RE: Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled: PH2

RE: Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled: PH2

Saturday 23rd September 2017

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled: PH2

An off-road bike first and a fashion statement second, the Desert Sled it somewhat of a pioneer in the Scrambler class



Hipsters. You know the type. Skinny-jean-wearing, craft-beer-sipping, beard-growing millennials. For many, they are the bane of the motorcycling scene, more likely to be found drinking a flat white at The Bike Shed than actually out on the open road. And yet it's these 21st century yuppies that are responsible for the resurgence of one of the greatest sub-genres in biking - the scrambler.

The sector has gone from strength to strength ever since the clever PR boffins at Triumph revived the scrambler name back in 2006 with an off-road orientated version of the Bonneville. Almost every mainstream manufacturer now has a bike that can fulfil your wildest Steve McQueen fantasies: BMW with its R nineT Scrambler, Triumph with the Street Scrambler, and Yamaha with its rather odd looking SCR950.


However, all of these machines share the same problem: they are, first and foremost, styling exercises - not off-road machines.

Even the world's most popular modern day Scrambler - Ducati's Scrambler Icon - would fall to pieces on a rough green lane, the worst us Brits realistically have to contend with. Now, you might argue that most owners wouldn't even risk taking their bikes down a garden path, so who cares if the bikes lack proper off-roading hardware. But like owning a pen that can write in space, or wearing a watch that can function at 4,000m under the sea, it's nice to know that, in theory, your bike has the capability to live up to its go-anywhere image.

Thankfully, Ducati is a company that understands that function should match form, and has decided to add some much needed credibility to the Scrambler range. Forget the Italian company's wholesome 'land of joy' concept - the new Desert Sled is a bike not to be messed with.

A Scrambler, but not as you know it
So, what exactly is a Desert Sled? Well, the most commonly accepted definition describes a heavyweight road going motorcycle of 500cc and up, modified for desert racing - a rather apt description of how Ducati created its new off-roader.


Starting with a standard Scrambler, the Bologna based engineering team set about creating a bike that could comfortably take on the worst the desert could throw at it. Higher and wider motocross style handlebars help to give the rider more leverage, a fully adjustable 46mm Kayaba fork and rebound/preload-adjustable Kayaba damper provide 200mm of suspension travel (instead of 150mm) and stunning gold spoked wheels (19-inch front/17-inch rear) are wrapped in specially designed Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres.

In the metal the changes are even more obvious. The swing-arm is longer and beefier than the unit on base-model Scramblers, there's a new bash plate to protect the engine, while up top, heavy-duty triple clamps reaffirm Ducati's claim that the Desert Sled can really take a pounding. The frame has also been reinforced around the engine/swing-arm mounts to take some of the engine's load off the frame. These are not small changes.

The downside to all these modifications is, unsurprisingly, more weight - an extra 20kg to be precise, bringing the total up to 191kg dry. And rather disappointingly, Ducati has failed to tease any more power from the 75hp 803cc L-twin engine, although it is now Euro-4 compliant.

Polish an Icon
For those who are a bit vertically challenged, the Ducati's 860mm seat can look rather daunting. However, once you've thrown your leg over the surprisingly narrow seat, the bike hunkers down on its rear spring, allowing you to get both feet flat on the floor; only those seriously lacking in the leg department would require the lower 840mm seat.


Turn the key and 803cc L-twin engine lopes into life in a rather subdued manner (an aftermarket Termignoni would be a must-have option). It's a rather disappointing start for the 'hardcore' desert racer, but that's where the let downs begin and end. Once out on the open road it becomes immediately apparent that this is best sorted Scrambler yet.

With a newly shaped cam, the throttle is far less snatchy than the standard bike, with roll on performance vastly improved. On corner exit, the motor pulls strongly from 2,000rpm, comes alive around 6,000rpm and gently dies off beyond 8,000rpm. It never quite has the grunt to lift the front wheel under power, but it feels plenty quick enough, especially when you're sat in a motocross style sit-up-and-beg riding position.

Keep the throttle pinned and the bike sits happily at 80mph, with the motor feeling distinctly under stressed. Granted, it's perhaps not as stable as the standard Icon thanks to longer travel suspension, off-road orientated tyres and wide bars, but you never feel uncomfortable. In fact, with some throw over panniers and a tank bag, the Desert Sled would make a pretty convincing touring bike - as long as you don't mind the windblast, that is.

In the corners, the Desert Sled continues to impress. With those wide bars comes improved leverage. So despite the Pirelli Scorpion tyres taking some sharpness away from the handling, the Ducati falls into corners with a supermoto-like tenacity. The long-travel suspension does indeed result in more pitch and squat than the standard bike into and out of corners, but a surprising amount of feedback through the bars allows you to push much harder than you'd first expect. It's a perfect mix of comfort and grin-inducing performance.


Trail mix
Perhaps Ducati's greatest achievement is hiding the Desert Sled's extra mass. When stood up, the wide bars are exactly where you want them, giving you impressive manoeuvrability at low speeds. This helps you to manage the Ducati's weight, and despite getting myself into some trouble on some particularly challenging trails - I repeatedly found myself heading for worrying large ruts - the bike just shrugged off everything thrown at it.

The upgraded KYB damper also has a huge impact on the Scrambler's ability to travel at speed across rough terrain. Where the standard bike would be constantly bottoming out, the Desert Sled simply soaks up ditches and potholes with the plush indifference usually reserved for the best ADVs. In fact, on one of our off-road routes (a secret green lane used by Mercedes to demonstrate the G-Class's off-roading prowess) I was convinced that the sump guard would be getting friendly with the ground after a small jump turned into quite a large one. To my surprise, there wasn't so much as a clatter, with the suspension having plenty of travel in reserve. Impressive.

Those specially designed Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres are worthy of mention, too. They manage to generate an impressive amount of traction both on and off road. Granted, the soft compound looked like it would wear quickly, but it's worth the sacrifice for improved grip. Adjustable ABS also allows for some fun low speed slides.


Brain scrambler
After a long day of riding I peeled into my local Motorrad dealer for a break and a brew. Walking around the showroom my eye was drawn to the BMW R NineT Scrambler and the new Urban GS - two bikes I have the utmost respect for. They're brilliant street bikes, look drop-dead gorgeous and are worryingly close in price to the Desert Sled.

And yet, despite hankering after an R NineT for years, both BMWs left me feeling cold. Why? Well, like finding out Bear Grylls actually stays in hotels while shooting 'Born Survivor', there's something disappointing about BMW's lack of substance.

On the other hand, the Desert Sled offers an intoxicating mix of on and off road capability. Yes, it's not a true dirt bike - hardcore off-roading would be more challenging than on, say, a Honda 450R - but it has enough ability for most of us. And let's face it, knowing that you can dive off down unexplored green lanes whenever you feel in the mood is just wonderfully cool. Ultimately, the Desert Sled is an off-road bike first, and a fashion statement second, and for that, Ducati should be congratulated.


2017 DUCATI SCRAMBLER DESERT SLED
Engine:
803cc air-cooled L-Twin, Desmodromic distribution, two valves per cylinder
Power (hp): 75@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 50@5,750rpm
Top speed: 130mph
Weight: 207kg (wet)
MPG: 52 (claimed)
Price: £9,395 (in red), £9,495 (in white)


 

 

 

Author
Discussion

Kawasicki

Original Poster:

5,088 posts

163 months

Sunday 24th September 2017
quotequote all
Great job Ducati. I'm confused how a few slight mechanical changes have added 20kg though. That's a lot of steel tubing.

bimbeano

69 posts

90 months

Sunday 24th September 2017
quotequote all
Kawasicki said:
Great job Ducati. I'm confused how a few slight mechanical changes have added 20kg though. That's a lot of steel tubing.
Front fork
Heavier tyres
Wheels !!! 19 inch at the front
Some extra tubing (visible but a lot non visible)
20 kilos is a lot but the Desert Sled feels heavier than any other Scrambler.

Krikkit

12,069 posts

109 months

Sunday 24th September 2017
quotequote all
These look great, think they do a touring pack with panniers and screen as well.

I reckon 20kg isn't too unbelievable - depends how much they've beefed up the swing arm etc I suppose, I bet that's not hard to add 5kg

RobST170

30 posts

79 months

Sunday 24th September 2017
quotequote all
This bike is still a marketing gimick, if you want a bike to go off road you can get alot more for alot less.

thetoxicnerve

19,311 posts

105 months

Sunday 24th September 2017
quotequote all
It's for hipsters isn't it?
Advertisement

Tin Hat

708 posts

137 months

Sunday 24th September 2017
quotequote all
I took one for a spin a couple of months ago.

Looked great, but It felt very slow and I can still remember all of the 190 kgs mentioned. Wide handlebars, not for me.

hman

7,213 posts

122 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
As someone with a strong interest in off-road motorcycling, my opinion of this sort of bike is that it is an abomination which serves little purpose in any environment in which it is ridden.

Its only incrementally better than a quad bike in my book.


Andy XRV

3,508 posts

108 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
thetoxicnerve said:
It's for hipsters isn't it?
yes

Hammerhead

2,244 posts

182 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
I test rode one of these alongside a 797 Monster. I bought the 797 due to better handling, brakes (way better) and that I could flat foot it. The 'Sled is a nice bike if you've got longer legs, not stumps like mine! It certainly feels softer in character & on the road compared to the Monster (same engine) but at least you can get onto the dirty stuff with the 'Sled. I liked the 'Sled overall, just not the height.


thetoxicnerve

19,311 posts

105 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
Some of these bikes are a severe case of style over substance and aimed at a market that just wants a bike that looks cool, without really being too fussed about functional aspects.

And, to be honest, that's fine...if it brings more people into biking it's a good thing. It's just a marketing niche.

Maash

19 posts

13 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
Test drove Desert Sled some time a go. I admit that my expectations were too high (KTM690R that would look good), but I was rather disappointed. Main problem was the engine. It didn't excite at all. It didn't like to rev, it sounded rather bad and there was general lack of drama.

Personally I don't understand the "scramblers are for hipsters" -crap. Bike doesn't have to look like st in order to be enjoyable. I mean look at KTM enduros from 70's. They were pretty as hell. Now they look like insectile race with plastic fetish had designed them. I respect the performance, but really hate the looks.

Just last weekend I was touring with friend (in KTM690 enduro R) in my scramblerized Thruxton. 900km and 19 hours of driving. 80% was single lane gravel and sand road with 90 degree twists and hills and some single track trails. Fantastic fun. And this is what I like. Comfortable touring with enjoyable sideways action on gravel and general fun on twisties. Basic bike with AT tyres and little protection is all that's needed. For more extreme stuff there's small enduros, that really do not like the touring aspect. And performance tyres on basic bike like Bonnie-range is pretty much waste of rubber in normal use.

MrOrange

1,408 posts

181 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
I was lent a Desert Sled when my Panigale was in for a service and was very pleasantly surprised.

It carried corner speed rather well, despite knobbly-looking tyres and high/wide riding position - lots of fun at safe/legal speeds, nice throttle control with a roll-on/roll-off riding style (slow-in and wide-open out worked well).

I only rode on tarmac, but it was happy to park-up and bounce over gravely, rutted car parks and laybys.

But ... I found the seat uncomfortable after 2 hours, and a smidgen too high (paddling the bike around tight spaces was not pleasant), and the clocks were difficult to read (sun glare off the chrome surround). I also thought it was a little pricey for what it was. But it did look cool and got lots of nice comments.

Overall very enjoyable, maybe better suited to shorter blasts on B roads.

Alex Langheck

795 posts

57 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
Forgive me, but shouldn't a 'Scrambler' type of bike be a lot lighter, and about 450-ish cc enabling reasonable off roading? Unless, it's just for Tarmac...
I've never understood the thinking of having a largish bike for off road. I'd want light and manoeuvrable.

Maash

19 posts

13 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
Alex Langheck said:
Forgive me, but shouldn't a 'Scrambler' type of bike be a lot lighter, and about 450-ish cc enabling reasonable off roading? Unless, it's just for Tarmac...
I've never understood the thinking of having a largish bike for off road. I'd want light and manoeuvrable.
Define off-the-road here. For single track enduro styde driving yes. For touring and several hours of fire road fun I would take larger bike.

But I think modern take on DRZ-400 and KLR-650 would be the perfect blend.

Offroad (featuring my future fun-on-woods Beta RR 350):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgeThw-g8Zs

Scrambler fun from Saturday. It was nice hill that we stopped to take a leak, doesn't look much in picture, after that it got nice and curvy:

BVB

480 posts

81 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all

Love it, a test ride beckons.

Biker 1

2,212 posts

47 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
I think its a pastiche wannabe.
Can you imagine owners actually taking the 'sled off-road & getting all the nice chrome work covered in muck? I saw one recently parked up at the seafront next to a coffee shop, with his & hers matching designer Davida lids locked to it, all showroom clean & shiny - I'm not a hipster fan.

Why not just buy the real thing from Husky or KTM??
http://www.dirtrider.com/2016-husqvarna-701-enduro...
http://www.dirtrider.com/2017-ktm-690-enduro-r

thetoxicnerve

19,311 posts

105 months

Monday 25th September 2017
quotequote all
Biker 1 said:
I think its a pastiche wannabe.
yes

These bikes will be most commonly seen around Soho / Shoreditch, not the Sahara.

But as I said, there's nowt wrong wi' that as long as people go into it with their eyes open about the bike.


Edited by thetoxicnerve on Tuesday 26th September 14:28

Dave The Jackal

37 posts

93 months

Tuesday 26th September 2017
quotequote all
So... a base bike modified to emulate something else cops a load of flack from people who love the single mindedness of the something else it's trying to copy and object to people trying to buy in to that something else image as we're really protective of it...

How do you feel about the Triumph range and BMW's R9T based range? Or even Yamaha's MTO7 & MTO9 based bikes? It's how manufacturers build a model range these days in order to broaden the appeal, which is actually great for consumers - existing and new riders alike.

In the case of the Ducati, it appears that it can actually turn its hand to the something else that inspired it too (check out the ride over the Pyrenees in last month's Bike magazine for proof) maybe that's why we're all so bent out of shape - those Italian purveyors of boulevard posers and top flight racers have actually managed to build a bike that does more than one thing convincingly, meaning our green lanes might be filled with the scent of beard oil and flat whites instead of two strokes and testosterone.

It's not really very different to all of those superbike/supersport riders that want to buy in to the reflected glory of race bike chic, dressed in leather and never venturing nearer the track than the occasional car park for a round of BSB.

It's easy to bemoan the hipster thing and mock this other tribes of BIKERS who just happen to like different things to us, as we revel in the self satisfaction that we're the proper bikers on real bikes designed to do one thing and one thing only, with no regard whatsoever what others might think and never daring to allow ourselves to recognise that we're all just bought into our own versions of the 'biker lifestyle'.

Best just to pigeon hole people and ridicule their choice of bike - what would they know? biggrintongue out

Harry H

1,319 posts

84 months

Tuesday 26th September 2017
quotequote all
Looks like a modern take on an XT500 to me. Still one of the coolest looking bikes of all time in my eyes.

I really like the sled but the reality for me is when would I use it.

It's not great for touring.
It's not great for a blast.
You couldn't track it.
There's better tools for commuting.
There's better cheaper tools for green laning

I'm sure it'd be wonderful for pottering around the countryside but I don't do that very often.