Is it a small ADV bike, or a large trail bike? Well after riding the new Ducati Scrambler Desert sled, it’s safe to say it’s both.
When Upshift got the call to attend the Desert Sled intro in the south of Spain, I packed my open face Biltwell helmet, Alpinestars Oscar jacket, Sidi Adventure 2 boots, and a pair of jeans and headed out to the south of Spain.
The famous spaghetti western film set in Fort Bravo was the base for our test rides on the new Ducati. This is where they shot “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, so the scenery was a perfect set for the Desert Sled, complete with a movie set town with cowboys and a saloon that was the presentation hall for the bike intro.
Speaking with the marketing and product development team, it was clear that they were entirely inspired by southern California, and Baja, Mexico. This is where the concept for this bike was born taking its heritage from the 1960’s and 1970’s stripped down desert racers, with their skid-plates, knobbies, and suspension mods.
For their promotional materials, Ducati had flown their team to the Mojave Desert in
California a few months earlier and recruited ex-freestyler, and all around cool-guy Drake McElroy to ride for their photos and video.
After the presentation of the bike concept and the technical descriptions, it was time to hit the trail. Unfortunately, the original dirt route was destroyed by flooding a few weeks before, so a rapid re-route took us through a narrow canyon, with deep sand, exposed rocks, and gravel. This trail would have been very challenging on a 550lb adventure bike, but the lighter weight (420lb) Desert Sled proved much more manageable. It’s by no means a KTM500exc, but you can take this bike places that you would think twice about on a full-size ADV bike.
The key to this section was just to stand up everywhere, even the deep sand turns. Each time I sat in a turn, I lost momentum and almost dumped the bike. The gearing for the sand was not the best, as first gear was too low, and second gear did not have a ton of low-end torque to pull you out of the turns, so I used the clutch in the turns more than usual to keep up in the powerband. I managed to hit some football-sized rocks when I ran of talent in the sand, but the big Ducati dirt bike just kept motoring through, as long as I was standing on the pegs.
Between the sand section and the upcoming road section, we hit some fast fire road where the Sled was more at home at higher speeds proving to be stable and much more comfortable.
The roads around the Tabernas Desert were fun to ride after escaping the sand and dirt sections unscathed. Our group of riders formed a fast line through the windy hills and little Spanish villages. I felt like I was in a supermoto race with the tight road hairpins, and then the dirt again back to Fort Bravo for a lunch break. The sand section was even tougher on our return trip, as thirty Desert Sleds had chewed up the trail and there were lines going everywhere through the sand.
The Desert Sled is equipped with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 19” front/17” rear rubber, which was good in the dirt, and more than good on the asphalt, allowing me to keep up with the others on the road. The bike features 7.9” travel Kayaba forks and shock that were set up more for the road sections than the dirt, but it is always a compromise on settings when you try to make the bike perform at its best in both disciplines on the same ride.
The bike has a EURO 4-compliant, twin cylinder 803cc air and oil-cooled motor delivering 75hp, with a service interval of 7500 miles.If I were to take this bike on an extended multi-day trip I would take advantage of some of Ducati’s dedicated accessories such as the windscreen kit, and side and tank bags.
Fourteen hours later I was back at the hotel in Almeria packing my bags and heading back to California to plan a multi-day Ducati Desert Sled ride around the deserts of Baja.
Being lower tech than the adventure bikes I have been riding lately, the Ducati Desert Sled reminded me what riding is all about… good times with friends on two wheels. Oh yeah, it’s cool too! www.ducati.com
Gear: Biltwell Bonanza Helmet and Overland Goggles, Alpinestars Oscar Charlie jacket, Sidi Adventure 2 boots, Biltwell Moto gloves