2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled - FIRST RIDE REVIEW

The more dirt-oriented Scrambler is here

2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled off-road action
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen

From the January/February 2017 issue of Cycle World magazine:

“When you say this is the only bike you have, does that mean the only bike you have here or the only bike you have…period?” I ask.

"The only bike, as in it's the only one like it that exists in the world right now, and it's got to be in one piece for all the marketing assets we need to shoot," confirms Ducati North America Public Relations Manager Nathon Verdugo.

My question is perhaps rhetorical; I can already see the sweat pooling up in his palms. But I ask anyway because Ducati's video team is proposing that its video model, Drake McElroy, jump the bike off of a berm, toward a down slope 5-plus feet away, and straight into a rather menacing sand wash. As far as I'm concerned, that's not something you do with a bike that needs to stay in one piece. And up until now, it's definitely not something you do with a bike wearing Scrambler badges on its tank.

…We have a bigger fork. We changed the swingarm. The spring. And it’s good for real off-road.”

Either I was about to watch grown men break out in tears or see the evolution of the Scrambler unfold in front of my very own eyes. Three, two… Wait, first a closer look at Ducati’s all-new Scrambler Desert Sled.

“We like to call this kind of bike the second new Scrambler,” Ducati Scrambler Brand Director Claudio de Angeli says as we stand on the barren El Mirage lake bed for a private shoot of the Desert Sled, two months ahead of its official unveil. “It’s the second new bike because this kind of bike has almost nothing to do with the other one. We have a bigger fork. We changed the swingarm. The spring. And it’s good for real off-road.”

2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled fuel tank
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen

I try to not come off as a fanboy but admit that, for me, he’s saying all the right things. For years, I’ve dreamed of a scrambler that was an honest-to-god homage to the bikes that ruled the Southern California desert in the ’60s and ’70s. It didn’t have to be capable of winning Hare & Hound races, but it needed at least to be willing to dip its toes in the dirt on something other than graded fire roads, and do so without rattling itself (or my insides) to pieces. Most of the Scrambler line and its competition are not really meant for this, and Ducati has known it.

“Even when we were in Palm Springs for the launch of the original Scrambler in 2014, we had a few meters in off road, and we immediately understood that we had to improve the bike for this,” de Angeli admits. “So the Desert Sled was clear in our mind since then.”

2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled static side view
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen

In the interim, many a Scrambler have been beaten, battered, and bruised by riders asking them to be something they’re not. Like, say, dirt bikes. Problem there was that the Scrambler’s swingarm and frame weren't designed for the abuse, and plunging back to terra firma generally led to cracks in places where, well, you don’t want cracks. On the Desert Sled, a pair of plates hug the engine and support the swingarm—which itself is reinforced and longer—so jumps won’t lead it to the same fate. The frame is reinforced, the spoked front wheel is now 19 inches, and the footpegs are bigger, too, for fancier footwork as you work your way down a trail.

The 803cc engine goes untouched, but the fully adjustable 46mm Kayaba fork (versus 41mm) and longer shock add much-needed travel—a total of 7.9 inches at each end. A motocross-style handlebar feels more tailored to standing up in the dirt, and a small skid plate offers up at least a little protection.

2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled catching air
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen

I had a chance to throw a leg over the bike before its fateful jump and can say these changes do push the bike further toward something I’d willingly tear through the desert on. Power from that air-cooled mill still feels relatively soft, but the user-friendly delivery means you can break the rear loose with better control and confidence. The bike doesn’t clatter, clank, or bottom out over washouts and feels more than willing to tear down moder­ately technical single-track.

You’ll have to be careful you don’t confuse it for a full-on dirt bike, as the weight (456 pounds) and wide front tire still catch you out in tricky, loose sections. It doesn’t feel like you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be though. And that’s the point.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled static view
Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen

I hint that this is an interesting evolution, but de Angeli says, “I think if you look back at the first desert bikes, it’s the same.” They got better in the dirt because riders demanded more, he hints, and this is how those bikes migrated away from a real “street” pretense.

I don’t know how far riders will be willing to push the Desert Sled. But as I stand back and watch McElroy launch off this berm-turned-impromptu-jump and square into a sand wash, then circle back for “one more shot,” I realize that they’ll have a lot more fun finding these new limits. The Scrambler has evolved, and I can’t wait to get my hands on one.

2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled wheelie
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled off-road action
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled burn-out
Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled wheelie
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert SledJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler Café Racer static side view
Ducati Scrambler Café RacerJeff Allen

Ducati Scrambler Café Racer

Five minutes spent perusing the web or motorcycle-related social media pages will tell you where consumer interest lies: café racers. Ducati has watched the trend grow and, with a platform built on the concept of factory customization, has decided to jump in with an example of its own. Enter the 2017 Scrambler Café Racer.

Opposite the Scrambler it’s based off of (it’s only strange if you think about it), the Café features a 17-inch front wheel with sport rubber, clip-ons with bar-end mirrors, and stylish new seat that’s a tad bit taller. There’s a seat cowl and small fly screen up front as well, plus number plate.

As a result of the changes, rake, trail, and wheelbase all shrink, meaning the Café should be a little more sporty handling too.

Small differences? Maybe. A good indication of how versatile the base Scrambler platform is? Absolutely.

Claudio de Angeli headshot
Ducati Scrambler Brand Director Claudio de AngeliJeff Allen

On The Record: Ducati Scrambler Brand Director Claudio de Angeli

“We don’t like to treat the Scrambler as only a bike. It’s a huge world completed by gear, acces­sories, helmets, and social communication. We want to stay focused now on developing this entire world. This is the most important.

“To make a Scrambler as a Ducati brand, it’s very strange because Ducati is racing—it’s MotoGP, it’s performance, and so on. Ducati, for me, is the best performance brand in the world, and the mission of the Scrambler is not the highest performance. It’s style and the lifestyle. So we establish a brand first of all.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled side by side
Ducati Scrambler Desert SledsCourtesy of Ducati

“The Scrambler in 1962 has been built under request from our importer in America, for having a bike that can ride into the desert, so let me say that Desert Sled is something in the DNA of Scrambler brand.

“I am a proud owner of the Scrambler Flat Track Pro because Troy Bayliss was my hero and is my hero. Immediately when we saw the first race and when we knew that Troy Bayliss was engaged by the Lloyd Brothers team last year suddenly we had in our mind that we have to do something in the Scrambler as well.

“About future Scrambler models: You have only to wait!”