Ducati Set a New Standard with the Scrambler Desert Sled

A few bikes now carry the Scrambler badge, but Ducati’s Desert Sled is the only one that deserves it.

Thanks to some heavy rainfall in the Tabernas desert a few weeks back, the original trails planned for our off-road route were washed out completely. That left us with only one real trail out of Fort Bravo to see what Ducati’s latest Scrambler, the Desert Sled, could do in the dirt. Barely a mile from the Fort’s gates, we rounded a corner and all of the bikes all came to a stop. The storm had turned this route into a sand pit too, full of soft dirt just waiting to swallow our bikes hole. Hyped as the only Scrambler with legitimate off-road credentials, the Desert Sled was already on the brink of proving its mettle, or failing miserably, just minutes into a launch.

Purists will scoff at the generous dishing out of the name “Scrambler” to just about any bike that’s marketed towards a dirty road. None so far have any of the true dirt chops that the original Scramblers of the ‘60s championed and rely solely on “retro styling” as an excuse. Which is why I was excited to see Ducati’s Scrambler team putting together a build with some serious backcountry bonafides.

The Desert Sled is an all new bike, from the ground up. From the jointly developed Pirelli rubber it rides on to the supple and slimmed seat, everything has been engineered to excel off-road. The signature trellis frame has been strengthened to handle added abuse and the swingarm has been lengthened to stretch its footprint by three inches for added stability. It has a wide set of bars, complete with an MX-inspired cross brace to keep them from turning into spaghetti should you decide to air things out. The fully adjustable KYB suspension setup boasts almost eight inches in travel for soft landings and the bottom of the bike hovers at 9.4 inches, which is just shy of the venerable Africa Twin. Clearly the Desert Sled wouldn’t balk at a trip through the sandbox.

At 456 pounds, though, it should. It should turn tail and cry for fire roads and broken asphalt. But it doesn’t. Heading into the sand pit, I shifted my weight rearwards, steadied the throttle and pick a line. The three-inch wide front wheel found float and skimmed the surface, the rest started to flutter; but the Desmodromic L-Twin torqued its way through. A generous twist of the throttle made things even easier. Don’t get me wrong; the Desert Sled is no dirt bike. Not by a long shot. I definitely would have sweated a lot less if it were something nimbler and half the weight, but I wouldn’t be nearly as impressed.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled

Engine: 803cc Desmodromic L-Twin
Horsepower: 75
Torque: 50 lb-ft
Weight: 456 lbs
Price: $11,395 (base)

We ditched the dirt to see if the Sled’s off-road competencies had come at the cost of fun in the twisties. Again, I was impressed. It took a few corners to get used to knobby tires on asphalt, but as my confidence climbed, so did my speed.

Cutting the curliest line from Turrillas up the mountain to Níjar, the big Duc felt firm and planted. The suspension worked wonders to soak up broken road without any off-setting dive. The single-disc, Brembo brake setup up front was communicative and easy enough to modulate with just a finger or two. The rear felt just as compliant, even through thick and rigid off-road boots. ABS is a standard feature, but I never bothered to turn it on at any point along the way.

With the Desert Sled, Ducati’s Scrambler team have created a bike that carves out its own niche. With the combined road-going performance of Icon and the go-anywhere attitude of a legitimate Scrambler, the Desert Sled will take you many places. It’s set a new bar for Scramblers everywhere — and buried it deep in the backcountry, where other “Scramblers” can’t get to it.

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