Triumph have established themselves as makers of unique motorcycles recently, from the full-on sportbikes like 675 Daytona, to this cool 60s retro style Scrambler 900.
Featuring US spec high handlebars, upswept exhausts and two-tone paint, the Scrambler is a modern bike with easy handling, respectable performance and good comfort. It’s no all year round commuter, and you wouldn’t dream of touring or doing a trackday on one, but if simple, good old fashioned weekend fun is your thing, then the Scrambler could be the ideal bike.
Alastair Walker spent a week in the summer of 2006 scrambling about.
Like the saying goes, the past is a place worth visiting occasionally, but you wouldn’t want to live there again. In the case of British motorcycles that is especially true, and those of you old enough to recall riding the vile, oil-leaking, badly made, vibrating piles of crap produced by BSA, Triumph, Norton and others during the 60s and 70s, will probably agree.
I once owned a Triumph Trident T150 which failed to complete three consecutive rides without some mechanical or electrical problem causing me to stop at the roadside and consider summoning help, or simply kicking it to pieces in a fit of frustrated rage.
But times change, and the Hinckley Triumphs are a million miles ahead of the old Brit bikes in terms of reliability, braking, handling and performance. These are bikes you can ride everyday, not worry about bits dropping off, or the engine dripping Castrol 10/40W over your garage floor.
That said, the Bonneville 790 might not actually be much faster than its T120 650cc predecessor, and the Scrambler feels alarmingly like a Honda CB500 twin when you first fire it up and head doff into the traffic on the A5. The engine is docile to the point of feeling to tame, lacking the traditional Bonneville bark, that kick-in-the-pants acceleration I remember from some of my first rides aboard big twins back in the 70s. Some folk might like it that way, but as many a Harley owner – and shareholder – might observe, there’s much to be said for keeping the gruff character of iconic motorbikes alive.
The Scrambler has more than enough lunge for town traffic of course, and once on the open road, you feel confident that it can thrum along at 60mph-75mph all day long. The 865cc motor makes a claimed 54bhp at 7000rpm, which is ample for this type of retro cruiser and whatever the top speed of the Scrambler is, I had no desire to waste my time trying to find out. It just isn’t that kind of motorbike and if you want that kind of biking experience, then Triumph’s Speed Triple is probably gonna be a better bet.
In terms of handling the Bonnie Scrambler is competent, but not especially good. It lacks real precision and I felt the front forks were a bit soft and bouncy at time, but I could see why most riders could easily live with a more basic level of suspension and steering – that is what the Scrambler is supposed to about after all, an off-roader that’s being used occasionally on the streets. That’s how the genre started back on the West Coast in the 60s.
The Scrambler then is more about style than the substance of motorcycle riding. This isn’t a bike where you take time to string together a sequence of bends on your favourite road, or challenge your mates to a burn up down to Brighton. Instead, you would be better off simply riding along country lanes in high summer, checking out horses standing morosely in the fields, catching a glimpse of a pub being renovated as you rumble past, or consider the sky’s cloudscape versus the possibility of a BBQ later on…
Motorcycles are magical keys to a self contained world; an escape valve that lets you forget the mad world around us for a few hours, so sometimes, it’s refreshing to simply ride, nowhere in particular, at no great speed. In the end, I concluded that the performance, the handling and the braking on the Scrambler was of secondary importance to one simple factor; it made me feel free, glad to be alive, content to be unreachable for a while.
It reminded me of a time back in the 80s when I owned a GS550 Suzuki that wasn´t fast, looked OK, sounded well and I mainly rode it in jeans, trainers, jacket & lid. Basic biking. In a word, fun.
I got that same feeling with the Scrambler, of enjoying riding a bike for its own sake, not carving my way as clinically as possible past the hordes of dithering imbeciles and illegal drivers, who clog up the road network of Britain these days.
So the Triumph Bonneville Scrambler can also revive some of the old school freedom of biking, as well as the looks of the 60s. What else has it got going for it? In a word, style. Yes, it looks cool and there’s a huge array of accessories available to make it your own thing, from bash plates to race plate holders, a gel seat to a chain and sprocket kit, it’s all in the Triumph catalogue. Then again, there are specialists like Jack Lilley who will turn your Scrambler into something more fire-breathing if you fancy it too.
One thing I would say is that for £5500 I think the Scrambler should come with a centre-stand as standard, and there doesn’t seem to be a front mudguard flap available in the accessory catalogue, which would be handy for anyone interested in protecting the finish of the engine cases in the long term.
The bike doesn’t have a locking fuel cap either, which is taking retro cool a bit too far – owners will have their tanks drained routinely if they ever dare park the bike up and wander off for an hour.
Taken all round, the Scrambler isn’t a particularly practical bike. It would suffer corrosion if used as a commuter I reckon, looking shabby after one serious winter. Also, it just wouldn’t be a pleasant experience to ride more than 100 miles on the Scrambler, mainly due to the wind pressure and the high handlebars putting you in a position where you catch all that breeze.
But does that practical side of motorcycling really matter for many of today’s riders who struggle to clock up 1500 miles per season on their machines? I don’t think so. If you want short bursts of two wheeled fun, if you like sparking conversations up wherever you park up, and love the 60s West Coast Britbike styling, then the Scrambler is the bike for you.
Just don’t scramble it. It weighs a ton…
Get Triumph motorbike insurance for the triumph scrambler 900.
Engine……….Twin cylinder, 8 valve, liquid cooled, four stroke
Bore and Stroke……….90 X 68mm
Claimed peak power……….54bhp @ 7000rpm
Frame……….Steel tubular cradle type
Front suspension……….41mm forks, non adjustable
Rear suspension……….Twin shocks, adjustable for preload
Brakes……….Single front 310mm disc, single 255mm rear disc
Wheels/Tyres……….100/90 19 in front, 130/80 17 inch rear
Fuel Capacity……….16.6 litres
Est. Top Speed……….110mph
Price……….£5,500 (August 2006)