2011 Highland Desert X Enduro | First Ride

Desert storm

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Brandon Bones

Highland's most anticipated new model is its utterly outrageous, 950cc V-twin Desert X enduro. Company president Chase Bales reports 120 pre-orders on this bike alone. It's not an exaggeration to say there's absolutely nothing on the market that compares to this hairball machine, built to traverse wide expanses of nothing at mind-numbing speeds. The Desert X is positioned alongside BMW's HP2 and KTM's 950 Super Enduro, but with comparable power and 150 lbs. less weight, it's not even in the same moto-universe.

The Desert X uses a slightly modified version of Highland's standard off-road frame, and it's just 2 inches wider and 22 lbs. heavier than the company's 450cc single. From the tall, narrow saddle it's essentially indistinguishable from a motocrosser until you twist the throttle. Even detuned to a "manageable" 85 bhp, the Desert X makes a 500cc two-stroke seem tame, shedding tire knobs and sending its front wheel skyward in every gear. This is definitely an experts-only machine-things happen very quickly when you twist the throttle-but with high-end Marzocchi suspension the bike is surprisingly capable in technical conditions, and an absolute hoot in a grassy field or on a gravel road. The prototype we rode suffered the same abrupt fuel-injection behavior as the Viking streetfighter (this one, too, was equipped with the single throttle body), but it showed amazing potential. Truly in a class of its own.

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