First ride: 2019 Ducati Scrambler Icon

Photos: Ducati

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?

If you’re going to ride a Ducati Scrambler, what better place than the scenic roads of Tuscany?
The Ride

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.

No major changes to the motor this year; output is still the same. But, that’s a new exhaust.

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.

The orange version will set you back an extra hundred bucks in Canada for 2019.

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.

Although it would work well in an urban environment, the Scrambler Icon’s laid-back character is best-suited for adventures in the countryside.
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.

The cafe racer-influenced LED headlight is an interesting touch.

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.

Conclusion

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.


GALLERY

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7 thoughts on “First ride: 2019 Ducati Scrambler Icon”

  1. Excellent review Zac, as always. I bought a Yellow Scrambler last year. My girlfriend and I love it. On the upside it is an amazing street bike, with a bit of work it will become a very good sport touring bike. It attracts people, esp kids, who just love the bike in yellow. I did also take it extensively on gravel roads, if the gravel is smooth it is amazing, if the gravel is rough or washboard it is not (I am 70 kg). This is a street bike, a really fun and cool street bike. I discovered I loved exploring so I bought a 2018 Kawi KLX 250. Not a great street bike but a total blast on the gravel, regardless of condition. It will become my new adventure bike. Claude if you are ever thinking of exploring gravel roads, buy the Suzuki. Trust me, your wrists and ankles will thank you. If you really want a Duc then perhaps the desert sled, but it costs a lot more. Cam

    1. Yep, that probably sums it up.

      The whole time I rode the bike I was thinking, it would be perfect for PEI, where I grew up. All the unpaved roads there are super smooth (at least, maybe ruts but no rocks). And they all lead to a beach. Joyvolution, indeed ….

    2. Thanks Cameron! Yes, I already own the DL650xt, (which I absolutely love!) I’m just all of a sudden contemplating a second bike, which I said I would never do… LOL!

  2. As a new “older” rider (bought my first bike last year at 48), I swore the DL650xt would be my first and only bike… Then I saw this… Crap…

    1. They are very different machines, but excel at the same roles. But if I recall correctly from my last time aboard a DL, the suspension on the Suzook is far superior.

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