Beads of sweat formed under my helmet and trickled down the side of my face as the sweltering heat of the June afternoon rained down like the breath of hell. My shirt was clinging to me under my riding jacket and the heat radiating from the engine was taking its toll on my legs. Blinding clouds of dust constantly swept over me. On any other day this would have put me in a foul mood, but this day was special. This was the day we put the Ducati Scrambler 800 Desert Sled through its paces, and nothing could ruin my mood.

We here at AutoLife fell head over heels for the Ducati Scrambler Icon. A very different breed from what the Italian manufacturers usually produced, the Scrambler thrived on its heritage of scramble races that took place in England circa 1920s. The riders raced from one point to the other favoring speed over rules. It was pretty simple: get from start to finish in the quickest way possible over whatever terrain that lay before you. Thus, these Scramblers were built to run over excuses; which the Scrambler Icon proved it could do. The Desert Sled takes this notion and ups the ante as the most versatile of the Scramblers.

The Southwestern California deserts of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s saw several steel-framed machines charging through unforgiving terrain. These road-going, large-displacement, purpose-driven machines that were capable enough (with the addition of off-road tires and a protective skid plate) to thrash their way through the sand and the mud came to be known as “desert sleds”.

Here, we welcome the Desert Sled to the land of mountains.


The retro styling of the Scramblers have been loved by many. While the Scrambler Icon looked off road ready to some extent, the Desert Sled leaves no room for doubt in its capabilities.The air-cooled, 803cc V-twin engine has been carried over unchanged and it is confined by a beefed-up version of the original steel-tube trellis frame. The steel teardrop tank retains its style.

It is clearly taller, beefed-up than the other Scramblers thanks to a dedicated seat with an 860mm seat height. The handlebars are higher and wider for a more aggressive and agile riding experience. A front mudguard sits higher and linger and the rear mudguard has a higher number plate bracket. Familiar ring headlights can be seen on the Desert Sled but the homologated metal cage guard gives it new attitude.

Now, the Desert Sled is meant to take more punishment. Thus, to strengthen the chassis around the swingarm pivot point area where the extra stress of off-road riding is focused through the chassis, it carries two forged pieces on the frame and the swingarm too is stronger and longer than the other Scramblers.

To go with the stronger frame the Desert Sled gets 46mm Kayaba front forks with a radially mounted Brembo caliper and a single 330mm disc. The forks are adjustable for preload, rebound and compression. The rear Kayaba shock is also new and gets an aluminum spring and new damping rates, plus an extra 50mm of travel (200mm in total). Adding more style elements are gold rims on spokes, 19” front and 17” rear. These are fitted with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires that truly look the part.

A classic, single, round, fully digital gauge displays speed on top and rpm on the bottom. Other displays include two trip odometers, standard odometer, trip fuel indicator, ambient temperature, maintenance reminders, time, and warning lights for fuel reserve and ABS. Other lights are for oil pressure, high beam, neutral, blinkers, and warnings for redline.

Scroll down for full exterior highlights


 Straddle the Desert Sled and you will immediately notice that you’re perched up a lot higher. Average riders will definitely have trouble and might have to be on their tip toes most of the time.

Once you do get the hang of it you’re set for a ride that just won’t quit. Inevitably, we started off on the tarmac and as expected it was a splendid ride. Point it to the horizon and you can watch the kilometers roll without having to skimp on the comfort of the ride. Its 803cc V-twin which churns out 75bhp @ 8250rpm is buttery smooth. Push the revs and the engine comes to life to prove its competence.

On highway straights the Scrambler picks up pace fast with a crisp throttle that is manageable. It doesn’t belt like a mean loud monster but it is quick to reassure its position as a serious contender by planting itself on the ground and bolting for the horizon. Shove your shoulder into corners and the Pirelli tires allow you to kiss the apex and follow through without much worry.

Where things really come to life is when you flog it through the dirt. Whether it’s flying over ruts, spitting gravel or clambering through slush the Desert Sled exhibits its readiness to tackle off road terrain. More importantly, this is where it feels most at home. This one’s not just designed to look like an off-roader, like its predecessor, but built specifically to go off-road.

The increased suspension travel and braced frame made sure that the Desert Sled was up to the task. Also, the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires do a great job of providing good traction on everything from the tarmac to the sand. Wherever you take the Scrambler Desert Sled you’re guaranteed to leave with a massive smile plastered on your face.


 The Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled has been one of the most exciting and fun to ride offerings from the Italian manufacturers. It is the perfect amalgamation of retro classic designs and an attitude that just won’t quit. It is capable of handling the everyday commute, long haul rides and almost all terrains that nature has to offer. Thanks to its new throttle the Desert Sled takes out the snatchiness of the older Scrambler, which means it’s really well managed off-road.

This is a machine can do it all, and in doing so provides a riding experience that few others can match. It might not be the fastest, or the most powerful Ducati, it can do it all.

For specifications and pricing, click here



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