As I write this I’m sitting in my shop and not even ten feet away stands a bright yellow, somewhat muddy Ducati. The Scrambler Ducati, as the Italians have confusingly dubbed it, is the newest of new ideas to come out of the premium motorcycle brand since I first became aware of them. There it stands, neither pure street bike nor fully competent dual-sport machine, yet fully interesting in both its aesthetic appeal and the real world riding versatility it manages to offer.
If I’m fully honest, I’ve been giving the Scrambler the side eye since I first heard about it. I’ve been skeptical as to its real world appeal as anything but a hipster lifestyle accessory, mostly because this seems to be squarely how Ducati was marketing not just the bike, but its accompanying sub-brand. Yet I’ll just as freely admit that this point of view was based in no small amount of cynicism on my part. Having now spent some quality time onboard the Scrambler Ducati, I can only repent of my cynical outlooks and beg the actual machine’s forgiveness. In so doing, I realized that the Scrambler’s branding isn’t so far off as I thought, but let’s leave marketing aside and talk about the actual motorcycle.
Let’s get the stats out of the way, as they are worth mentioning but don’t actually tell us very much in terms of the bike’s character. Powered by a uniquely-tuned version of Ducati’s air-cooled 803cc L-twin engine, the Scrambler makes a very useful 75 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque, all while only weighing 410 lbs ready to ride. For many, the conversation can stop right there. While hardly dirt bike light, 410 lbs is svelte by street bike standards. Like the Monster before it, the Scrambler has the compact stance and minimalist lines of what is essentially an engine with two wheels and a seat attached. Yet the similarities end there, as the Scrambler’s taller suspension and greater ground clearance give it a stance all its own. Suspension travel front and rear is listed as 5.9” each, which is nearly twice your standard street bike travel, yet half that of any serious dirt bike. This being a bike meant for blended purposes, obviously compromises had to be made. Depending on which of the four Scrambler versions we’re talking about (dubbed Icon, Urban Enduro, Classic and Full Throttle), you’ll find a mix of wheel styles, colors, seats and exhausts. The Motoworks demo bike I’ve been spending time with is an Icon variant, with a handful of Scrambler accessories added on, but more on those later.
Alright, with all that out of the way, back to this bright yellow, slightly muddy bike staring me in the face. I’ll start here: The Scrambler Ducati is fun. Yet in saying that, “fun” feels like too small a word. When I say fun, I don’t mean to simply describe the Scrambler as fun in the same way that one might describe a roller coaster or summer blockbuster movie. I mean to say that there’s something in the very character of the Scrambler that feels like Ducati have taken the liquid essence of fun itself and molded it into the shape of a motorcycle. That isn’t to say that the Scrambler is perfect, or that it’s suited to everyone’s needs or expectations, but if there’s one claim that can be made about the Scrambler without hesitation or hedging, it’s that this machine was created with more pure fun in mind than any other current production motorcycle that I can think of. I shall attempt to elaborate.
The Scrambler’s compact proportions and wide, tracker-style handlebars give the bike an ergonomic layout that, to me, makes the bike feel like some sort of adult-sized BMX bicycle. As I sit on the bike, it immediately feels familiar in a deep way. The relative lightness and low center-of-gravity add to this feeling of childish familiarity — as though when I’m done riding it, I should simply leave it laying on its side on the lawn until I’m ready to ride it again. That the Scrambler’s chassis manages to be both compact in overall footprint and open in terms of its ergonomics is no small feat. With minor adjustments, riders of nearly any size and height should be able to make a Scrambler their own and ride it confidently. The bike’s touch points also add to the sense of memory. From the off-road ready foot pegs and levers, to the hand grips with their tall, easy-to-hang-onto ridges, the Scrambler’s details expertly walk the lines between utility, simplicity and artful attention to detail. Of all the Scrambler’s virtues, that balance of key modern features and basic, rugged simplicity is what I have enjoyed the most. The bike is neither fussy from too much tech, nor bare bones and lacking in key features. In as much as the Scrambler is by design a packaging exercise, Ducati have succeeded spectacularly in terms of what the bike has to offer in this regard. It’s just the right mix of simplicity and modern tech, if you ask me.
As nice as the Scrambler is to simply sit on and admire, it’s not truly fun until you put the key in and get the thing going. Our Scrambler demo is fitted with the optional Termignoni off-road exhaust. This dramatic side-pipe is what most people had in mind when Ducati were first talking about a “scrambler” motorcycle as part of their lineup. Were I to procure a Scrambler of my own, this pipe would be mandatory. With the baffles removed (obviously), our Scrambler demo fires to life eagerly and makes a very pleasant, sharp growl out this 2-into-1 system. Best of all, the remapping of the ECU that correlates to this exhaust provides a wonderful off-throttle burble that makes the bike seem to spit and growl all the more under engine braking and between shifts. To quote Ferriss Beuler. “It is so choice.”
Power from the Scrambler’s engine is predictable, if a bit sharp. This is a light bike with a respectable amount of torque and horsepower for its size. I’ve ridden bikes with similar power outputs weighing 200+ lbs more. So the Scrambler Ducati is more than capable of getting out of its own way. In stock form, the throttle is a bit on/off as you crack it open from idle. This jumpy transition, along with all the power that comes after it, makes the Scrambler a machine best suited for folks with at least an intermediate level of riding skill. To put a finer point on it, this is no beginner bike, in my opinion. That said, the on/off nature of the throttle improved considerably with this new exhaust. Not so much that I’d recommend it to new riders, but it makes for one more reason to ditch the standard exhaust and opt for this particular slice of side pipe sexiness.
Where the Scrambler’s throttle is not particularly forgiving, its chassis is. Items two and three on my personal Scrambler improvement list would be an upgraded rear shock and some tweaks to pre-load and fluid weight in the front forks. That said, the Scrambler’s geometry nearly makes up for its price-conscious stock suspension. Between the bike’s chassis geometry and its wide, high handlebars, the Scrambler feels instantly easy to ride. Any trepidation I might feel at having so much power at the flick of my wrist is tamped down by the bike’s ability to dive into corners and sure-footedly jog over a variety of terrains.
As a street bike, the Scrambler’s extra suspension travel mostly makes easy work of blasting around the city. Easy work in as much as the bike behaves itself and went exactly where I intended it to go. I would not, however, accuse the Scrambler’s suspension of being overly comfortable, despite its generous travel. The suspension itself is simply too stiff and lacks anything but pre-load adjustment in the rear. While one need not be overly concerned with every last crack and pothole in the pavement, an upgraded rear shock, for example, would make a significant difference. In every other respect, however, the Scrambler is a tough act to beat around town. The aggressive, mixed-use tires do great on pavement, lending to the Scrambler’s feeling of confident fun. In city traffic, those 75 hp make the Scrambler feel like a rocketship. One can easily dodge and zip through traffic, and the Scrambler’s substantial Brembo brake setup and standard ABS help undo the bike’s addictive power-to-weight ratio with a lot of confidence as well. Front suspension dive is predictable yet further betrays the bike’s unsophisticated suspension components. This too could be remedied with some basic tuning.
Yet don’t let the Scrambler’s urban prowess make you think it’s unfit for the freeway. Not at all. Again, here the bike’s suspension geometry, if not its actual equipment, are perfectly mated to all that grunting power. With six gears to play with, the Scrambler takes to the big roads with surprising ease. While it certainly lacks for wind shelter or other touring details of bikes meant to gobble up 500 mile days on the freeway, the Scrambler will basically go wherever you point it. It’s ample power and relative light weight once again play in its favor as a simple twist of the wrist will have you easily catapulted around even freeway stragglers. During my own freeway hauls, I kept expecting the Scrambler to run out of juice as speeds got higher and higher. Not so. Truth be told, I was well into the go-to-jail ranges on the Scrambler’s speedometer before I gave up trying to push the bike harder than it was happy doing. For actual travel, you’ll have more fun on the B roads, but for those times when you just need to get the hell out of town as fast as possible, the Scrambler is more than happy to oblige. The accessory fly screen, as shown on our demo, helps a bit as well.
It’s honestly no surprise that Ducati could build a bike that’s great on the street. That’s old hat for a brand built entirely on street performance. The question for me was really how well does the Scrambler behave itself off-pavement? Would the Scrambler actually scramble? Would it prove usable on the dirt and gravel its namesake would imply? Beyond that, would its off-road capabilities be even remotely usable by the off-road novices to whom the Scrambler seems squarely marketed. For consideration’s sake, I happen to be one of those 30-something off-road novices, so as I transitioned the Scrambler off pavement and onto gravel for the first time, there was a real sense of “well, here we go.”
Once again, the dual-use tires on the Scrambler didn’t let me down. The bike quickly showed itself as a well-balanced and forgiving off-pavement machine. Even as I’d bounce the front wheel off of ruts or other soft obstacles, the Scrambler never got unpredictably out-of-sorts. By going up a gear, it was easy to overcome the bike’s naturally snappy throttle response and keep it very well in-hand as the terrain shifted under my wheels. The width of the Scrambler’s tires felt particularly helpful on the stretches of dirt and big gravel I explored.
I’m no off-road rider, that’s for sure, so I couldn’t begin to tell you what the Scrambler’s actual off-road limits are. I can say that in my romping around, I didn’t find them, and I’d further argue that this is kind of the point. This isn’t a motocross bike. Instead, the Scrambler’s versatility simply let me explore spaces beyond regular roads — places that I’d never think of going on my regular street bikes. It turned my morning’s ride into a mini adventure. “I wonder where this goes…” became the motto of the day. If we think back to what a “scrambler” really was back in the day (that is, a street bike with a few tweaks to make it more usable off-pavement), Ducati seems to have nailed that with this machine. This bike’s versatility, modest as it is, is enough to literally open up new roads for anyone brave enough to go exploring.
Yet one could argue that in the intervening years, the motorcycle world eclipsed the traditional scrambler, so what makes it relevant today? That is, manufactures pushed beyond scramblers and started building actual production dirt bikes. These were motorcycles that weren’t just capable off-road, but actually good at it. Later those machines were back-hybridized for on-street use, first with the dual-sport bikes, then later with today’s adventure bikes. Here lies a subtle trap, I think.
Sure, these categories of bikes are certainly more off-road capable, given that most of them started life as dirt bikes, but I think there’s still a place for coming at the problem the other way around. By starting with a really capable street platform, and injecting just enough off-road capability for casual use, the modern scrambler finds its appeal. And while Ducati is admittedly second-to-market in this world of the nouveau-scramblers (Triumph got there first), their offering is hardly second rate. For Ducati fans and would-be, first time Ducati owners, the Scrambler makes a formidable and relatively affordable entry into both a proud, premium brand and a newly rediscovered type of riding.
The important thing, I think, is to let go of unrealistic expectations. I simply can’t expect Ducati to build a bike that’s equally good on a road racing course as it is on the motocross course. So any “scrambler” is going to be a compromise. What’s interesting, and where I think Ducati have nailed their Scrambler, is in just where that balance point lands. The Scrambler is purpose built to straddle that street/off-pavement line, I’d say, about 70/30. Given that’s the ratio of riding type in how I’d likely use the Scrambler if I owned one, that balance point is tough to argue. I simply wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of its on-street capability or grunting power for the sake of a little more off-road capability. I just don’t need it. Your mileage, however, may vary.
So where does that leave us? In the days and miles I’ve spent with the Scrambler Ducati so far, I can’t help but be charmed by its go-nearly-anywhere attitude and its considerable street performance. Big power and small weight are always good building blocks for a fun bike. Yet where Ducati could have simply treated the Scrambler as the marketing exercise many who haven’t ridden the bike might assume it to be, the reality of this motorcycle is something more like childhood come true. It’s like the grown up version of one of those rides out in front of the super market we used to beg our moms to drop a quarter into when we were kids. Only this time, instead of pretending we were riding a galloping horse or a flying rocket, our proverbial quarter gets us a punchy engine, effortless corners, and a wide world of terrain as our two-wheel playground. So as I sit here staring at this yellow, muddy Ducati (I’m proud to say it was clean when I got it), there’s nothing left to say except where did I put the key? I want to put a few more miles on this thing before I have to give it back.