June update: CMG’s long-term BMW Scrambler

We’ve been riding the long-term-loaner BMW Scrambler for a month or so now, and it’s time for an update.

If you want to know the technical details of the bike, Costa told us all about it in our original preview. If you want to know our initial thoughts on it, have a read here. Suffice to say, it’s a 110 horsepower, 1,170 cc boxer twin that’s one of a number of versions of the retro RnineT “Heritage” design. It differs from the other RnineTs by having longer suspension, a sit-up-and-beg position, high mufflers and Scrambler styling.

And yes, people these days love that Scrambler styling. It’s very hip, with the hippest of hipster hipness, and every single person who’s commented on the bike has said it looks great. I agree: it looks great. Now let’s move on from the art gallery and actually go for a ride.

In its happy place, out in the country, with a nice smooth road and some gently twisting curves. It’s our happy place, too.
The basics

We’ve ridden the Scrambler for about 1,500 kilometres so far. That should tell you something. It’s comfortable within reason, but the seat is really flat and thin to bring down the height (and probably to look good, too). Unfortunately, the maturity and experience I’ve spent years attempting to accumulate comes at a cost, which is that you can no longer bounce dimes off my ass (loonies and toonies are welcome) – this means I have to stop every hour or so to let my cheekiness move around a little off the seat.

Warren Beatty looking super-1975 on a Triumph Tiger 100 in  Shampoo.

Most Scrambler owners won’t really care about this. The bike is an urban machine, terrific for tooling around town, 20 minutes to here, half an hour to there, and not designed or intended for distance. Riding it, I kept thinking of myself as Warren Beatty, ripping around the city on an eminently practical Triumph Tiger in Shampoo, but then I’d remember that movie is really old and it would put me in a sulk that I should even know about it. I’d console myself by thinking that at least I’m not as old as Warren Beatty, but I’m not as rich, either, and I don’t have a well-earned reputation as a Hollywood heart throb and stick man.

If Warren Beatty wanted to drag himself back onto a motorcycle these days to impress the ladies with his teasy-weasy ways, he’d probably choose a BMW Scrambler. If he did, he’d knock ’em out of the park.


That Seat

But I digress, big time. Where was I? Oh yes – the seat. It’s low and flat to keep the 820 mm height of the bike accessible to the majority of riders, but there’s also an optional seat with extra padding that raises the leg-over height by 12 mm. You can order it at the BMW dealership when you purchase the bike for no extra cost as just a replacement. I’d like to give it a try, to see if it’s more comfortable, and my 32-inch inseam could accommodate it easily. If I actually owned the bike, I’d probably like to have both seats, so I could use the lower option for looking good around town and the taller option for longer rides, when there’d be more time in the cushier saddle.

Hey – keep your eyes on the bike! But that seat does look pretty flat when you look at it from below.

The pillion seat? Couldn’t tell you. There’s not a lot of it there, and my long-suffering wife refused to give it a try, even for CMG testing purposes. I fear she’s grown used to the touring seat on my Harley.

The seating position itself is great for around town, though your legs tuck up a little higher than you might expect. This helps for clearance around corners, of course, and you can’t have everything while still keeping the saddle height reasonable. In fact, the new Scramblers are an excellent evolution for an urban motorcycle: bars high and wide for easy steering, quick handling and rider comfort at slower speeds, long suspension for potholes, and a torquey engine for lots of poke throughout the rev range. Really, dirt bikes make the best urban motorcycles if they’re fitted with street tires and not too peaky with their power, so Scramblers have taken that concept and run with it. It’s not just BMW, of course, but Ducati, Triumph, Yamaha, and Moto Guzzi, and that’s just this week. But we’ve been riding the Beemer, so that’s our focus here.

Another happy place, with light gravel and something interesting to look at – any excuse to stretch your legs, really.
That seating position

Outside of town, heading out on the highway and getting our motor running, the comfort of the upright position depends on which way the wind is blowing. Ride with a strong westerly at your back and you can go all day; brace yourself into that westerly, with trucks throwing turbulence all around, and you’ll curse that you didn’t choose the car. Pretty much any naked bike is the same though, so suck it up.

Our longest ride was a day-long outing to Bancroft from my home in Cobourg, Ontario, which included good asphalt (lovely!), poor, choppy asphalt (who cares? Still lovely!) and bumpy cottage roads (just slow down and you’ll be fine!). ABS brakes are standard on the front and although they can be switched off, we’ve not yet done so. They’re very good brakes and, finally, far smarter than any human rider. The tester has the $420-optional automatic stability control (ASC) too, so even though the weather turned wet on that ride, the slippery roads were never a concern.

A bit out of its element now. The Scrambler would be happier in sand like this with knobbie tires – duh – but it’s really too heavy to make the most of trails.

The CMG long-termer is fitted as standard with Metzeler Tourance street tires. Off-road Metzeler Karoo 3 gentle knobbies are also available as a no-cost option. We went searching out quarries and sand-pits the day after collecting the bike but it’s not much good for riding on anything worse than dirt roads with the street tires. It weighs 220 kg wet after all, and it’s too pretty to throw around like a GS. There’s loads of deep-down torque, but no grip on a loose, slippery surface. This means, don’t bother with the off-road tires. Costa didn’t like them on the road in his preview, moaning about how they would tip in around corners, and that’s where you’re going to spend all your time. If you want to go off-road, buy a lighter dirt bike.

And while we’re at it

What else? Well, our thoughts haven’t changed much from those initial impressions. A gear indicator would be nice for showing which of the six cogs you’re in, and there’s space on the speedometer for it. It’s not such a big deal on the highway, but in the city, it’s useful to know if you’re in sixth yet, without having to poke at the shift lever to find out.

We’ve kept very careful track of fuel consumption, not that we really care for a motorcycle. The Scrambler runs on costly Premium, though, when such a bike should be happy with tractor fuel.

Even better, though, would be to have a fuel gauge. There’s no way to tell the gas level without resetting the odometer with every fill-up, or peering into the tank itself to see if there’s any gas slopping around in there. When the bike is used for lots of short hops around town, it’s very easy to lose track. There’s a readout on the speedo that shows your distance travelled once the bike goes onto reserve (as there is with a number of other bikes), but I don’t want to wait that long to find out. The tank is pretty small, too: 17 litres total, with 3.5 of those litres for reserve, means you can ride anywhere from 200 km to 250 km before the warning comes on, and then there’s about 40 km left to find a gas station.

You’ve got to admit, this is all far too pretty to dump in the dirt.
The little things

So let’s take a read of the rest of the notes we’ve been keeping:

Really annoying that it will not tell me my gas level until I’m on reserve.

Yes, it is, but maybe I’m just spoiled by bikes with gauges. I remember the good old days of bikes with petcocks, and HEY! GET OFF MY LAWN!

Wish I could throw soft bags over the back. There’s NO storage!

The high pipes prevent soft bags being thrown over the seat, where they’d rest against the hot mufflers, but there’s a kit available to create a frame for panniers. It’ll look butt-ugly though, and at least there are a couple of metal loops under the seat for bungee hooks. Besides, everyone knows that any self-respecting hipster needs a $300 backpack.

Put the ground wire under once of those screws recessed into the frame? Hmmm – except the recessed mounts would break the wire’s fastener.

Not sure how to wire a simple electric vest. Under the seat are two positive battery terminals, but the ground terminal (for battery boosting) is on the cylinder head. Not sure which screws under the seat can act as a ground, if any. Why is even a simple bike complicated?

Like almost every BMW sold in Canada, the Scrambler comes standard with both heated grips and a 12V plug, for a vest or GPS or whatever. But when I tried to wire the simple black and red cables of my basic electric vest to the battery, I was stymied. The battery is buried under the back of the gas tank and its terminals are accessed with extensions under the seat. I’m sure it can be wired easily by anyone with a basic knowledge of electrics, but that’s not me.

Yuck. The Scrambler proves it’s Lord of the Flies.

Into Toronto and back – tiring on Hwy. 401. Tried putting my feet on the back pegs, but didn’t help much. This bike is a toy, but a powerful, squirty one.

And that’s the BMW Scrambler in a nutshell: a powerful, squirty toy. It’s really fun to ride, and I looked forward to slinging a leg over it and nipping around town. An hour battling trucks on the 401? Not so much, but we all know that’s not the point of it. What it’s designed to do, it does very well.

But don’t just take my word for it. We’ve got it all summer and Jeff’s riding it now. Come back in a month and find out what he thinks, or just check our Facebook page and Instagram feed for regular updates. And if you have any questions, shoot us a comment and we’ll get it answered.

Jeff, in full hipster mode here, finally gets onto the Scrambler for his chance to put it through its paces.


  1. I once used a cheap, silicone placemat (or maybe a baking sheet) as a heat shield between some soft luggage and a high pipe, worked great. Cut a couple of holes in the sheet and looped the straps through so that it hung in the right place. Looked awful, but I didn’t care.

Join the conversation!