Old school, off-road styled retro bikes are all the rage these days. Known as ‘scramblers’ these 1960’s dirt bike inspired motorbikes are big business in 2019. Early scramblers were basically modified roadsters, adapted to be ridden off road, and Triumph arguably restarted the genre just over a decade ago, when the Steve McQueen tribute 865cc Bonneville Scrambler arrived on the scene amid much acclaim. It was Ducati who took the genre to a new level some five years ago, when it launched its own Scrambler model. That has gone on to become the Bologna company’s best selling bike, leading to a slew of models coming onto the market.
These days most of the major manufacturers offer their own scramblers, and Insidebikes pays homage to five of the best…
BMW R nineT Scrambler
BMW’s retro range is known as the R nineT and comes in five different flavours, from classic roadster, through to café racer and even an early 1980s R80G/S tribute called the R nineT Urban G/S. With the current trend for scramblers, there is inevitably also a scrambler version called, erm, the R nineT Scrambler.
Unlike many of the bikes here, the BMW is more of a styling exercise than an attempt to make a genuine off-road bike. The larger, 19”, front wheel, upswept exhaust and rubber fork gaiters give the impression of an old school enduro bike, but the standard Metzeler Tourance tyres and limited ground clearance mean that the 110bhp 1170cc boxer is a pure road bike, and a very good one at that too. Options including cross-spoked wire wheels, dual sport tyres, single seat and an aluminium bash plate, make the BMW more dirt focussed if that’s your bag, and why wouldn’t it be?
Triumph Scrambler 1200XE
The original Triumph Scrambler became something of a cult classic when it was launched in 2006.
The Bonneville based Scrambler might have been a bit heavy and clunky, and not really suitable for anything other than the most gentle of off-roading, but it proved hugely popular thanks to looks that were totally on point. It stayed in the Hinckley company’s range for over a decade, before emissions laws signed its death knell.
A few years back we saw the introduction of the 900cc Street Scrambler, based on the latest generation Bonneville, although (as the name suggests) it proved to be more ‘street’ than ‘scrambler’. For riders looking for a retro ride with real off-road chops, Triumph have come good this year with the launch of the new Scrambler 1200 models. Two versions exist, the standard XC model and the high end XE. The XC already boasts an impressive spec, but £800 more buys the steroid pumped XE, with its taller suspension, better brakes and a raft of ultra modern rider modes that belie the olde world looks.
Ducati Scrambler Icon
Ducati’s Scrambler launch came in a flurry of hype. ‘The Land of Joy’ sung Ducati’s marketing bods, as the new Scrambler range came in to broaden the appeal of the classic Italian brand.
The Scrambler is inspired by the American market models of the same name from the 1960s. While those models were small capacity singles, the latest Scramblers feature air-cooled versions of the modern day L-twin motors.
There are a whole host of different versions. Like BMW’s R nineT, the wide range also includes a café racer option. Most use the 72bhp 903cc engine, but A2 licence riders are catered for by the 400cc Sixty Two, while the latest 1100 offers additional performance. Those looking for off-road capability are well catered for by the pumped up Desert Sled model, but the purity of the entry level Icon makes it an understandably popular choice for new and experienced riders alike.
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With bright colours, an easy going riding position, simple technology and loads of engine character, there’s something quite, erm, joyous about the Scrambler. Sure, there are a number of safety focussed rider aids on the latest examples, most noticeably traction control and cornering ABS, but overall it’s the simplicity that creates a unique riding experience that has proved so popular with riders young and old.
Of all the Japanese manufacturers, it’s Yamaha that has most fully embraced the latest factory custom craze.
While the XSR700 and XSR900 added a dash of Seventies style to the popular MT-07 and MT-09 roadsters, the scrambler-styled SCR950 had an unlikely donor bike in the form of the XV950 cruiser.
Despite a look that is inspired by the iconic XT500, the cruiser heritage means that the SCR950 is a little longer, lower and heavier than most of the other scramblers on the market and if it’s a full-on scrambler with genuine off-road potential that you’re looking for, the SCR950 probably won’t be at the top of your list. That said, the V-twin Yamaha provides a more mellow and accessible riding experience than many of the other machines on this list. It’s cheaper than the other bikes in the class too, and if you like the idea of an entry level cruiser but want something with edgier looks, the SCR950 is definitely worthy of consideration.
Herald Scrambler 125
You don’t have to ride a big bike to ride a scrambler. Manufacturers of 125s, particularly the Chinese built 125s, have been quick to adopt the whole retro scrambler scene.
From the trendy Mondial HPS 125 from Italy, through to the Brummie Mutt and French Mash, there are a number of cool but inexpensive learner legal bikes on the market. Among the most popular are Cambridgeshire hipsters Herald, who have a pair of A1 licence machines in their range.
The £2399, Scrambler ticks all the styling cues and is cheap to run, thanks to its simple air-cooled, Suzuki based four-stroke engine, while the more expensive Maverick 125 features a taller, more off-road stance, and a proper ‘Bike Shed’ feel to it. Both are proving popular as trendy commuter bikes and have played their part in dispelling the myth that all Chinese bikes are dull and badly built.