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Reviewed: Ducati Scrambler Icon

Ducati Scrambler 1

First introduced in 2015, Ducati’s Scrambler has been a staggering success for the Italian brand. Fuelled by the hipster-inspired ‘Land of Joy’ marketing campaign, Ducati has sold a staggering 100,000 examples of the Scrambler in the intervening years – opening up the brand to a whole new audience and creating a whole host of new Ducatisiti.

But, to be honest, the 2023 Scrambler kind of passed me by when it was introduced at the end of last year. It’s a bike I’ve always admired and enjoyed riding over the years but, with the latest version sticking pretty closely to style of the first generation model, I just assumed it was more a warmed over, Euro5 compliant, update rather than a genuinely brand new model.

But it’s not, and we travelled to Valencia in Spain to spend a few days riding the entry level ‘Icon’ model at the world press launch. Despite the similarities with the outgoing model, it’s clearly a more-or-less brand new bike, even if the look and feel will be familiar to seasoned Scrambler riders.

That’s because the 2015 Scrambler paid homage to the original single-cylinder Scrambler of 1962. That Sixties bike was originally only built for the American market, and the 21st century reboot (powered by Ducati’s iconic L-twin motor) embraced the styling cues of the original.

So, Ducati’s design team have been somewhat restricted by the need to honour the same classic design, while updating the Scrambler and making it meet the latest emissions laws and customer demands. The result is a motorcycle Ducati’s super-enthusiastic project team claims is 80% new and which, we can confirm, feels very much like the much-loved first-generation model to ride.

 

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That’s probably because the least changed component of the 2023 Scrambler is that classic 803cc ‘Desmodue’ motor. It’s as traditional as a Ducati engine gets, with the legendary 90-degree V-twin (technically an L-twin) configuration and two desmodromically operated valves per cylinder. It’s been reengineered to meet the latest, more stringent, Euro5 emissions regulations, and Ducati’s engineers deserve massive kudos for not only getting an air-cooled motor up to modern standards, but to do so with only a tiny drop in peak power. The 2023 Scrambler claims 73bhp, compared to 75bhp for earlier models, although weight has dropped by a claimed 4kg to compensate. When we spoke to the project leader, who enthusiastically accompanied us on the press launch, he said it was completely unthinkable for the second-gen Scrambler to be liquid-cooled. It will be interesting to see how the model evolves as regulations become even more rigorous in coming years.

To ride, the latest Scrambler doesn’t feel emancipated at all. Sure it is chilled, but then Scramblers always have been. It feels more refined and a little more muted than I recall previous Scrams being – but thankfully not too much, there’s still a load of character by modern standards. The motor does get a bit vibey when you rev it out, but it’s a motorcycle best enjoyed in a more relaxed way, and the best way to enjoy the Desmodue is to keep it in that meaty mid-range.

What truly is ‘all-new’ are the electronics. Out goes the old throttle cable, junked in favour of a modern ride-by-wire system. That allows the adoption of a simplified version of the excellent electronics package seen on Ducati’s other models. There are two riding modes ‘Road’ and ‘Sport’, with four levels of traction control and cornering ABS. Personally I preferred the ‘Road’ setting. These bikes are not about out-and-out performance, and I preferred the less aggressive throttle response from the softer map. Ducati’s also dumped the old analogue clocks for a 4.3” TFT dashboard. It’s the same as the intuitive system used on the rest of the Ducati range and is clear and easy to use. It allows you to change the various maps and traction control settings, and offers multimedia connectivity as an optional extra. What I particularly like about the system is that Ducati has been able to give the rider plenty of options while keeping the switchgear clean and simple. It’s all operated through a single up/down switch on the left-hand switchgear, with the indicator switch doubling up as a push button to confirm selections.

 

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Personally I think they’ve got it about right. The beauty of the Scrambler has always been its simplicity. It’s a bike for the masses: young or old, rookie or veteran, it has something for everyone. Whether you’re short or tall, a man or a woman, the Scrambler is probably the most accessible motorcycle on the market. You could be a billionaire looking for a plaything, or a young biker working hard to cover the PCP for their daily ride. It really doesn’t matter… the Icon genuinely is a motorbike with something for everyone. It’s an old-fashioned iron horse, and its beauty is its simplicity, so the fact that Ducati haven’t tried to reinvent the concept in 2023 is admirable.

That said, the chassis is another area of the 2023 Scrambler which has been completely revised. It’s still a steel trellis frame, but it’s a new design and now has a bolt on rear subframe, which should help keep repair costs down should the Scrambler hit the deck. It will also likely to be appreciated by the custom bike crew, because the Scrambler is a bike which just cries out for modification.

Indeed, Ducati is likely to do well out of its official accessories range. One of the cleverest things about the Icon is the way in which the colours can be quickly and easily changed. Ducati presented a total of nine colours at the Valencia press launch. Three colours come as standard: red, black and (my favourite) yellow, but a further six colours, including the Jade Green of the bike we rode, can be purchased as a set of accessory panels. Ducati reckon the parts, which include the tank cover, mudguard, rear fender, headlamp shrouds and wheel decals can be changed over in around 45 minutes. Other accessories include Termignoni exhaust options, custom indicators, spoked wheels and various billet aluminium parts. Incidentally, there will be two other factory versions alongside the Icon, with the Full Throttle and Nightshift versions offering higher spec components and slightly different ergonomics for a £1000 premium over the £9995 of the Icon. The Scrambler 1100 won’t go unloved either, with three versions expected to be announced later this year.

 

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The chassis itself is basic, but more than adequate for the job in hand. Wheels and swingarm are also new, as is all the bodywork. The Kayaba suspension is non-adjustable, save for preload on the rear shock, and there’s a single disc brake up front. Although the stoppers seem basic on paper, it’s good quality gear with a four-piston Brembo caliper and master cylinder, linked to Ducati’s cornering ABS system. Like everything else on the Scrambler, it works without drama and feels thoroughly modern.

And the Ducati Scrambler is all about the feel, not about the spec sheets. With a 795mm seat height, coupled to a narrow saddle, it’s easy for shorter riders to get on with, while the 170kg (without fuel) weight makes it very manageable. The weight is around 4kg lighter than the previous model, saved mainly through the lightening of the sump and clutch – as well as a lighter battery. Further aiding the accessibility, Ducati are also offering accessory seats for taller and shorter riders.

 

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We rode the Icon around the streets of Valencia, before heading out into the mountains. As a city bike, the Scrambler is superbly agile – let down only by the massive amount of heat generated by the air-cooled engine. It’s a well-known Scrambler trait, and Ducati say the modifications to the 2023 design do keep the rider cooler in traffic. It was still uncomfortably hot during our city ride, although it wouldn’t detract me from buying one for riding in the UK. The only other criticism I could possibly throw in is the gearbox. It’s not as positive as most modern designs, and I occasionally had problems finding neutral, but to be honest I think in many ways it added to the character and almost helps create a connection with the bike.

And out on the open road both those small gripes are not a problem at all. Riding around the stunning hills around Valencia, the wide bars which made the Scrambler so easy to ride in the city also made the bike great fun through the twisting mountain roads. This is not a bike for adrenaline junkies, but it can still hustle when the mood takes you. It’s a lovely bike to cruise around on, wearing an open-faced helmet and just enjoying the ride. Unlike the original 1960s scramblers, the modern-day interpretation hasn’t been designed for off-road riding – although the block pattern on the (otherwise road orientated) Pirelli MT 60 RS tyres give a nod to the origins of the genre.

 

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Conclusion

Updating the Ducati Scrambler must have been something of a challenge for Ducati. The first-generation bike has been a smash hit, and a large part of its charm has always been its simplicity. Moving too far from the outgoing bike, or dumping the old Desmodue engine, could easily have created a bland design that didn’t really do justice to the Scrambler legacy, while simply reengineering to get through the latest emissions laws could equally have simply strangled what could be perceived as an aging design.

As it is, the 2023 Scrambler Icon instantly looks like a Scrambler and feels like one to ride too. It’s more refined than before, with the new electronics adding safety features and bringing it more up to date, without losing the essence of what makes it a Scrambler.

Possibly the biggest complement I can pay to the 2023 Ducati Scrambler Icon is also the biggest criticism. Because it still looks and feels like a Scrambler, I’m not sure it will have current owners rushing out to chop their first-gen models in for a new one. But there’s no doubt that it’s a more refined and better specified machine which deserves to continue attracting new people to the Ducati brand.

At the presentation, Ducati’s team said that the Scrambler design brief was to make a bike that’s fun, easy to ride and with a great personality. Having spent two days riding the 2023 model it’s clear they’ve ticked all three boxes. The legend continues!

 

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