The adventure motorcycle segment has grown exponentially in recent times, and with good reason. After all, well-built adventure motorcycles are versatile enough to help you tackle uncharted terrain, cover never-ending highways, and even have fun in the twisties, all without breaking a sweat. Thanks to its growth, there are several ‘good’ adventure motorcycles you can consider spread from as low as the 400cc Royal Enfield Himalayan to the top-shelf 170-HP Ducati Multistrada V4 Rally. But to be the ‘best’ in the business, an ADV needs a great blend of giggle-worthy performance, top-shelf electronics, on-road and off-road capabilities and, most importantly, a not-so-bank-breaking price tag. Taking all this into account (and a lot of caffeine), we think the Ducati DesertX ticks the most boxes, which is why it’s our best adventure motorcycle of 2022. Here are some of the reasons.
The DesertX employs Ducati’s highly appreciated 937cc, L-twin motor that also does duty on the Monster, SuperSport, Panigale V2, and Multistrada V2. In this trim, it belts out 110 horsepower and 68 pound-feet (seven horsepower more than its arch-rival, the KTM 890 Adventure R), all of which reach the rear wheel via a specially tuned gearbox. The initial gears are shorter for more punch at low speeds, while the sixth gear is longer to munch highways. Meanwhile, there’s a 21-liter fuel tank, a liter more than the 890. The party trick, however, is the option to mount an auxiliary fuel tank (sold separately) outback, which takes the fuel capacity to 29 liters.
As impressive as its peak horsepower is, more isn’t always great in off-road conditions and that’s where the DesertX’s class-leading electronics come into play. Ducati has loaded its ADV with six rider modes, traction control, cornering ABS, and power modes that limit horsepower to 75 and 95 horsepower as and when required. Why is this important, you ask? Well, when tackling tight trails or enduro circuits, more horsepower is barely any use, and even the most experienced racers like Danilo Petrucci prefer mid-double digits in such cases. In fact, even race-spec Dakar motorcycles are capped at around 80-HP too.
But that’s just the beginning. Besides the aforementioned bits, the ADV also boasts four-level wheelie control, three-level engine braking control, three throttle maps, four lean-sensitive ABS settings, and a switchable bi-directional quickshifter. That’s by far the best electronic package on a middleweight ADV, which lets you have a riding experience catered just for you. And if it’s still not enough, the DesertX is ready for smartphone connectivity, heated grips, and fog lights too.
For an ADV to perform splendidly off the road, it often needs a 21-inch front wheel that helps simmer down deflections due to big obstacles. And that’s exactly what the DesertX boasts. While this isn’t exactly a game-changer (KTM 890 Adventure R also has a 21-incher), Ducati’s front spoke wheel is over 20 percent lighter than the industry average. This, in addition to light Brembo calipers, helps reduce unsprung mass, in turn ensuring swift handling both on and off road.
Concurrently, the DesertX’s off-road abilities are amplified by its extra-long 63.3-inch wheelbase, three more than the 890 Adventure R. If you know a thing or two about two-wheelers, you’d know a longer wheelbase makes steering deflections less effective and the motorcycle more stable in a straight line. So, if your front wheel deflects in low traction conditions (snow or slush), the rear wheel won’t follow suddenly, making the X more forgiving. You also have a steering damper at your mercy to further iron out deflections.
Besides this, the DesertX employs adjustable 46mm upside-down forks (230mm travel) and monoshock (220mm travel), both sourced from KYB, paired with twin 320mm front discs clamped by Brembo M50s. The long travel also allows a generous 250mm ground clearance but also bumps the seat height to a massive 875mm. While the ground clearance here is slightly lower than the KTM, the X has a 5mm lower seat height. Not a massive difference, but the latter will be better (marginally) for shorter riders.
Now, the Ducati DesertX is by no means a “perfect” adventure motorcycle. You see, the ADV segment is like an ocean, and there’s a lot of variety. If you want a sporty ADV, you can have the Multistrada V4 Pikes Peak. Whereas if you want a hardcore ADV, there’s the Aprilia Tuareg 660 or Yamaha Tenere 700. But if you want the best of everything (with the least compromise), the DesertX is the one for you. In case you’re sold on it, the DesertX will set you back by $17,095 for the Star White shade and $18,295 for the new Audi RS Q e-Tron-inspired Dakar livery.
The two motorcycles that were in close contention but missed out by a whisker were the KTM 890 Adventure R and Aprilia Tuareg 660. The KTM 890 Adventure R has no shortage of impressive aspects, and even outdoes the Ducati in some aspects (suspension, ground clearance, weight, and price). Plus, the option of a non-R 890 Adventure with slightly road-focused underpinnings further strengthens its case.
In the meantime, the Aprilia Tuareg 660 is here because of its unmatched off-road abilities, extensive rider aids (in its segment), and a strong $12,000 price tag. In many ways, it’s the perfect ADV for slightly experienced riders who want to do it all. But it lacks the high-spec components and horsepower of the Ducati. The extra ponies might not be useful in tricky terrain, but it’s always better to have more power and tone it down, in our opinion. Anyway, let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree with our best adventure motorcycle pick.