Du­cati Scram­bler Café Racer


The lat­est café racer from Du­cati takes us down mem­ory lane

t’s no won­der the lean

black-and-gold V-twin is carv­ing up the SS65 with the pace and com­po­sure of a bike that has been this way many times be­fore. This rib­bon of tar­mac south of Bologna leads over the Apen­nine Moun­tains to Mugello by way of the famed Futa Pass.

Du­cati’s test rid­ers have been de­vel­op­ing bikes on the Futa road for decades, right back to the late 1970s, when the firm’s black-and-gold 900 Su­per Sport was among the fastest and best su­per­bikes on the planet. Now I’m back here for the launch of a Bologna-built bike in­spired by that bevel-drive V-twin.

Rather cu­ri­ously, the name on its petrol tank is not Du­cati but Scram­bler. That’s be­cause de­spite its de­lib­er­ate re­sem­blance to one of the great Du­cati mod­els, the Café Racer is be­ing in­tro­duced as a mem­ber of the Scram­bler sub-brand of en­trylevel V-twins. Along with the re­cently launched, off-road styled Desert Sled, it is in­tended to broaden the Scram­bler fam­ily.

The tank badge might say Scram­bler but the Café Racer’s look is all Du­cati. The high, wide one-piece han­dle­bar that char­ac­terises the orig­i­nal Scram­bler mod­els is re­placed by a pair of clip-ons, fit­ted with bar-end mir­rors to ac­cen­tu­ate the nose-down im­age. The head­lamp is also shifted down­wards, and sur­rounded by a black-fin­ished na­celle.

The en­gine is es­sen­tially the same 803-cc, air-cooled V-twin fit­ted to the other Scram­bler mod­els, com­plete with un­changed power de­liv­ery to a max­i­mum of 75 PS at 8,250 rpm. But the SOHC, two-valve desmo unit is also fin­ished in black, and breathes out through a new ex­haust sys­tem that ends with twin Ter­mignoni cans on the right side.

Chas­sis lay­out fol­lows the Scram­bler for­mat of tubu­lar steel frame with di­ag­o­nally mounted sin­gle shock on the right, work­ing a curved, twin-sided swingarm. But a longer shock raises the rear end and steep­ens steer­ing ge­om­e­try, re­duc­ing rake and trail to a racy 21.8 de­grees and 93.9 mm (from 24 de­grees and 111.9 mm).

Other chas­sis parts fol­low the sportier theme: slightly stiffer sus­pen­sion at both ends, and cast 17inch wheels wear­ing Pirelli’s Di­ablo Rosso II street rub­ber. But the Café Racer re­tains a gen­er­ous 150 mm of wheel travel at each end, and its only op­tion for ad­just­ment comes from the shock’s preload col­lar.

There’s neat stuff else­where, from the min­i­mal­ist front mud­guard to the humped, café racer-style seat with its colour-matched pil­lion seat-cover. The race-style oval side-panel car­ries the num­ber 54 in trib­ute to for­mer works rider Bruno Spag­giari, win­ner of many races but ar­guably best known for be­ing nar­rowly beaten by his team­mate, Paul Smart, in the fa­mous Imola 200 in 1972.

De­spite the lean black Café Racer’s clip-on bars and race plates, it doesn’t feel much like an un­com­pro­mis­ing street racer when you throw a leg over the ribbed seat. Those clip-ons aren’t rad­i­cally low, but rise up above the top yoke, with its neat Scram­bler logo, to a height that puts them within reach with­out need for a racy crouch.

By Scram­bler stan­dards the rid­ing po­si­tion is still sporty. The clip-ons are 175 mm lower and 155 mm fur­ther for­ward than the Icon’s wide one-piece bar; the seat is 15 mm taller at 805 mm, and the foot-rests re­main un­changed. But Du­cati haven’t re­peated the

mis­take they made a decade ago with the Sport Classic 1000, whose racy rid­ing po­si­tion proved too un­com­fort­able for the mostly older rid­ers who ap­pre­ci­ated its retro style.

The Café Racer man­aged to look rea­son­ably ag­gres­sive, but seemed more poo­dle than pit-bull even be­fore the mo­tor fired up with an ap­peal­ing but re­strained Euro 4-le­gal beat from the low-slung ex­haust. Then it was out with the light-ac­tion clutch and into the Bologna traf­fic, where the bike’s light weight, gen­er­ous steer­ing lock and sweet low-rev fu­elling made it in­fin­itely more rider-friendly than many of the fire-breath­ing Du­catis that have headed for the Futa over the years.

Sud­denly that Scram­bler tank badge made a lot more sense. In fact, the en­gine re­sponse has been soft­ened slightly from pre­vi­ous Scram­bler lumps, be­cause fol­low­ing com­plaints of a sharp throt­tle the twist-grip has been re­vised to give a slightly slower ini­tial ac­tion. That worked in that the Café Racer ac­cel­er­ated from low revs with no hint of abrupt­ness.

Per­haps, the flip-side was that once we got out of the city on to faster roads I needed a slightly big­ger hand­ful to let the Du­cati stretch its legs, but I can’t say that was an is­sue. Its ac­cel­er­a­tion is hardly dra­matic by Bolog­nese V-twin stan­dards but that softly-tuned Scram­bler mo­tor is pleas­antly flex­i­ble and smooth, and the Café Racer revved en­thu­si­as­ti­cally through the sweet sixspeed box, head­ing for a top speed of about 200 km/h.

Not that it was par­tic­u­larly easy to see what the revs were do­ing on the tacho bar that runs around the bot­tom of the sin­gle, round dial. In Scram­bler tra­di­tion, in­stru­men­ta­tion is pretty ba­sic: dig­i­tal speedo and a bunch of warn­ing lights, but no gear in­di­ca­tor or fuel con­sump­tion read­ing.

That sporty but not-too-rad­i­cal rid­ing po­si­tion worked well at speed, the wind tak­ing just enough weight off my wrists to make me think the Café Racer would be fine for a longish main­road ride. But there was no time for that, be­cause soon we were on to the SS65, which got in­creas­ingly twisty as it headed up into the Apen­nines.

The race-style oval side-panel car­ries the num­ber 54 in trib­ute to for­mer works rider Bruno Spag­giari, win­ner of many races

Those Du­cati test rid­ers have done a good job with the Café Racer’s chas­sis, which worked well de­spite its ba­sic spec­i­fi­ca­tion. The fact that the bike weighs just 188 kg wet un­doubt­edly helped. It could be flicked into turns with min­i­mal pres­sure on its bars, and tracked round feel­ing im­pres­sively neu­tral and con­trol­lable.

It slowed re­spectably hard, too. A sin­gle front disc might seem slightly stingy for a sporty bike, but the big 330-mm ro­tor has the ben­e­fit of be­ing chomped by a blend of Brembo’s ra­dial mas­ter cylin­der and ra­dial Monobloc caliper, giv­ing ex­cel­lent lever feel and enough pure stop­ping power for the fairly soft front end to cope with.

In­evitably, the Café Racer’s long­travel sus­pen­sion meant it cor­nered more like a Scram­bler than a Du­cati sports bike, soak­ing up mi­nor bumps with ef­fi­ciency but feel­ing slightly vague and re­mote when the pace got hot­ter. At least, there was plenty of ground clear­ance, pro­vided I oc­ca­sion­ally repo­si­tioned my boots on the pegs to avoid boot-toes touch­ing down.

And pay­back for the lack of tra­di­tional Du­cati-style firm­ness came af­ter we’d stopped for lunch then headed back down to Bologna, when I re­alised that I’d been rid­ing for sev­eral hours and was suf­fer­ing only mi­nor dis­com­fort through the fairly thinly padded seat, and none at all from my wrists. This Café Racer is good for more than a sprint to be first in the queue for a skinny late.

With a 13.5-litre tank and fuel con­sump­tion of close to 5.0 litres/100 km it should have a range of about 200 km, too, as well as be­ing re­spectably eco­nom­i­cal to run. Shame, on that score, that the price is over 20 per cent higher than that of the base-model Icon, mean­ing that the Café Racer is ar­guably not re­ally an en­try-level model at all de­spite that Scram­bler name.

Fans of Bolog­nese V-twins who aren’t hip­sters or classic en­thu­si­asts might con­sider that sim­i­lar money would buy the much more so­phis­ti­cated Mon­ster 821, com­plete with 50 per cent more power and the Du­cati name on its tank. But if you want the nos­tal­gic street-racer look, this lat­est in the Scram­bler fam­ily pro­vides an en­joy­able, un­threat­en­ing dose of café-racer style and per­for­mance with­out the tra­di­tional pain.

An­gry tail-lamp, yes, but is it re­ally quick enough for all to see?

Ba­sic in­stru­ment clus­ter with a tacho bar run­ning along the bot­tom

Ribbed seat gels well with the not-toorad­i­cal rid­ing po­si­tion

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