On Trend with Tradition

Story by Costa Mouzouris// Photos by Costa Mouzouris
March 1 2015

Those sporting skinny jeans, manicured beards and tattoo sleeves are the target as Ducati sets its Scrambler sights on the hipster lifestyle

Scramblers were the predecessors of modern-day dirt bikes, first appearing around the early 1960s. They were essentially factory-modified versions of street bikes designed for better off-road capability. They were distinguishable by their higher, wider handlebars, high-mounted exhaust pipes, shortened fenders and knobbier tires. Honda produced the CL-series Scrambler throughout the 1960s; Suzuki had the X6 Scrambler in the latter part of that decade; while the first Sportster to brandish a peanut gas tank, the 1959 XLCH, was a high-performance, off-road version of the XLH, with a high pipe, short fenders and semi-knobby tires.

Motorcycles have come a long way since then, becoming more specialized and purpose built from scratch, relegating the modern scrambler to more of a retro styling exercise than an actual off-road bike. Until now, only the Triumph Scrambler maintained the essence of those original off-road bikes, at least in spirit. The latest motorcycle to sport the moniker is the 2015 Ducati Scrambler, and true to the essence of those original machines, it’s a fundamentally simple machine.

Geared to the Hipster

Ducati Scrambler gas tankLike the café racer, the scrambler has seen a resurgence of late, with renewed interest coming from a younger, hipper rider. Yes, the hipster, who’s responsible for the recent rise in stock of facial grooming products and skinny jeans, is also responsible for the new-found interest in these bygone motorcycling genres. The first thing you need to understand about the Ducati Scrambler is that a big part of it is about the lifestyle. And that would be the hipster lifestyle.

Ducati is the latest motorcycle company to capitalize on this phenomenon, resurrecting the style with the introduction of the 2015 Scrambler. The Scrambler is the dirtier version of the café racer, and it’s simple, svelte and customizable, and a perfect hipster fit. A clear picture of Ducati’s target market could be drawn up by just looking at the media invited to the bike’s press launch, which took place in Palm Springs, California. About half the attendees were traditional motorcycle journos; the rest were younger, and yes, hipper riders, and very much into the lifestyle, as hinted by the numerous sleeve tattoos, thick-rimmed glasses and thick, well-groomed beards, and skinny jeans.

The Scrambler name is not new to Ducati, the Italian company having built its first in 1962. It was powered by a 250 cc single, and it enjoyed quite a long run, growing to 350, then to 450 cc, as well as being offered in some smaller displacements before production ended in 1974.

More than a Single Model

Drive test review of the Ducati ScramblerActually, Ducati is introducing four Scrambler models, all of them sharing engines, chassis, suspension and brakes, a single offset gauge, LED taillights and 13.5-litre fuel tanks, though each model has its own, distinct fuel tank emblem and various cycle parts that alter the look. Seat height across the models is 790 mm. The headlight is a unique item that has an LED ring circling the halogen centre bulb.

The Icon ($9,299) comes in red or yellow with a black seat, and has a tall, wide handlebar, and shorty fenders front and rear; it rolls on cast-aluminum wheels. The Full Throttle ($9,995) is black with a sculpted two-tone seat and has a tapered, dirt-track-style handlebar, no rear fender to speak of, and a shorter-than-shorty front fender that hugs the front wheel. It’s also the only Scrambler model to use a Termignoni exhaust with twin outlets: all others use a single-outlet exhaust. It, too, rolls on cast wheels.

The Classic ($10,995) is available in orange, and features a brown, vintage-style seat with diamond stitching, the same tall handlebar as on the Icon, aluminum fenders and spoke wheels. The Urban Enduro ($10,995), meanwhile, is green with a ribbed brown seat and also rolls on spoke wheels. It has a motocross-style crossbar handlebar, mini-skid plate, headlight grille, high-mounted plastic front fender and shorty rear fender, and fork protectors – all items meant to increase its off-road worthiness.

Backyard bike builders will appreciate that all parts on all models are “interchangeable, and there is a selection of accessory fuel-tank inserts and other bolt-ons to further personalize the Scrambler.

True to Its History

Ducati has done a fine job with the styling and the bike looks great, with a cohesive blend of modern and retro lines. From a distance, the silhouette is reminiscent of classic scramblers of the past, but it’s upon closer inspection that you can see the modern touches. The bike uses an all-new steel trellis frame, and has a distinctive, twin-sided, banana-shaped swingarm with a single shock mounted on the left side. The fork is a 41 mm inverted unit, onto which you’ll find the first-time use of a single front radial caliper mated to a 330 mm disc – it’s essentially half of a supersport setup. The engine covers have a contemporary two-tone finish with machined surfaces, and the steel fuel tank has replaceable aluminum inserts that vary in finish from model to model. There’s a full LCD display, and lifting the seat reveals a USB port to charge up your smartphone. Wheel sizes are 18-inch front and 17-inch rear; Pirelli developed tires specifically for the Scrambler by modifying the existing MT60 model, which resembles a dirt-track tire.

The engine is the same 803 cc, 90-degree V-twin last seen in the Monster 796, and with the discontinuation of said Monster in 2015, the Scrambler becomes the only bike in Ducati’s line-up to use an air-cooled engine. It makes 75 hp and 50 ft-lb of peak torque in the Scrambler, down from the Monster’s
87 hp/58 ft-lb, though it has been retuned for a broader spread of power.

Only the Icon version was available on this test ride, but since all of Ducati’s Scramblers have identical chassis specs, I suspect handling would be quite similar between them. The riding position will alter slightly between bikes, mostly dictated by the different handlebars and maybe by the different saddles. The Icon’s high handlebar gives it a bolt-upright seating position, though the foot pegs are rather cramped for a six-footer like me. Reach to the ground is quite easy, as the seat narrows at the front.

Riding Impressions

Our ride would take us into the mountains just west of Palm Springs, in a 200 km loop along twisty mountain roads that pass through Mount San Jacinto State Park, where I discovered that the Scrambler was made for twisties.

Despite the engine’s relatively modest specs, it’s quite torquey, and the bike surges forward instantaneously with just a slight nudge at the throttle. Throttle action is slightly abrupt, however, noticeable mostly in the lower gears. Aficionados of high velocity might be disappointed, as power flattens out as the revs pick up, but output is by no means disappointing. The exhaust note is somewhat subdued, maybe not disappointingly so, but it is rather bland, and the gearbox feels a bit “notchy.” I did snag a couple of false neutrals, but it should be noted that my test bike began the day with less than 200 km on the odometer.

This bike isn’t about speed after all; it’s about the riding experience, and its nimble handling really compensates for any perceived deficiency in power.

Immediately noticeable as soon as you release the clutch is the bike’s light weight. Claimed wet weight is just186 kg, and the bulk of the mass sits low in the chassis. Steering is light and the Scrambler flicks through turning transitions with supermoto-like agility, and despite its tall, wide handlebar, there’s not a trace of twitchiness in the chassis.

I must also commend the folks at Ducati for getting the suspension right – at least for me – and this despite their cost-cutting measure of providing rear preload as the only adjustment. Some riders found the suspension firm, but at my weight (220 lb fully geared) it was just right, and even a bit on the plush side, which is ideal for this bike. It soaked up bumps without harshness, it didn’t bottom (though I didn’t jump the bike as Ducati portrays in some promo pics), and it kept the bike composed through fast sweepers. Some rebound adjustability at both ends would have been a welcome bonus, but I’d gladly live with the setup as delivered.

It Even Likes the Dirty Bits

The bike even works well when you leave the pavement. There was no dirt portion included on our ride, and really, the Scrambler is a street bike with dirty clothing on, but I did do a tiny bit of off-roading when trying to kill some time during a lengthy photo shoot. The bike was well balanced on a hard-packed surface with a light layer of top sand. It broke the rear tire loose predictably and didn’t push the front through turns, though the aggressively treaded Pirelli tires probably helped on this surface. You can also switch off the ABS, which is the ideal off-pavement setup on this bike. I wouldn’t take the Scrambler into the deepest recesses of wilderness on single-track or ATV trails – there are other bikes for that – but after the tiny taste of dirt, I’d readily plan a weekend excursion along fire and logging roads.

About the only Scrambler item I’m not too keen on is the LCD dash. The round gauge is large and offset to the right, which I think is a nice touch, but it’s not executed to its full potential. I figure if you’re going to use a large LCD screen, you should use it to display a multitude of information, including gear position and fuel level, which the Scrambler doesn’t have. You’ll find speed, ambient temperature, trip meters and time, and there’s a slender bar tachometer, but it circles the lower outer edge of the display and runs backwards, from right to left – quite awkward. I would have much rather liked to have seen an analogue speedometer, but I’m old school.

It’s All Part of the Experience

Our hosts put more emphasis on the motorcycling experience than the bike itself, and when you come down to it, the social aspect is the biggest part of motorcycling, bigger than with any other type of vehicular activity. Our extended outdoor lunch break was really more of a social gathering, where activities included archery and beanbag throwing, and there was even a cigar maker. Post-ride evening activities included an acoustic trio, a cute DJ spinning rock classics, and a complimentary shave and haircut.

Ducati is doing very well right now, and I think its designers and employees are relaxing, kicking back and having a good time building bikes. And the Scrambler is a product of this leisurely and entertaining approach to motorcycling. You could see it in the enthusiasm of everyone who came to this launch from the Bologna, Italy, headquarters. They seem to be treating the Scrambler as an offshoot brand, introducing not one but four models, and a dedicated line of apparel and accessories. Plus, if you visit the Ducati website, you’ll find that the Scrambler models are not part of Ducati’s regular line-up, but are instead under a banner that takes you to a separate website.

The Ducati Scrambler is meant to be fun to look at and fun to ride, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s a very refreshing approach, and after having spent a day with the Icon, I think Ducati has a winning formula, one that will entice many riders, hip or otherwise. smooth, flowing lines, the fuel tank’s full-length centre console features the ignition switch and indicator light panel; above that is the analogue speedo with larger numbers and a small LCD that displays mileage, two trip meters, time of day, gear indicator, rpm and range to empty. The fuel gauge is on the faux left gas cap. Beyond the tank, the look is reminiscent of the Heritage Softail or Fat Boy, but with more-compact features in the redesigned front end, which includes a dual halogen headlight.

Going Forward Isn’t the Only Option

Harley’s switchgear has always been intuitive and ergonomically easy to reach and operate. The Freewheeler comes standard with cruise control and an electric reverse. Not all trikes have reverse, so you’ve had to plan to park on a slope and let gravity roll you out of a parking spot or have friends assist by pushing you out. Now it couldn’t be easier. Simply put the Freewheeler in neutral and hold the button on the left switchgear to engage reverse.
The seating position is as comfortable as it gets. It feels as if you’re sitting a little closer to the handlebar than on the Tri Glide, making for an easy reach to the handgrips, and your feet land perfectly on the footboards with knees comfortably bent. While the front portion of the seat is comfortable, I can’t attest to the comfort of the passenger seat, which appears to slope down toward the back and might be a little intimidating without the optional backrest installed. If it’s any consolation, the large passenger grab rails look to be conveniently positioned and the easiest to grab on the market. There’s also a detachable windscreen for longer trips.

Rushmore’s Attributes

The trunk takes a lesson from the Rushmore refinements and requires only one hand to operate. The weatherproof lid opens sideways for easy access and offers plenty of storage. While I didn’t try, Harley says two full-face helmets will fit into it. The bobbed rear fenders and dual slash-cut mufflers neatly tucked under the trunk round out the rear styling cues.

I can’t think of a more stylish, good-looking sporty trike than the Freewheeler. If you think you might have a Freewheeler in your near future, you’ll want to start saving your nickels and dimes, as having these three tires on the ground doesn’t come cheaply at $31,619 for black, $32,229 for colour option.

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