Sunday, June 16, 2024


HomeZA BikersBike ReviewsThe X – Files… Doing life with Ducati’s Desert X

The X – Files… Doing life with Ducati’s Desert X

Photo Credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

Even when I worked for Ducati way back in the ’80s, Ducatis had a kind of mystique. I had previously spent time with Honda and was a huge fan of Big Red. In a way, I considered Ducati as just too unique and sort of out of reach. I just didn’t attach the everyday versatility of a Honda to the Bologna bullets.

Considering the Ducati’s of the day that feeling was probably justified. Mike Hailwood Replica 900s and 900 Supersports were just too exotic for that. Their desmo valve gear also contributed to that mystique. This is probably why I never bought one back in the day. There was also the little issue of affordability. Duc’s sold for a considerable premium versus the top-of-the-range Japanese bikes of the day. Fast forward 40 years.

Parked in my garage is Ducati’s first attempt at a production adventure bike, the Desert X. Ducati has re-invented itself as a mainline motorcycle manufacturer. Gone are the financial rollercoasters of the past. Ducati now build bikes for damn near everyone, at prices that are generally competitive. If you are paying a premium for a particular model, it is because you are genuinely getting something special.

Photo Credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

The Desert X tickled my fancy from the first time that I laid eyes on the concept bike. Reminiscent of the Dakar-winning Cagiva Elefant, it just looked the part. The response that the concept bike elicited from the riding public was so positive that Ducati started planning a full production model. The biggest change from the concept to the production bike was using their magnificent 937cc Testastretta motor rather than the archaic, albeit soulful, air-cooled L-Twin from the monster.

Paris Le Cap 1992, controversial edition, Edi Orioli on Cagiva Elefant ranks in 7th position overall / Image source Dakar

The styling of the Desert X is, for me at least, a huge part of its appeal. It looks magnificent from absolutely every angle. So, the form was sorted, but how about the function? The Desert X plays in serious territory. KTM 890 Adventure R, Husqvarna Norden Expedition, Honda Africa Twin 1100, Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro and Yamaha’s T7 Tenere, to name a few. The styling immediately makes the X stand out, given its Dakar heritage.

Going through the spec sheet shows that Ducati was serious about this bike. From front to back, it is properly specced and executed. You feel that as soon as you ride it, this is no Italian show pony. It is a purpose-built adventure weapon that need not stand back for any of its opposition. My question was how well it would stack up as a long-term keeper. Unlike my feeling about Ducati in the ’80s, can this bike work as a day-to-day ride as well as fulfilling its multi-function role as a modern adventure bike?

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

I have now put a thousand k’s on my Desert, so I am in a better position to start providing some answers. I am also now able to lean a little harder on that soulful motor. It has taken an uncharacteristically long time for me to get the ‘running in’ done. A Botswana 4×4 trip, supporting a friend at her first Comrades Marathon, and life, in general, have intervened, not giving me the desired saddle time on the X. I can give you some feedback though.

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

Firstly, the X is the kind of bike that you genuinely yearn to ride. You want to see sunrises on it, and you want to ride it into the cool of the evening. Pull into a cool coffee spot and park it where you can ogle it as you sip on your flat white. The bike is geared quite short, so, allied to the 110 Italian stallions begging to be liberated from that lovely Testastretta motor, the X does not lack go. It is an exciting and invigorating bike to ride.

Photo credit: ZA Bikers

Ducati have endowed the bike with decent, firm Kayaba suspension. The ride is on the firm side for an adventure bike with 230mm of wheel travel. This hints at being built for go as well as show. The relaxed head angle and longish wheelbase give extreme stability, and this translates into a confident and composed ride. Like Triumph’s Rally Pro, you would never say that this bike runs a 21-inch front wheel. It turns and steers with typical Italian accuracy.

Photo Credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

Whilst the Desert X is full of character, it is not of the kind that is wearisome to live with. The overall package is so well integrated that it simply makes for an engaging riding experience. This is a bike that would serve seamlessly as an only bike. With the right tyres, you can bait sportbikes on racer roads and smash the dirt if you please.

Now we all know the sonic delights that a decent pipe liberates from a performance V or L-Twin. Whilst Termignoni and Ducati go together like peaches and cream, it is not achieved without some significant pain in the wallet area. In fact, that gives rise to a tiny rant around the premier brands from both Bavaria and Bologna.

Image Source: Ducati

Cool merch from these manufacturers is eye-wateringly expensive. Given that you become a walking advertisement for their brand I think it is a bit shortsighted to price accessories so extortionately. I know that import duty is partly to blame, but flip guys cut us a little bit of slack!

So, what appropriate premier slip-on pipe could I fit that would not require a second mortgage on my home? To cut a long story short I settled on a slip-on from Vykon. I am going to tell their story soon, expanding on how this proudly South African outfit is turning out a world-class product and making significant inroads internationally.

Photo Credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

The Vykon pipe is a doddle to fit and looks spectacular. I was surprised to find an immediate riding benefit too. In ‘Sport’ mode the X has an almost imperceptible fluff, off idle, as you open the throttle on take-off. It never really impacts the ride by stalling or anything, but to someone who rides bikes daily it is ‘there’.

With the Vykon fitted, the fuelling is absolutely crisp right off idle. It looks and sounds superb. Not too loud at all, just liberating that iconic L-Twin staccato aural symphony. It is interesting how an exhaust done right just changes the demeanour of a bike. The Desert X is now complete! As with any slip-on versus the stock muffler, there is a significant weight saving too. Given that the end-can rides quite high it helps to lower the overall centre of gravity, making the X even more of a weapon. As mentioned, I plan to do a feature on Vykon, the brand, and its origins, so let’s leave it there for now.

Photo Credit: Dave Cilliers / ZA Bikers

So now that the Desert X is serviced, I can plan a proper trip and use it for its intended purpose. Hopefully, we are getting to the end of the wickedly cold temperatures and can look forward to some great riding weather. I cannot wait! Watch this space for the next chapter in the X – Files story.

Ducati Desert X

For more information on the bike featured in this article, click on the link below…


Ducati DesertX

Pricing From R291,000 (RRP)

Brand: Ducati
Dave Cilliers
Dave Cilliers
My name is Dave Cilliers, from as far back as I can remember I have loved travel. Africa provides salve for the gypsy in my soul. My best trips are done travelling to unlikely places with unlikely vehicles, keeping it as simple and basic as possible.