Ducati on debut in motocross

With the Desmo 450 the Queen of Superbike and MotoGP enters into the world of off-road racing

Home Road Motorcycles Ducati on debut in motocross

Ducati is fine-tuning its competition motocross bike. The first goal is to create a winning bike as soon as possible, and then offer it for sale in various versions. Ducati and motocross, big news. But is it really? We can say yes.

If we think of the Ducati and off-road combination, the first bike that comes to mind is the 1969 Scrambler 450: at the time it set the trend and was a great success, but it was certainly not a specific off-road bike. To find traces of 'real' off-road bikes, we have to retrace the history of Borgo Panigale's off-roaders, but we anticipate the fact that these are little-known bikes, as they were meteors.

First steps in the off-road

The first Ducati cross bike worth mentioning, particularly for its beautiful classic lines, was the 450 RT of 1970, the result, however, not of an extreme project but of a transformation of the aforementioned Scrambler. Before this there was the 175 cross of 1958, also a simple re-edition of the production road bike of the time, created in the wake of the legendary round-the-world race by Monetti and Tartarini in 1957-58, a feat that had a large following.

In 1976, there was a return to motocross with a more important objective: the 125 Regularity and the Six Days arrived. They represented a real turning point for Ducati, developed with the contribution of the then official rider, Italian motocross champion, Italo Forni. But even this experiment was not followed up: the engine was a two-stroke, Ducati's experience in this field was very limited and what's more, rivals were hard to beat, the sector was dominated by big brands specialising in the category of small off-road two-strokes.

The Ducati 125 thus ended its run. Also because, in return, another one began, that of the twin-cylinder racing bikes that would create the Ducati legend, thanks to the trail of successes achieved on the track. Of all of them, let us mention two that belong to the great history of motorcycling: the victory of the Imola 200 Miles in 1972 with Paul Smart, and the Tourist Trophy in 1978 with Mike Hailwood.

And this is how the fledgling line of small-displacement Ducati crosses came to an end: since then, there has been no more talk of dowels in Borgo Panigale. The last approach is in 2015, with the new Scrambler, a twin-cylinder that, however, re-proposes in a modern key the historic single of '69: an on-off with a decidedly street attitude.

Back on the 'real' dirt track

We can therefore say that the Desmo 450 MX really does represent a new and important step for Ducati. It's true that the beginnings with treaded tyres were not encouraging, but many years have passed since then, and this time there is a big difference: the engine is a 4-stroke "desmo", and the development can count on the excellent experience of Ducati Corse as well as that of the 9-time motocross world champion Tony Cairoli, who over time has shown that he can combine excellent skills as a tester with those, unquestionable, of a rider.
The Ducati Desmo 450 MX project began in 2021, and the Italian Motocross Championship 2024 was chosen as the test bed. This working methodology, which aims to validate the technical choices in races, is typical of Ducati in the development of the sportiest models, and is shared by Cairoli: only in races, says the champion, is it possible to reach a level of tension such that the performance of the new bikes is put to the test.

This strategy has proved the team right, the first results speak for themselves: the Desmo 450 has proved to be a winner right from the first race. It is also in very good hands: the official rider, as well as test rider, is Alessandro Lupino, eight-time Italian champion and winner of the Motocross of Nations 2021, and he is managed by Maddii Racing, one of the most experienced teams in motocross.

Experimental stage

Making a winning motocross bike from scratch is certainly not an easy thing to do, and despite the excellent field test the Desmo 450 is still in the experimental phase. For this reason, a number of solutions are being tried out on the various units in the field, on a starting base that is certainly not lacking in the "mischievousness" that Ducati never lacks in its projects, both on the aesthetic and technical side.

The lines, although typical of motocross, are decidedly sleek: pointed from the front mudguard to the tail, they form a track that opens onto the radiator air ducts. The double-cradle aluminium perimeter frame highlights the very strong headstock area, incorporated in the upper beams. These descend to the fulcrum of the swingarm, have a reinforced honeycomb structure and on the sides show plates to protect the area prone to scratches with boots.

Everything is designed to capture lightness, pushed to the extreme, and the set-up is completed with top components signed by the classic brands of the sector. Obviously the Pirelli SCORPION from the MX series dedicated to competition cannot be missing.
The engine is the result of a design that aims to combine performance with a very wide delivery curve, for maximum riding efficiency, and that is why the desmodromic distribution system has been retained. There are further details that can be extrapolated by looking at the bike, but it would be misleading to list them at the moment as the project is evolving.

The future of the Desmo 450

The Desmo 450 project is not exclusively dedicated to motocross competition, but will have a multi-year duration that includes the creation of a complete range of off-road engines and motorbikes. The first step is scheduled for 2025: once the fine-tuning phase with the Italian Motocross Championship is over, the Desmo 450 will go on sale to the public, which is a prerequisite for participation in the American Supercross Championship. Later, enduro and supermoto versions are planned, and a 250 cc engine will also arrive.