£9395 74bhp 188kg Want one
The ride on twisty roads in the hills south of Bologna is fabulous, and I’m pretty sure that the Scrambler Café Racer has got what it takes to be a hit. But not because of how it’s working right now.
After all, the black-and-gold finished Café Racer is in its element on these smooth-surfaced Apennine switchbacks. It’s a slim, light Ducati V-twin, designed to resemble the legendary 900SS that was among the world’s great superbikes back in 1978.
But you’d expect any Ducati to work well here, on the sinuous roads where the local firm’s test riders have been developing bikes for decades – and where any light, sporty machine with clip-on bars, a decent chassis and plenty of ground clearance would be a blast.
What’s done more to convince me that this latest addition to the Scrambler family will be a success is how well it worked before we got here. Back down in the city its gentle throttle response, effortless agility, reasonably upright riding position and generous suspension travel made battling with traffic on bumpy Bolognese streets relatively painless.
If Ducati’s development team had a motto for the Café Racer, it would perhaps be ‘once bitten, twice shy’ because the firm has been here before, creating a modern V-twin roadster with sporty looks to resemble a famous old model.
And the experience wasn’t a huge success, at least commercially.
The Sport 1000 that began the SportClassic range in 2006 was inspired by the 750 Sport from the early Seventies. It had an aggressive riding position thanks to low-set clip-ons, and punchy performance from a torquey 992cc engine. It looked good and went well, but proved too racy and uncomfortable for many of the relatively old riders who bought one.
By contrast, the Café Racer’s aggressive name and look disguise a soft-natured personality. The new bike’s clip-ons and bar-end mirrors accentuate its low front end, along with the headlight surround and short front mudguard. Racing style plates display the No. 54, as used by former Ducati works star Bruno Spaggiari, who won plenty of races on smallcapacity singles but is best known for finishing runner-up to team-mate Paul Smart in the famous Imola 200 race that helped establish Ducati’s V-twin reputation in 1972. The exhaust ends with a Termignoni twin silencer on the right side, but beneath its racy image the Café Racer is very much a member of Ducati’s entry-level Scrambler family. Its 803cc, air-cooled engine is shared with other Scrambler models and retains their modest 74bhp maximum output. The steel-tube frame is also borrowed, but fitted with a longer rear shock that gives sharper steering geometry. The Kayaba shock and the same Japanese firm’s upsidedown forks are slightly stiffer than those of other Scramblers, but retain their generous 150mm of wheel travel at each end. Cast 17in wheels wear Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso II tyres, the rear a respectably but not gigantically wide 180/55-section cover. The result is a sporty looking bike, but as soon as I threw a leg over the ribbed seat, with its hump and pillion cover, it was clear that this Ducati is as much Scrambler as Café Racer.
Those clip-ons are over 150mm lower and further forward than the wide one-piece bar of the Scrambler Icon. But they stick up above the top yoke, with its black finish and Ducati Scrambler name plate, so I hardly had to lean forward to reach them.
At 805mm the seat is 15mm taller than the Icon’s, and the pegs are unchanged. At 188kg wet the Café Racer’s light, and its seat is slim enough that even shorter riders should find the bike manoeuvrable. These days Ducati is keen for women to be customers rather than just attractive advertising accessories (as they were with those black-and-gold Seventies V-twins), and it shows.
The Café Racer was easy to ride as we threaded our way out of Bologna, its wide mirrors occasionally hindering filtering but giving a usefully clear view, and the generous steering lock aiding agility.
The engine was playing its part too, rustling away fairly quietly, and pulling sweetly when I let out the light-action clutch. Throttle response was crisp and snatch-free, a subtle improvement over the original Scrambler’s thanks to a throttle that has been modified to deliver a slightly slower action on initial opening. The desmo engine was originally detuned from the old Monster 796 unit, and has a broad torque curve that made for easy city use and gave plenty of midrange grunt on the open road. The Ducati leapt forward urgently, quickly putting 80mph on the digital display of its round instrument panel, which has a slightly hard-to-read tacho bar round its bottom half, but no reading for fuel consumption or gear position. The wind tugged at my shoulders when I had a brief chance to accelerate towards the top speed of about 130mph, but at lower cruising speeds the riding position took just enough wind off my wrists to remain comfortable. There wasn’t much time to worry about speed or comfort because before long the SS65 started getting increasingly twisty and fun as we reached the foothills of the Apennine mountains, heading towards Mugello circuit and the famed Futa pass on which Ducati’s bikes have traditionally been developed.
You’d expect the Scrambler to work well here and it didn’t disappoint, steering with wonderfully light feel in response to a simple nudge on that wide handlebar.
Perhaps inevitably, the Ducati’s generous suspension travel meant that it felt slightly vague under aggressive cornering, and there was no option to firm it up other than adding shock preload. A bit less travel and more damping would have given a more traditional Bolognese feel that would have encouraged more spirited riding. But the bike always felt controllable, and its Pirellis stuck well even when exploiting the abundant ground clearance, the only scraping coming from the occasional boot-toe.
Braking power was adequate, too. There’s only one front disc but it’s big, at 330mm in diameter, and is operated by a Brembo radial master cylinder and Monobloc caliper. That combination worked very well on the way up, and would later slow the bike efficiently even into a succession of downhill hairpins on the return leg. Slightly more stopping power would occasionally be welcome when you’re going for it, but I can’t see many owners complaining about it. That the Café Racer was so much fun on those roads wasn’t a surprise, but I was pleasantly relieved to find myself riding back into Bologna later that afternoon with wrists pain-free, and only mild discomfort through the seat. That’s the pay-off for the relatively generous suspension travel and light damping, and plenty of riders will doubtless be happy that the Scrambler is not quite as hard and fast as it looks. The 13.5-litre tank had required a topup en route but the Scrambler motor is respectably economical, averaging close to 50mpg. That would normally be good for a range of 125 miles or more, adding to the bike’s practicality. Shame there’s no fuel gauge or consumption reading on the dash, or for that matter a gear indicator.
This latest Scrambler family is not cheap. Its price of £9395 is a hefty £1500 or more up on that of the basemodel Icon and similarly powered Monster 797. But if this lean V-twin would arguably look even better with just the Ducati name on its tank, perhaps its greatest attribute is that it manages to combine Café Racer style and some hardcore
Ducati heritage with a rider-friendly character that suits the Scrambler branding just fine.
Over the last few years a host of retro styled bikes have emerged onto the motorcycle market – and Triumph has consistently been at the forefront of the trend. Sitting within the retro-styled Bonneville range, the Street Twin is the least expensive of Triumph’s revamped family of parallel twins – created to take on the likes of Ducati’s Scrambler and Moto Guzzi’s V7 III. First Impressions
I spotted the Street Twin from afar, rolling out the back of a Triumph van, and a massive smile instantly spread across my face. It’s a gorgeous little bike, with blatant styling inspiration from the 750cc Bonnevilles of the 80s, including traditionally shaped engine covers and finned exhaust clamps. It also features black cast wheels and an all-new upswept brushed stainless steel twin exhaust system that only add to the overall aesthetic.
Triumph has cleverly incorporated all the necessary mod-cons, including ride-by-wire fuelinjection and electronic traction control, without detracting from its retro appearance – and the smaller details all tie in too, from its simple speedometer to the slim leather stitched seat which unlocks to reveal a USB socket. Arguably, it all works to offer a more contemporary feel than some of the other models within the Bonneville range.
Settling into the saddle for the first time, you’ll notice how short it feels. I’m 6ft 1in and with its 750mm seat height I could get both of my feet flat on the floor with plenty of room to spare. Triumph claims that the riding position has been set-up for ‘dynamic handling’, with a few adjustments made to the seating