I NEED to get one thing straight about the Ducati Scrambler before I go any further. Ducati is marketing this bike as a whole new brand, Scrambler, so therefore I will refer to it as only a Scrambler from now on.
— Ducati UK (@DucatiUK) December 17, 2014
Blast from the past
The inspiration for the Scrambler came from one single press photo of the original Scrambler from the late 1960s, with the bright yellow tank and hip rider and pillion. This became the focal point of the design of the modern Scrambler. The designer’s office became Scrambler central, with yellow everywhere, and even a fake grass floor. They got right into it by the looks of things, and being young and a bit hip themselves, the design team built a bike they thought would fit the current hipster biker’s lifestyle perfectly.
Even the two Ducati employees from the original 1960s press photo, a test rider and an admin staffer – got an injection of youth and became a promotional tool. They are probably in their late 60s now but ‘Franco’ and ‘Elvira’ as they were nicknamed by the design team, became stars in a movie using plasticine figures (think Wallace and Grommit) where Franco goes from the future back to Woodstock and falls in love with a girl and a bike, then fast forwards to find the new.… I don’t want to spoil the story so watch it yourself.
More than a show pony
It’s almost as if the design ethos was all about the lifestyle rather than substance. My initial thought from the press launch at Palm Springs – before I rode it I have to say – was that almost more thought went into the look and accessory range than the bike’s on road performance, but then isn’t that the point? The first thing any self respecting hipster does is wreck the on-road performance of a bike to alter the styling. Maybe that’s taking it a bit far but there’s more than a few bikes like this wobbling around the roads. And that’s cool, whatever floats your boat. I’m into modified bikes so I get all that anyway.
Three things the press launch team did continually emphasise was the bike was designed to be easy to ride, to be fun, and that it was a Scrambler, not a Ducati. They also said a lot of thought went into the easy and fun side of it, and a look at some of the specifications of the bike show just how much thought went into that part of it.
The engine comes straight from the 796 Monster, an 803cc air/oil-cooled V-twin, Ducati of course. But when I say straight from, along the way it lost one throttle body, got some tweaks to the fuel mapping and other alterations to produce an engine happy to tootle along and let the rider enjoy the ride and look cool rather than worrying about exactly which gear they should be in etc. The result is the engine is an absolute beauty. Power is good, I mean you can notice the moderate drop in power from the Monster spec engine but who cares. Fuel mapping, while not perfect at a closed throttle in lower gears is pretty much as close as it could be to perfect. It is hard to fault and one of the strong points of the riding experience. Top gear roll-ons are strong and you can loft the front if you so wish. The engine is a lot of fun and easy to use so it didn’t take long for me to realise they had nailed that part of the Scrambler design ethos.
Upside forks are used, and a side mounted single shock. Part of the ethos was to have more suspension travel than a regular naked road bike but not as much as an off-road bike, and the 150mm of fork travel and 150mm of shock travel indicate this. It’s not meant to be some off-road blaster, rather a bike that can handle a wide variety of road surfaces, including dirt roads and some trails. There’s no suspension adjustment, other than pre-load on the shock, and this is an old school design where you use a C spanner to change it. Simple.
Our launch route was through the mountains near Palm Springs, up through the snow and into the mountain town of Idyllwild, and back down again. The road surface was very good so there were only one or two occasions where I thought the preload of the shock was a bit firm, but it was set on the hard side and is easily changed so I didn’t think that to be a fault as such. The front end never put a foot out of place to be honest, even when pushing it hard into corners. Same goes for the single front brake. Scrambler’s design team said they thought twin four-piston callipers would be overkill, and as it’s a Scrambler and not a Ducati, they didn’t want the twin calipers causing any confusion. No matter I reckon, the single brake was very good. Sure it didn’t have the same power as a twin set up but there was great feel on offer, and more than enough power to suit the task at hand. I never thought I needed more brakes, and I got to test them pretty hard at times. ABS was part of t he set up on the test bike too, and when I set out to engage it I found it worked faultlessly.
Once again, the chassis falls into the same design criteria, not too steep a steering angle that it’s too twitchy and not too raked out that it’s a slow steerer. I found it just right, just like Goldilocks. Pirelli has made an adventure style tyre especially for the Scrambler, it almost looks like a road racing ‘wet’. Tyre sizes aren’t over the top width wise and both tyres (18 inch front, 17 inch rear) look to have the same tread pattern. When pushed hard you could feel the tread blocks squirming ever so slightly but realistically once again, hard to fault. You can’t make a tyre great at everything, and considering the Scrambler is partly designed to hit the dirt I think Pirelli has done a fantastic job with the tyre. Looking through some of the press release pics I saw some with the rider doing some pretty decent imitations of Steve McQueen through the desert but we never got to try that. I’m sure the Scrambler can do it but it’s probably not really its forte as such. On the road route of over 200 kilometres, some town, some freeway and then plenty of sweet corners through the mountains I loved it. It looks small but I’m six foot and never felt cramped, with plenty of leg room etc. Whether it be cursing through traffic or punting hard through the bends chasing journos from all over the world, the Scrambler was simply a delight. Fun and Easy. Who would have thought. It’s simple too, no traction control, no gimmicks, nothing not needed.
And there is four
There are four Scramblers: Icon, Classic, Full Throttle and Urban Enduro, all using the same engine, frame and suspension. All look similar but look closer and you’ll see two have spoked wheels instead of alloys, different guards, different handlebars and so on. Part of the design ethos was that Scrambler wanted people to be able to chop and changed each bike to suit themselves. You want an Urban Scrambler front and rear guard on an Icon? Well of course sir or madam, it will bolt straight on. And there’s a pretty big array of accessories and clothing too, from T-shirts to proper riding jackets, leather and adventure style. On the hard equipment you can get Termignoni exhausts, soft waterproof and semi-hard panniers, seats, tank bags and so on. To be honest I wouldn’t really care which one I had, but I’d put the accessory MX handlebars on it, a high mount Termi pipe, wire mesh headlight guard, and tank bag just for starters.
The low down
Prices start from $12,990 for the base Icon??, which is outrageously inexpensive in my opinion. That puts it right at the LAMS approved Monster 659. Prices go up in smallish increments from there but I think for the bike to be really successful Scrambler needed to price it right, and that it has done, big time. As a result I think we will be overrun with hipster guys and girls on Scramblers in the near future. But saying that almost waters down how good the bike is. On the launch a couple of us talked about who would buy a bike like this. I don’t think it will be just the “in” crowd, it will be riders, whether they are 20 something or 60 something, looking for a lightweight and fun naked bike, a bike which will put a massive smile on your face, whether you are cruising down the beach or twisting the throttle to the stop. This bike is that good. The Scrambler crew had a goal with the type of bike they wanted to build. Well, they kicked that goal first go.