Long-time Moto Adventurer followers are already familiar with my fascination with Red Headed Italian Supermodels. Beyond the desmodromic brand’s reputation and (at least partial) responsibility for getting me on a motorcycle, Ducati now has an entire line of motorcycles under the “Scrambler” moniker. I’ve been trying to get out to Ducati of Indy for a demo ride for over a year now; unfortunately, schedules have just not meshed up for whatever reason. As it turns out, my buddy Andy, recently moved back north and stopped in for a demo ride on Ducati’s newest Scramblers. Here’s Andy’s report:
Let’s start with the newbie, the Scrambler 1100 comes in three models, the Scrambler 1100, the 1100 Special, and the 1100 Sport; of the three, I chose to demo the 1100 Sport. The 1100 Sport is fitted with three ride modes, Active, Journey, and City. The Sport is also shipped with premium Ohlins suspension, both front and rear, where the other 1100 stable mates are fitted with a Kayaba rear shock and Marzocchi forks. The colors and the suspension are the most visible changes to the other models, and while there are other differences between the three, I feel the suspension is likely to have the largest impact. I’m not going to list all the specs here, this is just an initial impression of how the bike rides after a 30-mile mix of highway, backroads, and urban two lanes, you should have no problem looking up the specs for yourself to decide which of these premium motorcycles is for you (see Ducati Scrambler specs here). What I feel is important about a motorcycle isn’t all about the numbers and the technical specifications as much as how the bike makes you feel when you ride it and how badly you want to get back on when you’ve finished your trip.
My initial impression on the road, the Scrambler 1100 engine is really smooth compared to the last 1100 air-cooled Ducati I rode, the 2012 Hypermotard 1100 Evo SP that graced a corner of my garage a couple of years back (and is sorely missed on occasion). That bike still had the traditional dry clutch and although it was much better than older versions, it was still a bit grabby at times; there is none of that at all with this new Scrambler motor. In fairness, the 2012 Hypermotard was intended as more of a track bike than a commuter or weekend tourer so you’d expect a few rough edges. That wouldn’t be an issue racing but for daily use, as the Scrambler 1100 will primarily be used for, a level of “refinedness” should be expected; not to mention the six or so extra years of development that has since gone into the engine. I imagine the elevated smoothness of the engine and transmission can mostly be attributed to the wet clutch, but also better fuel mapping, and in general, the continuing evolution of the brand really does show through in the character of the bike. Although I need to confirm this, it feels as if the flywheel is a little heavier than previous 1100’s especially the Evo SP and Monster (which also benefited from a wet clutch). This impression is derived from the feeling the motor gives you as you either roll-on the throttle or just snap it open, it tends to gain momentum rather than instantly lurch forward; it’s not slow by any means, just a very pleasing change in forward momentum both in Active or Journey mode, it’s a controlled acceleration that is predictable, the feeling you expect from a well sorted engine. If you don’t know any better, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a three or four-cylinder bike if it wasn’t for the brilliant exhaust note. It really does sound like the real Ducati of old, even fitted with on the OEM cans. I bet you could increase the authenticity of the vintage sound with a less restrictive air filter and tail pipe, and some playing with the mapping.
The smooth engine is complimented by an easy clutch action, so light that it really takes no pressure to operate the lever, meaning the span can be adjusted for much smaller hands than my 2XL versions. The disengagement is achieved with a small pull and gears can be changed with very little movement. The six-speed gearbox is precise and provides excellent feedback with nothing even short of anything other than perfect transitions up and down the gearbox, even neutral was hit first time going up and going down to a standstill. Just a small blip is all it takes to slide into a lower gear when slowing for a stop sign or reducing speed for an upcoming curve. Words like ‘buttery smooth’ and ‘easy to ride’ frequently came to mind while I was curving through the roads north of Indy.
I did notice there is a smoother throttle response in Journey Mode with a little more forgiveness to a clumsy grab of too much throttle, it’s also noticeably more relaxed than the Active mode. I have to confess, I didn’t try the City mode with reduced horsepower but if it’s anything like the Urban mode on my current ride, the 2017 Monster 1200S, the step down isn’t felt until the throttle is more than half way open and your objective is rapid acceleration, it’s simply smoother. It’s more of an aid to provide the power in the right way, I imagine it’s like Journey mode in its power delivery, smooth, relaxed and responsive rather than the urgent response of Active mode which also changes the ABS setting from 3 in Journey to 2 in Active (lower numbers indicate less electronic intrusion). I assume it increases another number in City to a 4 or 5 level of intervention.
For a larger brother to the 800 Scrambler (and subsequent 400 cc “Scrambler Sixty2”) this is a nice step up in terms of size as the bike is just as well balanced and predictable as the smaller kin. Sure, it’s also a step up in power but it feels like the 1100 is meant to be for bigger folks and the 800 for average Giovani’s because although the extra power is noticeable, the bike’s ride is very much the same, and they are very close on the road. As the old saying goes, ‘a fast guy on an average bike will always be quicker than an average guy on a fast bike’, and this seems to be true here.
For the return leg of our little trip, we switched mounts and I took over the controls of the Scrambler 800 Café Racer. Where-as the 1100 is in the mold of the original Ducati Scrambler, the Café Racer has a revised riding position. This is achieved by changing out both the handlebars and going to a smaller 17-inch front wheel. The other Scramblers are fitted with 18-inch fronts and 17-inch rears, apart from the Desert Sled which sits a little higher and has a 19-inch front rim. The Café Racer’s dual seventeens give the bike a feeling of slightly faster steering with a ride that’s no less stable.
As the 800 Café Racer is slightly smaller than the 1100, you’d expect it to be a bit lighter, where it delivers, but it’s also a different bike to sit on. This bike has more of an old school lean forward than a true Café Racer position. The difference in the weight wasn’t really noticeable at standstill (454lbs for the 1100 and 414lbs for the Café Racer), sure there was just a bit more of a pull to get the 1100 off the side-stand but I’m wondering how much of the difference was due to the bars rather than the extra 40 pounds; I’ve always felt low bars made you feel the weight more. The 1100 and the other 800s have a pretty upright riding position that give a good command of the road ahead and makes it easy to look around while you’re travelling, while the Café Racer’s position is more forward, it doesn’t take away from that ability to see all around you in any way. The mirrors on Ducati’s are very good these days, and the bike is still very comfortable, much more so that the head-down, arse-up position of the more glittery race reps that everyone used to hanker for.
Just like the bigger 1100, the Café Racer’s suspension is spot on – not too firm, but certainly not plush; it feels sporty, properly sprung and quite confidence inspiring. It’s a great match for the engine characteristics. Overall, they are both well sorted, torquey bikes with great road manners and easy to operate controls that are easy to reach and in the right place. The 800 has the same round retro style gauge cluster with little lights around the circumference to show turn signal direction, high beam and other warning lights but lacks the extra obround gauge the 1100 has overlaying the main gauge. After all, there’s more info to relay on the 1100, with all the ride modes and traction control data you need to know.
Both of these bikes are more than capable of performing all kinds of daily activities in comfort, although for my old bones the more upright 1100 had more space for me to move around when certain body parts feel like they’re likely to get a wee bit uncomfortable. I imagine the other 800’s and 400 for that matter have the same casual upright riding position that’s roomy and relatively relaxed but keeps you engaged. The seats are soft enough to keep you in place but not so soft that any hard spots were noticed in an hour or so of riding; I’m guessing they’re good for a few hours between fuel stops, burger joints, coffee shops, and sightseeing.
Of course, there are lots of options to bolt on these machines to customize them in a number of ways, whether it’s for touring comfort, off-roading, urban commuting, or you’re just looking for a little bit of individuality, and that’s on top of the wide range of bikes that are the Scrambler family.
These machines are a pleasure to ride, and my intuition tells me they’re a pleasure to own and will meet your needs and grow with you as your capability and skills increase if you are a relatively new rider, where a more experienced rider will still find them more than capable of hauling you around with a level of aplomb only found in sport bikes of just ten years ago. You can throw them around and they respond with a rewarding riding experience, or you can bimble about picking up groceries as cool as you can be. They are easy to live with (you can’t say that about every Italian) and I wouldn’t mind either one (or both) in my garage.
I also want to note, a big thanks goes to Bill Carr, Matt Carr, and Dave Jenkins for the opportunity to ride these fabulous bikes. You should certainly go see them at Indy Ducati, and know they’re passionate about the brand and are truly good people to deal with.