Antoine Meo And Ducati's DesertX Race To An Erzbergrodeo Front Row

Klaus Nennewitz
by Klaus Nennewitz

The first Twin to qualify on the front row of the fabled event!

Ducati participates with Enduro World Champion Antoine Meo on the DesertX at the Erzbergrodeo in Austria and puts the twin-cylinder adventure bike on the front row of the grid for the first time.

Most employees in the Ducati factory of Borgo Panigale near Bologna, Italy, are knee sliders: starting with big boss Claudio Domenicali, who has been riding and testing the red sportsbikes around the tracks for decades, or press officer Giulio Fabbri, who regularly grinds away the elbow pads during photo sessions with the newest models. That's why the company came to the prototype of the DesertX at EICMA in the fall of 2019 rather like the virgin to the child: in the "Scrambler" business unit, they wanted to explore the adventure potential of the air-cooled twin-cylinder to see what else would be feasible beyond the Desert Sled. The prototype was based on the Scrambler 1100 and received way more attention than the other, Supermotard-style concept based on the 800. The engineers received sufficient input for the off-road features from rally legend Beppe Gualini, who himself has started 65 times in African rallies and has headed the Ducati Riding Experience (DRE) in Italy for years. Also on board was Matteo Graziani, multiple Italian Rally champion, and finally Frenchman Antoine Meo, five-time Enduro World Champion between 2010 and 2015 on Husqvarna and KTM.

At the beginning of 2022, the DesertX was presented to the press and caught quite unanimous praise for the on- and off-road rideability. Ducati had instantly raised the bar by which competitors would have to measure themselves in the future in the ADV segment – at the first shot!

Now, we all know how successful Ducati is in selling sportbikes or SBK and MotoGP replicas with incredible price tags. But this won't last forever, which is why even a brand as successful as Ducati needs to explore new market segments. The Scrambler had already made the first step a few years ago, now comes the DesertX as an ADV bike with sporty genes and it is rumored behind closed doors that even hotter projects with knobby tires are in the pipeline in Borgo Panigale…

Thanks to the commitment of Ducati Austria, who wanted to bring its own rider into the race, the project got moving towards the end of 2022, and Meo finally saw the chance to realise a long-cherished wish (even five-time world champions still have dreams) by starting at Erzberg for the first time in his career.

Two weeks before the event, the team went to Eisenerz, in the center of Austria, to tune the chassis for the rocky hill climbs and the ultra-fast prologue track. It became clear during the first tests that Meo could ride the DesertX like in Ducati's breathtaking presentation video on the motocross track of Dorno in 2022, where he easily put the 500-pound bike sideways in the air over a 100 foot long table top.

After the test, the goals for the race week became clearer: to heave the DesertX into the finish of Sunday's main event would hardly be possible, even for a champion like Meo. However, the offroad commitment of the Italians would still be proven by the participation in the Mitas Rocket Ride, a pure show knockout event, plus in the prologue, which determines the starting grid for the main race.

Few changes to the machine were necessary because the base bike already had the best genes for racing, so engine and mapping remained completely untouched, as the power was already enough to eat up the rear tire in the first few miles. From the Ducati Performance accessories catalog, the racing exhaust was used for weight reduction, and the reinforced skidplate was also fitted. Narrower rims were mounted to fit the Metzeler Six Days Extreme SOFT tires (21x1.85 front with tube and 18x2.5 rear with mousse). The standard 46 mm Kayaba fork with 9.1 in. of travel was replaced with a 48 mm one with a closed cartridge design and 9.8 in. of travel. At the rear, a Kayaba shock with 46 mm piston stroke was used to increase the suspension travel to 9.4 in.. To further reduce weight, one brake disc including the caliper was removed from the front wheel, and the heavy LED modules were taken out of the headlight, while the daytime running lights remained in use.

ABS and traction control were removed, and at Meo's special request, a lower handlebar was fitted.

The Mitas Rocket Ride, in which 277 riders compete in a series of five extreme climbs in as short a time as possible, kicked off the event, with the 48 best making it through to the Superfinals. There, six riders competed in each heat with a Motocross-style start. The top three advanced to the next round until the final race with the remaining six. Meo qualified sixteenth and reached the final round via the elimination races, where he finished fourth, the first two-cylinder bike to do so. He offered a fantastic spectacle and became a crowd favorite when he simply left the 300cc two-strokes standing with his "Pompone twin" on the slopes of the hill climbs. By the way, only one other rider on a two-cylinder bike made it to the Superfinals: Pol Tarres on the Yamaha Ténéré 700; but he was eliminated during the shootout.

At the Erzberg Iron Road Prologue on Friday and Saturday, the 1,200 participants then had the chance to qualify for the 500 starting places at the final race on Sunday. Winding through the quarry over 1,970 ft. of elevation, Meo left no stone unturned on the 8.4-mile course and took the win in the two-cylinder class on both days ahead of Pol Tarres (Yamaha), Xavier De Soultrait (KTM), and second Ducati rider Patrick Neisser. Apart from the victory, he managed to qualify for the 32nd spot on the front row of the starting grid of Sunday's final race with a sensational time of 10:51:376 minutes! No other rider had ever managed to be in the first row of 50 riders on a twin cylinder bike before! Reigning Enduro World Champion Andrea Verona from Italy was the overall winner of the prologue with a time of 10'06''266, while Patrick Neisser won the Akrapovic Speed Challenge with the highest measured speed of 124.98 km/h.

Ducati had left its mark on the Erzberg: the reigning Extreme Enduro World Champion and two-time Erzberg winner Manuel Lettenbichler congratulated Meo, organiser Karl Katoch and the Red Bull team even tried to persuade Antoine to start on the front row on Sunday, because this had never happened before at the mountain of iron.

But Meo waved it off: the risk of scrapping the bike on the track would have been too great. "We still need the machine for other events" was the word from the team. We are curious to see what else may come!


Mitas Rocket Ride:

  • 1. Paul Seyr (AUT)
  • 2. Thomas Reichhold (AUT)
  • 3. Oskar Kaczmarczyk (POL)
  • 4. Antoine Méo (FRA)
  • 5. Chris Gundermann (GER)

Iron Road Prolog (Twin cylinder bikes):

  • 1. Antoine Méo (Ducati DesertX)
  • 2. Paul Tarres (Yamaha Ténéré 700)
  • 3. Xavier de Soultrait (890 Adventure)
  • 4. Patrick Neisser (Ducati DesertX)
  • 5. Armin Ohrlinger (Aprilia RXV 550)

Akrapovic Speed Challenge:

  • 1. Patrick Neisser (124,98 Km/h - Ducati DesertX)
  • 2. Xavier de Soultrait (119,14 Km/h - KTM 890 Adventure)
  • 3. Armin Ohrlinger (118,66 Km/h - Aprilia RXV 550)
  • 4. Marco Messner (116,72 Km/h - KTM 300 EXC)
  • 5. Antoine Meo (116,20 Km/h - Ducati DesertX)

Antoine Meo Interview

Antoine Meo, born 1984 in Digne in Southern France, began his career as a Motocross rider and switched to the Enduro World Championship in 2008 winning 5 titles between 2010 and 2015 on Husqvarna and KTM bikes. He also made part of the victorious French Trophy team in the 2009 and 2010 Six Days and participated in the 2016 and 2018 Dakar Rally in South America, winning two stages and placing 7th and 4th overall.

Q: Antoine, what’s it like for a Pro like you to race an ADV bike?

It's a huge difference from my machines in the Enduro World Championship of course. But the new ADV bikes are relatively easy to ride and remind me of the Ténéré 600 and Africa Twin from the nineties. The DesertX has a lot of power and torque, not to mention weight, so you shouldn't try to force the bike, but rather ride it with technique. Coming out of the corners, you can't accelerate too early because it would just go straight. So, you have to make clean turns and give it some gas when you're back on the straight. To be up to the task physically, I work my shoulders more in the gym to get a better grip on the handlebars.

Q: How do you judge your first Erzberg race?

There is still a lot of potential to prepare the bike better for such competitions, I didn't know exactly how the prologue would develop. During the frequent starts of the Mitas Rocket Rides, I had difficulties with the feeling for the clutch. Also, we still need to improve the chassi., I would have needed a harder suspension. Overall, though, the bike was good, and there was a monstrous adrenaline rush at every start it pushed me up the hills.

Q: What are the next projects? Africa?

The Dakar participation a few years ago was a shock to me, I thought I was going to die! The organiser did the right thing to take the big twin cylinders out of the race, and it would be stupid to race them again. Power and weight are just far too dangerous, and there are hardly any pilots left who could handle them. But I have great desire for other offroad projects with the DesertX, such as Erzberg.

Edoardo Carrai, Ducati MKT and Product Planning, Interview

Edoardo Carrai was born in Cesena, Italy in 1988. At the age of 14, he discovered his passion for engines. After his studies of mechanical engineering in Bologna and Milan, he joined Ducati Corse in 2015 where he was in charge of MotoGP test benches. Other work experiences include Tecnogym and an engineering company. In 2021, he returned to Ducati with the role of Productmanager for the DesertX and Scrambler.

Carrai is an off-road rider and participates in Motorally competition on a KTM 790 and a Husqvarna 450.

Q: How did the idea to participate in the Erzberg race come up?

After the DesertX was launched in 2022, it was one of the first events we thought about to show what the bike was capable of. There was a strong desire to go racing for the company and for Antoine as well. Obviously, the Erzbergrodeo is an extreme Enduro race, so it would have been impossible to finish with a bike like the DesertX. So, our goal was to win the Mitas Rocket Ride and the prologue. With this project, by pushing the DesertX in a new context, we were able to make the Ducati brand known better in the Offroad world and to gain experience on the race track.

Q: Off road is really a new field for Ducati, and in the past, you had never designed a dirtbike. How did you manage to understand the strains of such a bike during development?

During benchmarking, we analysed competition dirt bikes, and the prototypes were tested by our internal testriders as well as external consultants and experts for Off-road bikes. In terms of design, we adapted to the acquired requirements of this kind of vehicle. Weight reduction was a very important input. We also had to take into account different wheel encumbrances at the end of the stroke, considering dirt and mud. The whole validation profile and testing was more severe.

Q: The bike's engine is derived from the Monster. How were you able to recalibrate the cooling system to handle challenging off-road sections with the DesertX at relatively low speeds and with high engine loads?

The DesertX has a larger radiator than the Monster, plus there are dual fans and a new dedicated cooling circuit. We studied the hot air flow very carefully to improve comfort for the rider.

Q: Can you give us insight into the reasons for certain technical choices?

Tubeless tires with cross-spokes?

For us, it is the best compromise to give some comfort and the ability to ride a lot of miles on the road. The DesertX also wants to be a bike for people who do a lot of road riding.

5.5-gal. fuel tank made of sheet steel?

Aluminum would be lighter, it’s true, but it would be much less suitable for off-road use because it is much more complex to repair; steel is more durable.

Suspension 9.1/8.7 in. travel and 46 mm KYB fork?

It is a good compromise between stiffness requirements and package. We have forks with diameters between 43 and 48 mm in the range. The forks have dedicated hardware and hydraulics.

Rear shock absorber without connecting rods?

This is due to package reasons linked to the exhaust system. With KYB we found the perfect setup.

Frame derived from other models like Multistrada or Scrambler?

No, it was designed from scratch. From the beginning, we had decided on a trellis frame. The swingarm pivot goes through the gearbox and has the same position like on the Monster. With a different swingarm length, we created the suitable rear suspension geometry.

Gear ratios?

First 2 gears have been shortened, final drive is shorter with 15/49 compared to Multistrada

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Klaus Nennewitz
Klaus Nennewitz

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  • Arthur Bennett Arthur Bennett on Jun 24, 2023


    Bring back Disqus.

  • High_Side High_Side on Jun 26, 2023

    I see that for the competition bike they ditched the flimsey cross-spoke wheels in favour of something more durable. After several Ducatis and ADV bikes of other brands I bought a new Desert-X with high hopes. I hit a pothole on the way home from buying it before an easy on-road break-in. When I was cleaning it up to install off-road tires I noticed a crack in the wheel where the spoke protrudes through the outer flange. The only thing that i can think of hitting up to this point is a pothole...

    This was Ducatis time to do something about it. After taking time (in my short Canadian summer), they stated that "Ducatis wheels are the strongest in the industry, therefore there is no defect in the factory wheel". The dealer stated it would be $2971 for a new wheel and after being pressed, they offered me 10% off. Instead I went through a contact who had a set 20% off from the same dealer. Nice of the dealer to really step up for me there...

    When I think of how hard I rode my Africa Twin off-road for years with no wheel damage, I cannot imagine doing the same on the Desert-X with these kind of wheels. I've recently been finding others on the forums who have the same issue and I think its just a matter of time until it really blows up. Ducati really boned this long term customer with their unwillingness to do anything for me. While many online have had more positive experiences, some have not. Buyer beware.