“Well whaddya got there, son?” Asks the sixty odd year old American chap at the top of a freshly scratched Californian Canyon. “This is the all new Ducati Scrambler, mate what do you think?” is the polite response given. “Dewcati? I aint never heard of them, are they new? I’ve got me a lovely Harley Davidson at home”. This was a genuine conversation from the launch. If I thought I was going to have a tough job convincing you lot of the virtues of a bike like this, then there was no better place to warm up my act than with a man who had only ever had eyes (and ears) for his Harley. I had to look around and check that I hadn’t actually ridden into Area 51, I hadn’t but there was a good chance this man could still be an alien.
Palm Springs, California is 5406 miles from my house. That was the destination that Ducati chose to launch sub brand Scrambler. I know I’m a spoiled bastard getting the job to ride it so I’ll trade you the fact that it rained a lot and hope you don’t hate me for getting to jet off to LA. Apparently it only rains for two days a year out there, I was there for four and each one was soggy. Maybe I was bad boy in another life. Anyway, the bike is Ducati’s interpretation of what the original model would have evolved into had they not stopped making it back in 1975. Originally built for the American market, back then the Scrambler came in 50, 125, 250 and 450 setups. Nowadays its 803cc, air cooled and borrowed from the Monster range.
The bike is, it would seem, only a part of the bigger picture that Ducati want you to stare at. As a sub brand, Ducati are looking to cultivate a turnkey lifestyle choice. Brand Scrambler is so much more than the sum of the metal bits in the bike. Clothing and accessory choices are at Harley Davidson levels of mind boggling. The pitch started months ago. Yellow shipping containers appeared with ‘Land Of Joy’ sprawled across the side in the A-Team font. Suddenly everyone at Ducati sprouted a beard and started wearing brown chinos and check shirts.
Snippets of the bike appeared in videos of people skateboarding and dancing around bonfires. Not a single reference to performance, or traction control or Carl Fogarty or anything track related. I didn’t find it weird, just very different. I’m calling it a sub brand because Ducati are calling it a sub brand, these bikes will sit alongside Panigales and Multistradas but are being pitched as separate to the rest of the line up.
Sitting in the press conference, staring at the line up of Scrambler branded clothing, the Bell helmet collaboration, the massive selection of parts (not performance) accessories and the ping pong table, it was clear that this was not your typical Ducati launch. I’ve had trackside presentations of a few Ducatis, the MotoGP hospitality unit sticks the kettle on and the focus is based around performance. After listening to the pitch, I’d say that although the message was different, the passion from the Ducati team was as genuine as it always has been.
If you’ve been a GSX-R man since the day you passed your test, you may not think that this kind of brand blanket bombing works on you. But if you can show me a man that owns a GSX-R that doesn’t own some kind of blue and white tassel (Clarion fleece, Jon Reynolds baseball cap, Frankie Chili Corona rep day sack, that kind of thing) then I’ll eat my own beard. Before you start throwing stones at this apparent attempt at instant lifestyle, ask yourself what’s not to like? The bike is a cool thing, part of a cool brand that has made it easy for people that can’t blow smoke rings to suddenly make themselves look a little bit cooler for not a lot more money.
The press kit (made from cardboard and balsa wood) shows that there are four versions of Scrambler available. Icon, Urban Enduro, Full Throttle and Classic. Visually each one is slightly different to the other. Spoked wheels, mag wheels, high and low mudguards, different seat and bar layouts all offer a modular feel, though essentially the bike underneath is identical. Our riding day was on the Icon, which as you can see in the pictures is a pretty little thing.
You can find technical specifications at the end of this test, but in a nutshell, this is the most refreshingly basic bike that Ducati have built in as long as I can remember. Brakes are assisted Brembos, a single disc up front controlled by a radial mount four piston caliper. Suspension is adjustable in as much as it goes both up and down. Kayaba front and rear is perfectly adequate and suits the look and nature of the bike perfectly. You can adjust rear preload if you really want to, but I wouldn’t expect it to transform the bike into anything other than it already is. That 803cc motor delivers an utterly unstressed 75bhp at 8250rpm and 50 lb-ft of torque at 5750rpm. Modified slightly from its original form and now running a single 50mm throttle body, the motor is playful, not powerful. Jump on the bike and there’s a little more sag than I expected. The big squishy seat, high bars and almost balloon tyres reminded me of the sweet little Suzuki Van Van that we did terrible things to at Bruntingthorpe last year. The cable clutch and old school throttle housing all adding to the allusion of something older than it actually is. The lovely LED headlight and model specific clocks remind you that you’ve sat on a bike rather than stepped back in time.
The six-speed gearbox on my bike was a little tight, but we slipped into the Palm Springs traffic a treat. Ducati asked us to wear clothing that suited the bike, that meant open face helmets and armoured jeans. If you read the mag regularly you’ll know that this is the kind of garbage I wear year round on whichever bike I’m riding so I didn’t feel like a knob. When I looked back at 20 journos from around the world, I saw more than a few self-conscious looking faces. The casual look suits the nature of the bike perfectly. Not many people seemed to take notice of us at all. There was this one guy in a FedEx truck that asked for my number at a set of lights, but I think that was more beard than bike related.
The soft touch nature of the bike suited the start stop ride through Palm Springs really well, learner riders will be flattered by the ease that you can thread this bike around traffic. More experienced riders will absolutely annihilate traffic, easy steering with loads of lock, an upright view of the road ahead and the 186kilo weight carried low will make for light work of busy city riding. You have to let it rev to get ahead of the traffic and this is the first Ducati I’ve ever ridden where the quickest way to 60mph is via three gears, but it felt like fun and wasn’t frustrating in any way.
Climbing out of town and onto a sweeping canyon road, Scrambler was willing, acceleration off corners wasn’t exactly hair raising but it was never supposed to be. The whole point with the riding nature of this bike is quite a neutral one. If it had stacks of power it’d need stacks of brakes, which in turn would need more suspension than this bike has. As it is, everything is in tune with everything else and as long as you remember that you’re not supposed to be setting any lap records you’ll enjoy the easygoing nature of this bike. I got told off more than a few times by the Ducati grown ups for pulling wheelies, it’s not a boring a bike, far from it. By the end of the day we’d ridden through fog, freezing rain, cloud and stunning blue skies. I’d like to have been on a slightly more demanding route, the corners not really posing much of a challenge at the relaxed pace we were being forced to ride at made it hard to see exactly how capable the bike was. Handily I cashed in the excuse that I needed to shoot some TV footage for Bike World and hung around on the sweet roads when everyone else was heading back to the hotel for more ping-pong and campfire songs. As soon as they were out of earshot I had another few runs up and down the amazing roads, this time carrying more speed and throwing a few more shapes. Although the speed had increased, I didn’t find I was enjoying the ride much more. It was nice to see that the bike was capable, but this certainly isn’t the kind of bike that gets better the faster you go. In one third gear right-hander I managed to get the Pirelli MT60 rear tyre to move around and instantly thought I was going to die. Do not buy this bike and then complain that it’s crap on track. It’s not that kind of bike. Capisce?
So what kind of bike is it then? Is it anything like a Monster? Not really. A Ducati Monster is a performance bike loosely dressed as a naked bike. Just as capable at commuting as it is at a track day, not once during my time on the Scrambler was I reminded of a Monster. I started seeing this bike lurking at the learner end of the market. We all know that attracting new blood to motorcycling is tough at the minute. This bike should address that, as there’s no doubting it’s a cool looking thing. It has all the right riding ingredients to massively appeal to those looking for something cool to own that works. Scrambler does all that.
For a company obsessed with power and technology (next month we’ll be riding the 1299 Panigale round Portimao), Ducati have done an amazing job of trying to convince everyone that they’re not just horsepower hungry mentalists. They still do that bit really well, but sometimes it feels good to put your PlayStation down and pick up that old action man. I’m sure I wont be able to convince you all that the idea of surrounding a great bike with a load of cool T shirts and stickers makes this bike worth looking at, but if you ignore all the other stuff and just ride the bike, you’d struggle not to crack a smile on one, I’m sure. It doesn’t make me feel like a hipster or a retro biker, I still don’t know what Ducati meant when they said this was a ‘post heritage’ bike (doesn’t that just mean ‘now’?) it just made me feel good, like an S1000RR does when it’s flashing a tc light and my knee is on the road. Or a six hundred does when you nick past a 1000 on track, or a cheeky wheelie on a Street Triple. Feeling good on a motorbike is an entirely personal thing. Some bikers can’t get their head around the idea that that guy on the Harley who thinks he’s the Fonze is having just as good a time as that guy on the BMW who thinks he’s Charley Boorman. I’m a little less judgmental. Riding doesn’t need to be about escape and adventure and all the other clichéd crap, sometimes it can just be about going up the shops to get some sweets and on this bike would be very, very good at that.
I often try and cut through the mush of the launch location and picture how a bike will look and feel back in the real world. To be honest, this bike would make you feel good if all you were ever allowed to do was straight line it across a car park full of cowshit, it’s no firecracker to ride, but they’ve got exactly the right balance of everything to make you feel like you’re having a good time when you’re on it. New biker or old hand, restricted licence or restricted attention span, this bike will find a way into your good books, whether choose to buy the matching T shirt is up to you. Much like the Harley Davidson platform where the bike is just the beginning, Ducati are happy to sell you the sizzle as well as the sausage and fair play to them. At 99 quid a month on finance, I’m in.