Ducati Scrambler Review - © Brake Magazine 2015

Rated – Ducati Scrambler

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Who says adventure bikes need big tanks, big suspension and big dimensions? Plenty of people cruise the world on all manner of bikes. In the midst of hopping onto the custom bike/hipster craze with the Scrambler, Ducati may just have made a good looking, ‘budget’ bike designed for easy fun and without pretensions to be anything extraordinary. Can the Ducati Scrambler be all that?

Rules? Who needs rules? Putting things in boxes is construct of society. We put them in boxes and categorise. Pencil in a few guidelines to abide by and a ‘thing’ starts to exist and a proverbial ball begins to roll.

Rule one of riding bikes is to enjoy the ride.

Rule two is to flippin’ get on with it (This is a JP specific rule).

Rules three to thirty-three are all down to purpose, intention and personal preference.

If your rulebook roughly meets ours at Brake then ‘the rules’ are all about finding a bike which handles well, can keep you entertained and can muster a touch of off-road without making you want to cry. So long as a bike can hustle through most obstacles alright then it’s good enough for the job. Whether you then label it an ‘Adventure bike’ is up to you. Any bike can take you on an adventure, ultimately, but what it boils down to is how well it works and how is it good to ride…

Ducati’s Scrambler arrives on something of a media storm: working some Hipster looks, a no nonsense chassis, engine and price tag. What rules are those? They’re budget bike rules as seen through the eyes of a Ducati designer. Make a cheapish bike to sell in big numbers and attract people to ‘the brand’? Instead of making a rough-edged, dull-arsed bike that has no soul or fun make something which kinda works and looks good. This is Ducati.

The Scrambler is easy to use, nippy, agile and possibly best of all it puts you in a happy place when you’re doing the dullest of journeys.

In some ways all that Hipster guff can be annoying, distracting even and you’d be excused for looking past this bike in a showroom, bike show or motorcycle magazine if you’ve had enough moustache wax, beard oil and Brylcream for now. But don’t. Stop a minute and take a look again because this bike is actually good.

Inspired by Ducati’s own Scrambler model from the 70s this latest incarnation comes in four basic models: the Icon is cheaper, base model sitting alongside the Flat Tracker, Urban Enduro and Classic.

The Icon model is a cheap bike and no mistake. A reasonable chunk on top of that (£1000 in the UK) bags you the up-specced models. Each is more or less the same bike with the same tubular steel frame and twin cylinder engine. The difference is the look of the thing, which in turn you can tailor to your own rules with different seats, tank panels, number plate hangers and endless apparel so you can look the part too, if you wish.

We’ve tested the Urban Enduro and the bike suits the moniker well with a matt green finish and spoked wheels, Pirelli MT60 tyres, a higher front mudguard, a cross-strut on the handlebars (for full McQueen effect), a useful grill over the headlight, a bashplate and under seat USB port.

The Full Throttle model is possibly my favourite; the Termignoni slip-on pipe makes it stomp all over the place audibly. It doesn’t have the much-needed spoked wheels however so a mix and match of the two would be ideal. All four models have a low seat height (790mm and a 770cm option is available), plus it is a narrow bike which helps make all four models very accommodating no matter your height.

Despite the warnings from various quarters about travelling any distance on the Scrambler (fuel tank size, no fairing, low seat height, slow engine) I enjoyed the ride in a way I wasn’t expecting. From Ducati UK’s immaculate workshops to my humble pile it is a two-hour ride at best but windblast? The riding position is comfy enough and at 70mph indicated I found a natural cruising speed without giving a fairing a second thought. I was happy hanging onto the seriously old-school handlebars and plonked on a big ol’ seat comfy for the 120-ish mile tank range (more miles are possible and certainly more than you expect from the 13.5litre tank).

The Scrambler has some obvious limitations, none of which it is shy about owning up to. No bells, whistles or fancy dangos here, just plainly a motorcycle. Well, ok, maybe one fancy dongle. Under the seat lurks a USB port to plug your phone in should you need tunes or some charge on the move. But apart from that if you want electronically adjustable suspension, traction control or a heated pillion seat then look elsewhere.

Trading on Hipster themes sweeping the globe, as well as raking up old bits from the parts bin, is no bad thing really when it is as innocuous as the Scrambler. Basic suspension, brakes and a simple cockpit layout which all feels retro from the rider’s point of view. This is the purpose of the bike, clearly.

Backbone to the Scrambler’s usefulness is the oil/air-cooled motor. It’s an engine I’ve revved and reveled in before, many times. The 803cc SOHC motor was last seen on the smaller Monster 796 (803cc, 796? What?) but in this guise it loses just over 10bhp down to 75 (claimed) horses. Arguably it is at its very best in the Scrambler with a predictable and progressive throttle response to a redline just past 8000rpm. Soft through most the rev-range it still musters some poke in the mid-range to be lively, deceptively so. It is poke enough to rattle on past most other traffic and put the collywobbles up a few upright dudes on bigger and faster machinery.

You can live life in one or two gears for the most part with a flexible spread of torque and long gears to wallow in. Lower gears are a bit sharper and clunkier through the gearbox (there’s a false neutral occasionally lurking higher up the box too) but the engine and gearbox combination couldn’t be much easier to live with.

Performance levels from the engine and chassis have enough of a buzz about them around those urban jungles to make it a decent city bike. The Scrambler is easy to use, nippy, agile and possibly best of all it puts you in a happy place when you’re doing the dullest of journeys. That’s a neat trick and not one to be sniffed at. Not too many bikes in the Brake Magazine tested list can boast this.

It’s easy to be a cynic of the retro/hipster twinge to the Scrambler – it’s written large all over the Ducati PR material and who can blame them for honing in on those ‘rules’ to sell bikes at a good price? If you’re anything like me though you’ll ignore the hype, not worry too much about waxing your moustache and instead scrape together any old gear and go for a ride because the Scrambler doesn’t really care what you wear or where you ride. In fact the only time it might object is if you turn up in full adventure riding kit, ready for all weathers. Simply you’ll look wrong, just wrong.

The Scrambler, in many Ducatisti eyes, will need the relevant belt buckle and suitably ‘distressed’, branded leather jacket. These things are part of the package these days and a way manufacturers can reap reward from a relatively low price tag for the bike. But I don’t think the bike needs it, deep down.

It’s fine and predictable in its nature but you quickly arrive at the ceiling of the bike’s abilities if you try too hard.

How does it work in practical terms then? Beginning with the brakes there’s nothing to get too excited about, just as I’d expect from a ‘soft’ bike like this. But that’s not to say the Brembo set-up is bad a bad one. The single 330mm front disc and four-piston front caliper combination works fine with power enough on the road and good feel on the dirt.

The Kayaba suspension is similarly basic, again, just as you’d expect from a bike in this price range. The forks aren’t adjustable, the shock absorber gets a preload adjuster only but in truth it doesn’t want for too much adjustment – it could benefit from better suspension all-round but that costs more to manufacture and if you find the Scrambler lacking for yourself then I’d suggest a suspension specialist could make some easy changes for you.

Both front and rear springers offer a firm ride with 150mm of travel. 15cm isn’t a lot, especially off-road and this is where the budget nature of the Scrambler’s Kayaba equipment shows most. It’s fine and predictable in its nature but you quickly arrive at the ceiling of the bike’s abilities if you try too hard. Put simply it can’t do the same tricks an XT660 or GS can.

There are some obvious points to make about riding the Scrambler off-road: there’s no great amount of ground clearance, which inhibits anything too technical (like trying to escape the supermarket car park via the stairs). Steering lock is on the average side too. The shape of the thing is flat-ish and old-fashioned which means some of the encouragement to act like a loon is curbed simply by chassis design.

Standing up to ride it off-road feels wrong, awkward even, like you’re doing the wrong thing. It put me too hunched over the bars. It’s far better to adopt that old-fashioned riding style and basically stay seated most the time. That bounces you around a bit more but that has the knock-on effect of curbing your enthusiasm and keeping you riding within the Scramblers capabilities.

It’s not a bike to hone your wheelie or stoppie skills on either. But what it can do very well is let you do skids. Soft power delivery is easy to control so if you’ve never dared turn the bars and wind on a slide, this is your tool to try it on. The Pirelli MT60 tyres work fine too and are a good match for the Scrambler off-road.

It’s encouraging to know the Scrambler has passed through a lot of (Ducati-fuelled) media hype and still come out the other side as a decent motorcycle. It has sold well and whether that is down to hitting the right Hipster notes or the fact that anyone bagging a test ride on one is going to feel hooked instantly, or a combination of both, is hard to say. Either way it deserves to have sold well.

It is one of those bikes which delivers easy joy, the anti-dote to high performance, sophisticated machines if you like. In equal measure it is a learner bike, a fun commuter, a happy shopper and an old-school dirt bike. The Scrambler is also encouragingly juvenile and above all fun.

I imagine I don’t look too much like Steve McQueen but I sure as hell felt like him riding this bike. Like a 60’s motocrosser (didn’t they used to call it scrambling or something?) I sat down, pulled on the bars, hung out the back a bit and generally rode it like I stole it. Which is a whole load of clichés I know but honestly? I don’t care.

Could you do an adventure trip on the Ducati Scrambler? Well, of course, you can do an adventure trip on any bike. Would I choose to? No. There are better options. But would I like to own one of these, hell yes. Going to the supermarket and picking my six-year-old up from school has never been so enjoyable.

The dirt lanes near my house are easy trails to ride but I couldn’t stop myself razzing back along them given half a chance. What a hoot. OK, ok, I’m not saying the Scrambler can rival a KTM Super Adventure for handling or all-rounder skills, it’s half the bike. And I’m not going to say this bike could race a classic MX race either because the reality is that off-road it’s limited. However if you want an all-round cheap and decent bike, which you can take up a dirt track andwill put a pretty good sized smile on your face on a daily basis then the you don’t need to look much further.

To learn more about the Ducati Scrambler and find your local dealer click here.

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