Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The Street Scrambler is the latest in an illustrious line of off-road oriented Triumph twins. The TR6 on which Steve McQueen famously jumped the fence in The Great Escape is a star of the new Visitor Experience at Triumph’s Hinckley factory. In the Sixties, some of the marque’s most popular bikes on America’s West Coast were “desert sleds” – hotted-up, stripped-down 650cc twins that were among the quickest and coolest ways of blasting across the Mojave wilderness.
When Triumph attempted to recapture some of that off-road magic in 2006, with the Bonneville-based Scrambler, the response to the softly-tuned 865cc twin was lukewarm. But the Scrambler gradually gained traction and became a long-running success, helped by association with celebs including David Beckham, roles in several movies plus Doctor Who, and the aircooled twin’s suitability as a base for shed-built specials.
The Street Scrambler’s similar look disguises the fact that it’s all new; based on the Street Twin that is the entry-level roadster of Triumph’s liquid-cooled Bonneville family. This country cousin is cleverly designed, combining its lean lines and high-level exhaust system with plenty of rugged charm, and neat details including aluminium headlamp brackets, rubber knee-pads and serrated footrests.
The 900cc, eight-valve parallel twin engine is shared with the Street Twin. That new exhaust doesn’t affect the sohc motor’s power output, so the maximum remains a modest 54bhp. The Street Scrambler also borrows its tubular steel frame from the Street Twin, but gains some off-road ability thanks to longer forks and rear shocks, plus a wire-spoked (instead of cast) front wheel that is 19 instead of 18 inches in diameter.
As a streetbike the softly-tuned Street Scrambler is rider-friendly and refined. It pulls crisply if not dramatically from low revs, changes sweetly through its five-speed gearbox, cruises smoothly at 70mph plus, and just about reaches the ton mark before running out of breath. Handling is good, the fairly short-travel suspension helping ensure that the Triumph feels more like a typical roadster than an adventure bike. Braking performance from the single front and rear discs is adequate, helped by the bike’s fairly light weight.
The tough-looking Trumpet can even provide some gentle fun off-road, provided its road-biased Metzeler Tourance tyres can find sufficient grip. Its traction control and ABS are relatively simple road-based systems. But with those disabled, the Street Scrambler is happy to tackle dirt tracks at a decent pace, albeit with an occasional clonk as its short-travel suspension allows the plastic bash-plate under the engine to take a knock.
The Street Scrambler’s look captures the rugged style of Triumph’s Sixties desert sleds perfectly, and there’s plenty to enjoy about the way it works, provided you’re not looking for speed or genuine off-road ability. The engine’s 270-degree crankshaft generates an off-beat exhaust note that enhances the twin’s character. Generous steering lock and a fairly low seat aid manoeuvrability and help make the bike at home in the urban jungle.
Practical touches include the way the seat’s pillion pad unclips to be replaced by a luggage rack that is included in the price. Accessories range from heated grips and centre-stand to the fashionable bench seat beloved of customisers. The Street Scrambler might be more at home on Shoreditch High Street than the Baja peninsular, but it hits a sweet spot between style, performance and versatility – just as its desert-racing ancestors did half a century ago.
Price tag of our bike: £9,300 (in red/silver; £9,125 in matt green; £9,000 in black).