Coming as they do in several flavours, Ducati’s retro-styled Scrambler series of machines have been always about a lot of flash and looks, and while delivering somewhat in the performance stakes, the bar for performance is perhaps a little lower. With the current marketing trend for retro-style motorcycle showing no signs of abating, Ducati’s Scrambler Desert Sled, priced at RM64,999 (with zero-rated GST), is another pair of wheels in the mix.

The cynical might say it’s a way for the boys from Borgo Panigale to use up the production stock of the air-cooled V-twin engine moulds to satisfy the demand for “old” motorcycles. The Desert Sled, taking cues from the scramblers of the 60s and 70s, looks to be no different.

But looks can be somewhat deceiving, as anyone who’s had one too many beers in a beach bar in Patong looking at a sweet young thing in a miniskirt might attest. For the Desert Sled, some subtle frame design and a revised suspension brings forth a tall-legged, very fetching machine.

When Ducati Malaysia said, here’s the Desert Sled and go take it out for a spin, we were in two minds about this. Most readers know the author spends most of his riding time on the tarmac with the very occasional foray into the dirt.

However, the siren song of the V-twin was too hard to resist, and we did the best we can with the Desert Sled. Matteo Graziani, previous 450 cc class winner of the Paris-Dakar Rally, did have other things to say about this Scrambler, though, and proved it during the Rimba Raid enduro in Mat Daling, Pahang.

There are those who say Ducati’s Scrambler range is more of a lifestyle, thing but we can say the Desert Sled is something rather different. First off, the 803 cc air-cooled V-twin produces 75 hp and 68 Nm of torque, which is, in this particular Scrambler variation, quite entertaining.

Starting up the Desert Sled, the familiar V-twin rumble is an aural symphony, helped by the low-slung two-into-one-into-two exhaust. Swinging a leg over the 860 mm tall seat – a 840 mm tall seat is an optional accessory – the Desert Sled stands taller than its other siblings.

This means the 168 cm tall author was more or less on tippy-toes when straddling the bike. A little compensation with seating technique and we soon got used to it, but if you are a little shorter in the inseam, the low seat might be the preferred choice.

At 207 kg, the Desert Sled is hefty for a dirt-oriented machine, and it shows with the engine room building momentum through the six-speed gearbox. With a single 330 mm brake disc grabbed by a radial-mount four-piston calliper in front and 245 mm disc in the back with single-piston calliper, the rider is made very aware of the Sled’s weight when the brake lever is grabbed full-force.

That is comes with with switchable ABS is a good thing, and even better is the ability to select ABS on or off on the fly. However, for safety reasons, we suggest only doing so while the bike is stopped.

Riding the Desert Sled on tarmac, the bike acquitted itself well, despite the semi-knobby tyres for the “authentic” off-road look. Shod in Pirelli Scorpion Rally rubber, we found the Desert Sled to have more than enough grip to tear up the canyon roads and keep up with more road oriented machinery.

Taking the Desert Sled for some mild dirt riding, we were reminded that Ducati terms it a “soft off-roader.” It should be noted that the Desert Sled, stock except for Termignonis and proper knobby rubber, was good enough for second place in Rimba Raid, in the hands of Graziani.

The Sled is helped by the long travel suspension, in this case 46 mm fully-adjustable upside-down forks and Kayaba monoshock, adjustable for pre-load and rebound, with 200 mm travel front and rear. This setup is a step up from the suspension in the mainstream crop of Scramblers, and we can tell you, it works and works well.

Ground clearance is more than adequate and while it will not keep up with proper off-road weapons, it will not shame itself. Whether the rider is willing to put in the body English required to wrestle the Desert Sled’s weight around when the surface is sketchy, is another matter.

Clutch effort is light, though, and even when addressing traffic jams or navigating some rough gravel with large rocks thrown in, there was no tiring of the hand, just a two-finger effort. While riding the Desert Sled on the road was quite pleasant, some changes would have to be made for dual-purpose work.

These would include wider foot pegs for extended standing sessions and perhaps handlebar risers. As it stands, in the standard seating format, the Desert Sled is biased for road-riding while seated.

For road use though, the Desert Sled is good fun and will corner with aplomb once the suspension is dialled in for tarmac thrashing. Despite a lack of grip from the Scorpions a the extreme edge – we hesitated to take the bike that far – it would take tight twisties with no issue.

Compared to its road-biased brethren, the Desert Sled would definitely keep up and definitely go fast in the corners, especially on less than well maintained roads. That is the thing with Ducatis and why the author likes them, handling on the Bologna V-twins, once the suspension is set and proper tyres fitted, is always sublime.

In terms of styling, the Desert Sled takes the standard 13.5-litre fuel tank of the Scrambler and adds a silver panel on the white base paint with red accent, matching the gold spoked rims and making it look the part of a retro machine. Inside the cockpit, a single round LCD display is mounted asymmetrically and shows all the necessary information.

The seat on the Desert Sled is a plushly upholstered affair and relatively flat and wide, making moving around easy. Adding a full-size pillion necessitated moving a little further forward in the seat, though.

So, who needs a 2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled at RM64,999? At this price point, its main competition comes from the 900cc Triumph Street Scrambler at RM59,900 although the English bike lacks the ride height and long travel suspension of the Italian offering.

At its core, the Desert Sled is a fun bike and capable of tackling off-road conditions without beating the rider half to death. If you’re looking for a retro bike that, while not being excellent at all things, is fairly capable on most surface conditions, give the Desert Sled a close examination.