A vintage motorcycle, replete with knobby tires and a thin film of dust, rests on its kickstand. On one handlebar swings a pair of worn goggles, on the other a scuffed helmet. Behind the bike, a lonely beach with waves lapping onto the shore. Or mountains, glowing orange from a vibrant sunset. Maybe somewhere a shapely young girl’s silhouette — helmet in hand, hair blowing in the breeze — decorates the horizon.
This is the image Ducati desperately wants you to form when you think of its new Scrambler. It's the image they've spent countless dollars on meticulously engineering. Yes, the Scrambler’s marketing campaign looks like it was distilled from the wet dreams of some well-tatted Greenpoint whisky mixologist, but none of that matters. What really matters is that the Scrambler is one helluva motorcycle. Simple, easy to ride, minimally handsome and competent in every capacity.
This makes the Scrambler a top-notch entry-level bike, a segment that has long been ignored in the Horsepower Arms Race that has overtaken every aspect of the automotive industry. Fewer and fewer kids are jumping on motorcycles nowadays so headline-making 200-horsepower bikes have become increasingly common and increasingly otherworldly - at exactly the time when they should be growing more accessible.
With the Scrambler, it’s clear Ducati’s gotten the message. The formula is simple, as it should be. The wide, tall handlebars and high-mounted foot pegs offer an upright riding position with excellent vision and very little back strain. The low ride height (31” seat) means you can throw your leg over it without ripping your selvedge denim RRLs. Its lightweight character (380 lbs with fuel) plays well with the rear Kayaba mono shock, balancing pothole cushioning with twisty-hugging tautness. There are no fancy fairings to dent, scratch or smash, so even a couple newbie drops won’t damage your wallet. Its fuel injected, air-cooled 803cc v-twin engine — borrowed from the now defunct Monster 796 — offers plenty of push with smoothness and great predictability. No it won’t set any Google alerts off with its performance metrics (75 horsepower/50 lb-ft of torque), but that’s not what the Scrambler needs. The torque delivery is powerful enough that when you need it you got it, plenty of it, especially at lower revs.
Taking the Scrambler through its courses up high in the crest of the San Jacinto Mountains, all these characteristics cohered to create one wicked fun ride. These were challenging roads: a scratchwork of California switchbacks, compounded with a mountain’s worth of elevation changes. Plus drastic temperature drops as well, from the tepid Palm Springs valley into the frigid high-terrain winter winds of Idyllwild. And through all the twists and turns, the peaks and valleys, the dips and straights that confronted the Scrambler, the bike handled them with a calm, collected, easy-to-predict character.
We even spent a little time shortcutting through gravel roads near Lake Hemet, flirting with the world that begins where the asphalt ends. No it won’t win the Baja 1000 anytime soon, but the Scrambler can tackle gravel and worse with little fanfare. The Pirelli knobby tires (custom-engineered for the Scrambler), aluminum belt covers and high ride height lend the Scrambler some off-road capability. This is a bike that’s not afraid to get grimy.
All which is on-point for the heritage of the storied Scrambler nameplate. Today as Ducati returns to its core roots, they revive a vehicle so important to their future that it will not simply be a model, but rather a sub-brand of its own. For early adapters, the Scrambler will arrive initially as the $8,495 Icon. The base Scrambler offers all of the above with standard tear-drop steel gas tank, single round LCD gauge, best-in-class monoblock Brembo brakes with ABS, 18” light alloy wheels, LED taillight and even a USB charger hidden under the seat. Three more models will follow soon, each with a slightly different aspiration — but similar pricetag of $9,995.
The Classic will come with a vintage seat, old school spoke wheels and a plate holder extending from the taillight, instead of the tire hub. The Enduro is the most sludge-worthy version of the Scramblers, furnished with a higher front mudguard, fork protectors, skid plate and mesh steel headlight grill to protect key parts of the bike when shit gets rocky. The Enduro also features an off-road handlebar (with cross bar for strengthening) and a ribbed brown leather seat, and is available only in Wild Green. The Full Throttle might just be the best looking of the bunch, thanks to its stubby Termignoni racing exhaust, black-with-yellow colorway and lower, tapered handlebars. This is the bike most loyal to the OG Scrambler’s flat-track roots, and the one we’ll be waiting for cash in hand.
Photos by Ducati