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Old November 23rd, 2022, 03:02 PM   #1
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[] - 2022 Ducati DesertX vs. 2022 Husqvarna Norden 901

Stylish, sophisticated, and capable, Ducati and Husqvarna’s first middleweight ADV bikes both aim for the same patch of land. Who gets there first?

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The 2022 Ducati DesertX and the 2022 Husqvarna Norden 901. (DW Burnett/)The Husqvarna Norden 901 and the Ducati DesertX are opposing sides in a game of chess. Black and white. Swedish and Italian. They move across the light and dark squares from pavement to dirt, from twisty canyon road to superhighway, from the bitter cold of the north to the searing heat of the desert. Their captivating style of play is substantiated by technical proficiency and competitive pedigree. The game is afoot.

White moves first. Opening with the Italian Game, made famous in the 17th century by Gioachino Greco, the famous Il Calabrese, the move sends a valuable bishop to attack Black squarely in its own territory. Ducati takes to the dirt, meeting the competition in its own element armed with an arsenal of Borgo Panigale’s best weapons: high-spec components, a premium feel, and the allure of its name.

Husqvarna begins with the Scandinavian Defense, the oldest recorded opening move by Black in modern chess. Husqvarna uses its pawns—a history of off-road competition, Scandinavian design, and competitive price—to prevent White from controlling the center of the board.

Ducati claims its 937cc Testastretta-powered contender produces 110 hp at 9,250 rpm and 68 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,500 rpm. Husqvarna claims the Norden 901’s 889cc LC8c parallel twin produces 105 hp at 8,000 rpm and 73 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,500 rpm. For an inconvenient apples to oranges comparison, Ducati claims the DesertX has a wet weight of 492 pounds, while Husqvarna claims the Norden has a dry weight of 449 pounds. (DW Burnett/)The DesertX ($16,975) and Norden 901 ($13,999) are natural competitors. Only 48cc, 5 hp, 5 lb.-ft. of torque, and roughly 10 pounds separate the two. Equally relevant, both bikes prioritize style by reinterpreting 1990s rally racer aesthetics to establish a modern design language that creates a lineage between today’s adventure bikes and yesterday’s built-for-competition dune pounders. The lineage may be an artifice, but manufacturers realize that making converts out of ADV apostates requires a bit of seductive imagery, ordinarily rather hard to come by in the form-follows-function adventure bike world. A good-looking motorcycle can be evangelical.

If time proves the 2020s a golden age of adventure bikes, the DesertX will likely be the face of the era. It expresses like only an Italian machine can that beauty is a virtue in itself. From the dual headlights to the ducktail rear fender, the DesertX explicitly references Edi Orioli’s 1990 Paris-Dakar-winning, Desmodue-powered Cagiva. The greatest similarity to that historic machine, however, may be its imposing stature. It’s not so much the seat height, which at 34.4 inches, isn’t unreasonable—it’s everything else. A 63.3-inch wheelbase, nearly 4 inches longer than the Norden’s, is even slightly longer than that of the Ducati Diavel power cruiser. The tall, wide handlebars and broad-shouldered fuel tank are almost literally in your face. It looks intimidatingly purposeful yet strikingly beautiful.

The DesertX test unit is equipped with crash bars ($700), hand guards ($187.20), skid plate ($500), heated grips ($388.17), radiator guard ($165), handlebar bag ($75), and Termignoni homologated silencer ($2,000). The as-tested price of the DesertX is $20,990,37. (DW Burnett/)Similarly, the Norden is an expression of its Swedish heritage—never mind its designers are French and Italian and it’s built by KTM. Scandinavian design is known for its simplicity and egalitarianism, prizing function over ornamentation. The Norden embodies the design philosophy, prioritizing functionality by rationalizing the spec sheet to satisfy both consumer desire and budget. From nicely contoured grab handles to corrosion-resistant dual-drive screws and in-mold graphics, the Norden has a toollike aesthetic merit. It’s also nearly $3,000 less than the DesertX. There’s nothing overly precious about it, which means it wears scratches and dents like badges of honor (says the author who damaged the bodywork prior to installing rugged Outback Motortek crash protection).

Our Norden test unit, generously on loan from a friend of the author’s, has Barkbuster Storm hand guards and universal mount kit ($154.85), Outback Motortek Ultimate Protection Combo (upper and lower crashbars and skid plate for $543), Garmin Z?mo XT GPS ($500), and MotoPumps Zumo XT Security Lock ($70), and MotoPumps Articulating GPS Mount ($100). The as-tested price of the Norden (including the GPS) is $15,366.85. (DW Burnett/)As pretty as both bikes are to look at, they beg to be ridden hard. Through a twisty stretch of tarmac, the DesertX exhibits Ducati’s road-going expertise. With 21/18-inch wheels and long-travel suspension (9.1 inches in front and 8.7 inches in the rear), the DesertX feels like it’s on stilts, but handles with poise and genuine sportiness. Its spacious cockpit provides ample room to move around in the seat, so hanging off in the corners in a decidedly un-ADV-ish posture quickly becomes second nature. A couple clicks of compression and rebound make the KYB suspension plenty firm for spirited street riding and gives good feedback in spite of that big, narrow front tire and a relatively raked-out front end. Sportbike-spec Brembo M50 calipers encourage one to brake with authority into corners before hitting the apex and grabbing a fistful of throttle on the way out.

In the meat of the rev range, from 6,000 rpm to its 10,000 rpm redline, the engine comes into its own and starts making the right noises. For all the music coming out of the airbox, one would believe that someone at Ducati studied the acoustics at La Scala, replicated the famous opera house in plastic, and shoved it inside a trellis frame. The velocity stacks are the orchestra pit and the rider has a front row seat.

The Ducati’s Testastretta benefits from the engine updates already applied to the Monster and Multistrada V2 but receives dedicated gearing with shorter first–fifth gears and a taller sixth gear. (DW Burnett/)Overall, the engine is surprisingly refined in the optimal zone of its rev range, with a linear powerband, perfect primary balance, and smooth throttle response. Below 3,000 rpm, however, the Testastretta isn’t so content. Single-digit speeds require slipping the clutch to prevent the engine from shuddering. Unfortunately, the hydraulic clutch has an unusually small friction zone (even for a hydraulic clutch), so precise control is paramount. While the Husky’s basic cable clutch is immediately intuitive, the Ducati’s takes some getting used to.

Ultimately, the Testastretta’s lightweight engine internals are great for building revs quickly, but that quality comes at the expense of down-low tractability. Work around the shortcoming, however, and the engine is pure class. Its sense of refinement is bolstered by a slick-working gearbox. The lever has a short throw and the quickshifter is dialed in for fast, slick gear changes, except between first and second gears where the gear ratio is so wide that it’s smoother to shift the old-fashioned way.

Visible light between the engine and frame downtube alludes to the compact nature of the LC8c engine. The “c” stands for “compact,” after all. (DW Burnett/)Jumping on the Husqvarna reveals how differently these bikes go about the same tasks. While the DesertX is drinking ristretto out of a tiny cup with its pinky in the air, the Norden downs a shot of aquavit and shakes its fist at continental fanciness. The LC8c engine is raw and a bit rowdy—but also incredibly easy to get along with. At 1,500 rpm with the clutch out and zero throttle input, the Norden tractors along happily; wind on the throttle and it pulls cleanly. It’s all about low- and midrange grunt, so the first touch of the throttle provides all the good stuff. Power wheelies are a common occurrence, as are bouts of in-helmet giggling. Above 6,000 rpm, where the DesertX hits its stride, the Norden has gotten the wild streak out of its system, and power tapers off to its 8,500 rpm redline—some 1,500 rpm lower than the Ducati’s. Grabbing another gear is as lovely an experience on the Norden as it is on the Ducati: at the lever, it’s a bit notchier but incredibly light and satisfying to use.

The LC8c engine exemplifies KTM, er, Husqvarna’s effort of rationalization. Its compact size makes it easier to package in the frame and it’s surprisingly fuel efficient. With big bottom-end grunt, it performs like a hot-rodded twin, but it never stops feeling like half a quick-revving, kinda buzzy inline-four—which of course it is. The DesertX’s Testastretta 11° is peakier and faster-revving than what’s typically associated with the classic 90-degree desmo twin but it still has the round, even power pulses and that “Ducati feel” that a 270-degree parallel twin simply can’t emulate. One can imagine the Austrians and Swedes saying, “Who cares about how an engine feels?!” while the Italians say, “Performance is nothing without feeling!”

Autumn in New York. (DW Burnett/)Back in the real world, on a twisty paved road, the Ducati walks away from the Husqvarna. (“Come ti senti?” the Italians jab). It’s not just down to the Testastretta’s sporting origins. In the chassis department, the Norden doesn’t offer the same level of front-end feedback as the DesertX, making it feel more awkward to carry the same lean angles. Attacking corners with a more point-and-shoot style becomes the natural remedy. The Husqvarna’s J.Juan braking setup is perfectly adequate, but lacks the outright power of the Brembos, while its WP Apex suspension, which is plush and comfortable for touring, doesn’t offer the same degree of feedback or braking support as the DesertX. The Norden is a perfectly enjoyable streetbike, but riders won’t delude themselves into believing they’re riding an 890 Duke.

The Norden’s more compact ergonomics puts the rider in the attack position while the DesertX’s big ’n’ tall ergos are more relaxed. (DW Burnett/)Speaking of Dukes, the Norden’s compact rider triangle is somewhere between its naked-bike cousin and the DesertX. With lower, narrower bars and slightly more tucked-in footpegs, the Norden doesn’t have the old-school ride-through-a-brick-wall posture of the DesertX. The Norden’s seat, wide at the back and narrower at the front, makes moving around on the bike easy and the way it wraps around the tank gives an easy-on-the-knees point of contact while standing off-road.

The Ducati’s 5-inch TFT display is simple to navigate. The included tripmaster is a nice nod to rally “roots,” but makes it difficult to read other useful info (like the tacho) at a glance. Fortunately, Ducati allows riders to select the standard display instead. Ducati switch gear is excellent as usual and navigating through menus is intuitive. Ducati’s UX continues to be exceptional. (DW Burnett/)The DesertX’s premium equipment extends to its electronics package. Six ride modes encompass four power settings that allow customization of power output and throttle response, three levels of ABS, eight levels of traction control (plus “off”), four levels of wheelie control (plus “off”), and three levels of engine-braking control. The Norden’s three ride modes offer far less adjustability. Throttle map and power output are tied to the ride mode and can’t be adjusted independently. ABS can be set to road or off-road; traction control can be set to either “on” or “off.” Explorer mode, available as an add-on at the dealership, offers more on-the-fly TC adjustability, but was unavailable on our testbike. See Executive Editor Dawes’ explanation of how the system works in his first ride article. There are no complaints about how well the Norden’s preset modes work, however, and some riders may appreciate having all the technology without dealing with the perceived complexity of more adjustability.

On the Norden, beguilingly, ABS mode is not tied to ride mode. Each time riders switch from “street” to “off-road” mode, for instance, “street ABS” automatically remains selected until they go into the menu to change it. For 2023, Husqvarna and KTM have remedied this. There is a handy KTM-style Quick Selector that theoretically allows riders to use the up/down arrows for preset settings (such as ABS or ride mode), but it’s not much of a shortcut in terms of number of button presses and on our test unit it, the presets were deleted at every key-off, rendering it completely useless. (DW Burnett/)From street to dirt via long stretches of tarmac, both bikes come across as fairly compromised. Short windscreens look cool, but on the highway, the wind noise can be uncomfortably loud. Out of the box, the DesertX is marginally better as a tourer with a slightly quieter screen and a smoother-performing engine at freeway speeds. At 70 mph on the Norden—4,500 rpm in top gear—the engine feels busy and a bit vibey.

Getting off the highway, the DesertX’s internal homing beacon leads one to twisty tarmac; on the Husqvarna, the rider can’t help but be drawn to dirt and gravel. Few ADV bikes fill riders with as much confidence as the Norden, spurring them to seek out terrain they’d avoid on other motorcycles. Like its KTM counterparts, the Norden’s compact parallel twin and pannier-style tank create a low center of gravity that’s a game changer. Negotiating obstacles is as easy as weighting the footpegs and looking where you want to go: the off-road equivalent of “telepathic handling.” When the rear end kicks sideways over a sharp-edged rock, the Norden gathers itself up predictably. Tractorlike torque and analog-feeling throttle response give the sense that it’s damn near impossible to stall, encouraging one to leave it in a gear too high and crawl through difficult terrain. Quite simply, the Norden’s blend of agility and stability give it a dynamic ride quality that makes it feel like a much smaller, lighter motorcycle.

Unintentional power wheelies (such as they are) are common on the Norden. The OE Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires, standard on both bikes, do a nice job of hooking up in gravel. (DW Burnett/)In terms of suspension, compression and rebound on the forks can be adjusted on the fly with convenient finger adjusters, but the lack of compression adjustability on the rear shock is an omission that should not be on any dirt-slinging motorcycle. Hitting large sharp-edged rocks at speed causes the shock to travel through its stroke too quickly. The bottoming that follows overwhelms the rebound damping, giving a pogo stick feel to the rear end on big bumps. Overall, however, spring rates are a good compromise between touring comfort and off-road performance.

Where the Husqvarna feels light, the Ducati feels unduly burdened by the force of gravity. Its Achilles’ heel is that it constantly feels physically large and top-heavy. When the motorcycle gets off balance at low speed or at a stop, its greater moment of inertia is evident. Let’s just say, it’s easy to look like an idiot if one executes a trials stop less than perfectly. In insignificant ways, like pushing it around the garage or loading it in the back of a truck, it’s merely a nuisance, but in more critical situations, like riding up rocky off-camber hills—the kind where you really don’t want to stop and try to put a foot down—it can, in the rider’s mind, make the difference between going for it or turning around. At least that’s the case for novice and intermediate riders whose relative lack of technical ability means confidence is critical to success.

Ducati provided its accessory low seat which is 10mm lower than the stock saddle. Every little bit helps, but shorter riders may wish for more. The author, with a 32-inch inseam, had no trouble with seat height, but even with the low saddle, straddled the bike on tiptoe. (DW Burnett/)Still, in terms of outright capability, the DesertX shines in the hands of those who can take advantage of its higher-spec components. The KYB suspension has greater adjustability and its performance-oriented spring rate is better at soaking up bumps and rocks that on the Norden would be jarring. One could argue that what the DesertX lacks in off-road agility, it makes up for with sure-footedness due to a longer wheelbase and more trail; what it lacks in low-speed ease of use, it makes up for with a higher performance potential in high-speed environments. There’s no doubt Ducati has made a capable off-road motorcycle. Only, riders must ask themselves if they’re capable enough to truly enjoy its strengths.

Star White Silk color scheme looks best dirty. (DW Burnett/)For many, that may be an irrelevant question. Engaging on-road performance and premium components are enough to justify the DesertX to concerned parties. Beyond that, Ducati excels at endowing its machines with an undeniable “must-have” quality. The DesertX is desirable, and as an adventure bike it’s worthy of desiring. In many ways, it’s the adventure bike Ducatisti have always wanted, and at the same time, it’s the Ducati so many adventure bike riders have always hoped for.

Black and White take turns emptying the chess board of its pieces. It becomes clear over the course of play that the Norden’s strengths are the DesertX’s weaknesses, and vice versa. They are polar opposites, yin and yang. The Norden is raw where the DesertX is refined. The DesertX is up-spec where the Norden is more basic. The Norden is approachable where the DesertX is more demanding. On and on it goes. But this is no armageddon game in which a draw is automatically ruled a victory for Black.

While both bikes share a similar position in the market, they go about their jobs in very different ways. (DW Burnett/)The Norden 901 and DesertX’s off-road capabilities will ensure they’re hits with ADV die-hards, but what distinguishes them in the middleweight category is style-forward designs that will attract riders who’d never found adventure motorcycles particularly desirable. In that regard, they’re gateway bikes. But the Norden’s ease of use off-road, its charismatic engine, and rugged utility make it a gateway in more than just a superficial way. That it executes its mission while being less well-equipped than the Ducati testifies to the breadth of its strengths and the magical way it makes the archetypal big, tall adventure bike more universally accessible. Its lower price tag is merely icing on the cake.

At the heart of it, middleweight adventure motorcycles exist to take riders to far-flung places they’d never dream of going on a lightweight dual sport and to terrain they’d never risk on a big-bore adventure-tourer. The further and faster they go, the dirtier they get, the more they’ve succeeded. In that sense, they’re all about enabling riders to find their own limits. And that’s where the Norden excels. It’s not that it’s a more capable motorcycle than the DesertX; it’s that many riders will likely feel more capable on it. At the end of the game, a rider’s confidence is King. And so it is that the final piece on the chessboard is black.

Like the KTMs on which it’s based, the Norden extends the motorcycle’s use case by filling the rider with confidence. Pierer Mobility, which owns KTM and Husqvarna, can only hope the Norden’s styling will also extend its market appeal. (DW Burnett/)
High-tech, capable, and beautiful, the Norden and DesertX go a long way in proving that we’re living in a golden age of adventure bikes. (DW Burnett/)
Laying out the red carpet for the Ducati. (DW Burnett/)
The Norden’s 5-inch TFT display is easy to use and looks great. The prewired mounting point simplifies the installation of an above-screen GPS, in this case a Garmin Z?mo XT, with a MotoPumps articulated mount designed specifically for the Norden and KTM 390/790/890. Gotta love KTM/Husqvarna for making it easy for riders to put another screen right where they want it. (DW Burnett/)
The Norden’s switch gear is typical KTM fare, so the buttons feel like Chiclets, though backlit Chiclets it must be said. In-mold graphics look more high-quality than stickers. (DW Burnett/)
CW tester Ron Lieback is still waiting to take delivery of his preordered DesertX. Lieback, who rides a KTM 1190 R off-road, loved his first taste of the Ducati. (DW Burnett/)
Our Norden test unit’s fuel cap doesn’t seal properly. Not only do gas fumes perfume the garage, but when the bike is on its side, fuel gushes out. Husqvarna says it has not received similar complaints. (DW Burnett/)Gear Bag

Husqvarna Norden 901 rider:

Helmet: Shoei VFX-EVO

Jacket: Rev’It Component H2O

Armored Jacket: Rev’It Proteus

Jersey: Rev’It Sierra

Pants: Rev’It Peninsula

Boots: Rev’It Expedition GTX

Gloves: Rev’It Caliber

Socks: Rev’It Andes

Ducati DesertX rider:

Helmet: Arai XD4

Jacket: Klim Latitude

Pants: Klim Latitude

Gloves: Klim Vanguard GTX Short

Boots: Spidi X-Trail OutDry

Underlayers: Touratech Primero Alpine and Primero Allroad

2022 Husqvarna Norden 901 Price and Specs

MSRP $13,999 ENGINE DOHC, liquid-cooled 4-stroke parallel twin; 4 valves/cyl. DISPLACEMENT 889cc BORE X STROKE 90.7 x 68.8mm COMPRESSION RATIO 13.5:1 TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 105 hp @ 8,000 rpm CLAIMED TORQUE 73 lb.-ft. @ 6,500 rpm FUEL SYSTEM EFI w/ 46mm DKK Dell’Orto throttle bodies CLUTCH Wet, multiplate PASC slipper; cable actuation ENGINE MANAGEMENT/IGNITION Bosch EMS; ride-by-wire FRAME Chromium-molybdenum steel FRONT SUSPENSION 43mm WP Apex USD fork, fully adjustable; 8.7 in. (220mm) travel REAR SUSPENSION WP Apex monoshock, rebound and preload adjustable; 8.5 in. (215mm) travel FRONT BRAKE 4-piston radially mounted caliper, dual 320mm discs w/ cornering ABS, Off-road mode disengageable REAR BRAKE 2-piston floating caliper, 260mm disc w/ cornering ABS, Offroad mode disengageable WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Tubeless aluminum spoked wheels; 21 x 2.50 in. / 18 x 4.50 in. TIRES, FRONT/REAR Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR; 90/90R-21 / 150/70R-18 RAKE/TRAIL 25.8°/4.2 in. WHEELBASE 59.6 in. GROUND CLEARANCE 9.9 in. SEAT HEIGHT 33.6 in. (adjustable to 34.4 in.) FUEL CAPACITY 5.0 gal. AVG. CONSUMPTION 49.3 mpg CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT 449 lb. CONTACT

2022 Ducati DesertX Price and Specs

MSRP $16,975 ENGINE Testastretta 11° desmodromic, liquid-cooled L-twin; 4 valves/cyl. DISPLACEMENT 937cc BORE X STROKE 94.0 x 67.5mm COMPRESSION RATIO 13.3:1 TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 110 hp @ 9,250 rpm CLAIMED TORQUE 68 lb.-ft. @ 6,500 rpm FUEL SYSTEM Bosch electronic fuel injection w/ 53mm throttle bodies; ride-by-wire CLUTCH Wet, multiplate slipper and self-servo; hydraulic actuation FRAME Tubular steel trellis FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 46mm upside-down fork, fully adjustable; 9.1 in. travel REAR SUSPENSION KYB monoshock, fully adjustable, remote preload adjustable; 8.7 in. travel FRONT BRAKE Radial-mount Brembo M50 Monoblock 4-piston caliper, dual 320mm semi-floating discs w/ Bosch Cornering ABS REAR BRAKE Brembo floating 2-piston caliper, 265mm disc w/ Bosch Cornering ABS WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Cross-spoked, tubeless; 21 x 2.15 in. / 18 x 4.5 in. TIRES, FRONT/REAR Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR; 90/90-21 / 150/70R-18 RAKE/TRAIL 27.6°/4.8 in. WHEELBASE 63.3 in. GROUND CLEARANCE N/A SEAT HEIGHT 34.4 in. FUEL CAPACITY 5.5 gal. AVG. CONSUMPTION 42.2 mpg CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT 492 lb. CONTACT
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