First Ride Review
Do you remember your earliest days of riding? The sense of unbridled freedom and all-consuming thrill? I sure do. Back when I was a stressed-out grad student, I emptied my bank account to buy a used Yamaha FZ750 and maxed out my credit card to buy a black leather Vanson jacket and a Shoei helmet. That bike was my relief valve, my escape hatch. Every time I hit the starter button I went from zero to hero, from wrung-out to blissed-out.
With its reborn Scrambler, Ducati wants to take us back to those simpler, more carefree times, when we rode just for the fun of it, when obligations were few and good times were plentiful. Ducati built small-displacement, single-cylinder Scramblers in the ’60s and ’70s to provide basic, inexpensive bikes for the American market. Ducati calls the new Scrambler’s design “post heritage”; it’s what the original might have become had Ducati never stopped making it, similar to its SportClassic line from a few years ago. From the teardrop tank with brushed aluminum panels to the round headlight and wide handlebar, the new Scrambler is inspired by the past but is fully modern with standard ABS, an LED headlight ring and taillight, digital instrumentation and a USB socket under the seat.
Hanging from the tubular-steel trellis frame is an air-cooled, SOHC, 2-valve-per-cylinder, 803cc 90-degree L-twin derived from the Monster 796, which makes 75 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 50 lb-ft of torque at 5,750 rpm (claimed). Desmodromic valve actuation uses the same 11-degree valve overlap as the Multistrada and Diavel, and the electronic fuel injection uses a single 50mm throttle body with two sub-butterfly injectors. The aluminum covers for the clutch, alternator and cam belts have machined detailing, and the exhaust header pipes curve gracefully on the right side and merge into a single low-slung silencer. The transmission has six gears, the APTC wet slipper clutch is cable-actuated, final drive is via chain and the swingarm is cast aluminum. Suspension is by Kayaba, with a non-adjustable 41mm male-slider fork and a preload-adjustable single shock, both with 5.9 inches of travel. Brakes are by Brembo, with a single 330mm disc in front gripped by a 4-piston M 4.32B monobloc radial caliper and a single 245mm disc out back with a 1-piston caliper, and switchable (you can turn it off) Bosch 9.1 MP ABS is standard. Cast aluminum 10-spoke wheels, 18-inch front and 17-inch rear, are shod with Pirelli MT60 RS tires with an exclusive semi-knobby tread design.
In keeping with the Scrambler’s American roots, Ducati hosted its first-ever world press launch on U.S. soil, in Palm Springs, California. We rode the standard Icon model, which is available in Ducati Red ($8,495) or ’62 Yellow ($8,595). Three factory customized versions are also available for $9,995 each (see photos below): the Classic, with Orange Sunshine paint, metal fenders with a traditional plate holder, special seat stitching and spoked wheels; the Urban Enduro, with Wild Green paint, a high fender, headlight grill, handlebar cross-brace, sump guard and spoked wheels; and the Full Throttle, with Deep Black paint and yellow accents, Termignoni exhaust, a low tapered handlebar, sport seat and cast wheels.
With a low, 31.1-inch seat (accessory low seat is just 30.3 inches) and a high, wide handlebar, the Scrambler is the most approachable bike to come out of Bologna in years. The seat is narrow and low in front, sloping upward and getting wider toward the back, with passenger grab handles cleverly hidden underneath. The upright seating position and easy reach to the handlebar is comfortable, but the seat is hard and rangy types like me will feel a bit cramped. Claimed wet weight is just 410 pounds, and the 3.6-gallon tank tucks narrowly between the knees. The rumbling engine is peppy but unintimidating, biased toward low-end torque rather than top-end power. A low first gear encourages jackrabbit starts, and short shifting keeps the engine in the meaty part of the torque curve. The transmission felt notchy in the lower gears and finding neutral was difficult, but clutch action was light and both levers are adjustable.
Ascending into the San Jacinto Mountains on twisty Route 243, the Scrambler felt light and flickable, ready for any riding style or skill level. For my above-average weight, the suspension felt softly sprung, with too much fork dive under braking and a harsh ride over rough pavement, but the bike never felt squirrely. The brakes are strong and easy to modulate, and the ABS doesn’t intrude too early. Turning off the ABS requires futzing with the setup menu on the all-digital instrumentation. The tachometer, a thin line that sweeps from right to left along the bottom of the single, round gauge, is small and non-intuitive, but the other info is easy to read and buttons on the left switchgear toggle through multiple functions.
After lunch, another editor and I broke away from the group and rode the last 40 miles on our own. We rode at a brisk pace down Palms to Pines Highway and then zigzagged our way through traffic back to the hotel, just two guys out for a joy ride. That’s when it clicked. The Scrambler is a significant departure from the Ducati we know today, a bike where performance takes a pillion seat to playfulness, where you feel cool just for being on two wheels rather than the particular brand of bike you’re riding (though the Scrambler offers plenty of Ducati’s signature style).
If you’re wondering why the Scrambler doesn’t have high pipes, that’s because the original didn’t have them, and the low pipe is more passenger-friendly. But high pipes are available as accessories, as are tank panels in various colors and styles, all sorts of bolt-on goodies, luggage and a full line of apparel. Scramblers should be in dealerships by March, and the affordable, versatile, good-times machine should be a big hit.