2023 Ducati DesertX First Ride Review

Ducati enters the middleweight adventure bike segment with its capable DesertX.

Ducati enters the middleweight adventure bike segment with its capable DesertX. (Phewlid Films/)

Ducati’s 2023 DesertX is the Bologna, Italy-based brand’s all-new middleweight adventure motorcycle. We teased it with our Ducati Reveals Two Scrambler Concepts at EICMA 2019 article, then officially unwrapped it in the 2022 Ducati DesertX Adventure Bike Preview write-up. Today, Ducati has brought this bike into North America for US consumption.

Editor’s note: We also reported on the DesertX during its official European press introduction in the 2022 Ducati DesertX First Ride Review article.

We love the aesthetic of this Duc, especially in its flat matte white colorway, which is a good thing seeing as that’s the only hue available for ‘23. Overall, the DesertX looks like a brand-new version of the original mid-’90s Cagiva Elefant. Ducati did a remarkable job reworking styling elements from that foundational ADV.

The DesertX is powered by Ducati’s tried-and-true 937cc Testastretta 11° L-twin, an engine that’s been in Ducati’s lineup for a few years now. The unit has benefited from some

updates along the way, and was mated to a new six-speed gearbox in the Monster last year. Its technical improvements can be seen in the 2021 Ducati Monster Review and 2021 Ducati Monster MC Commute Review articles, or take a few minutes to watch our videos.

For this bike, Ducati fitted shorter transmission gear ratios in first and second gear. The lower ratios help when negotiating precarious terrain and are also good for added acceleration when climbing grades.

As usual, this configuration continues to offer Ducati’s advanced electronics package. Ride-by-wire, adjustable engine power modes, traction control, and wheelie control are all managed by the usual group settings: Urban, Sport, Enduro, Rain, and Touring. For the DesertX, a new Rally setting was added. It’s basically a spin off the Enduro setting, but unlike the low-power enduro mode, it uses high power. Most folks who ride off-road want full power, as the extra oomph is needed when trying to clear obstacles, or climbing steep grades.

The Rally setting allows a little bit more wheelspin when DTC is enabled. It’s neat that Ducati offers this feature, but it would be even better if it would’ve added incremental wheel slip setting within the Rally mode. Other manufacturers in this segment offer this feature on their IMU-powered traction control systems for riders who want an extra degree of control.

We value the handling on this motorcycle, which surprised us a little, as we generally don’t favor motorcycles that don’t employ rear suspension linkages, but this setup works very well. To be fair, the roads around Aspen, Colorado, where we first rode this bike were smooth, and even the fire roads and the two-track weren’t that rough. So the jury is still out on how this suspension performs over rough surfaces, but in our initial rides it worked well.

Ergonomics-wise, we like the cozy seat and the way it positions the rider low and inside the bike. We also like the oversize footpegs, which keep a pleasing grip on boot soles even on precarious terrain. The handlebar is nice and wide with a little bit of rearward sweep, but that’s a good configuration for extended miles on the street.

The 5.5-gallon fuel tank is styled very nicely, though it feels a tad wide when riding the bike in the standing position. We also wish Ducati engineers would flatten the fuel tank surface near the seat. But despite that nitpick, the DesertX is an easy bike to ride.

We love the generous fuel capacity. Motorcycle manufacturers typically fit too-small fuel tanks on streetbikes, but the DesertX is a nice exception. Ducati also offers a number of accessories including handlebar guards ($187.20), crashbars ($700), and heated grips ($388.17), which were fitted on our example.

The accessory that we want to get our hands on is the auxiliary 2.5-gallon fuel tank ($1,500), which sits atop the passenger seat and plugs into the main fuel tank. This extends fuel capacity to nearly 8 gallons. The range boost is especially noticeable on a middleweight that isn’t as thirsty as liter-plus ADV bikes would be.

Overall, this bike is a really fun bike to ride. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s better than the others in its class, but it will be fun finding out. It handles nicely, has good power, and uses well-thought-out electronics. Plus it really stands out in the usual crowd of peculiar-looking ADVs with handsome aesthetics. That edge will be reason enough for many to shell out $17,095 for a DesertX.

Gear Box

Helmet: Arai XD4

Jersey: Rev’It Flow

Pant: Rev’It Peninsula

Gloves: Rev’It Massif

Boots: Alpinestars Tech 7

2023 Ducati DesertX Technical Specifications and Price

PRICE $16,975
ENGINE 937cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled, L-twin desmo; 4 valves/cyl.
BORE x STROKE 94.0 x 67.5mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 13.3:1
FUEL DELIVERY Fuel injection w/ 53mm throttle bodies; ride-by-wire
CLUTCH Wet, multiplate slipper; hydraulic actuation
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Tubular steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION 46mm inverted KYB, fully adjustable; 9.1 in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Single KYB, fully adjustable; 8.7 in. travel
FRONT BRAKES Brembo M50 4-piston radial calipers, dual 320mm discs w/ Bosch cornering ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo floating 2-piston caliper, 265mm disc w/ Bosch cornering ABS
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Spoke; 21 x 2.15 in. / 18 x 4.5 in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR; 90/90-21 / 150/70-18
RAKE/TRAIL 27.6°/4.8 in.
WHEELBASE 63.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 34.4 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.5 gal.
CURB WEIGHT 492 lb.
WARRANTY 3 years
CONTACT ducati.com

The ’23 DesertX looks marvelous in its matte white colorway. We love that Ducati adopted styling cues from the original Cagiva Elephant from the mid-’90s.

The ’23 DesertX looks marvelous in its matte white colorway. We love that Ducati adopted styling cues from the original Cagiva Elephant from the mid-’90s. (Phewlid Films/)

A vertical aspect ratio color TFT display keeps tabs on the DesertX’s vitals.

A vertical aspect ratio color TFT display keeps tabs on the DesertX’s vitals. (Phewlid Films/)

Ducati’s DesertX expands the Italian brand’s motorcycle lineup and allows would-be adventure riders to explore beyond pavement.

Ducati’s DesertX expands the Italian brand’s motorcycle lineup and allows would-be adventure riders to explore beyond pavement. (Phewlid Films/)

The DesertX is powered by Ducati’s tried-and-true 937cc Testastretta L-Twin that’s used in its Monster.

The DesertX is powered by Ducati’s tried-and-true 937cc Testastretta L-Twin that’s used in its Monster. (Phewlid Films/)

In true ADV form the DesertX employs a 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel combo with long-travel suspension.

In true ADV form the DesertX employs a 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel combo with long-travel suspension. (Phewlid Films/)

Ducati generously fitted a 5.5-gallon fuel tank extending range. An accessory 2.5-gallon fuel tank ($1,500) is also available for riders who want to go farther.

Ducati generously fitted a 5.5-gallon fuel tank extending range. An accessory 2.5-gallon fuel tank ($1,500) is also available for riders who want to go farther. (Phewlid Films/)

The DesertX’s ergonomics package is well thought out, but we wish the fuel tank was slimmer where it meets the rider’s seat.

The DesertX’s ergonomics package is well thought out, but we wish the fuel tank was slimmer where it meets the rider’s seat. (Phewlid Films/)

We’re big fans of the DesertX’s styling and overall proportions. It’s easily one of the best-looking bikes in the ADV segment.

We’re big fans of the DesertX’s styling and overall proportions. It’s easily one of the best-looking bikes in the ADV segment. (Phewlid Films/)
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