2024 Ducati DesertX Rally Review – First Ride

Ryan Adams
by Ryan Adams

Rallying the troops for a rip through Morocco

Photos by Alex Photo.


Not having children of my own, nor many in my close circle for that matter, I forget how seeing the unadulterated enthusiasm and joy from a child can brighten up one’s entire day. Of course, when it’s due to a group of motorcycles roaring through their small town in the desert outside Marrakech, that joy makes an incredible experience that much more memorable. High fiving kids through small villages as their parents grow weary of motorcycles passing through town (even respectfully) is a memory I’ll never forget and, as it happens time and time again for us motorcyclists, two wheels are what tied these moments in time together in such a unique way. Specifically, in this case, the 2024 Ducati DesertX Rally.

2024 Ducati DesertX Rally

Ducati’s first true adventure bike gets a host of choice upgrades to level up its performance for attacking extreme conditions.


Editor Score: 92.0%


Engine

18.5/20

Suspension

14.5/15

Transmission

8.5/10

Brakes

9/10

Instruments

4.5/5

Ergonomics

9/10

Appearance

9.5/10

Desirability

9.5/10

Value

9.0/10

Highs

  • The suspension makes quick work of obstacles and air time
  • Stronger wheels are always a plus for heading off the beaten path
  • The engine and electronics let you get as rowdy as your adventure will allow

Sighs

  • The seat height takes some getting used to
  • Mounting the remote preload adjuster to the removable passenger pegs seems like an afterthought, or intentional, which would be annoying
  • It is what it is, high-spec components require service more regularly

The DesertX Rally was built to compete in the market at a higher level for those who want to push themselves and their bike’s further in terms of off-road performance. A larger KYB shock and closed-cartridge fork, stronger and lighter wheels, and an adjustable Öhlins steering damper are the major components that change the riding experience of the Rally model, while a few other niceties round out the package.


Much of the motorcycle, aside from the aforementioned components, is nearly identical to the original model, therefore, I won’t spend a lot of time typing about what hasn’t changed, because that’s already been covered here. Rather, let’s take a deeper dive into what makes this machine different from the bike that was launched in August of 2022.

What’s in a name?


For the first time in a mass-produced plated motorcycle, we’re seeing KYB closed-cartridge forks. Ducati worked with its partner, who supplied the original components to the DesertX, in order to build a suspension system that could compete at the highest levels of what one can find on the adventure market – think KTM 890 Adventure R Rally’s WP Pro components.

Tuned for an optimal balance of flex and rigidity, the new fork is grasped by a billet aluminum triple with an increased offset to account for the extra suspension travel. Compression adjustment is found on the top of each leg, while rebound is at the bottom. Preload adjustment is not available.


As the name suggests, the 48 mm (up from 46 mm) KYB unit has a cartridge that sits in the upper portion of the fork tube, reducing unsprung weight in the lower fork legs. With a closed-cartridge setup, the oil within the cartridge is pressurized to prevent cavitation and loss of damping performance from it. While this can lead to some harshness, the damping is more sophisticated than a traditional open-cartridge fork. In addition to the new suspension design, Ducati also opted to increase travel by 0.75 inches, bringing fork travel to 9.8 inches overall. The outside fork tube has been given a Kashima bath to aid in wear resistance and slipperiness. Likewise, the inner tube also gets treated to a super hard DLC coating that reduces friction and brings with it high corrosion resistance. Compression and rebound can be adjusted.


Adding a bit of preload to the shock helped balance the bike out for me, but the fact the convenient remote preload adjuster is bolted to the removable passenger foot peg doesn’t make much sense. But don’t worry, Ducati informed me that there will be an accessory in the catalog to relocate it to the frame.

The shock has also been beefed up with a 46 mm piston which is 6 mm bigger than the standard model. This unit uses a pressurized bladder system and also adds 0.75 inches of travel – 9.5 inches in total. In addition to bolstered components, the shock offers high- and low-speed compression adjustment as well as rebound and remote preload.

While the crash bars are an accessory, the Rally seat, adjustable billet aluminum rear brake and shift lever, and carbon fiber skid plate round out the Rally model’s ’fit. While I had my doubts about the skid plate, it handled a few touchdowns from other testers with little more than scratches. The shifter has a “break away” tip, but the move from steel to billet aluminum for the foot controls gives pause for an item that may easily encounter damage in a tip over.

As we peeled off the five miles or so of pavement, we were met by a series of small-ish water bars, some with pipes running along the top which provided an excellent ramp to huck the Rally off of. At our first stop, we all chatted about how much fun the section was and how fantastic the bike felt upon launch. The landing was equally as controlled. Color us impressed. Not much further into the day we had the chance to ride through some sections with embedded rock and softball sized stones. Equally compliant, the KYB suspenders made easy work of the obstacles providing a magic carpet ride over bumps that previously had me wincing as I braced for impact. As our time with the bike went on, we continued to praise the front end. Aside from one instance, which was likely rider error, I never felt the front end push or waver, which inspired confidence as the days went on.

For the little bit of pavement we sampled, the suspension also seemed to hold up well without as much fork dive as one might expect from a bike with nearly 10 inches of travel. Desmo services are every 18,000 miles with 9,000 recommended between oil changes.

While it was almost all good, the inherent damping design of the closed-cartridge fork did deliver some harshness to the hands when hitting hard edges at highway speed, given how well the system worked off-road, it’s a non-issue in my eyes. Buyers should be realistic with themselves when considering the Rally. If long-haul touring on pavement is the goal, the standard DesertX may be the better choice.


Then there’s the maintenance. As you should expect, high quality race-derived equipment needs more frequent maintenance. In the case of the fork, we’re talking every 9,320 miles (15,000 km). For reference, the standard DesertX’s fork maintenance intervals are 27,962 miles (45,000 km). When asked about the shock, the Italians responded with allóra, and then went on a break.

Rally mode giving full power with the Dynamic throttle map, TC set on 1, ABS set to Off-road (on the front only), Wheelie control off, and engine braking set on 2 was the preferred mode setup for most of our trip.

Further bolstering its off-road chops are the tube-type 21 x 2.15-inch front and 18 x 4-inch rear Takasago Excel wheels with carbon steel spokes and lighter billet aluminum hubs. While the front is the same size as the standard X, the rear is 0.5 inches more narrow. Ducati says the Rally’s wheelset is 1.1 pounds lighter than the cross-spoked tubeless set up (they can be swapped either way, too). From the factory, these hoops come shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs, however they’ve also been homologated with the Rally (what was on our test bikes) and Trail II tires from Pirelli.


A combination of excellent suspension and good rubber does wonders for your confidence. Even with the knobblier tires, the bike stayed planted firmly on the little tarmac we strafed. There was no squirming sensation from the tires while cornering or straight up and down. Off-road, the easily modulated power kept traction precisely where I wanted it, and if I got lazy, traction control handled the rest.

The Öhlins steering damper offers 18 clicks of adjustment.

Being a bit ham-fisted with the throttle on some of the photo passes over sandy roads with embedded rock gave a little bit of head shake at one point. Thanks to the 18-level adjustable Öhlins steering damper, dialing in a few more clicks remedied the issue. Its billet aluminum bracket looks trick, but takes up most of the room on the handlebar for mounting things, perhaps because of this, Ducati fitted a “utility bar” above the display to mount any accessories you may need. The one bike that ended up a bit worse for wear (not in our group) had the entire display and windshield sheared off. While I can’t say for sure, someone noted that the tall utility bar mounted to the display/dash may have caught first, ensuring the entire thing was ripped from its place.

A tall front fender comes standard. So do separated brake lines, though the lower fender of the DesertX can be fitted as well. If you’re sensing a theme, all of the parts are interchangeable between the two.

Now we get to the point that no one in our group crashed, despite the changing terrain. There really wasn’t anything terribly technical, but you just never know when riding off-road. The fact that we all managed to keep it on two wheels while pushing the bike at different levels is a testament to the chassis and engine performance of the DesertX Rally. In my previous experience with the Ducati DesertX I felt the same; the Rally is just on an entirely different level, mostly thanks to the suspension, but the other components further its intentions and make a solid case for the $5k tacked on to the MSRP.


In the bivouac, as I lay in my tent at the end of day one of our ride, I couldn’t help but be excited to get back on the bike the following day. The DesertX Rally is an absolute blast to ride. All of the components come together to bring a perfect fit and experience to riding an adventure motorcycle and a premium one at that. I did come to the realization however, that I enjoy riding the DesertX like an adventure bike. Sounds silly, right? Let me explain. While I enjoy picking through tight technical sections in addition to wide open desert blasting on bikes like the KTM 890 Adventure R or Yamaha Ténéré or Aprilia Tuareg, I enjoy the DesertX most outside of anything too technical.


After completing the LA-Barstow To Vegas ride back in November of 2022, I know the bike can handle boulder hopping, but it’s so much more fun to just wring the motor out through wide sections of deep gravel and sand. You can feel every bit of its 510 (ish) lbs (weighed on the MO scales) when you’re navigating big obstacles. There’s nothing quite like two-wheel drifting the DesertX across the open desert of northern Africa for miles on end with a group of friends. Having a motorcycle that’s capable of transporting you from the souks of Marrakech, to lunch under a 300 year-old pistachio tree just off the shores of Takerkoust lake with views of the snow dusted Atlas mountains – that’s something special, indeed.



Ducati has taken an excellent adventure bike – don’t forget its first ground-up modern-era adventure bike – and made it just that much better. If the price tag doesn’t put you off and you’re looking for off-road performance, it’s an excellent value compared to the base model. I wish this job paid more. For now, I’ll have to settle for the experiences.



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Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at Motorcycle.com. An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.

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