Test Drive: Ducati Scrambler Desert SLED - One for the off-road

Sep 17, 2017, 20:36 IST | Sarmad Kadiri

Under the retro skin is a true-bred Ducati Scrambler Desert SLED, one that can quench your thirst for off-road adventure

The retro-styled model is a big deal for Ducati, as every second bike they sell globally is a Scrambler. When launched in 2014, the bike was offered in six variants. They all looked like old-school on- off-road bikes, but weren't really prepped to scramble over dirt, muck or sand. To keep the wheel of fortune spinning, the Bologna firm unveiled two new versions last year in Milan: the Café Racer and the Desert Sled. The latter is the most capable off-roader in the entire Scrambler line-up.

The bikes look beefed-up, stronger and quite attractive. With an enduro-like saddle height of 860 mm, the bike is taller than its siblings. The long seat narrows down towards the fuel tank so that shorter riders can also get their feet on the ground. However, a lower 840-mm seat is also available internationally.

Engine remains the same across the Scrambler range and is Euro 4 compliant
Engine remains the same across the Scrambler range and is Euro 4 compliant

Its taller stance can be ascribed to its new suspension setup. It also gets a new motocross-style handlebar and there's an aluminium belly-pan to protect the engine and frame. You can't miss the new front and rear mudguards, which are higher. While it still comes with the distinctly round headlight, there's a new metal grille to protect it.

Like the other Scrambler models, this one comes with an 803-cc L-twin engine, which continues to produce 75 PS at 8,250 rpm and 68 Nm of torque at 5,750 rpm. To ensure serious off-road ability, Ducati had to make some big changes on the chassis.

New handlebar is a stand-out element on the Desert Sled. Pics/ Ducati
New handlebar is a stand-out element on the Desert Sled. Pics/ Ducati

There's extra strengthening around the swingarm pivot point to counter the additional stress, while the swingarm itself has been stretched and is more rigid compared to other Scramblers.

The usual 41-mm forks have been replaced by beefy 46-mm Kayaba upside-down forks. These are adjustable for preload, rebound and compression. Radially mounted on them is a Brembo calliper with a 330-mm single disc. And, how can we not mention those golden rims on spokes? This Scrambler version is clearly our favourite.

We cranked the bike up and headed out on to the road. Unlike any desert we've seen, Sierra Nevada was drenched and piercingly cold. We could not have asked for better conditions to test the Desert Sled's dual nature. The experience was surreal.

The bike felt very different from any of the other Scramblers we've ridden before. The riding position felt more enduro like -- higher and with the arms wide apart. It's easier to stand on the foot-pegs and ride the bike. Even the power delivery is a lot linear at low speeds. It's quick to climb the revs and the burst of power from the L-twin catapults the 191-kg Ducati towards the horizon. The dual-purpose Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres offered decent grip even on loose gravel. However, a muddy and washed-out off-road section was a bit too much for it to handle.

Round headlight gets a protective metal grille
Round headlight gets a protective metal grille 

The suspension is firm and soaks up the undulations far better than the other Scrambler models. Obviously, it's not as light or nimble as a full-fledged enduro. While manoeuvring it over sand the extra weight can be felt, which it has gained due to the off-road kit. On a series of hairpin bends, the Scrambler takes the turns confidently. The brakes do a good job.

It was overwhelming to experience the complete transformation of the dual-purpose machine. This is truly a scrambler. The Desert Sled is coming to India soon, but will be priced over the current range of Scramblers, which cost between Rs 7-8 lakh (ex-showroom). It sure can do some serious off-roading, but the question remains if a premium bike owner would be willing to go that extra mile.

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