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When the Hume Highway was still fun to ride, and not a mindless drone along the multi-lane superslab, the top of the Razorback north of Picton was marked by a huge oak tree. This was more than just a tree – it was the heraldic symbol of Anthony Hordern & Sons, for a time Sydney’s largest department store. The motto on the coat of arms with the tree was “While I live I’ll grow”. Forty years ago as I write this, a lightning strike destroyed the tree as the company’s retail operations crumbled.
“While I live I’ll grow”, so sadly prophetic in that case, is also a most appropriate positive motto in the economic world. As a company you can’t stay still – you need to grow or your shareholders get annoyed. And if there are natural limits to your growth, you need to transcend them somehow. If you’re in the bike business, for example, it is all too easy to become known for one particular kind of motorcycle. The limit to your growth is then the size of the market for that type of bike. But you need to keep growing, so you need to think outside that category.
For example, both BMW and Ducati have done that by launching bike types that would more usually be associated with the other brand – BMW with its sports bikes and Ducati with the Multistradas. Both marques have been successful, and both have gained substantial growth. But of course you can’t stand still even when you are on a winner.
So to continue to grow, Ducati has decided to look back to its own history and to re-launch the Scrambler name. Unlike the company’s previous attempt to reach back for type and styling, with the Sport Classic range, this time they went for a relatively small bike, but with a huge publicity effort. By the time the iconic yellow container opened at the 2014 Cologne motorcycle show, there wasn’t a motorcyclist in the arid plains of the Deccan or the misty valleys of central China who didn’t have a pretty good idea of what it was about.
Mind you, there was still a surprise for CEO Claudio Domenicali to reveal. There wasn’t just one Scrambler, there were four – but more of that later. The odd thing about the Cologne launch was that the bike was not received with the kind of rapture that Ducati expected. The attitude from the assembled reptiles of the press was positive, but no more than that. This was especially strange because Ducati had done its best to overcome the most common point of resistance – reluctance to accept something from beyond a marque’s usual type – by tying the Scrambler so strongly to its famous predecessors from the ‘60s and ‘70s. This, they were saying with their videos and other publicity, is not something “new” for Ducati; it is simply the Scrambler as it would be if it had never been discontinued. There is a lot to that, and having ridden one of the bikes now, I can see it breaking down resistance. After all, despite basic differences like the engine (an L twin in the new bike, a single in the old ones) the bikes’ styling and overall appeal are very similar. I’d say that they have hit the spot, and going by the reaction of many of the other journalists after the launch ride, that’s going to be a general reaction. The proof has, I think, been in the riding – and it has been proof positive.
One difference from the previous Scrambler is that Ducati is presenting these bikes as the beginning of a new brand, not just Ducati models. Perhaps like Aprilia with Scarabeo, and Piaggio with Vespa. Presumably this means there will be other bikes in the Scrambler range, with extra emphasis on the “Scrambler” rather than the “Ducati” name – they could start by removing the over-obvious “Ducati” from the back of the seat. I’m also not sure about the odd bright metal graphics that pop up in various places on the engine. I guess they break up the black?
The Icon we rode is the base model and the second-cheapest of the range, the yellow Icon which will sell for $13,140 here. The red Icon will cost $12,990; the Classic with its wire wheels and aluminium mudguards comes in at $14,990, as do the fl at-tracker style Full Throttle which comes already fi tted with the classy Termignoni slip-on mufflers, and finally the urbane (sic) guerrilla style Urban Enduro. There are differences between the bikes, but they are fairly minor and mainly involve styling. So the Icon I rode can stand in for its siblings pretty well. Let me get my reaction out of the way right now: this is simply a terrifi c bike. Its air cooled desmodromic engine may have been detuned from the 796 Monster’s but it puts out a highly satisfying lot of torque. It spins up nicely from a stop and doesn’t really let up until the rev limiter cuts in, well above 8000rpm. I’m not sure if it is the old-fashioned but effective cable throttle which gives the bike its smooth throttle response, but whatever it is, I wouldn’t mind having it on some other, theoretically much more sophisticated, bikes.
The gearbox is excellent, possibly the best I have ever encountered on a Ducati. You don’t need to use it as often as you would on other Ducatis; the torque band is quite wide. I guess that’s a result of the bike not needing to pull every available horsepower from its engine. As it is, the Scrambler gives away some 12 horses to its donor engine from the 796, but is more fl exible in return – and powerful enough for anyone.
It doesn’t look like it when you see it from a distance, but the Scrambler is quite small. Its 1445mm wheelbase makes it highly manoeuvrable, and that is helped by the non-adjustable upside-down 41mm Kayaba fork and the preload adjustable single Kayaba shock on the rear. Each of them offers 150mm of travel and works well, although a short, sharp shock can find itself transmitted a little rudely to your backside. I suspect that sorting the preload will fix that. Tyres are 18 inch front and 17 inch rear, a compromise between road and dirt hoops according to Ducati. The tread pattern of the Pirelli MT60s could be considered the same; I found them pleasantly grippy on the tar and pleasantly secure when I made a small excursion (a deliberate one!) into the dirt. Ducati claims limited “soft road” dirt potential for the bike.
Ergonomics are just right for someone of my height (5’11”) and, I would imagine, for almost anyone else although tall riders might fi nd the 790mm standard seat a little low. Sufferers from Ducks’ Disease can opt for a 770mm seat. Foot pegs are slightly forward but still allow you to put some weight on them. The bike is relatively light at 170kg dry, and easy to handle. It even has a decent lock to lock distance of 35 degrees, not something we’re used to from Borgo Panigale.
Turn-in is as slick as I’ve ever encountered, and this is one bike on which I am perfectly happy to do feet-up U-turns, even on narrow roads with a battery of lenses pointed at me. Stopping is just as competent as going, with a 330mm disc with a radial 4 piston caliper on the front (with an adjustable lever) and a 245mm single piston floating caliper on the rear. ABS is standard (but can be switched off), and I don’t think there is any need for another front disc, as one or two of the others suggested.
There is not a lot of what my dear departed Mum used to call “shnickshnack” on the Scramblers. There’s a USB port under the seat matched with a small space which would hold your phone while you were recharging it. Instruments are housed in a single, slightly off-centre pod. They include the ABS warning light, an odometer and two trip meters, a clock, air temperature gauge, fuel light and maintenance reminder as well as oil pressure, high beam, neutral, turn signal and over-rev warning light, which comes on a couple of hundred revs before the rev limiter. There is also an immobiliser light, and you can set a pin which will allow you to override the immobiliser if you lose the key.
The exhaust on the Icon is pleasantly throaty… well, a little bit, anyway. I would want to do some work on mine, possibly starting with trying the Termignonis.
Fuel consumption is a reasonable 5l/100km. Mirrors are large and stay clear at just about all speeds. I liked the seat on my Icon, but was voted down almost unanimously by the other riders I spoke to – they thought it was too hard. But of course there is a range of seats available. And not just seats. Ducati has gone out of its way to provide accessories to individualise the bikes. Apart from different handlebars and seats you can get in-style luggage, off-road foot pegs, headlight rims and grilles, high and low Termignoni exhausts, vintage grips and a heap of other stuff – including alternative aluminium panels for the 13.5 litre steel tank. Oh, and of course a range of clothing including Bell helmets and a really cool leather jacket. Ducati is keen to avoid calling the Scrambler “retro”, but many of the clothes are exactly that.
It’s a good thing that there is some luggage including a seat bag available, because it looks pretty diffi cult to attach bungees or Andy Strapz to the rear of the bike.
I suspect that the Scramblers will help quite a bit to keep Ducati growing, and I would love to punt one of these over Razorback. In fact I may end up doing just that; I’ve started talking to Ducati Australia about buying an Icon for myself.
Thanks to Peter aka "The Bear" for the story.
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