JAN 05th 2015

Ducati Scrambler... a two-wheeled Fiat 500 for fashionistas?

ducati-scrambler-review

I have held a motorcycle licence for six months. My riding experience consists of a few hours on a Suzuki Gladius, 1300 miles on a Ducati Monster 1200 and 800 miles on a Honda SP1. I am the classic mid-life-crisis biker. I ride slowly, I care far more about how something looks, sounds and feels than how it might scrape itself around a bend. Because I cannot scrape around a bend on a motorcycle. If I’d written all of that down when the invite to attend the new Ducati Scrambler launch arrived, I might have been a little less perplexed at receiving such an incitation. I’m actually the perfect target customer.

ducati-scrambler-review

The Scrambler is not so much a new model line, but a sub-brand all of its own. It evokes the spirit and styling of the 1962 original and will be available in four different styles to cater for the full spectrum of retro to café-racer fetishists. Rather than list them all here, please have a look for yourself.

Equally, you can choose any tank or tail treatment you want – in that respect it’s a two-wheeled Fiat 500 and the fashionistas can agonise over their own template of cool. I have to admit most of that guff is lost one me – I liked the yellow and black one with the stumpy arse and the widest bars. The only downside to the short bottom is the need to have the swing-arm mounted number plate. I have one on my Monster and I think is spoils the rear styling. I suspect there will be an aftermarket fix soon.

“I can’t tell you what the bike’s handling is like when you really push – I did get my knee down once during the day, but sadly that was during a call of nature when I slipped due to poor footing”

The frame is all new but the motor is shared with the Monster. At least I think it was, maybe it was the old 796? I can’t really keep up with the Monster range. Cam and exhaust changes bring it down to 75hp and 50lb ft. Expect other engine choices in the future, maybe even a smaller one.

The Scrambler name is potentially a little misleading. This is a road bike with the ability to nip down a dusty track, it runs 150mm suspension travel front and rear, and the funky treaded Pirelli tyre looks like it should be able to handle some light off-road work.

ducati-scrambler-review

The clutch is cable operated and therefore not as slick as the lever on a new Monster, but it does mean that the bike will be easier to service in more remote areas. This is a genuinely global product and will be manufactured in Thailand and Brazil, as well as Italy.

Potentially of more importance is the sound and the ability to fit a Termignoni exhaust, which you can. But the test bikes were all fitted with a standard can.

Likewise, presumably to avoid a group of hipster-bearded lifestyle journos (I know, I never thought I’d be considered ‘lifestyle’) having a man-bag and muesli riot, all the bikes on the launch were Icon models in yellow with the taller handle-bars. As a Monster owner, it felt pretty familiar from the off, but having never before ridden in the US I was primarily interested in the size of the vehicles around me. An F250 truck always looks hilariously huge to a Brit from the comfort of a hire car. It looks freakin’ terrifying from the seat of a bike.

“I love the styling, the way its handling flatters my very limited skills, the accessible engine, the fact I could just about get both feet flat on the ground. And I like the simplicity: no ride-by-wire throttle, no fancy clutch, just get on and go”

Ducati says the motor has been re-tuned for softer response, but I thought it felt pretty aggressive. I managed a couple of jerky first-gear pull-aways, which left by-standers fully aware of my novice status. The gearbox is a little slicker than the Monster’s, but I still found it a bit clunky at low speed – once up and running with more positive inputs it feels great. I managed to select neutral between third and fourth a few times – always handy.

It’s a very easy bike to wobble around on at low speed and the low seating position, high bars and quite foot-forward riding position make it a natural swerver. Expect to see these things carving their way through London traffic next summer.

I am currently driving an Aston Vanquish which has a silly speedometer reading to 240mph, but the 12,000rpm rev counter on the Scrambler is nearly as pointless, given that a limiter calls time just beyond 8000rpm. But that’s about the only thing I found irritating about this bike. It’s easily fast enough for me, has loads of torque, but is worth revving above 6500rpm. It sounds great from the rider’s perspective, just enough intake snarl and lumpy V-Twin character to let you know you’re on something Italian.

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I can’t tell you what the bike’s handling is like when you really push – I did get my knee down once during the day, but sadly that was during a call of nature when I slipped due to poor footing. I thought the Scrambler felt way more chuckable than my Monster. The high bars and 186kg weight give it a real appetite to lean this way and that. The tyres look like they’re going to be the worst of both worlds, but felt plenty grippy on the canyon roads. Sadly my attempt at a gravel car-park slide nearly ended in a Chevy Suburban interface, all of my own doing. But I still don’t think this is an enduro bike.

It is very cool though. I kept asking myself if I regretted owning a Monster and would be chopping it in against a new Scrambler in the spring. In many ways this new bike suits my needs better than the big 1200 beastie. I love the styling, the way its handling flatters my very limited skills, the accessible engine, the fact I could just about get both feet flat on the ground. I also thought the brakes were superb, but then I’m at that stage where the braking performance of any modern motorcycle seems quite crazy given the limited tyre contact patch.

And I like the simplicity: no ride-by-wire throttle, no fancy clutch, just get on and go.

Some of the finish is a little suspect and, much like my Monster, my eyes kept being dragged to nasty little fixings and fastners that looked cheap. But then this is a relatively cheap bike, starting at £6996 for the Icon model tested – or should I say it’s a cheap Ducati. A Yamaha MT-07 is I’m sure a better machine, but I suspect the Scrambler has a charm it will never be able to match.

I also suspect the Scrambler will sell in large numbers – and deservedly so.

ducati-scrambler-review

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