Photos by Milagro
You might recognise the Scrambler name. It’s a historical genre of motorcycle that goes way back to the early 1960s. A time, if you can imagine, before production motocrossers and enduro bikes were even conceived. A time when if you wanted to venture off road, you stripped off all the non-essentials from a street bike, slapped on a pair of knobby tires, raised the pipe and went for it.
Before long the factories got involved. Honda produced the CL-series Scramblers, Suzuki had the X6 Scrambler, even Harley had modified an XLCH Sportster with a high pipe and shorter fenders for forays into the wilderness. And yes, there was even a Ducati Scrambler, first built in 1962 and powered by a 250 cc single, eventually growing to 350, and finally to 450 cc, though there were other displacements before production ended in 1974.
The scrambler is basically the dirty cousin of the café racer, hence the scrambler’s recent popularity with the younger motorcycle buying crowd. So it’s not unexpected that Ducati decided to resurrect the Scrambler name with not one, but four new models. With the company’s sights aimed squarely at the younger hipster crowd, I entered the world of miraculously kempt beards, skinny jeans and skin ink at the bike’s world press launch in Palm Springs, California.
The Scrambler now represents the sole motorcycle in Ducati’s North American line up to use an air-cooled engine. It’s the 90-degree, two-valve V-twin that was last used in the Monster 796, but has been retuned to broaden power delivery.
The engine produces 75 horsepower and 50 lb-ft of peak torque, which is down from the 87 hp/58 lb-ft of the 796. Even though there are no ride modes or traction control, with its modest output they’re not really missed.
The steel trellis frame is all-new and has a distinctive, twin-sided banana-shaped swingarm with a single shock mounted on the left side. The fork is a 41 mm USD unit, onto which you’ll find a single, 330 mm disc front brake mated to a radial caliper – it’s essentially half of a supersport setup. Wheels sizes are 18-inch in the front and 17-inch in the rear, and come shod with Pirelli dirt-track style MT60s.
Ok, that’s the common stuff, what are the differences?
The Icon ($9,299) is the base model and comes in red or yellow with a black seat. It has a tall, wide handlebar, and shorty fenders front and rear with cast aluminum wheels.
The Full Throttle ($9,995) is black with a sculpted two-tone seat. It has a tapered, dirt-track style handlebar, no rear fender to speak of, and a shorter-than-shorty front fender that hugs the front wheel. It, too, rolls on cast wheels. Interestingly, it’s the only Scrambler that uses a Termignoni exhaust with twin outlets; all others use a single-outlet, low mounted exhaust.
The Classic ($10,995) is available in orange, and features a brown, vintage-style seat with diamond stitching, the same tall handlebar as the Icon, aluminum fenders, and spoke wheels.
And finally, the Urban Enduro ($10,995), which is green with a ribbed brown seat, and also rolls on spoke wheels. It has a motocross-style crossbar handlebar, a mini skid plate, headlight grille, high-mounted plastic front fender and shorty rear fender with swingarm-mounted mudguard, and fork protectors, all items that increase its off-road ability.
Each Scrambler comes with a 13.5-litre fuel tank, with its own distinct fuel tank emblem insert. For the custom builder types, all parts are interchangeable, and there is a selection of accessory fuel tank inserts to further personalise your Scrambler.
Maybe hardcore Ducatisti will disagree, but I think the Scrambler looks great, with a cohesive blend of modern and retro styling. From a distance the lines of the bike are reminiscent of classic scramblers of the past, but it’s upon closer inspection that you can see the modern touches.
Engine covers have a contemporary, two-tone finish with machined surfaces, and the steel fuel tank has replaceable aluminum inserts that vary in finish from model to model. There’s a full LCD display, and lifting the seat reveals a USB port to charge up your smart phone.
The riding position will alter slightly between bikes, the Icon’s high handlebar giving it a bolt-upright seating position, though I found the footpegs rather cramped for a six-footer like me. Reach to the ground is quite easy thanks to the seat narrowing at the front.
Our ride would take us in a loop west of Palm Springs for just over 200 km, along twisty mountain roads that pass through Mount San Jacinto State Park. And the Scrambler was made for twisties! Despite the engine’s relatively modest specs, it is a torquey little thing, the bike surging forward instantaneously, though a tad abruptly, with just a slight nudge at the throttle. Aficionados of speed will be disappointed however, as power flattens out quickly once the revs pick up.
The exhaust note is somewhat subdued, maybe not disappointingly so, but it is rather bland and could have added a welcome aural element to the bike. The gearbox felt a bit notchy, and I did snag a couple of false neutrals, but it should be noted that we rode bikes that began the day with less than 120 miles on the odometer, so this is something that could loosen up over the break-in period.
But this bike isn’t about speed, it’s about the riding experience, and its handling really compensates for any perceived power deficiency. The bike’s light weight (186 Kg wet) is immediately noticeable, with the bulk of the mass sitting low in the chassis. Steering is light and the Scrambler flicks through esses with supermoto-like agility – really!
Even with its tall, wide handlebar, there’s not a trace of twitchiness in its chassis. And it’s a rigid chassis at that, with none of that flexy, bendy stuff marring the ride. I must commend the folks at Ducati for getting the suspension right, too, and this despite their cost-cutting measure of providing rear preload as the only adjustment.
Some riders found the suspension firm, but at my weight (220 lb fully geared) it was just right, and even a bit on the plush side, which is ideal. It soaked up bumps without harshness, it didn’t bottom (though I didn’t jump the bike like Ducati portrays in some promo pics), and it kept the bike composed through high-ish speed sweepers. Sure, I would have liked to see some rebound adjustability at both ends, but I’d gladly live with the setup as delivered.
It even works well when you leave the pavement. There was no dirt portion in our ride, and really the Scrambler is a street bike with dirty clothing on, but I did squeeze in a tiny bit of off-roading and found the bike to be well balanced on a hard-packed surface with a loose sprinkling of sand on top. It broke the rear loose predictably and didn’t push the front through turns, though the aggressively treaded Pirellis tires probably helped on this surface.
I wouldn’t go exploring the deepest recesses of wilderness on single track or ATV trails on the Scrambler, but after my tiny taste of dirt I’d readily plan a weekend excursion along fire and easy logging roads.
If you’re one of those riders who scorn the use of a single disc front brake, get over it. The Scrambler hauls you down from speed hard with just two fingers on the lever, and lockup is easily controllable if you decide to ride with the switchable ABS off.
About the only Scrambler item I’m not too keen on is the LCD dash. The round gauge is large and is offset to the right, which I think is a nice touch, but it lacks info and is not executed to its full potential. I figure if you’re going to use a large LCD screen, use it to display a multitude of information, including gear position and fuel level, which the Scrambler does not have.
You will find speed, ambient temperature, trip meters and time, and there’s a slender, bar tachometer, but it circles the outer, lower edge of the display and runs backwards, from right to left – quite awkward. I would have much rather liked to see an analogue speedometer, but I’m old school.
The first thing you need to understand about the Scrambler is that a big part of it is about the lifestyle, the social lifestyle. Like it or not hipsterism is becoming mainstream; and although it is responsible for skinny jeans, it’s also responsible for the resurgence of the luscious café racer. The Scrambler is the dirtier version of the café racer; it’s simple, svelte, and customisable, and a perfect hipster fit.
A clear picture of Ducati’s target market could be drawn up by just looking at the media invited to this event. About half of the attendees were traditional (older?) motorcycle journos, the rest were younger, and yes, hipper riders, and very much into the social lifestyle, as hinted by the numerous sleeve tattoos, thick-rimmed glasses and well-groomed bushy beards.
Our hosts put more emphasis on the motorcycling experience than the bike itself, and when you come down to it, the social aspect is perhaps the biggest part of motorcycling – certainly bigger than with any other type of vehicular activity. Our extended outdoor lunch break was really a social gathering, where activities included archery, beanbag throwing and even a cigar maker. The evening schmoozefest included an acoustic trio, a cute DJ spinning rock classics, and a complimentary shave and a haircut.
Ducati is doing very well right now, and I think designers and employees are relaxing, kicking back, and having a good time. You could see it in the enthusiasm of everyone who came to this launch from the Bologna headquarters. The Scrambler is a product of this leisurely and entertaining approach to motorcycling.
Ducati is treating the Scrambler as an offshoot brand, introducing not one but four models, a dedicated line of apparel and accessories, and if you visit the Ducati website, you’ll find that the Scrambler models are not part of Ducati’s regular line up, but under a banner that takes you to a dedicated website.
It’s meant to be fun to look at, fun to ride, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s a very refreshing approach, and having spent a day with the Icon I think Ducati has a winner. I may not have felt the same level of lust I felt with BMW’s hipster-orientated R nineT, but the Scrambler does come in at considerably less cost, and with more styling choices. And I think this will entice many riders, hip or otherwise.
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