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A Non-Hipster Review of the Ducati Scrambler

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The Ducati Scrambler is the bike from Bologna for 2015. Loyal Ducatisti might be more excited by the upgraded Ducati 1299 Panigale, or the all-new Ducati Multistrada 1200, but in terms of company growth and the future of the Italian brand, the Ducati Scrambler takes center stage.

With four waves of 30+ journalists coming to Palm Springs for the international press launch, it’s clear that Ducati is casting a wide net with the Scrambler, especially with the number of non-industry publications present.

The term “lifestyle brand” is often a four-letter word in the motorcycle industry, of course ignoring the obvious that all of motorcycling is a lifestyle choice in the first world, but nonetheless the term has been used liberally with Ducati and the company’s racing heritage.

That being said, the Ducati Scrambler is perhaps the most lifestyle-focused motorcycle ever to come from Bologna — so much so, Ducati made the Scrambler its own brand even.

This is an important element, as on its own merits the Ducati Scrambler is a great back-to-basics motorcycle for the Ducati line, and at $8,600 for the Icon model, it makes for a killer entry point model for any rider into the Ducati brand.

Having enough thrust to appease your motolust, the Ducati Scrambler Icon, as we tested it, is true to the basic Ducati performance heritage, and it fills Ducati’s need for a budget commuter, off-road scrambler, and just “fun” second bike. But there is another component to the Scrambler that gets lost in translation, depending on what sub-genre of two-wheeled freedom you hail from.

Don’t Call Me Hip

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The night before our ride, Ducati ran us through the evolution from the Ducati Scrambler of the 1960’s into machine before us today, and what the “Scrambler Ducati” brand represents for customers, and for the company.

Watching Borgo Panigale’s finest dance around the dreaded “h-word” was an amusement in itself, and I would argue that any use of the phrase “self-ironic” should count on a judge’s ruling of this game of Taboo. Let’s speak clearly for a moment, because while Ducati doesn’t want to outright say it, the Italian motorcycle company is clearly pitching the hipster crowd on this retro-cool machine.

Thus, listing performance aspects, horsepower figures, and the various whistles and bells on the Ducati Scrambler is a lost cause…this isn’t a motorcycle that is being sold on its technical aspects. It is being sold on its emotion, on its aesthetic, and its resonance with a younger and newer demographic. This became immediately apparent to us before even swinging a leg over the Scrambler.

“Why doesn’t it have a high-pipe?” a tattooed not-a-journalist colleague of mine asked, as he pried his hands from his designer jeans that cost more than my mortgage. “Thank you!” echoed another sarcastic flannel shirt and beard. The questions that take priority here are certainly straying from what you’d usually hear at a press launch of this caliber — though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The search for authenticity, or at least what the hipster gentry have established as being “authentic” in the two-wheeled world is on the line with this simple question.

Because, if there’s one thing that the Triumph Scrambler or any of the one-off builds we’ve seen on BikeEXIF has taught us, it’s that real scramblers have waist-high pipes that shoot back from the cylinder heads to the rear of the motorcycle, right?

Much to the chagrin of the asker, our Ducati representative has an answer ready: it turns out that the original Scrambler, the “authentic” scrambler from the golden era of the 60’s (not the pretend 60’s era being peddled in 2014), didn’t have a high-mounted pipe. It wasn’t necessary, and the design had a tendency to burn both rider and passenger.

Aftermarket, Not After-Thought

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You can of course get a high-mounted double-pipe from the extensive parts catalog that is available from the Scrambler Ducati brand, if your pursuit for authenticity takes you in such a direction, and that’s the other beauty behind the Scrambler line.

Ducati learned long ago that there is value in aftermarket parts sales, not only in cash but also in brand engagement. The Scrambler takes that to the next degree, with various exhaust options, tank panel inserts, and customization parts available to owners. There is an entire clothing line as well…stuff you would actually wear when you are not sitting a motorcycle even. Crazy, right?

For those keeping track, we are now a third of the way into this ride review, and I have yet to mention a single tech spec or aspect of riding the Ducati Scrambler. This isn’t on accident, it’s to prove a point: there is so much more about this model, this line, and this brand that needs to be evaluated than what goes rolling down the road. One could argue that the bike itself is irrelevant.

It doesn’t matter that our more “hip” colleagues were rolling menaces on the roads of Palm Springs (I think all of them had a motorcycle endorsement), what matters is that riders who were well outside the Ducati demographic were interested, nay, enthusiastic about riding the cheapest Ducati on the showroom floor.

For a brand that is centered around up-selling you to the next spec sport bike, lathering on “S” and “R” prestige with each child’s college tuition you forfeit for the honor, this is a decidedly different approach. Ducati isn’t selling Rolex watches you can ride down the road, it’s selling you a Timex, because Rolexes are so over-played and Timex’s are so, well…not.

The Bike

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The Timex watch might be the perfect analogy for the Ducati Scrambler: affordable in price and value, and basic in design and execution, as the Scrambler does its core function, being a motorcycle, just as well as the spendiest models out there, but without breaking the bank.

The Ducati Scrambler itself is a perfectly fine model. I struggle to exude the over-enthusiasm that I am sure some of my colleagues will find on paper, albeit few showed it in person, as the Ducati Scrambler isn’t a motorcycle that will blow your socks off, and make grins ear-to-ear, like say…a Ducati Hypermotard can do.

It’s just a plain motorcycle that will make you happy if for no other reason than the raison d’être of motorcycling.

Geared short, presumably for “scrambling” off-road use, the Ducati Scrambler is a fun twist of the wrist from stoplight to stoplight. Its 803cc, 75hp, air-cooled, v-twin engine jumps off the line with good mechanical torque through the drivetrain, and revs cleanly to the next gear shift.

Newer riders might be put-off by the lurch off the line that Scrambler can have, and this might be the bike’s biggest fault, since it is aimed squarely and younger/newer riders, but it’s a characteristic that seemingly everyone on our ride came to terms with by the end of the day.

Despite having a single-disc, braking is an easy affair, and something that was tested regularly with our somewhat “green” field of riders. It helps that the single-disc in question is a 330mm one, right off the Panigale, with a Brembo monoblock and master-cylinder to match. Sportier riders won’t miss the double-disc setup they’re used to, too much.

Ducati made the Scrambler very short, 31″ in seat height, with a very narrow seat, which betrays that figure some. My 6’2″ frame found the height too short, cramping my legs to some extent. Though I noticed that our shorter riders on the press launch had no problem finding terra firma with their feet, even the ladies.

This meant though that more of my weight had to be supported through my ass, than my legs, and the Icon model does not come with an accommodating seat. After 30 miles, I quickly noticed the strain, which was surprising to me, since I have been putting in a number of touring miles lately and bring my own natural cushioning.

The upper-body position is wide and high, and favors a longer torso. The bars are high enough to stand up for off-road use (something we didn’t get to do on the ride, I might add, thanks to the recent rain in California), though taller riders like myself will want a couple more inches — a byproduct of the high footpeg placement, which might be harder to remedy than you think.

On-road the Scrambler handles well, thanks primarily to its lightweight package and low center of gravity. The suspension wasn’t as soft as was expected, showing an on-road bias. Bumps were dulled, not muted, and feedback to the rider was fairly crisp for something with “scrambler” in its name. As can be expected at the entry-level segment, not much is adjustable beyond the pre-load.

We can only infer from the few ad hoc “off-road” moments that we created that the handling extends beyond where the sidewalk ends, and the lack of a proper off-road outing was the dismay of many riders at the launch. California badly needs the rain its getting this week during the media introduction, but it’s come at a price for motorcyclists.

Overall, there are many positive things to say about the Ducati Scrambler, but that does not mean that the Icon models we rode were without issue.

The Scrambler’s exhaust does its job perhaps too well, masking the thump from the 803cc v-twin. Since most owners will be replacing it anyways (with high-mounted pipes, perhaps?), it’s really not a big issue.

I was more disappointed to see that the ABS could only be turned on or off, with no option to leave the front on, and the rear off, like on other Ducati ABS systems. For a bike that at least can be taken off-road in aspiration, it would have been nice to have the added braking technology for that realm.

A misrouted throttle cable found me going into a corner with the throttle not closing all the way. A simple remedy, but certainly could have been disaster in different circumstances. Hopping onto another bike, the kickstand switch gave a false positive…a one-two punch to the riding confidence.

Another rider faced a fuel hose that came loose on the freeway, not long after we left our launch point; and not atypical of a Ducati launch, reports of mis-shifts (between 5th and 6th for me) abounded in the group.

The latter issue is pretty standard Ducati operating procedure, and usually goes away after the first service interval at 6oo miles, though the others bode the marks of new model disease. Our VIN numbers all read the bikes as coming from Bologna (the US models will be “built” in Thailand though), you can factor that into the analysis as you will.

Final Thoughts

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Despite these minor setbacks, Ducati appears to have a massive sales monster on its hands, and the $8,600 MSRP on the Icon model can likely be thanked for that. I have a steak dinner bet that the Scrambler will account for one in three Ducati models sold in 2015, which is a bold evaluation, though not an unreasonable one.

Interested motorcyclists will find that Ducati has built a budget-conscious motorcycle for the rest of us. The Scrambler replaces the Monster in this regard, and does so with aplomb.

The scrambler format adds a bit more off-road credibility to Ducati’s lineup as well, though it is unlikely that too many Scramblers will find themselves outside of an urban environment. This alone should increase overall marketshare for Ducati, and we haven’t even touched on the Scrambler’s other dimension.

There is tremendous marketing and hype around the Scrambler to make it enough of a Ducati as to hit the relevant positive points of the brand (style, performance, & aesthetic), but not so much so that the machine gets mired down in the spec-sheet racing of every other Bologna Bullet.

Great lengths have been gone through to help those who desire so, to put their own stamp on the Scrambler — there is an obvious effort here to appeal to younger riders, and more importantly, younger non-riders, that this is the new perception of “cool”.

I am not cool. I’m am not a hipster with manicured facial hair and designer non-designer jeans. I don’t live an ironic lifestyle. So, my judgment and assessment of the Scrambler’s x-factor has to come by merely observation.

Ducati has gone to great lengths to foster a relationship between the Scrambler and the hipster movement, save short of offering a discount on PBR beer. If I’m more of a traditional motorcyclist in this analysis, then these hip riders represent one aspect of the new guard — the next generation that will define what motorcycles mean to the mainstream.

Thus, I see dealers having two very different groups of customers lining their doorways for a chance to test ride a Scrambler. One group will be the rider they have always had, and know how to sell to with the Ducati brand.

The other…the other will be a group they have long said they wanted to reach out to and bring into the fold, but never seemed to understand, and it will take “Scrambler Ducati” brand thinking to maximize that opportunity.

Time will tell how Ducati and its dealer network balances those two brands, but I’m optimistic…even if I don’t understand it. Motorcycle companies are having to cope with the idea that the generations since the baby boomers have wildly different lenses through which they view the world, and as such, view motorcycling as well.

We are just now seeing the fruition of that understanding, and Ducati has taken a bold step in catering to those different lenses with the Scrambler. I suspect the Ducati Scrambler will do well on its merits as a motorcycle. I suspect the Ducati Scrambler will be a sales hit because of its attempt to reach beyond what’s right in front of the Ducati brand.

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Photos: © 2014 Milagro / All Rights Reserved

Helmet: AGV Corsa – Racetrack; Jacket: Dainese Archivio; Pants: Rokker Original Kevlar Jeans; Boots: Dainese Axial Pro In; Gloves: Dainese Full Metal RS

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.

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