It's the Ducati of the desert.
Picture this: You’re alone, with a bike, in the Sahara Desert. You have appropriate gear and supplies, and are reasonably competent at off-road riding. Now, picture a Ducati 900 SuperSport standing next to you. Wrong tool for the job, right? It apparently wasn’t the wrong engine, though, because that’s the powerplant that Cagiva stuffed inside the two (!) Elefant 900 examples you’ll see in this Harry’s Garage video.
Italian motorcycle manufacturer Cagiva desperately wanted to win at Dakar. After it bought Ducati, it finally found the answer in the fuel-injected 900 i.e. L-twin. So, that’s what it stuffed inside this Elefant. At long last, the company finally won the Paris-Dakar in 1990.
The bike you’ll witness Harry Metcalfe proudly romping around with on his farm is effectively a rally homologation special, and only 1,000 were ever built. There’s a carbureted version that was sold as a production model, as well. The latter bike was never meant for rally use, but you can also see it briefly in this video.
It’s still no featherweight, but Cagiva took steps to lighten the load on the Elefant 900 i.e. Being an air-cooled unit helped, of course, The plastic fuel tank also helped lighten things up a bit. At this point, Harry told the story of taking this bike and a modern Africa Twin to ride the first stage of the Paris-Dakar in the Sahara Desert as a special trip for his 60th birthday. He and some friends all took various ADVs to have a fun time together.
Anyway, Harry had brought along his new, modern Africa Twin, but he hadn’t ridden in sand before. The 500-ish pound weight of the Africa Twin made it more intimidating to handle, and he found he wasn’t terribly comfortable on it. However, taking this 1990 Cagiva Elefant 900 i.e. out was an instant confidence boost, and a reassurance that he just needed a little time and experience to get used to the terrain. The softness of the clutch combined with the Öhlins suspension made it a dream to handle on sand.
Incidentally, that engine, Harry cautions, is probably not well-suited to beginners. It’s the punchiest, most powerful engine of his specific collection of Paris-Dakar bikes, and made around 57.5 ft-lbs of torque from the factory. Comparing it to the other Paris-Dakar bikes, he said it’s easily the quickest—and you feel it as you ride. In a way, it’s almost easier to go faster than you want to do, no matter what surface you’re riding. That’s its magic, and also why he says it’s solidly aimed more at expert riders.