The bike world is awash with retro styling these days and whilst some of these are muted and modernised versions that the cool crowd ride chasing past dreams Ducati have come up with the Desert Sled based on their popular Scrambler.
When Ducati launched the Scrambler in 2014 it was a massive PR and sales success for the Italian company. The brief for the Desert Sled was simple. Take the Scrambler, keep the general styling and lifestyle but make it more offroad capable.
Now, if you’re going to call your bike a Desert Sled, harking back to the lifestyling of ripping through Southern California’s deserts on customised street bikes and the first dirt bikes, you better make sure it can be taken in the desert and survive.
First problem, there aren’t many deserts in Scotland.
We’re not weather of geology experts but we’d guess that it might just rain a bit too much here for deserts to form. That’s not an expert opinion, just a passing comment based on how wet we got riding in to work today. If we’d set up a water collection systems on ourselves we could probably irrigate a small country in Africa for a month in what we’d collect riding the 45 to work. But we still love it.
So, where to go? Easy choice, we hit the streets, mountains and deserts of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and yes, it is a little warmer that Scotland these days (44C and more). Apparently that sort of weather is better for the deserts. This was going to be a test of riders and the bike.
The Desert Sled has hints of the old Yamaha XT500 styling and that was a very capable bike but the Desert Sled is very much Ducati’s Scrambler at heart, well the engine anyway, because that is about all that hasn’t seen revisions and redesigns.
The air-cooled, 803cc V-twin engine is unchanged, and is held in a strengthened version of the original steel-tube frame. The original Scrambler frame used the engine as a stressed member, but the Desert Sled gets extra frame bracing that allows you to thrash it to your heart’s content with confidence that it can take the beating.
There is also a lengthened swingarm for added stability, spoked wheels 19 inch up front and 17 rear, with excellent Pirelli Scorpion STR tyres. There’s additional ground clearance with the adjustable KYB front and a lower seat option for shorter riders.
Protection is added to the headlight and oil cooler in addition to a skid plate to keep the underside side of the engine intact for the anticipation of a thrashing offroad.
Time to see if these things work.
We spent a few days on the Desert Sled putting over 1,200 miles on it commuting and touring taking in the city, mountains and coastal roads.
The Desert Sled clearly isn’t a purely street bike and with any bike fitted with dual-use tyres there’s usually a comprise when it comes to road handling and comfort depending on the depth of the tread.
However the Pirelli’s don’t give as much vibration as you might expect and are actually pretty well planted on the road giving good feedback to the rider even under heavy braking and in tight twisties.
With the smooth power from the Scrambler engine commuting, touring and generally hooning around is a blast! You can push the bike with the confidence that the power is there when needed and that the tyres and adjustable ABS are going to keep you right-side-up in the process.
There’s also a level of comfort that is difficult to match in this category of bikes. Even after a 10-hour day on the bike there weren’t so many of the usual aches and pains – and that’s good going for us not so young anymore riders with the slight adjustments to the seating and footpeg position adding to the seated comfort. The Sled is a little taller than the standard Scrambler model but there is the option of a lower seat for shorter riders.
We had considered adventure and dual-use bikes in the past for our daily rides but this one may just have won us over and from the look on faces as we passed and when parked it’s clear that the Desert Sled has a growing fan base out there.
With the road test done it was time to dust up the Sled. Cue the desert scene. We head out of the city and onto some hard mountain tracks with loose gravel and the Desert Sled is unphased. It’s no motocross bike but it handles a lot better for its weight that you’d imagine.
It is also a lot easier to manage than many of the more popular large adventure bikes and is no less capable than these monsters. It’s also a lot easier to lift after being dropped in the sand.
As soon as you have the balance on the Desert Sled there is very little to stop you. This bike takes a beating and keeps on asking for more. Riding stood up, sliding and steering with the rear is easy as the bike responds to every input of power, shifting weight and steering.
Throwing into the sand dunes came next, some proper desert riding for the Desert Sled. We’ve tested many bikes in desert dunes, not just MX bikes but also BMW’s GS’s, KTM’s Adventures, Triumph’s Tigers and the Ducati proved itself equally capable and better than some.
To the amazement of the MX riders in our group the Sled took to the dunes with easy and got to the top of one of the most challenging dunes beating a few of the MX riders in a drag to the top!
So, did Ducati’s designers and engineers hit the brief? We’d say so!
The Desert Sled is well balanced, has good power delivery and the looks to match. This isn’t a bike that you’d buy just to look hip, this is a seriously capable on and offroad machine.
It will do a lot more than most riders can ask of it on the roads and anywhere offroad whilst still being a blast as a daily commuter and tourer.