old) air-cooled 1,100cc twin from the concept and its place is the thumpingly good Testastretta as shared with the Monster, Supersport 950, and Hypermotard.  The rest of the bike though is fairly true to the original design, bodywork, fuel tank, seat unit, stance… it’s all there, and it looks awesome.

For this review, I’ve spent around two weeks with ‘Des’, touring across North Norfolk for a weekend away, and checking out some local byways and those found in Thetford Forest. Overall I’ve covered about 600 miles on the bike, and have tried to use it as many new owners would.

2022 Ducati DesertX price

The stock DesertX comes in at £14,795, already making it more than some of the middleweight pack. It puts the Ducati more into the price range of bikes like the Tiger 900 and Honda Africa Twin. Released recently, Ducati has also announced an RR22 edition that is inspired by parent company Audi’s RS Q e-tron Dakar racer. That funky-looking beast comes in at a heady £15,295.

2022 Ducati DesertX engine

As mentioned above, the 2022 Ducati DesertX shares its motor with a plethora of other models in the range, both past and present. In this bike, the 937cc 11-degree twin produces 110hp and a delicious 68lb-ft of torque that arrives in big filthy dollops. Every Ducati model that uses this engine has a slightly different feel and output, and in the middleweight adventure bike is where it feels most at home. On the road, the torque provides useable shove to get around slower-moving traffic, and off-road it’ll propel you up and over pretty much anything, with the off-beat pulses from the L-twin allowing the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres to dig in and drive the bike forwards.

Controlling the flow of Italian stallions to the rear wheel is a fly-by-wire throttle that is mated to some seriously trick, on and off-road electronics. First up, the throttle; it’s brilliant. There are numerous modern bikes with electronic throttles that arrive on the road and they are bloody awful. Snatchy at low speed and inconsistent across the board. Not Des though. The connection between the handlebar and engine, and therefore the rider and the bike, is pitch-perfect. It’s something I wish some other manufacturers would take note of.

Part of my time with Des was spent on a weekend away in North Norfolk, consisting of a hundred-mile ride there, a bit more touring about and exploring and then a ride home again. On the long schlep along the A14 and A47, the Testastretta engine proved to be the ultimate do-it-all companion. It devoured overtakes on the dual carriageway, hurtled me along winding country lanes, and cruised in total comfort. On the journey there I recorded 47mpg and that was a 70/30 mix of motorway and B-roads. Taking that as gospel means you have a maximum range of around 250 miles. Once I got home I worked out that I could (just) have ridden there and back on a single tank. Not bad going for a fairly large V-twin adventure bike.

2022 Ducati DesertX suspension, brakes, and handling – on and off-road

Okay, before I go into the bike's handling, a bit of housework. This bike isn’t a reworked Multistrada V2. Nor is it an off-road Hypermotard or jacked-up Scrambler with a new engine. It’s a clean sheet design from Ducati, that required its own frame, swingarm, suspension and electronics. Anything less than that would have left it lagging some way behind the competition.

This ground-up design has allowed Ducati to carve the bike into exactly the kind of tool they wanted and meant sacrifices to the on-road handling and off-road ability could be limited. Before I had taken the bike on any trails, we had the trip to Norfolk, where the DesertX proved to be thoroughly surprising. It’s not a light bike, tipping the scales at 202kg dry. It doesn’t turn or change direction at speed like many other adventure bikes though, and it almost had me reaching for a tape measure to check if it really has got a 21” front wheel. It’s obviously not some rip-snorting naked or sports bike, but it’s certainly not lazy when it comes to carving through a corner.

A big part of the bike's poise on the road comes courtesy of some beautifully set-up suspension, from the clever people at KYB. It’s fully adjustable kit front and rear, although for me it really needn’t have been. The set-up does a phenomenal job of soaking up bumps and potholes, and with 230/220mm (F/R) suspension travel on offer, it can handle seriously big bumps. That same setup should feel wallowing and soft when you push on, but it's actually not. Far from it in fact, the DesertX eggs you on to go faster and faster, with the limiting factor only really being the road-legal knobbly hoops.

With the weekend away dispatched, it was time to hit the trails, and I took the bike for an exploratory fact-finding mission down a local lane. It’s not longer than a mile or so, but it gives you a taste of what a bike can do. I was partly of the opinion that given how nice the bike was to ride on the road, it’d probably be gash off-road (it’s often the way in this sector) and I was fully prepared to slate its handling on the muddy and rutted lane. How wrong I was, again! As mentioned, this isn’t some featherweight enduro bike, but on the narrow lane, it danced across the dirt as not many adventure bikes can. It’s got this kind of balletic composure to it, never feels flustered, and is always sure-footed. When you do want to let loose a little, it’ll more than happily oblige, and rear wheel drifts and slides are instigated with poise and elegance, and only ever when you ask for them. Once the bike thinks you’ve had just enough fun, the DTC (lean-sensitive traction control) will step in, quell the power, and get the thing pointing in the right direction once more.

For the braking system of the bike, Ducati called upon the best in the business, Brembo, and its M50 monobloc calipers which are paired to hefty 320mm discs – a floating 2-piston caliper and 265mm disc can be found at the rear. On the bars, you have Brembo master cylinders for brake and clutch, and trick span adjustable levers.

The braking feel at the front of the DesertX is progressive, with a lot of power hiding behind the CNC machined lever. On the dirt you’ll be able to dial in braking pressure with accuracy, and on the road, it’ll have the Pirelli hoops shrieking under load on a dry road. There is nothing sharp or aggressive about the brake at the front, it just feels very measured, with weapons-grade amounts of deceleration available when required. The rear brake conversely is sharper, with less of that progressive feel at the lever. There is bags of power on offer here also, great for town riding or making a change of direction on dirt. While we are on the subject of levers, it’s worth noting that the clutch too has a nice light feel, although it was a bit grabby on the day I picked it up. I put it down to the bike sitting around since before Christmas, and in truth, it’s not something I’ve noticed again since.

2022 Ducati DesertX electronics

One thing Ducat has certainly not skrimped on with its latest off-roader is the electronics. In fact, they threw the kitchen sink at this thing, gracing it with traction control, ABS, wheelie control, slide control, engine braking control, riding modes, power modes, cruise control, a full-colour TFT and a quickshifter. The system is crowned by an IMU system, that deciphers exactly what the bike is doing to help it better dish out its electronic assistance.

The system on the bike probably owes a fair bit to the Multistrada V4, although simply cut-copy-pasting a load of zeroes and ones from one bike to another won’t work. For this bike, Ducati stripped back the system and started a-fresh, and it's something that really shows when you hit a trail.

Like any of the best adventure motorcycles, the DesertX has electronics that don’t necessarily hinder your progress, and the way with which the system intervenes when you overstep the mark is impressive. Of the riding modes on offer, two are for dirt riding; Enduro and Rally. Enduro turns the bike into a kind of soft-roader, limiting the power to 75bhp, upping the traction control, softening the throttle map and dialling in some ABS at both ends. This mode makes the bike feel like a much smaller machine, with a soft delivery and slightly overcautious TC and ABS that are always a flick of the wrist away. You can still have fun in Enduro mode, but the rooster tails are smaller and the powerslides less exuberant. Flick it into Rally mode though and the world becomes a very different place. Thetford Forest becomes a blur in a second, as the back wheel spins up un-hindered, and 110 Italian horses are sent into the dirt firing you down the trail. The throttle is sharper in Rally mode, and while you can dial out all of the TC even if you wish, I prefer to leave a bit in place, just for safety’s sake. In Rally mode you only get ABS to the front wheel, and despite the sandy tracks beneath, it’s hardly evident. When it is called upon the system steps in and keeps the wheel rotating without bleeding all the pressure from the lever, it’s a very nicely implemented bit of tech.

For road riding, you have Sport, Touring, Urban and Rain modes, each delivering a different blend of TC, ABS, power, throttle map, wheelie control and engine braking control. As I’ve had mostly dry roads since picking the bike up, it’s mainly been in Sport mode, with the least amount of intervention and assistance. Sport also gains full power and the sharpest throttle, really making the most of the bike’s on-road handling. Having briefly flicked through the other options, I can tell you that rain is, as you’d expect, very soft, with ABS and TC that can be triggered with ease. Urban and Wet modes give the rider medium power (95bhp) and a soft throttle, making them very forgiving. Another nice touch with the electronics is all the modes can be tweaked and the system retains your settings and what mode you were last riding in when you switch off the ignition.

The bike also gains full LED lighting, and we come to one of the points about the machine I’m not so fond of. I’m chuffed to bits Ducati kept the headlight arrangement we saw on the concept, but its application in practical use is hampered. The bike features LED rings around the twin headlights, these have two functions, firstly as a DRL and secondly as a dipped bean, with a little help from the centrally-mounted main LED light. The DRLs look lovely, really lifting the front end of the bike visually. When the sun goes down though, the same LEDs are put to work to provide forward vision, and basically become brighter with the addition of the main LED. My problem here is, they are just not good enough. You get a flood of light to the left and right, enough to bathe both lanes of a dual carriageway. That flood of light doesn’t pierce the darkness very well though, only protruding around five to ten meters in front of the bike. This led me to ride back from Norfolk at night on full beam all the way, and the fact I wasn’t flashed by on-coming cars or truckers tells you how bright the main beam headlights of the bike are…

My test bike is also decked out with the optional Ducati-branded Garmin satnav which is excellent. It’s super easy to use, the touch screen works with winter gloves and its positioning is bang-on where you’d want a satnav to be. If you are thinking of buying a DesertX, this is a must-have accessory.

Other extras you can bag for your bike are crash bars (I’d have them), a sexy Termignoni exhaust system (and that), and even an auxiliary fuel tank that adds eight litres (to be honest I’d probably have that too). There is obviously much more on offer, you can check it all out here.

2022 Ducati DesertX comfort

The comfort of the DesertX is, for me anyway, a tale of two halves. I find the upper and lower body ergonomics brilliant. The cockpit is super roomy, and the riding position is beautifully relaxed. You also tower alongside Transit van drivers on the road, catching them as they casually browse PornHub on the way to a job – that actually happened! The leg position is on the sporty side for an adventure bike, but not cramped for me, and you can feel the bike dancing about beneath you as you shift your weight on the pegs - It’s all very involving. At 875mm the bike is tall, and right on the limit of what I can, comfortably, manage at five foot seven inches and 12-stone.

My issue comes with the seat. As a ‘travel enduro’ I want to be able to travel on the bike for two, three, or four hours. The seat on the DesertX isn’t something to do that on. It’s lake-bed flat with zero contour and after about an hour my backside is as numb as a politician on breakfast TV. There are seat options on offer, a tall (890mm) and low (865mm), although the only other product is a Rally Seat, and I doubt that would be much comfier than stock!

This next point again is a negative, and it’s kind of comfort related. The side stand of the bike (a centre stand is an accessory) is so bloody long that the thing feels like it’s teetering right on the balance point. Not only does it fill you with dread every time you get off the bike, but when riding on a trail, where the surface is always uneven, it makes it a little bit precarious when getting on and off the machine. I’m pretty sure Ducati could lop 10 mm off the side-stand easily and make the bike much easier to live with – I just don’t know why they haven’t already.

The screen on the bike is non-adjustable and fairly minimalist. As such there is a but of buffeting at speed, although with earplugs in its not too bad.

2022 Ducati DesertX - pros

  • On and off-road performance is phenomenal
  • Off-road electronics that flatter you without hindering you
  • Sublime suspension that really does seem to do it all

2022 Ducati DesertX - cons

  • The headlight is woeful, especially dip beam
  • The seat becomes extremely uncomfortable after only an hour
  • The side stand is unreasonably long

Visordown verdict on the 2022 Ducati DesertX

To sum up the 2022 DesertX in a few words I’d say the bike is impressive, entertaining, and highly capable. It’s not often that a manufacturer enters a new sector with a bike design that seems a bit ‘out-there’ and does such a bloody good job against the competition. Ducati hasn’t just knocked on the door of the adventure segment and asked to come inside. It’s smashed the door off the hinges, bunny-hopped onto the table and done a burnout in the faces of the established names. It really does genuinely feel like a two-for-one machine, not heavily compromised in one scenario or another, and massively capable in both. Not only that, it really does look like nothing else on the road, has decent range and is only really let down by some niggly issues that owners may be able to fix over time.

Granted, at £14,795 for the stocker or £15,295 for the Audi RS Q e-tron Dakar-inspired RR22 version, it’s at the premium end of the scale and knocking on the door of a base model BMW GS. For me though, it’s an easy decision. The Ducati DesertX is a much more fulfilling machine to ride, looks better, and offers you an air of exclusivity that BMW owners have probably never felt. And anyway, after you’ve added the quickshifter, cruise control, rally modes and more to the Bimmer to match this spec, you’ll be well on your way to £20k.

The Ducati DesertX is available now in dealerships, more info can be found on the official Ducati UK website.