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ADV News2024 Ducati DesertX Rally First Ride Review

2024 Ducati DesertX Rally First Ride Review

The Italian manufacturer takes their off-road adventurer to the next level.

Published on 02.22.2024
2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

One of the many things the Italians do well is make a vehicle and then make a more-expensive, exclusive, rare, race version of it. The standard Panigale V4 sportbike is $25k, and it’s a phenomenal piece of engineering, yet Ducati will also sell you the V4R for $45k. The funny thing is, Ducati will tell you the V4R customers are their happiest customers.

The DesertX’s MSRP is $17,995, which is already a little hefty, but again, we’re talking about some high-level parts, performance, and prestige that come with the Ducati name. Add the word “Rally” to the end of the DesertX designation, and well, you gotta pay an extra 5k to play. Is the DesertX Rally worthy of the name and the $22,995 price tag? Let’s discuss the details.

Key Upgrades

My first thought was 23 grand! That’s a good chunk of change for a top-of-the-line middleweight, but okay, let’s see what we get over the base model DesertX. The DesertX Rally (or DXR) comes with a lot of high-spec parts that are purpose-built for a few different but overlapping reasons. Ducati even gave us their concept, positioning, and theoretical target customer white paper.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review
The new variant takes the already capable standard model to the next-level with race-bred equipment and other components inspired by enduro racing.

I threw out their playbook because I wanted to develop my own theories first. Then I dug Ducati’s DXR mission statement out of my virtual trash bin of curiosity, and guess what? The Italians and I see eye to eye on the Rally’s purpose.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review
Like the standard model, the DesertX Rally is powered by Ducati’s Testastretta 11° 937cc engine pumping 110 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque.

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The DesertX Rally is designed for and focused on taking Adventure Bikes to the next level—a level where capable riders aren’t held back by stock suspension and cost-cutting corners. There are no half-measures or stop gaps regarding wheelsets or tire choices. The Rally, explains Ducati, is the step a rider takes when they’ve pushed the limits of conventional ADV Motorcycles and are ready to get serious about pushing themselves without overriding their bike’s capabilities.

But is it worth the upcharge? Who is this motorcycle designed for? Could I make a DesertX Rally out of my DesertX for less? OK, let’s stop stirring the “internet pasta sauce” and take a deeper dive into the gravy bowl to see what you get for the extra $5k.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Suspension

The DXR comes with 48mm (+2mm more than the standard DesertX) KYB closed-cartridge forks, with DLC (diamond-like coated) inner fork legs and Kashima coated (lubricating anodized) outer/upper fork tubes. The benefits of the coatings are reduced stiction and friction through the stroke. The closed cartridges eliminate cavitation and foaming of the fork oil. Adjustable for compression at the top and rebound at the bottom, making them Dual Function fork legs. Dual functions mean twice the flow over split design forks (rather than compression on one leg and rebound on the other), and better flow equals better, more consistent damping characteristics.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

They also dissipate heat by damping at a rate that far exceeds the capabilities of open chamber forks while keeping the oil in the cartridge under pressure as your nitrogen-filled rear shock bladder does, eliminating foaming of the fork oil. There is virtually no wasted/un-damped travel in the forks through its 250mm (9.8 inches) travel (+20mm over the standard DesertX.) Like a kitten on a carpet, the grip and confidence from the front end are surprising.

This is something of note for the person looking to genuinely put a Rally in their garage. Ducati was prepared to answer questions like “What will support look like from KYB for custom tuning of the suspension?” Answer: “KYB will have build sheets and solutions at authorized service dealers.” Ducati even employed the help of Technical Touch out of Belgium for initial testing and tuning for the DesertX Rally. I have yet to be on a press launch for an Adventure Bike that took suspension tuning this seriously.

Oversized forks with coatings aftermarket price: $3500 if you can find a set, while the WP closed-cartridge cone valves for the KTM 890 ADV Rally retail for over $6000 without the coatings. Also, be advised that both forks require inspections and rebuilds every 12,000-18,000 km, depending on conditions.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

The rear shock isn’t as tricked out as the forks, but it is oversized at 46mm, which is +6mm over the standard DesertX’s. With high and low-speed compression and low-speed rebound adjustments, the big-bodied KYB rear shock also has a stiffer rear spring with 240mm (9.4 inches) travel (+20mm over the standard.) It also has a thicker shock shaft for added strength to match the larger high-flow valves kept under pressure with a piggy-backed nitrogen charge.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

I’m a big fan of using suspension preload to adjust “the balance” of the motorcycle between the front and rear static chassis geometry. The rear shock has a remote hydraulic preload adjuster, which “is very important to the bike’s handling,” according to our 6’5″ ride leader, Andrea. So I took his advice and ended up three clicks in on the compression on the forks. Five clicks in on the rear low-speed compression and four clicks in on the rear preload.

The aftermarket price for this Big Boy shock starts at around $1,100, while a WP Super Trax rear shock for the KTM 890 Rally starts around $2,500 but also comes with a high-speed rebound adjustment. Both have similar service intervals of around 45,000 km. I bring up the WP A-Kit units here because later, we’ll do a little comparison between the two.

If I had more than two days with the DesertX Rally, I would have really dived into the rebound settings to set up more confidence on initial turn-in and through rougher terrain, but it’s great to know the settings are there, and they do respond well to changes. At one point, I tried going five clicks on the forks, and they literally beat up my hands. Not too stiff, per say, but wonderfully reactive.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review
2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

The upgraded, oversized cartridge forks are also carried by split design forged-CNC’d triple clamps that are black anodized (should have been red, in my opinion.) Forged aluminum triple clamps are standard upgrades for serious dirtbike racers. They have better flex characteristics, provide more feedback, and clamp the fork tubes with less flection and distortion. While some people say they can’t feel the difference, others insist on not riding without them. The DXR isn’t about leaving things to chance; instead, it instills confidence in the rider by having the upgrades in place.

CNC Triple Clamps aftermarket price: $750 at least

There’s also an adjustable Ohlins steering damper on top of those beautifully machined triples. Try not to look down at it while riding, but it’s mesmerizing to watch and even fun to imagine it working. Is it necessary on DXR with its top-tier suspension and stable frame geometry? The steering damper works very well for vibration control and lessens the feedback through the bars on one-sided front tire rock hits.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Ohlins Steering Damper aftermarket price: $450-$950 depending on your model choice. Universal vs. from a Ducati performance dealer.

The ‘Dreaded’ Tube Type Wheels

There are going to be a lot of people asking, “Why doesn’t the DesertX Rally have tubeless wheels?” Please take a deep breath and hear me out. The Excel Takasago rim set 2.15″ wide front and 4″ wide rear rim are flat-out stronger. They come in 21/18 front and rear, respectively, and open up many options for extremely aggressive off-road tires.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Combined with the high-speed off-road reliability of tubes and heavy-duty carbon steel spokes, these wheels make no excuses. The CNC’d billet-aluminum hubs are lighter and stronger too, and even support the use of a cush drive. The complete wheelset with tubes and tires is also one pound lighter than the standard DesertX tubeless wheelset.

It takes a lot of speed and aggressive riding to bang up and bend a new set of cross-spoke tubeless wheels like those found on the standard DesertX. Still when that happens, you need a trailside rock to smash the rim back in place (which I’ve done) or add a tube to the tire to get yourself going again (which I’ve had to do).

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

These tube-type wheels are the way to go for the hard-core Adventure rider. They are the better, more robust, more reliable rim set and Ducati installed them because the professional off-road racers that helped develop this bike asked for them.

Because the DXR wheelset will have an “MT” style safety bead with the Excel wheelset, you could get them sealed by Woody’s Wheel Works in CO at $150 a Wheel. Woody’s will tell you that keeping the tube in the front is the better choice, but I’m passing on some knowledge so you can make the choices based on your needs.

Excel 21″/18″ wheelset with HD spokes and billet hubs aftermarket price: $2,600

More DesertX Rally Only Parts

I’m not a fan of the high front fender look on adventure bikes, but it’s a mod most people do who have either experienced a mud jam or are worried about one. It happens, and the high front fenders divert water away from the rider and the radiator through water crossings. The DXR comes with a soft, color-impregnated high front fender, which shouldn’t break or shatter if you make contact with the ground or a tree.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

To make mounting the high front fender and lower fork guards work, Ducati had to split the brake lines up high and route them down each fork leg. If you want a more traditional/retro Dakar Bike look, Ducati assured us you can swap in the standard DesertX’s low front fender.

High front fender kit, lower fork guards, and brake lines from AltRider to convert the standard DesertX: $369

Rally Bikes need Rally seats. A long, flat, single-piece seat that’s easy to move around on. The DXR comes with Ducati’s optional “Rally” shaped seat; there are no complaints here. The tail section of the DXR is visually the lightest rear end on the market, with only a hooped grab bar at the rear end wrapping a tail light with a minor fender sticking out the back.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

A tail rack will be necessary if you want to carry even a small tool kit and tubes. If you remove the rear passenger pegs, the DXR tail section will be one of the best by simply being out of the way.

Ducati DesertX Rally factory accessory seat: $365

Matching the durability aspects of the colored plastics on the front fender, the DesertX Rally has a “thick” adhesive graphics kit installed. This was done to prevent scratching painted surfaces and for people who want to customize their Rally.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

SKDA Custom Graphics Kit: $240

Going down low, the DesertX Rally comes with all its own unique lower controls. The machined billet aluminum folding brake pedal with two positions for the tip is surprisingly a work of art. It is smartly designed so that adjusting the pedal to the high “off-road” setting for use when standing only requires a quarter turn of the pedal, not a flip—making it about half an inch taller.

The matching billet aluminum shift has a folding tip like the brake pedal and two holes for quickly swapping between a street-friendly low and off-road boot high setting. It can also be fine-tuned via the heim joints incorporating the quick shifter. The design is compact and “self-guarding,” with any linkage tucked behind the lever and located high enough that it won’t make contact with the ground. The set is nearly one pound lighter than the Standard X’s.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

As for the footpegs, they are the same cast aluminum units that can be found on the standard DesertX and work fine, but the aftermarket has a lot of good options that are larger or with more bite.

SW-Motech makes a nice set of billet aluminum, machined, adjustable, folding lower controls (set) for the DesertX: $273

Skid Plate design can make or break a day out on the trail. The DesertX came with a surprisingly well-mounted and stout Aluminum skid plate from the factory, and I didn’t see any weak spots in its design. While plenty of aftermarket skid plates are out there, Ducati chose to one-up everybody in the stock department.

Ducati went all out for the Rally and bolted up a forged carbon skid plate to the bottom of the DXR. Forged carbon fiber not only looks blingy as it layers random pieces of carbon over one another in the forging process, but it gives it unique strength capabilities as it doesn’t break down like woven carbon fiber can after multiple impacts or repeated stressed flexing.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

I was skeptical of the forged carbon skid plate design so I asked Ducati’s DesertX Rally engineer if they’ve broken any skid plates during testing or if it shows signs of failure after long periods of abuse and use. He carefully thought about it and said, “No, not one.”

So it’s lighter and stronger than the DesertX’s aluminum unit, and after a lot of large, fast rock hits and bottoming the bike after a few culvert jumps before adjusting the suspension, I felt the skid plate would have to show signs of damage. I crawled under the Rally after two days of wreckless skid plate abuse, and there was nothing, no chips, no scrapes, and certainly not a dent like an aluminum skid plate would have had.

Forged carbon skid plate estimated aftermarket price: $600+

The last bit of bling on the Rally is an aluminum utility bar for a GPS mount just above the TFT Display. The problem with this accessory is that if you hit it during a crash, you can break the entire mount for the TFT Display, as it is three inches taller than the display.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Why bring up this hypothetical? Because I’ve seen it happen firsthand. Would it have broken the dashboard and mount if the utility bar wasn’t there? Hard to say as the bike was cartwheeled ass over tea kettle, and the windshield exploded too.

Utility Bar: $75-$300 depending on which you choose

A Good Deal?

Well, after keeping track, turning a DesertX into a DesertX Rally would cost you somewhere between $10,000and $13,500. Even if you resell all your Standard DesertX parts online, you might only be able to recover $3,850 on the higher end of eBay estimates. That doesn’t include shipping costs, eBay’s commission, and whatever you value your time and energy at.Just because it’s a good deal doesn’t mean you should buy one, and I’m certainly not trying to convince you to buy a DesertX Rally. I’m simply laying it all out there for you. 

With the DesertX Rally’s details and parts primarily out of the way, we can dive into the experience of what it’s like riding the DXR.

On The Road

The shockingly tall DesertX Rally feels like a trophy truck on the street. Initially, the stock suspension setting was too soft for my 240-pound frame (without gear.) I was expecting the DXR to feel more street-oriented, but nope! Ducati built the Rally to be an off-road bike first.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Adjusting the suspension and my turn in timing, the Rally starts feeling more confidence-inspiring on the street, but don’t expect that first road ride to feel like you’re going to be able to hit the supermoto track any time soon. After tuning the suspension stiffer, the DesertX Rally will still feel tall but more planted.

The height is a welcome trade-off for the 280mm of ground clearance that let us ignore any pothole or speed bump Marrakech could throw at us. Twin Brembo Monoblock M50 brake calipers slow down the Rally quickly with smooth engagement and enough stopping power to satisfy most track guys or the Adventurer who’s opted to fill their saddlebags with bricks.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Fork dive is better than you’d think for plusher suspension because the KYB closed cartridge forks waste no time forcing their oil through the valves and shim stacks. The rear suspension of the DXR feels well-composed and never overwhelmed. A combination of extra damping and an uprated spring helped continue building my confidence  on the tarmac.

One hundred and ten horsepower push the DesertX Rally down the road like you’d expect a Ducati would, but is your poker face good enough to hide your smiling? First and second-gear wheelies are no problem when you’re in Full Power mode with the TC and Wheelie Control turned off, which is where I felt comfortable leaving the Rally for most of the day.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

The power delivery is smooth, manageable, and, most importantly, predictable. Usually, with a bike that’s this high-strung with a 13.3 to 1 compression ratio, I like to leave a safety net in place, like the Traction Control on the lowest level. Instead, I left the DXR in Rally Mode (power level High), even on the street, and let the big dog eat!

The Transmission 

The tall gearing might have something to do with the feeling of security and rear wheel traction. For my taste, the gearbox is too tall and too wide on-road and off-road. The 937cc Ducati Testastretta 11° L-Twin wants to live a little higher in the rev range (5K RPM+), and I’d swap out the front sprocket for -1 tooth and fine-tune from there with rear sprocket sizes if I felt it needed it.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Don’t get me wrong, the transmission is spaced nicely; it’s just too tall. Sixth gear is truly an overdrive for those who want to set the cruise control and save gas between off-road sections. The DXR comes with a quick shifter, which you can turn on or off in the menu. Unfortunately, if you are not higher in the rev range, it does not work as well as other manufacturers’ quick shifters, but higher up in the RPMs, it’s a blast clutchless shifting up or down the gearbox.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

I would have liked to see the DesertX Rally come with a smaller, more off-road-type aggressive windscreen, given the specialized purpose of the bike. While some people like taller windshields, Ducati decided to leave it alone and let the owners choose if the stocker gets an at-home haircut with a sawzall (what I’d do) or if they want, they can go bigger. Buffeting was minimal, even with a dirt helmet from the stock windscreen and plastic handguards.

Electronics 

Getting all the standard rider modes from Sport to Rally and everything between, the DesertX Rally’s display is identical to the Standard DesertX except for one tiny detail. Level 1 Traction Control (lowest out of 8 levels) in Rally mode has been tuned for use with Pirelli’s Scorpion Rally tire. It will play along with any tire, but it’s meant to be paired with an aggressive dual sport tread.

Think of Rally Mode Traction Control level-1 as a safety. You shouldn’t count on it to save you, but it’s there. That’s how much wheel spin it allows for. Four-level ABS and TC are handled by the 6-axis Inertial Measuring Unit and Ducati’s Wheelie Control.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

The four levels of Corning ABS, starting with Road and Off-road, allow for wheel speed differences associated with off-road riding. There’s a rear wheel off and then ABS completely off both front and rear. I personally don’t use the full-off setting on many ADV Bikes because a front-end lock-up and washout is not my idea of fun. The rear wheel off-setting is level-1, although Rally Mode comes pre-programmed to all ABS off but can be changed and saved in the menu.

There’s good news and then even better news regarding the rider modes. Any settings you change are saved within each rider mode until you change them! Even better, though. The DesertX Rally STAYS IN THE MODE YOU LEFT IN, even if you key off the bike! Thank you, motorcycling Gods! I don’t know or care how Ducati did it, but from this day forward, any motorcycle that reverts to a default mode after you turn it off is DUMB.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

That includes Rally Mode with TC, ABS, and Wheelie Control turned off or in any combination. Lastly, the DXR has three levels of Engine Braking settings, which all work as you’d expect. Heavy and Medium are as expected, and the Low setting can feel like you’re holding the clutch in and freewheeling downhill. I prefer the Low Engine Braking setting because it keeps weight off the front wheel and lets the bike stay neutral with the throttle closed.

Ergonomics

At 6 feet 2 inches, The DesertX Rally fits me like a glove, not just seat height or rider triangle but also in the knees and between the legs. Standing or sitting, on or off-road, the Rally is beautifully designed with a retro-ish smooth tank profile that is high enough to grip with your knees while standing.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Thanks to the L-Twin engine layout, it has a narrow waist, and Ducati didn’t lose that by designing a larger gas tank for this model. I’m so happy they didn’t (although, like the standard, you also get the option to add the accessory auxiliary tank). Moving forward and aft on the rally-style seat is the easiest of any ADV Bike I’ve ridden, and being comfortable moving around on the bike lets the DesertX Rally dance under you.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

If I’m being picky about the cockpit, the handlebar raise is too high for my taste; they even feel tall from the seated position. Maybe 10mm or even less, but that’s personal preference. I know a lot of adventure riders will appreciate the tall bar feel.

In The Dirt

Slower speed riding with the DesertX Rally can go one of two ways: One, you have the fork settings too stiff, and you’re beating up your hands, or two, you’re riding the 250mm travel forks set up a little softer, and the plushness through the forks is perfection. The near-500 pound (wet) DesertX Rally has the suspension travel to soak up rocks and little jumps without reaching the bottom of its stroke. If you change terrain or riding speeds drastically, the forks may need some adjustments on both the compression and rebound sides.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

The rear shock has a wider dynamic range than the forks and will require fewer adjustments in varying conditions. Even at 240 pounds, the DXR doesn’t need me to run out and get heavier-weight springs immediately. I’ve bottomed out the DesertX standard without trying too hard in the past, but the DXR has some serious ‘hold up’ on high-speed compressions. No one at the press launch had any big G-out moments. Even on big hits at high speed, the DXR’s suspension and geometry kept the bike composed with minimal to no bottoming after a few small tweaks in the settings.

How does it compare to the standard DesertX? The stability and overall performance are really close between the two. The last bit, though, is the last 10% the DXR gives, which is 90% of the work. And that’s everything to those that have the skill to push a Standard DesertX to its limit. Those riders will find the top-tier off-road suspension and handling a big improvement.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

The two biggest complaints the slower, more technical rider will have with the Rally will be the higher center of gravity (CG) and the too-tall gearbox.The taller stance isn’t a deal breaker for me because my inseam is 33 inches. While the DesertX Rally seat is 35.8 inches or 910mm, I can still comfortably flat-foot it on both sides at a stop, but more importantly than that, nothing obstructs your foot as far as you can reach forwards or backward. So, if you need to dab your foot onto a rock in front of or behind the line of the peg, you don’t have a cylinder head (e.g. BMW) or rear pegs in the way.

As far as gearing, it’s not that the first gear is too tall to ride slowly; it’s that the whole gearbox is too tall. A simple sprocket change will fix that, but the DesertX Rally also rewards riders with good clutch techniques. One-finger modulation works the Brembo Hydraulic Master Cylinder efficiently, and with just a slight slippage of the clutch, I never had a problem climbing every steep section I could find.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

It was surprising how well the DXR would transition from a shallow washout to a vertical climb without bottoming out the suspension or feeling like the chassis was overwhelmed. Then, the Rally would climb and make forward progress up some of the steepest climbs I have tackled on a press ride. Almost like steering the rear with my feet, the Ducati’s rear end never “stepped out” on climbs or under heavy rear braking.

For those of us who want to ride at a faster pace, turn up the compression on the front and choose between “Full” or “High” power delivery in Rally mode. The only difference between the two modes is Full feels like “Race” mode and that High Power has a smoother delivery. Both give you access to the Rally’s 110 HP; it’s just that Full Power can eventually become too much self-induced-abuse after three hours. Enduro mode’s default power delivery is “Enduro” and gives you 75 HP, which is not a bad thing to enjoy.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Adventure Bikes weigh much more than dirt bikes, but we all want an ADV Bike that feels like “a big dirt bike.” The two biggest hurdles being weight and compliant suspension. Ducati turned the off-road capabilities knob to 11, which we all know is one more than 10, but there is a trade-off.

The DesertX Rally can feel harsh on high-speed hits, like a square edge rock or a pothole. Unfortunately, the suspension characteristics that cause harshness in those instances (the high-speed compression settings) are also responsible for keeping the DXR from bottoming out landing jumps or riding off ledges. The best way to put it is the Rally rides better the more aggressive the terrain gets.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

By getting your compression settings right, you can tune the front forks to a setting that works for small jumps and soaking up potholes. The rear shock shows signs of a “rear-wheel kick” vertically if you’re hitting an embedded rock or riding over a log at speed. That can cause negative feedback to the rider as you’ll feel the rear end come up.

As with the front forks, this is usually caused by, but not limited to, the high-speed compression setting on the rear shock. Great news, though! You can tune that for your riding terrain and style. East Coast enduro/hare scramble riders like myself primarily have the same high/low-speed compression and rebound adjustments on our dirt bikes that the Rally also has. We tune the high-speed compression out (counterclockwise) from the stock setting until the rear wheel lift is minimal enough to suit our speed and skill levels.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

All to say: If you purchase a DesertX Rally, at least be prepared to adjust the suspension in the direction you think it needs to go and take note of the stock settings if you want to start over. Which, you shouldn’t be afraid to do once you familiarize yourself with the process and watch some how-to videos on YouTube.

The ability to tune your DesertX Rally to your weight, riding style, and terrain will pay off in the long run and shouldn’t take long as two clicks (quarter turn on the rear high speed) per adjustment parameter makes a big difference on this machine. The maneuverability of the Desert Rally X is more complex to grasp because this bike requires less initial turn than most.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

I felt myself cutting corners too tightly and too soon at the start of the test ride. The DXR doesn’t need to be persuaded to turn but instead held back by counterbalancing and weighting the outside peg. Even on the dusty two-track trails, the DesertX Rally felt stable and in control even at absurd lean angles. It rewards riders that counterbalance and shift their body position while riding, and the Rally makes it easy as I never felt “locked in” standing or sitting.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Braking off-road with the DXR is smooth and progressive, especially at the rear. Applying pressure to the rear brake pedal with Dirt Bike boots on, you’ll get feedback from the bike slowing down before you “feel” the pedal like with most adventure bikes, but there is a lot of progression and pedal travel before locking up the rear. The front is much more responsive but still smooth, and I never noticed any ABS cycling at my fingertips, even under heavy braking. Most of this comes down to the combination of the master and slave brake cylinders, but the stability comes from the chassis geometry.

Revving the Rally out in second through fourth gear off-road turns the mild-mannered L-twin into a howling race bike. Extracting this much performance from the DesertX Rally takes some fundamental skills, but when you get that bike “on the pipe,” it rips. If you are pursuing what I call “Big Speed,” the DXR can dish it out at the top-tier level. As fellow journalist Scott Brady pointed out, the DesertX Rally has very few faults for its use case scenario: hard, fast, unforgiving Adventure Riding.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Out in the Moroccan Desert, there are plenty of lines to choose from as you traverse the rocky hardpack from one valley to another. I found myself taking more alternate routes than I would on any other Adventure Bike because of the playfulness of the DesertX Rally. Riding the DXR, I never felt like I had to take myself too seriously, even though its performance capabilities are at the top of the food chain.

The Bottom Line

Even if you took the average cost for the upgrades at, say, $12K for easy math, and then you got $4K back from the sale of all your Standard DesertX parts, you’d still be $8,000 in the red, which means that it’ll cost ya $3,000 more to turn a DesertX (Standard) into a DesertX Rally. The value is there, like a deal you can’t refuse.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

As for the limitations of the DesertX Rally in the dirt, they’ll be yours to figure out, but if appropriately ridden, the Ducati has very few compared to other bikes in the segment. Being realistic about it, though, it’s almost pushing 500 pounds wet. No matter what, it won’t be a “big dirt bike.”

It is, however, arguably one of the best off-road focused Adventure Bikes in its class, and with a parts list like this, the Ducati DesertX Rally should be celebrated and congratulated. We should be asking for the “Rally” version of many moreADV Motorcycles. The sport bike world doesn’t scoff at “RR-R evo” versions of their bikes because they know who they’re for, either the person who needs or wants it. Either way, don’t be a party pooper.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Speaking of parties and pooping them, The DesertX Rally doesn’t come with heated grips! For 23 Grand, I think Ducati could throw them in, mainly because the Rally already comes with the DEDICATED button to turn them on! That means the wiring harness is already set up.  Don’t get cheap on me now!

The Competition

KTM 890 Adventure R Rally: You can save $1,500 bucks ($21,499 for the 890 Rally), but if you want friction-reducing coated suspension… congratulations, you’re “even Steven” with the DXR. The 890 Rally is limited to 200 units in the US, so if you haven’t made a deposit yet, you’ll have to build one. The difference in suspension prices between the Ducati and the KTM mentioned early in the article would reflect that the 890 Rally has the absolute best of the best suspension and essentially an extra inch of travel front and rear over the DXR.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

I’ve personally owned WP’s A-Kit suspension and loved the Rear High-Speed Rebound adjustment because it would allow the rear wheel to reconnect with the ground quickly over roots, acceleration bumps, and small rocks, or I could slow down the rebound in sandy conditions for a planted feeling. The A-Kit suspension can be tuned in more specific ways than the DXR can be, and the 890 Rally’s cone valve forks have a massive range of optimum working conditions and stroke speed scenarios, leaving the KTM 890 Rally on the Throne as the King of “big dirt bikes.”

If Triumph made a Tiger 900 Rally Pro with “A-Kit” suspension: I love talking speculations and what-ifs for Triumph Tigers. A designated frame with proper steering angles and a massive 10-inch travel A-Kit suspension setup, and we would have a real showdown because the DesertX Rally and a speculative “Tiger 900 Rally Pro-RR” could be a super close shoot-out if they gave the Tiger a single rally seat and 18” rear wheel, eliminated the rear rack handles, better knee cutouts in the tank, and built a rally book-holding front end. Wink wink, Triumph.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

KTM 890 ADV-R: The DesertX Rally is closer to the 890 Adventure R Rally than the standard KTM 890 Adventure R in terms of specs. The 890 ADV-R has open chamber-split function forks. KTM/WP doesn’t offer a closed cartridge kit for the forks but will sell you the 6K dollar cone valves set up to your specs and with possibly 270mm travel. After calling Solid Performance in Pennsylvania (the number one WP dealer in the world), we discussed options for the 7/890 ADV-R’s.

If you chose to upgrade the ADV-R’s Xplor fork, the best you could do is tuning or aftermarket closed cartridge drop-ins and a new aftermarket rear shock for around $3,000 extra dollars. Interestingly, Solid Performance’s rough number to build an 890 ADV-R into an 890 Rally is very close to the “over cost” of building versus buying a DesertX Rally. About three thousand after you sell all the spare parts.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

The KTM 890 ADV-R is closer to the DXR than it is to even the standard DesertX in terms of off-road focus, and the 890 ADV-R is $8,000 less expensive than the DesertX Rally. If it was my money and I had to choose between an 890 ADV-R with three grand in suspension upgrades ($18,200) or a DesertX Rally ($22,995)… I might go either way, depending on which way the wind is blowing. I would go Ducati because I want it, and I would go KTM because I should—a real stalemate.

A Built-up Yamaha T7 (Like Pol Tarres’): Sure, according to one of my T7 buddies @heavyenduro/@overkillandy, it is possible to build a T7 into a 90hp-270mm of travel ”big dirt bike.” The problem is that, in the end, you’ll have a $21-22,000 dollar Tenere 700, but after you build this T7, it could weigh under 450 pounds wet. Wink wink, Yamaha, I think you could make it cost less from the factory.

Final Thoughts

The DesertX Rally is not for everyone, and that’s okay. Just like I can’t use a Ducati V4R to its full potential on the track, it doesn’t mean Ducati shouldn’t build one! Most people won’t be able to use the full capabilities of DXR either, but that doesn’t mean we (Adventure Motorcyclists) should discourage a manufacturer from building one, and we shouldn’t discount someone for buying one. That’s not what motorcycles are about.

2024 Ducati Desert X Rally First Ride Review

Which is the proper purchase? Well, that’s the ‘extra’ Five Thousand Dollar Question.

I have a “Race” ADV Bike built to a similar spec as the DesertX Rally at home, and what I can tell you is that I would rather buy a high-spec motorcycle than build one with custom wheels and bespoke one-off suspension. But once you own a bike like this, “The best the world has to offer,” you don’t want to go back to a motorcycle built on half measures. You want a total commitment, top-tier, no excuses, no expense-spared off-road weapon. Ducati’s built that, and it’s up to you to decide if you need/want it.

DesertX Rally Specs

ENGINE TYPE:Ducati Testastretta 11°, L-Twin cylinders, Desmodromic valvetrain, 4 valves per cylinder, liquid cooled
DISPLACEMENT:937 cc (57.2 cu in)
BORE X STROKE:94 x 67.5 mm
COMPRESSION RATIO:13.3:1
POWER:110 hp (81 kW) @ 9,250 rpm
TORQUE:92 Nm (68 lb-ft, 9.4 kgm) @ 6,500 rpm
FUEL INJECTION:Bosch electronic fuel injection system, Ø53 mm throttle bodies with ride-by-wire system
EXHAUST:Stainless steel single muffler, catalytic converter and 2 lambda probes
GEARBOX:6 speed with Ducati Quick Shift up/down
PRIMARY DRIVE:Straight cut gears, ratio 1.85 : 1
RATIO:1=38/14, 2=31/17, 28=28/20, 4=26/22, 5=24/23, 6=23/24
FINAL DRIVE:Chain, front sprocket Z15, rear sprocket Z49
CLUTCH:Slipper and self-servo wet multiplate clutch with hydraulic control
FRAME:Tubular steel trellis frame
FRONT SUSPENSION:KYB Ø 48 mm upside-down fork, closed cartridge, compression and rebound adjustable, Kashima Coating on the outer tubes, DLC treatment on the inner tubes
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL:9.8 inches (250 mm)
FRONT WHEEL:Spoked, 2.15’’x21’’
FRONT TIRE:Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 90/90 – 21 M/C 54V M+S TL (A)
REAR SUSPENSION:KYB monoshock, Ø 46 mm piston, fully adjustable (high and low speed compression, rebound), remote preload adjustment, aluminum double-sided swingarm
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL:9.4 inches (240 mm)
REAR WHEEL:Spoked, 4’’x18’’
REAR TIRE:Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 150/70 R18 M/C 70V M+S TL
FRONT BRAKE:2 x Ø 320 mm aluminum flange semi-floating discs, Radial mount Brembo monobloc 4-pistons calipers, Bosch Cornering ABS
REAR BRAKE:Ø 265 mm disc, Brembo floating 2 pistons caliper, Bosch Cornering ABS
INSTRUMENTATION:5’’ TFT color display
SEAT HEIGHT:910 mm (35.8 in), 885 mm (34.8 in) with low seat accessory
GROUND CLEARANCE:280 mm (11 in)
WHEELBASE:1625 mm (64 in)
RAKE:27.6°
TRAIL:122 mm (4.8 in)
FUEL TANK CAPACITY:21 l (5.54 US gal)
NUMBER OF SEATS:2
SAFETY EQUIPMENT:Riding Modes, Power Modes, Engine Brake Control (EBC), Cornering ABS, Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati wheelie control (DWC), Ducati brake light (DBL)
STANDARD EQUIPMENT:Ducati Quick Shift up/down (DQS), Cruise control, full LED lighting system, DRL*, USB power socket, 12V socket, self canceling turn indicators, Öhlins adjustable steering damper
READY FOR:
WARRANTY:24 months (48 months**), unlimited mileage
MAINTENANCE SERVICE INTERVALS:15,000 km (9,000 miles) / 24 months
VALVE CLEARANCE CHECK:30,000 km (18,000 miles)
STANDARD:Euro 5
CO2 EMISSIONS:133 g/km
CONSUMPTION:km 5.6 l/100 km
EMISSIONS NOTES:Only for countries where Euro 5 standard applies.

Photos by Alex Photo

Author: Steve Kamrad

Steve has been labeled as a “Hired Gun” by one of the largest special interest publishing groups in America. His main focus now is video content creation as a “Shreditor” (thats shooter, producer, editor all in one nice, neat, run and gun package). If he’s not out competing in a NASA Rally Race you can find him on the East Coast leading around a rowdy group of ADV riders. Some say Steve_Kamrad has the best job in the world but he’s not in it for the money. He’s a gun for hire that can’t be bought and that’s the way we like him.

Author: Steve Kamrad
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