At some point the motorcycle industry forgot that bikes are supposed to be fun. They don't have to be overpowered enablers of natural selection or obscenely styled, over-priced midlife crisis machines or vapidly retro fashion trinkets. They just need to be fun. And the new Ducati Scrambler is exactly that.
I rode this bike alongside Wes Siler of Indefinitely Wild and found that it's a bit of a revelation for Ducati. They've been so focused on creating highly technical, overtly serious speed machines that a simple, affordable, and – this is key – accessible bike just wasn't a priority.
The Scrambler rectifies that. And it's such a departure for Ducati that it considers the Scrambler to be a brand unto itself. That means more good stuff is on the way, along with a raft of unfortunate lifestyle frippery.
Yes, Ducati is trying way too hard to sell the #Scrambler #Lifestyle. There's branded apparel and water bottles and helmets and goggles and all sorts of other nonsense. Some of it's actually really nice. And then I think I saw a artisanal shop rag. But the marketing and branding detritus shouldn't detract from the bike. Because it's a wonderful thing.
Some motorcycles just feel right when you swing a leg over, sit down, and flick up the kickstand. The Scrambler nails it. The mildly squishy seat sits just 31 inches off the ground, so anyone with an average inseam is flat-footed when stopped. The handlebars are tall and wide, providing that upright, confident riding position that's been all but lost on most nakeds. A single, round LCD gauge is offset to the right, with all the usual info – speed, exterior temp, trips, etc. – and a rev-counter at the bottom. That's the only thing I'd change. Ducati says it's in keeping with the style of the '70s, but it's too small to see at a glance and swings clockwise – which just looks weird.
The controls, too, are simple, unobtrusive and intuitive. The left bar has the normal assortment of headlight and turn signal switches, along with a toggle to scroll through the different info displays on the gauge. The only issue is the high beam switch, which turns on by pushing down, and randomly popped up when I grabbed a handful of clutch. The starter is hidden underneath Ducati's signature "trigger catch" – push the dark red plastic cover up and thumb the button to kick then engine to life. It's all just simple, sincere, and unlike other Ducs, doesn't feel precious.
The Icon model was the only version on hand. A total of four Scramblers are coming (Icon first, starting at $8,495, followed by the others mid-year) available with different colors, fenders, seats, and handlebars. Ducati is pushing hard on customization, with everything from modular electrical connectors to swappable aluminum side panels to adorn the steel tank (yes, that's plaid in the background). But aside from the Termignoni exhaust on the Full Throttle model and spoked wheels on the Classic, they're all mechanically the same.
That starts with the engine, the tried-and-true 803cc air-cooled and fuel-injected V-twin originally fitted to the Monster 796. It's not a technical tour de force and it's not supposed to be. It's a simple twin with an 88 mm bore, a 66 mm stroke, and a single 50 mm throttle body. There's a 2-into-1 exhaust and an aluminum can, and with a few tweaks to the Desmo valve system it's putting out 75 horsepower (at 8,250 RPM) and 50 lb-ft of torque.
With a wet weight of around 400 pounds, that's enough power to get yourself into – and out of – trouble. There's ample pull in the midrange, with torque bleeding away past 6,000 revs. Yes, you can do wheelies. No, I didn't because I was on my best behavior.
The standard exhaust is surprisingly muffled, but drowns out the clatter of the twin, which sounds like a tattoo gun piped through a megaphone at lower speeds. Shifting is easy and quick, although there were a few odd drops into neutral that came out of nowhere. And the throttle is a bit snatchy, acting more like an on/off switch when dawdling around town. Some say it's part of the Scrambler's "character," I'm less convinced, and Ducati could and should be able to fix it with a few lines of code.
Of course the Scrambler shines around town. The upright seating position and wide bars make juking through traffic exceptionally easy. The same goes for the freeway, where the 56.8-inch wheelbase keeps things steady and the unfaired front end blows enough wind onto your chest to keep you upright without trying. But what about the back roads?
It's freaking perfection.
Sure, it doesn't have the grip and power and aggression of a sports bike. But it doesn't have to. The old adage of driving a slow car fast applies just as well to bikes, and while the Scrambler is far from underpowered, maintaining momentum and trusting the forgiving steering hits that all-but-forgotten sweet spot between exhilarating and cathartic.
The 41 mm upside down forks are sprung perfectly for an average rider, and combined with the adjustable mono shock for the rear provide 150 mm of travel – striking a nice balance between road-holding and pothole-pummeling. The Scrambler-spec Pirelli MT60 RS tires look like they put enduro style over substance, but with an 18-incher up front and a 17 in the rear, there's ample grip and minimal butt clenching when running through patches of sand. The single 330 mm disc up front and 4-piston Brembo caliper is perfectly matched to the chassis and weight, with no fade after some flogging and ABS as standard for a little peace of mind. I'd have no qualms about taking the Scrambler out for some light off-roading, dropping down the PSI and taking it easy on some fire trails.
And it's that kind of all-round ability and personality that makes the Scrambler so approachable. It's an honest bike, something of a rarity in this number- and fashion-obsessed slice of the universe. Some are going to think it's a beginner ride, but that's selling the Scrambler short. It's just a bike. A simple, respectable machine. It doesn't matter if you're new to two wheels, old hat, or coming back into the fold, it's just a proper motorcycle. The Scrambler is exactly the kind of bike the industry needs after so many years of cranal recitus. And it's definitely not a fashion accessory, so I'll leave the branded trucker hat at the dealer.