FLORENCE, ITALY—The 2019 Ducati Scrambler Icon is a reboot, a reintroduction of the basic 803 cc Scrambler model with tweaks such as cornering ABS, a new exhaust, LED gauges, new seat and updated suspension. But reading the marketing copy, you probably wouldn’t get that as the bike’s main feature.
Skimming through the press release, and watching the premiere of the Scramblers Gamblers movie the day before riding the new machine (to be released in pieces to the public over coming months), the emphasis was on Ducati’s idea of the “Land of Joy.” Specs and mechanical details were pushed to the background; the emphasis was on fun in the sun and feeling good about life. The movie really preached this message, interspersing interviews with Ducati insiders who worked on the Scrambler with clips of super-cool hipsters riding to the beach, or cruising through the mountains, or partying with guitars and skateboards.
So, what’s the deal? The movie’s soundtrack had the Dandy Warhols telling us that “every dayyyy-ayy-aaayyy should be a holiday.” Would the bike actually deliver on that promise of hip, laid-back fun?
Manufacturers, if they’re smart, plan motorcycle launches in an area that highlights not only the bike’s capabilities, but the design philosophies behind the machine. Ducati nailed it this time by busing all the journos to a quaint country inn close to Florence, and routing us through a series of winding lanes in Tuscany. We didn’t do a single mile of superslab. It was all narrow country lanes with a mix of pavement surfaces; mostly fairly good, some bad areas, and a little bit of gravel. Just the kind of roads that a freewheeling young person would want to explore on a weekend adventure to the beach or a cabin.
If you want to do that kind of riding, you want a motorcycle that’s versatile, accessible and fun to ride. The new Scrambler Icon mostly succeeds at all three qualities, because of its blend of power, handling, and comfortable ergonomics.
The air-cooled 803 cc L-twin doesn’t gain any horsepower or torque for 2019 (73 hp and 49 lb-ft of torque, allegedly), but it doesn’t need it. That’s plenty of grunt for the twisty-turny roads we were on, and on the straights, more than enough to keep up with any speed limit in North America, with lots of jam left over for passing. The engine’s powerband is very forgiving, allowing you to corner a gear high or a gear low and still be just fine. It’s a bike anyone except for maybe the newest of noobs should be able to handle easily.
You might have to downshift to get the output you want (it’s a twin, but not a Big Twin), but the gearbox is mostly smooth. I did hit a few false neutrals between 5th and 6th. It’s also a Ducati, after all — I would have been surprised if I hadn’t hit a false neutral at least once. The clutch lever is adjustable, but I liked it just fine as delivered, and didn’t tinker with it. It’s a hydraulic clutch, with easy pull.
Overall, the engine is smooth, has sufficient power, a pleasing exhaust note (with small burps coming occasionally on downshifts), and should work for just about everyone, whether you want to flog it, or just tootle down country lanes. Some bikes are fun to ride fast and some bikes are fun to ride slow; this machine is both, and that’s a very hard balance to achieve.
Braking was drama-free; even with only a single disc brake up front (330 mm disc, 4-piston radial caliper), the bike stops just fine because it’s not a heavyweight pig (189 kg wet, with the weight fairly low and manageable). It’s reassuring to have the leaning ABS there, but thankfully, I didn’t have any emergency stops that required its usage.
The comparatively light weight makes handling easy as well, combined with the low seat height and wide handlebar. Decide where you want to go, and the Scrambler almost intuitively follows your lead. It’s a relaxed bike to ride, and it’s the sort of machine that’s approachable to both beginners and more experienced riders.
In the saddle
The Scrambler Icon is comfortable. The redesigned seat (798 mm seat height, 778 mm optional seat) wasn’t too firm or too soft and didn’t dig into my legs, the reach to the bars suited me just fine, and the rear of the tank was an ideal profile to clamp your knees in while seated. Alas, if you stand up, that low seat means you’ve got to bend your knees forward to grip the tank, if you want decent control of the bike with your lower body. Strike One against the Scrambler, but really, it isn’t that big a deal. For relaxed riding down a gravel lane, you can stay seated, or stand and deal with the awkward ergos. If you really want to shred in the dirt, go buy a real dirt bike.
Strike Two against the Scrambler Icon was a little more serious. While the suspension floats along evenly and pleasantly at lower speeds, the ride gets a little more choppy when speed picks up. I found the USD front forks were okay, but when I hit dips in the road at speed, I could feel the bike’s rear shock pogoing away underneath me. Watching the riders in front, I could see their machines were doing the same. The rear shock is only adjustable for preload; I didn’t tweak the settings on mine at all, and that might have been enough to make me a happy camper. However, it’s possible a rider intending on more aggressive usage would want to tinker with rebound and compression, and that means much more serious work, either a rebuild of the existing shock or an aftermarket unit.
Lighter riders (I weigh about 100 kg) might find this less of a problem, but even if the rider is a skinny 70 kg millennial, add in 30 kg of luggage and you’re in trouble again. Overall, it was something I think most riders could learn to deal with, but it was a bit disappointing to feel the machine wiggling up and down over bumps.
Thankfully, I didn’t find a Strike Three with the bike. I did find the turn signal switch a bit troublesome; it doubles as the odometer reset button, and often, when I wanted to cancel a signal, I’d reset the odometer. However, I suspect you’d quickly grow accustomed to this oddity on the bike if you owned it. Otherwise, the switchgear was quite compact and trouble-free, and the LCD gauge, while a bit crowded, had all the information you’d need (Trip 1 and Trip 2 odometers, fuel range, ambient temperature, tachometer, speedometer, etc.). Ducati did well to pack all that into a very retro-looking unit, and some other manufacturers could take a lesson here.
It would be easy for a cynical rider to dismiss the Scrambler Icon as a bike born in a music video, a jaded marketing exercise strictly aimed at the hipster with a credit card. But it’s more than that: the Scrambler Icon is a machine that really hits all the high points of motorcycling, without the lows. It’s cool like a cruiser, but without the weight. It handles gravel roads, like an adventure bike, but without the intimidating seat height. It’s fun on curvy roads, like a sportbike, but without the hunched-over ergonomics.
So if all the fist bumping and man buns in the marketeering turn you off, my advice is to go for a test ride before you pass final judgment. For the real-world rider, who enjoys exploring occasional unpaved side roads, who wants a bike that’s easy and comfortable to ride, with adequate power to go fast but not too much power to enjoy going slow, the Scrambler Icon could be what you’re looking for. Who knows? Go for a ride, and you might discover the Land of Joy. And if you’re already living there, then this could be just the bike for you.
For 2019, the Ducati Scrambler Icon will retail for $10,795 in Canada for the yellow paint. The Tangerine Orange version will set you back $10,895. For comparison, the BMW R nineT Scrambler is $14,250 in Canada this year, and the Triumph Street Scrambler is $12,200.
Check out all the pics that go with this story!