Testing the Ducati DesertX Rally in Morocco

Entering the Moroccan souk is a firehose to the senses, the smell of cinnamon, cumin, and harissa filling the air, and wood smoke and scooter exhaust burning the eyes. The sounds of Arabic, interrupted by banging steel and honking horns, make the entire scene a wonder. I had arrived in Marrakech early to spend time in the medina and explore the history of this famed Red City. The city is rich in antiquity and is surrounded by overlanding paradise, which made Morocco the perfect location to test the new Ducati DesertX Rally.

The DesertX was conceived as a concept bike at EICMA in 2019, receiving immediate media praise and consumer demand. In the summer of 2022, I tested the debut model and was impressed by the rideability and suitability for adventure travel. In 2024, Ducati has upped the performance standard again with the specialist Rally variant. The improvements are notable, starting with the high front fender to manage mud accumulation. This is an advantage in nearly all off-road conditions but will increase overall water and mud spray on the rider. The engineers also split the brake lines down both sides of the front forks to further limit mud collecting and provide additional protection for the lines (reduced snagging, etc.) It is still feasible to install the standard low fender.

Visually, the DesertX is identifiable from the thick vinyl livery that resists damage and is easily replaceable. I prefer this appearance visually, too, as it looks more understated and classic. The next visual cue is the carbon fiber sump guard, which helps contribute to both weight reduction and ground clearance. I was concerned about durability, but there were no bash guard failures over the days of testing. The Rally also gives itself away with the motocross seat, which is narrower and thicker than the base unit, while also being one piece. This seat design facilitates easy sliding or repositioning of the rider in technical terrain. The downside is a slightly taller seat height at 35.8 inches and a less comfortable pillion position. The final visual change is a swap to billet aluminum and articulating shifter and brake pedals, which saves .88 pounds on the model.

For the less obvious but no less critical updates, the Rally gets a change to KYB front and rear suspension, along with an increase in suspension travel to 9.8 inches in the front (250mm) and 9.4 inches in the rear (240mm). The improvement is most noticeable at higher speeds off-road and in cornering predictability. This Ducati is one of the most secure cornering adventure platforms we have tested, and the front end never washed out or became unsettled during the 240 KM+ test loop (of which 90% was off-road). Predictability and steering precision are hallmarks of good chassis and fork rigidity, which makes sense given the 48mm front and 46mm rear piston diameter. The final noteworthy upgrade is to tubed 21-inch front and 18-inch rear Takasago Excel spoked wheels with billet aluminum hubs and carbon steel spokes. For the test, they were wrapped in Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires. This change has several durability and serviceability benefits for off-road use but loses the ease of plug puncture repair and early warning of TPMS found on the standard DesertX.

When first walking up to the Ducati DesertX Rally model, it is immediately recognizable as a Ducati, both elegantly designed and authentically functional. It is handsome and proportional, particularly with the 8-liter auxiliary tank in the rear. The rear frame and seat stand out against the white tank and black fender, and it looks equally ready for rallying or traveling. Once on the saddle, I found the 35.8-inch seat height ideal for my 6’1” stature; the suspension sag only required a few turns of the KYB preload adjuster. Taking inventory of the cockpit and ergonomics, I was impressed to see an adjustable Öhlins steering damper (you can easily change the damping while riding and with gloved hands) and a utility bar above the rider display. The bar can be used for a rally computer, Garmin GPS mount, phone holder, or to secure an action camera. The windscreen is small, but I wouldn’t change it (and it would be easy to install a clamp-on foil to the top for long road transits.)

After hours on the bike, I was relieved by the comfort of the seat, minimal wind buffeting, and handlebar position. Usually, I need to rotate bars up or use bar risers for prolonged standing, but the DesertX felt nearly perfect at my height. The foot pegs have good grip once the rubber isolators are removed, both the brake and shifter pedals are adjustable, and the brake pad can be rotated a quarter turn to raise the position for the trail. Both also have hinged ends to reduce the likelihood of damage in a crash. I did note that the rubber shifter cover was not up to the task and was split and torn by the end of the ride. The rider screen has a simple layout and is easily daylight readable. The modes are all intuitive and accessible from the bar controls. Curiously, a bike at this price point does not come with standard heated grips, but it does have the button installed just to mock you on a 41-degree Atlas Mountains morning.

Our test loop started from Marrakech and meandered through city streets, roundabouts, and then to rural highways. Despite the competition configuration, I found the Rally to be as comfortable for adventure travel as the standard DesertX and on par with other performance mid-weights in the class. The cruise control works well, and the smooth 110 horsepower of the 937 cc twin makes passing effortless. This model also benefits from the 21 liter (5.5 gallon) main tank and available 8 liter (2.1 gallon) rear auxiliary tank. This will allow for a 360+ mile range with conservative speeds. I was concerned that the Rally might have been too off-road biased for long-distance travel, but it is perfect for the task, with the bonus of significant reserve capability.

With 90% of our test route on dirt, we started kicking up dust early. Given the group size, this became a lesson I learned, as I should have brought a dirt helmet with a sun visor and goggles. I took my lumps and put some space between me and the next rider, which showcased how forgiving the Rally is on significant terrain events. My eyes dust-ridden and the helmet face shield sporting a thick layer of dirt, I struggled to see every obstacle clearly. However, the Ducati didn’t seem to mind and absorbed every impact with aplomb. The KYB long-travel suspension has more reserve capability than I ever will, and I quickly settled into confidence with the (visual) obscurity. At slower speeds, the Rally remained stable and predictable, further aided by the proper tuning of the ride by wire throttle, traction control, ABS, and wet slipper clutch engagement. The 21 and 18-inch wheel combo is also easily vaulted over ledges and through piles of tire-puncturing rocks. One handling characteristic that greatly exceeded expectations was the front-end grip through various corners, including gravel on asphalt, gravel dirt, rocks, shale, and river-bottom sand. It never pushed me unexpectedly or washed out on me, which was confidence-inspiring. Most larger adventure motorcycles tend to push through corners or wash out at speed or during heavy threshold breaking due to the smaller diameter wheel (traction patch), high weight, or lack of chassis/suspension rigidity. Point the Ducati, and it turns in directly and predictably, which also makes it easy to use throttle-induced oversteer.

Within a decade, we have gone from a dearth of mid-size adventure bikes to one of the most competitive segments in motorcycling. Ducati could see this was their time to shine, releasing a stylish and capable middleweight to the ring. While I certainly enjoyed the standard DesertX, I admit to being smitten by the Ducati DesertX Rally, which despite the $5,000 upcharge, delivers on all of the promises of overland adventure.

$22,995 | ducati.com

Authentic rally capability
Around the world comfort and range (with available AUX tank)
Confidence-inspiring cornering grip and precision

Not suitable for most shorter riders
Lack of standard heated grips (given the MSRP)

Read more: Better Safe Than Sorry: Transitioning Toward Moto Rider Safety

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Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar travels include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. He lives in Prescott, Arizona IG: @scott.a.brady Twitter: @scott_brady