Yamaha dropped jaws at EICMA 2016 when it unveiled the T7 Concept. By plopping its widely revered CP2 parallel-twin engine into a rally-inspired chassis, Team Blue practically rewrote the middleweight ADV playbook. The prototype’s familiar yet refreshing neo-retro Dakar styling only accelerated the paradigm shift. Even if Iwata dragged its feet with the production model—finally releasing the Ténéré 700 in 2019—the T7’s impact still ripples through today’s middleweight adventure class.
In the wake of the T7’s popularity, Husqvarna showcased its Noden 901 concept at EICMA 2019. Ducati followed suit the very next year with the then Scrambler-based Desert X prototype. By the 2022 model year, both newcomers joined the growing neo-retro ADV contingent.
Leaning into rally roots may appeal to consumers, but Husqvarna and Ducati had to back up that lineage with genuine off-road performance. Neither the Norden nor the DesertX takes that assignment lightly. With the two middleweights vying for the same plot of the adventure bike landscape, it’s only fitting that the contenders face off in our latest Spec Showdown.
|2023 Husqvarna Norden 901||2023 Ducati DesertX|
|Engine:||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 889cc Parallel Twin||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 937cc L-Twin|
|Bore and Stroke:||90.7mm x 68.8mm||94mm x 67.5mm|
|103 hp / 74 lb-ft||110 hp / 68 lb-ft|
|Weight:||450 pounds (dry)||445 pounds (dry)|
(Slightly) Different Paths
Both the Husqvarna and Ducati turn to proven powerplants to anchor their bikes. The former defaults to KTM’s versatile 889cc LC8c parallel twin while the boys from Bologna leverage the 937cc Testastretta L-twin yet again. In the Norden, the LC8c prizes balance with 103 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque. Though Ducati’s Testastretta primarily powers road-going models, the L-twin holds its own on the trail with torque peaking at 68 lb-ft and output climbing to 110 horsepower.
Engine architecture also informs on those power figures. While the stroke numbers are nearly equal, the DesertX enjoys a 4-millimeter bore advantage. That over-square configuration not only benefits the Testastretta with extra displacement but also yields additional ponies. However, the Norden counterpunches with torque, leveling the playing field yet again. With both middleweights landing blows, the first round ends in a draw.
Of course, both the LC8c and Testastretta nestle into adventure-ready frames. Husky clings to its Chromoly steel construction and Ducati employs a tubular steel trellis unit. While those two skeletal structures share many qualities, different suspensions set the two models apart. The 901 dons a 43mm WP APEX fork and an APEX rear shock. The setup offers 8.5 inches of wheel travel at the fore and 8.7 inches aft; laudable measurements by most ADV metrics.
Ducati ups the ante with a 46mm KYB front end and a fully adjustable KYB monoshock. Those preparations lift the DesertX to 9.1 inches of front wheel travel and 8.7 inches of travel out back. On the other hand, those long legs also boost the seat height up to 34.4 inches while the Norden’s perch rests at 33.6 inches.
Still, the two neo-retro adventurers may have more in common than not. Both opt for a 21-inch front and an 18-inch rear wheel wrapped in Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires. The same goes for the braking systems, with twin four-piston calipers clamping down on dual 320mm discs at the front. The DesertX boasts a slightly larger 265mm rear rotor (compared to the Norden 901’s 260mm unit), but the two rivals each spring for a two-pot caliper.
With so much common ground shared between the Husky and Duc, the bout remains neck-and-neck. Although, given the DesertX’s narrow victory in the suspension department, we must award one point to Ducati.
The X Factor
Delivering on Husqvarna’s futuristic styling, the Norden’s electronic suite features three standard ride modes (Street, Rain, and Offroad), but customers can unlock nine levels of rear wheel slippage with the optional Explorer mode. All the while, lean-sensitive traction control preserves safety on the pavement, and switchable cornering ABS with Offroad mode makes off-road transitions seamless.
Ducati answers the call with multi-level cornering ABS, traction control, anti-wheelie, engine braking control, and a bi-directional quickshifter. Ride modes include Sport, Touring, Urban, Wet, Enduro, and Rally, while four standard power modes (Full, High, Medium, Low) further tailor the experience. Again, the contest remains a dead heat, but Ducati ekes out a point by the skin of its teeth.
We know that the DesertX caters to long-haul travelers with a 63.3-inch wheelbase and 27.6-degree rake while the 901’s 59.5-inch wheelbase and 25.8-degree rake prioritize nimble maneuverability. As you guessed, another moot point. However, extra mileage goes a long way when exploring off the beaten path. To that end, the DesertX’s 5.5-gallon gas tank already eclipses the Norden’s five-gallon unit, but Ducati allows owners to expand the fuel capacity to 7.6 gallons. With that narrow win, the DesertX escapes this round with yet another point.
Ducati and Husqvarna entered the neo-retro ADV category with immediate contenders. Proven performance, off-road pedigree, and trendy aesthetics position the Norden 901 and DesertX at the forefront of the growing class. Only one can prevail, though, and Ducati escapes this knock-down, drag-out brawl with a well-earned victory.
Still, we can’t forget to take each model’s price tag into consideration. With the Norden 901 starting at $14,499, consumers save $2,596 on the $17,095 Ducati DesertX. The Duc may have emerged triumphant in our Spec Showdown, but customers will need to determine whether the DesertX’s advantages warrant that price gap.
Sources: Husqvarna, Ducati, Cycle World