Not far from where I live is a motocross track. A spectacular track that has the usual jumps and bermed corners, it winds its way up through the bush before plunging down a steep drop-off back to the lower section where the start / finish line is. When I first became aware of it, back in the late 1960s, it was called “the scramble track”; and was so for a long long time. Even now, as I say those words, “the scramble track”, it seems quite natural. Bikes that raced on this track, and those like it, were called “scramblers”. They looked like, and in most cases really were, basically road bikes that had been fitted with off-road gear such as higher exhaust, higher and wider handlebars, knobby tyres etc. (The photo on the left was taken from a movie film I took in the early 1970s). Somewhere along the line of time though, the name “motocross” was invented; the tracks became “motocross” tracks, and the bikes became “motocross” bikes. And of course these motocross bikes became capable of far greater off-road deeds than the old scramblers could ever manage; with jumps throwing them so far into the air that riders almost needed a pilot’s license! But now the name “scrambler” is back: first was Triumph, with its Bonneville-based Scrambler, and then others followed. The subject of this test is the Ducati Scrambler. This is all part of the retro thing that has become so trendy in recent years. I see this as being aimed at nostalgia: old blokes, like me, who remember when this style was modern, and want to re-live those old days and old ways of riding – but with modern technology thrown in so that they don’t stain your driveway and dirty your hands repairing them every time you ride. The manufacturers apparently see it as being aimed at young hipsters, who have read about these old bikes, or seen them in history photos on Facebook, and think it would be cool (sorry, “sick”!) to ride something that looks like it was built a few decades before they were born. I’ll treat them as a nostalgia-trip: I mean, the manufacturers only make them, so what would they know! For Ducati, it all started way back in 1962, when they released their first Scrambler: a 250cc powered bike that was intended for both off-road and road. Apparently it was only sold in America. Then in 1968 they introduced a more road-orientated Scrambler; still single cylinder, with capacity having grown to a bit over 400cc, and the exhaust being lower. This bike was sold in Europe as well as America. It was obviously more road than off-road, and became very popular. And now it’s back! Well, a modern-day version of it is: this is Ducati’s updated second-millenium version of its early bike, but with that appropriate modern technology I mentioned before. It’s been a very successful move by Ducati, with the retro style bike becoming its biggest-selling model. Although Fraser Motorcycles in Wollongong, who supplied the test bike, told me that they were very popular in cities; but not as popular in regional areas. There are no less than 6 different models of Scrambler. There is the Classic, Icon, Sixty2, Full Throttle, Desert Sled, and the latest creation a café-racer model. All these (except the Sixty2) are basically the same, differing in the seat, exhaust, mudguards, handlebars, and front wheel size. The Desert Sled is perhaps the most different with its high-mounted front mudguard, even larger (19”) front wheel and longer-travel suspension. Okay, so there is a fair bit of difference between them, I suppose. The Sixty2 is a 399cc LAMS version. (That’s it on the right of the photo below). The bike I rode was the IconYellow. The Icon model comes in three colours: yellow, red (which is $200 cheaper – don’t ask me why!) and silver (I don’t have a price for that).
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Okay, so first thing, the look is obviously inspired by those models from the 1960s and 70s, but with that modern technology I spoke of being very much in evidence. This isn’t a bike – like the Triumph Scrambler – that tries to look like it did the first time around: Ducati have put that modern technology clearly on show. The twin-cylinder L-shape motor, modern style exhaust, mono-shock rear suspension, and alloy wheels make sure you know this is no refugee from the 1970s; this is a modern bike that just shows its heritage. But the round headlight, big seat, and traditional shape of the tank, are enough to satisfy the nostalgic cravings of the oldies; or make the hipsters feel “sick”. The mono-shock unit is mounted on the left side of the bike; which always looks a bit odd to me. Maybe I just like symmetry, but I reckon it looks like they forgot about the rear unit when they were building it; and when they realised, said, “Just stick it on the side, we’re not gonna pull the bike apart to put it in the middle.” It all looks good though. That blend of modern and traditional works for me – I like it. I also like it because it looks practical. The big seat, the high bars, it just looks like it’s going to be a practical bike to ride rather than a styling exercise. And that’s part of a bike looking good in my eyes. Customisation is a big thing with the Scrambler. So what you see doesn’t have to be what you get: you can customize it with various accessories and options. One of those options is the panels on each side of the fuel-tank, which can be interchanged; so you can vary the look of the bike from one ride to the next. Also interchangeable is the panel surrounding the instrument display. Clever! Sitting on the bike, it feels small. Very small, actually: I've ridden bigger 250s. And that “big seat” I mentioned actually isn’t so big when you’re sitting on it; in fact it feels small. (Has the bike shrunk? What’s going on here?). It also slopes down, and gets a lot more narrow towards the front, as you’ll see if you look closely at the shape of it in the photo here. The pillion area, again as you’ll see in the photo, is much larger. The seat feels soft-ish but there’s not enough of it – not where you (the rider) are sitting anyway. But there is room to move around (backwards and forward) a bit, which helps. There’s also the option of a lower seat – and a higher one too. (So more of that customization I was mentioning). Of course you sit very upright, in classic tradition, with those wide bars stretching your arms out to the side. The bike feels very light; and at 170kg (it’s only 186 fully fuelled and ready to ride) it is light. All the controls are light too, and easy to get at and use. The only criticism I would make is that the side-stand is tucked under the side of the bike and hard to get at. It swings out, more than down, rather like a cruiser. The instruments are all housed in a round display unit that is mounted off to the right. (“Bugger! We’ve put the ignition switch where the display unit was going to go! Oh well, just whack it on a bracket over to the right, that’ll do!”). The display is all digital, of course. The tacho is a band type display located around the bottom section of the unit. It reads in a clockwise direction, (as is normal), but that means it is reading from right to left, which I found a bit confusing. Scroll through the displays and there are the usual multiple trip meters and ambient temperature (which is always interesting) etc, but no gear position indicator. The tyres are sort of dual-sport, with a shallow block-pattern tread. I can understand the logic of that with the more dual-sport version, but the fitting of these tyres seems a bit odd with what is obviously a pure road-bike. Maybe it’s to add to the retro look – putting tyres on that look like the sort of thing that might have been fitted back in the 70s. I’d prefer today’s road-bike rubber thank you!
OUT ON THE ROAD
This was a group ride from the local dealer, and consisted of a fairly short run through the suburbs; so I wasn’t able to test it under different road and riding conditions as much as I would if I’d taken it out on my own for a solo test-ride. But it was enough to give me a feel for what the bike was like. Ducatis are all about sound and there is some of that typical Ducati bark but not enough of it. It sounds like a proper bike though, not like a sewing machine; so the Italian stallion is there, but he’s just a bit subdued. That seat, which looks so good from the other side of the forecourt, is not only much smaller when you see how narrow your (the rider’s) part is, but out on the road that initial feeling of it being “soft-ish” turns out to be more “ish” than “soft”. Out on the road I thought it felt hard. Detracting a bit further from the comfort you might expect, is the ride, which is pretty firm. There is some compliance there to soften the bumps a bit, but over-all I found it to be pretty firm. The only adjustment you get is at the rear where you can fiddle with preload, and rebound damping. There were no rough roads on our ride, just a few patchy sections around suburban streets, but it was enough to give some indication of how it handled the rough stuff. When we began our ride we crawled along in city traffic for a little while, and I felt some heat off the motor. It was a warm day, but not really hot. Not much heat once we got moving of course. Making it a little more unpleasant in traffic was the low-speed fuelling: it was snatchy off the idle. Once we cleared the traffic and got onto some open suburban roads it was much better. It goes well! There were times when I fell behind the other riders, due to traffic or whatever, but a quick twist of the throttle sent it surging forward and soon had me on their tail again. Not only is there decent power, it also revs easily and freely. I had it up to about 8,000rpm with no complaint at all. Top gear runs at 23kph per 1,000rpm, which is probably appropriate for what it is and its intended purpose. With the free-revving nature of the engine it would happily cruise at highway speeds and beyond, with only the wind to slow you down. It handles well, although I was kind of feeling my way into corners; probably because of its small size, light weight, and wide bars. See, I think that’s the thing with bikes that are light weight and have wide bars. With the Yamaha XSR900 and XSR700 I rode not long before this, and now this Ducati, I've felt uneasy in tight corners – just because they are so light; and with the wide bars it somehow feels like you could get it wrong very easily. You’d think that wide bars would give you more control, and they do, but I found it difficult to be precise with something so light and light to steer. That’s what I’m feeling I think, when I refer to an uneasy sensation (in me, not the bike) when turning into sharp corners. Out on the highway (or major suburban road on this ride) the bike is perfectly stable. It feels much more settled. Even the ride seemed to improve over what it is at slower speeds. “The brakes worked” was my brief note on the stoppers. You’ll be pleased to know that. I did add a bit more detail though, describing them as being efficient without being too sudden: which is just what you want on this type of bike. So there it is, the Ducati Scrambler. It’s an interesting bike, and I can see why they are so popular, but to me, it didn’t quite meet the expectation that it encouraged looking at it in the showroom. I mentioned the Triumph Scrambler above, and it’s appropriate to mention it again in closing. The two bikes obviously compete for the same market. The Triumph, which for 2017 is called the Street Scrambler, is not in showrooms at the time I’m writing this. However the previous model was a bigger bike than the Ducati, and felt it: so a more comfortable fit for tall blokes, especially. It was more comfortable in general, with a better seat than the Duke. Reports I’ve read (on the previous model) suggest the ride is more comfortable too, although that ultimately limits its handling, where the Ducati scores top points. The engine in the Triumph is a little bigger (900cc) and has more torque. But there’s a lot more weight to pull around with the Triumph, so performance kudos would go to the Ducati. (Although the Triumph’s extra torque is also developed at lower revs, so it’s probably better at slow speed lugging). So, not having ridden the Triumph (even the old model), I would guess that the Ducati is the one if performance and handling are your main priorities, but if comfort and being happy to ride more moderately with traditional style and looks is more what you’re after, then the Triumph might be the one to go for. If I was buying I think I’d be having a serious look at the Triumph. SNAPSHOT A good fun suburban blaster – which is why they're so popular in the cities – but for me it worked even better on the open road. Downsides for me were the uncomfortable seat, snatchy fueling at low speed and perhaps the small physical size.
Engine: 2-cylinder, 803cc. Power: 55kW at 8,250rpm. Torque: 68Nm at 5,750rpm.
Suspension: Front: Upside-down 41mm fork, 150mm travel. Rear: Mono-shock, 150mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 13.5litres.
Weight: 170kg (dry).
Seat height: 790mm. (770mm and 810mm options available).
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 110 X 18. Rear: 180 X 17
Brakes: Front: Single 330mm disc, 4-piston caliper. Rear: 245mm disc, single-piston caliper.
Price: $13,490 (+ORC).
Ridden: late 2016.
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