MCN Fleet: Ducati DesertX goes back home for some diagnostic investigations

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You may recall that the Ducati DesertX long-term test bike has been suffering with a sporadic electronics issue, resulting in a loss of ABS and Traction Control, and a few other dash functions – the most recent being the odometer completely wiping itself before simply representing all data as a row of dashes. So, unsurprisingly, Ducati were rather keen to get their hands on it to find out what was going on.

So, the stealthy black ‘RR22’ DesX vanished, to be replaced by a startling Star White Silk version. The difference is, erm, night and day. And, crucially, the white one knows how far it’s been, and gets places without throwing impromptu warning light discos, too.

A couple of other quick observations also surfaced, too. Firstly, I’ve realised that I really do like the white version more. It looks better in the garage; better in shop windows as you rumble through town; better at the beach after a quick cross-country blast; and better anywhere else you park it, too.

Ducati DesertX on the road

Clearly, such preferences are almost entirely subjective, and I thought I liked the RR22 – but it always looked a tad shabby even when it was clean, receded into the shadows, and never made me smile when I opened the garage door – while the SWS always does. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia for the Cagiva Elefant Lucky Explorer.

The other, less subjective, observation between black and white was how much more taut and playful it felt for having no luggage fitted (the RR22 had full 3-piece aluminium luggage, and I always had either top box or panniers fitted to avoid using a rucksack). The rear shock, which always felt a little overwhelmed, was much happier without all that extra mass hanging out over the axle. It looks better without boxes, too. Everything else, perhaps predictably, was entirely the same. Including the wind noise.

Despite how much I like the DesX – and I really do like it a lot – I found the turbulence was getting more and more intrusive as my tolerance for it waned. In the right conditions you’d barely notice it, but when the prevailing wind, or other conditions, conspired against you, it felt oppressive – especially on long rides, when it can become wearing.

Ducati DesertX windscreen

Interestingly, I tried a very different shaped (much bigger) screen for 200 miles to see if it cured it, and much to my surprise, it didn’t. If the majority of your miles are local, or you rarely ride above 60mph, it’ll never bother your earholes, but if you knock out big miles at motorway speeds and want a Ducati adventure bike, pick the Multistrada V4.

Fixing whatever made the RR22 electronically sick has become Ducati’s concern now, as – entirely to the original timing plan – I’ll never see the bike again as it was due to be swapped for a Multistrada V4 Rally for the second half of the year, which has now happened. But I’ll keep chasing the cause of the problem.

Ducati are certain that it’s an error with the dash itself, saying: “We have found several CAN errors related to a communication issue between the dashboard, BBS and engine ECU. The CAN line permits to these ECUs to talk each other and if there is a problem this would impact both odometer as well as ABS/TC strategies (the CAN line manage speed, odometer, gears, etc).

Ducati DesertX odometer failure

“We are quite sure that the issue’s root cause is related to the dashboard, and we will further investigate the problem during the next weeks. We have never seen this issue on the market therefore we need to analyse in DMH [Ducati Motor Holdings – ie at the factory] the dashboard and after that we can provide you professional feedback.

“Related to the disk topic, we are facing few cases in the field, and we are analysing them with Brembo. We are working together to solve this issue as quick as possible to always ensure the best riding experience possible for our customers.”

As soon as I have any more details, I will pass them on.

Update three: As the mileage accumulates, so do a few irksome little grumbles

Published 01.07.23

Ducati DesertX tested by Richard Newland

After four months of pretending the Ducati is my own pride and joy, and having racked up just over 4500 miles of smiles, it’s also fair to say that there have now also been a few frowns, too. Don’t get me wrong, I still smile every time I open the garage door and see it’s cheeky little face looking expectantly back at me with the anticipation of adventures ahead – but we’ve had a few frustrating glitches and failures begin to emerge. So, in the name of fairness, here’s the three ‘misses’, and three ‘hits’ that mean I haven’t felt motivated to desert it in a ditch as penance.

Electronics meltdown – MISS

Bad things only ever happen when you’re in a rush, don’t they? And as I was scything across Northamptonshire and the Cotswolds to Henry Cole’s mancave for an MCN Premium live broadcast, the DesX’s dashboard started an impromptu disco. The cause? Yet to be determined. The result? No ABS, no Traction Control, no speedo, no revs, no fuel gauge, no gear indicator and an engine management light. Brilliant. After refuelling and three off/on reboots, the errors cleared. Then it did it again on the way back a few hours later. And hasn’t done it again since.

Ducati DesertX dash problems

Braking bad – MISS

The DesX has pleasingly decent braking capability – excellent, in fact. Feel, power, poise and performance are all excellent. Or at least they were until the front discs warped, leaving me with an aggravating pulse through the lever. At speed it makes little odds, but approaching junctions, or trickling though slow traffic results in a kangaroo-like seesawing as you try to modulate the lever. Slow speed? Back brake only… Pretty poor for 4500 miles.

Catch my drift – MISS

While tanking though the Peak District the other day I happened to randomly look down just in time to see the bar-end weight bolt making a bid for freedom stage-left. I managed to get my hand over the bolt moments before it would have shaken free, and hold the whole arrangement in place until I could pull kerbside.

Once there it took a bit of jiggling to get the inner brass slides out, then feel the relief of the DesX’s sparse ‘tool kit’ having the right Allen Key. Five minutes later, we were back on the road. Threadlock, anyone?

Ducati DesertX

Cheeky chappy – HIT

Somewhere on the coast road from Blakeney to Wells-next-the-Sea the other night I realised that there’s an optimum level of aggression for making progress on Desmond – and it’s more spirited than you might expect. Ride it with a relaxed insouciance, and it comfortable, plush, relaxing… but dial up the chilli sauce and Des really comes alive. Rather than going past its sweet spot, it finds it. Every ride since has been like a Supermoto qualifying session.

Get connected – HIT

I touched on the performance of the Ducati Connect app in a previous report, and I’m pleased to say that all initial observations (effective but basic) still hold true. To add to that, it’s worth noting that the app often freezes on start-up or while tabbing between functions, but has never yet failed to work at second stab. Route planning isn’t as nice as you’d hope, but it works. 7/10 for effectiveness. The other benefit worth noting is the USB power socked on the side of the dash. Very useful and well-placed.

Coming clean – HIT

This might sound daft, but if you have to clean your bike as often as I do, you know how frustrating it can be when the design, fit and finish of the bike is working against you. Anyone who has ever tried to clean a filthy BMW R1250GS knows this pain. But the DesX is a peach. There are very few inaccessible areas that require a fetish-level brush collection, and the finishes on all surfaces seem to repel dirt rather well, meaning that a decent soak, suds, agitate and rinse returns it back to looking new from fairly minging after just an hour’s effort.

Update two: The DesX gets fully prepped as a pack horse for munching miles in comfort

Published 01.06.23

Ducati DesertX loaded with luggage

I used to wear a rucksack on almost every journey, and have an inconveniently large collection of various luggage solutions for when more carry capacity is needed. But after years of discomfort and back-ache, these days I’ll go to almost any lengths to put the weight on the bike, not my back. The Ducati DesX can offer a dramatic amount of assistance here, too.

Providing you have the funds, Ducati offer a frankly superb series of accessory options, and I’ve ticked all the boxes for their traditional aluminium 3-piece luggage. Get ready to hide your credit card.

The side cases (76 litres of volume) tip the scales at £1144.80, while the top box (41 litres) adds another £686.88. And if you want to be able to attach them to the bike – as opposed to holding them by their lovely rubberised textile handles and trying to ride at the same time – you’ll also need the pannier and top box fitting kits (£801.36 and £331.99 respectively). Total outlay? An agonising £2965.03. Ouch. £3k for luggage on top of a £15k bike is a pretty hefty premium.

Ducati DesertX luggage

The luggage is utterly superb, though. The quality of construction is spot-on, the design features all well thought out, and the attention to detail is superb. They feel like they’ve actually been designed by someone who rides bikes and uses luggage. The niggles? You can’t leave a box unlocked, which is a bit frustrating, and there’s no meaningful covers over the keyholes, meaning grit and gunk will eventually get into the key-matched locks. But that’s it.

The mounting system is lovely to use, simple and effective, and the racks don’t look like ugly abandoned scaffolding when you haven’t got the boxes fitted. The handles are very, er, handy, ergonomically pleasing and beautifully functional – and there are tie-down points on all the cases for extra loads (like tents, sleeping bags, roll mates, or further bags), too.

They’re also beautifully lined with fitted branded neoprene-type mats to protect the boxes from your stuff, and your stuff from the boxes. Inner pannier bags are also available (£192.95) if you feel the need. Salty as the price tag is – it’s premium kit.

Ducati DesertX hard pannier internal

Ducati also do tankbags for the DesX, but I’ve opted to a firm favourite instead, with a new kit from SW Motech EVO tank ring (£51.84) and Micro tank bag (£112.96). The set-up includes a tough mounting bracket kit to provide a home for the magnetic ring-lock that would normally mount to the tank ring – which isn’t possible here.

The bracket looks full-factory, fits perfectly, and comes with all the fittings needed – and it’s spaced over the tank, so there’s no risk of scrapes and scratches, while the lowest part features two rubber dampers for support on the tank. The bag of your choice then magnetically locates on the ring. You can even position the bag so that it can stay fitted while allowing you full access to the fuel filler.

It’s close to faultless – and only a waterproof tankbag (ie without having to use the 100% waterproof separate cover, supplied) could offer improvement. With it fitted, I now have a perfect home for phone and other gubbins, all in reach of the dash-mounted USB charge point. Just need to load up and bugger off over the horizon for a trip now.

Update one: Is Ducati’s DesertX a case of style over substance?

Published 01.05.23

Ducati DesertX

Say hello to my new partner in crime for 2023 – well, the next few months, at least, as I embark on a two-bike voyage of discovery. I’ll spend the next couple of months on the DesertX, then the plan is to swap it for Ducati’s new Multistrada V4 Rally to see just how much extra globe-trotting mumbo your additional £10-ish-grand really gets you.

But for now I’m basking in the glorious joy of the DesertX, resplendent in its new-for-2023 battleship camouflage redolent R22 ‘Audi RS Q’ Dakar paintjob. So, what are the standout observations from our first two weeks together as the odometer nudges close to 2000 miles?

The power to move you – HIT

The 937cc L-twin Testastretta is not a new lump – having been passed down and shared around the Ducati family for years, but it feels superbly at home in the DesertX. And part of that sense of it being alive and fresh is actually down tot he more aggressive gearing.

The downside is that motorway miles are a bit revvy (but smooth), with 83mph on the dash arriving at 6000rpm – but the positive of that is instant punchy performance even at cruising speed as peak torque arrives at just 6500rpm. And everywhere else in the revs/gear range, it spins fast and feels fun and fruity – like an oversized enduro.

It’s perfect on the road in Sport mode, while it would be a bit lively in the dirt, but as it boasts riding modes to suit all occasions, you have all the control you could hope for. The engine sound a little rough at low speed/idle – but once you’re really rolling, it’s a peach.

The only negative so far is that it’s reluctant to start on very cold mornings – something the manual (yes, I read it) suggests overcoming by warming the battery by leaving the ignition on with the lights blaring for a few minutes to warm the lightweight lithium battery before asking it to crank to motor. I’d rather the bike weighed a kilo more and had a battery that cranked hard in all conditions.

Stop! Carry on… – HIT

Rocking a set of fat Brembo M50 4-pot calipers on 320mm discs up front, you’d expect the anchors to be more than capable of hauling the 223kg (plus extras, plus chunky rider) down to a halt with aplomb. But I actually think they’re better than that.

Their performance is also testament to the 46mm KYB fork’s impressive composure, but he Brembos bite hard without feeling sharply aggressive, and while I use a bit of rear brake to hold the back down and balance the bike, the power and performance from the front is progressive and powerful, with oodles of feel, too. One or two fingers is all you ever need on the lever.

Taking it turn-by-turn – HIT

This is the first time I’ve used Ducati’s App-controlled turn-by-turn nav system – and I like it. I’ve made a few wrong turns by misinterpreting the instructions, but it was me that made the wrong turn, not the nav, and now I’m attuned to the instructions, it’s proved effortlessly simple to use. The App isn’t amazing, especially if you want to plot a complex route, but for reaching a single destination with one or two via points, it’s great – and the way the dash reformats to present the info is clear and concise.

Ducati DesertX

Making me screen – MISS

The curse of many an adventure bike, the standard screen looks great, but is a turbulence-inducing disappointment for my 5ft11in frame. However I position myself on the bike, there’s always strong wind noise, which can turn into drumming turbulence in the wrong weather conditions. I’ll be trying to cure the issue with different screens, or different seats, to quieten the ride. It’s not ride-ruiningly intrusive, but it’s not good.

Highly illuminating – HIT

Whenever I see heavily stylised headlamps, I can’t help thinking they’re going to be as much use as a candle in a storm, but the DesX’s peaky blinders are just that – blindingly good. I love the DRL ‘eyes’ that really define the look of the bike, and both dipped and main beam are superb, and while there’s no corning function, you don’t miss it. I love riding at night, so I really appreciate effective illumination. Top marks.

Getting a grip – HIT

The DesX comes on Pirelli Rally STR dual-purpose tyres as standard, and they suit it really well. I’ve used STRs on a multitude of bikes, and they don’t suit all models or rim sizes (most notably the Honda Africa Twin AS didn’t like them, but the R1250GS loved them).

Ducati DesertX cornering

The DesX wears 150/70 R18 rear and 110/90 R21 front iterations, and they’ve delivered great confidence and composure on everything from frosty mornings to tanking though the Dales with big lean and aggressive throttle use.

Despite their chunky all-action looks, wet grip on tarmac is great, feel is consistent and positive, and block movement almost imperceptible thanks to said chunkiness. They’re great off road when the going is dry or rocky – but they’re not great in muddy or grassy environments, when you’d want something more dedicated. As an 80:20 road:off-road option, they look and perform well.

As an ardent fan of the old Cagiva Elefant, the Ducati DesertX had me hooked from first glance. And now those looks are underpinned by a great motor and clever electronics, I can’t wait to get stuck in with tours, light off-road and daily soul food.