Ducati’s latest superbike, the 1299, makes 205bhp. This new Scrambler makes 75. But it’s also the better bike for most people, most of the time. We spent yesterday riding it through the mountains so we can tell you why.
I rode the Scrambler alongside Jalopnik’s Damon Lavrinc, who wrote an in-depth review. Consider this here article more of an insight into why Italy’s proudest maker of performance bikes is producing something that’s, well, completely different. And insight into why you can’t help but want one.
Back when I was a motorcycle journalist, I invested a good part of my writin’ effort into one of two things: parsing the inconsequential differences between largely identical 180bhp superbikes, or putting together service pieces around how you could avoid killing yourself on them. You see, up until 2008 — when everyone stopped buying motorcycles all of a sudden — every manufacturer in the world had been wrapped up in what’s best described as an arms race. Here, instead of drones and surveillance and asymmetric warfare, the weapons were horsepower and electronic rider aids.
Top tier horsepower swelled from about 125bhp or so back in the ’90s to 195bhp when BMW came out with the S1000RR. 125bhp still makes an exceptionally fast, challenging motorcycle, so 195 is literally unrideable without stuff like traction control and switchable rider modes and and semi-active suspension and ABS brakes.
All that sounds great, right? Faster bikes and fancy technology equals progress, right? It did, but it also led to two problems — the speed of these top tier suberbikes and thusly their smaller capacity counterparts outmatched the ability of the vast majority of riders. And, in chasing that ultimate power, the prices of these bikes also swelled out of the reach of most mortals, at least without credit. Seeing why 2008 was such a bad year for bikes?
Motorcycles had changed from what had been a simple, fun, affordable way to get around into toys for rich dudes and arseholes. The rich guys would do track days which, admittedly, are the most fun you’ll ever have in a leather onesie, but are just an incredibly expensive hobby that’s incredibly hard to get involved in. The arseholes rode around running into things while wearing bright white sneakers and denim shorts. In short, motorcycling was a bad look, not the kind of thing people like you and I would want to pick up. Its barriers to entry were too high and its appeal was too ethereal.
So, our generation didn’t ride. That was something that our dads and uncles might have done back in the day, but not something that was relevant in the 21st century.
The first company to pivot in the right direction was Honda. First launching the mis-named CBR250R (too many Rs!), then a whole range of affordable, accessible bikes that were about transportation, not overcompensation. The CB300F, CBR300R, CB500F, CBR500R, CB500X, NC700X, CTX700, et al are universally wonderful motorcycles that are easy and fun to ride, in addition to being affordable. But, with the American motorcycle market in the toilet, Honda understandably focussed on its exponentially larger markets in Southeast Asia, styling this new generation of motorcycles for their tastes, not ours.
Enter Ducati. While other motorcycle makers have been focussing elsewhere, they have taken a renewed interest in North America and basically developed the Scrambler just to convert yanks in their 20s and 30s into motorcyclists.
If the Scrambler looks familiar, that’s because it is. Deus Ex Machina, See See and the streets of Silverlake and Williamsburg; its styling could have been pulled directly from anyone of them. And that’s a good thing. There’s a reason why BikeEXIF has several times the readership of CycleWorld.
Its mechanical components will also be familiar. The air-cooled, 796cc V-Twin that powers it was pulled straight out of the last-generation Monster (which has since gone water-cooled and “frameless”) and bolted in here unmodified.
Those two attributes together — the friendly, appealing styling and simple, pre-existing components — add up to a bike that’s both sexy and affordable.
I’ll let Damon describe the riding experience in depth, but suffice it to say that the Scrambler is fun, characterful and easy, in stark contrast to the challenge and intimidation that defines what it’s like to ride Ducati’s flagship, the Panigale. You don’t get on the Scrambler and get scared, you get on it and just enjoy the ride. It’s plenty fast and all that, but the people buying one as their first bike won’t have too much of an issue.
The Scrambler’s not about setting records or lap times or winning superbike shoot outs, it’s about just having a good time riding motorcycles. Something that’s actually a pretty special experience that’s relevant to a lot of people. The Scrambler is an honest good time and just a great way to get around. And that’s what riding a motorcycle should be all about and what’s going to define their newfound popularity with a new generation of rider. Go get one, you’ll like it.