Scram­bler shootout

GUZZI v DU­CATI Moto Guzzi’s new Stor­nello oozes old-school charm, but can it out­class its Ital­ian retro ri­val, the Du­cati Scram­bler?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week in MCN - By Si­mon Har­g­reaves MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Du­cati may have started some­thing with its 800cc Scram­bler in 2015, but many other firms have since shim­mied onto the style-seek­ing band­wagon. Guzzi have just launched the in­trigu­ing Stor­nello and we thought it would be a good idea to pitch the Ital­ian Scram­blers in a head-to-head show­down. Which has the most style and sub­stance?

‘Can I sit?” Nudged forward by her friends, the Ja­panese tourist gig­gles shyly, then even­tu­ally steps up and poses with the Moto Guzzi Stor­nello and Du­cati Scram­bler while her school­mates gid­dily Snapchat on their mo­biles. But which bike do they pre­fer? It’s a close call, but the Stor­nello just about shades the all-im­por­tant Ja­panese school­girl vote.

And it’s easy to see why. From the forth­right me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing of its air-cooled, 744cc, 90° trans­verse V-twin, with cylin­der heads pok­ing into the breeze and gor­geous high-level Ar­row sys­tem slith­er­ing along the side of the bike, to the Guzzi’s red-painted steel tube cra­dle frame, wire wheels, fat scram­bler-style tyres and brushed alu­minium hug­gers and num­ber boards, this is, in­dis­putably and univer­sally, a good-look­ing mo­tor­bike.

But the Stor­nello pulls off the retro scram­bling theme with­out even try­ing, mostly be­cause it shares di­rect vis­ual cues with classic 750cc Guzzis of the 1970s (even though the Stor­nello name – a type of short Ital­ian folk poem, a bit like a lim­er­ick – harks back to scram­bler-style, small-bore, sin­gle cylin­der Guzzis from the late 60s).

And it turns out the Stor­nello also shares a few of the prac­ti­cal foibles and rid­ing quirks of a 40-year-old bike. Strad­dle the flat seat, reach across a steel tank and aero filler cap, place hands on the rel­a­tively nar­row black bars, flick up the stiff side­stand and... ouch!... scuff in­ner an­kle on the

elon­gated al­loy plates bolted to the ser­rated, en­duro-style pegs.

Once in place, the Stor­nello’s rid­ing po­si­tion echoes the scar­ily fa­mil­iar er­gonomics of a school desk. It’s classic (lit­er­ally) sit-up-and-beg; straighten your back, put both arms on the desk, legs tucked un­der the chair, boy. But it works; nei­ther un­com­fort­able out on the open road, where the large, al­loy head­light num­ber-board de­flects enough wind to act as a nose fair­ing, nor in town where the Guzzi will hap­pily chop about for as long as the sur­pris­ingly large 21-litre tank will carry it. Tour­ing would be a stretch, but any­thing else is fair game.

The view from the Stor­nello’s seat is mod­est; the clocks are tra­di­tional ana­logue-style speedo and tacho with num­bers so small they’re tricky to read with­out bi­fo­cals, with a clutch of id­iot lights and a pair of in­con­gru­ous, orange ABS and trac­tion con­trol warn­ing lights.

Be­cause yes, as retro as it looks, the Stor­nello comes with the same rudi­men­tary electronic rider aids as the other V7 II bikes. But with a mea­gre 48bhp on tap, it’s fair to say the like­li­hood of the sin­gle mode (other than off) trac­tion con­trol warn­ing light flick­er­ing into life is re­mote – un­less you test the Guzzi’s Gold­en­tyre rub­ber out off-road (Gold­en­tyre are an Ital­ian tyre man­u­fac­turer, spe­cial­is­ing in off-road com­pe­ti­tion rub­ber. The Stor­nello’s front’s tread pat­tern is iden­ti­cal to the same com­pany’s su­per­moto racing wet tyre!)

Fire up the V-twin and the Guzzi gen­tly tugs to the right as the left-spin­ning, in­line crank tries to ro­tate the bike’s mass around it­self. It’s a quirk of the trans­verse V (and flat twin) lay­out; Guzzi could en­gi­neer it out – Honda’s CX500 used a contra-ro­tat­ing clutch to can­cel the torque re­ac­tion – but by now it’s such an in­te­gral Moto Guzzi char­ac­ter­is­tic, it wouldn’t be an au- then­tic Man­dello del Lario ex­pe­ri­ence with­out it.

And the V7 II mo­tor re­mains a glo­ri­ously lumpy, thud­ding-great thing, jud­der­ing and shud­der­ing through its shaft drive as you pull away like a wet dog shak­ing it­self dry. Its electronic fu­elling is clean and pre­cise, with enough built-in docil­ity to make pum­melling through traf­fic care­free and fun with­out the harsh on/off fu­elling of many mod­ern bikes (in­clud­ing the Du­cati Scram­bler). The Stor­nello’s con­trols are suit­ably mod­ern; the sin­gle front disc brake is strong, clutch is light, steer­ing nim­ble but not twitchy and the gear­box is neat and pos­i­tive. They’re all de­tails that have let Moto Guzzi down in the past, but they’ve got them right on the V7 II.

There’s no sugar-coat­ing the lack of power, so al­though the Stor­nello ea­gerly belts up to 80mph there’s not much left after that and over­tak­ing needs a bit of plan­ning to avoid be­ing stranded mid-pass. But it’ll cruise just over the na­tional speed limit with the mo­tor bundling along at a lop­ing 5000rpm, and with just enough vi­bra­tion com­ing through the pegs to make tap danc­ing prob­lem­atic after a long ride.

The Stor­nello’s hand­ing is also quirk­ily lov­able. The un­ad­justable forks and preload twin shocks are ba­sic, but ride qual­ity is good and they man­age the bike’s weight well within the ex­pec­ta­tions of the en­gine.

And that’s the key to un­der­stand­ing the Stor­nello – it doesn’t pos­sess the

‘The V7 II mo­tor re­mains a glo­ri­ously lumpy, great thing, shud­der­ing through its shaft drive’

fi­nessed han­dling and stel­lar en­gine per­for­mance of most new bikes be­cause it doesn’t have to. It’s so ob­vi­ously not about that. And as long as ba­sic con­trol func­tions work well – and they do – then ev­ery­thing else is for the sheer plea­sure of rid­ing.

Mean­while, in Bologna...

The Du­cati Scram­bler, on the other hand, is very much about get­ting from A to B with haste as well as style.

Tell some­one you’ve bought a Scram­bler and, uniquely, you have to qual­ify the name be­cause you could be talk­ing about BMW, Tri­umph or even a Moto Morini, as well as a Du­cati. And, once you’ve con­firmed the bike orig­i­nated from Bologna, you have to spec­ify which of the six flavour vari­ants it could be.

This is the Scram­bler Classic, iden­ti­fied as such be­cause it shares the wire spoked wheels and brown seat with the Scram­bler Ur­ban En­duro but comes with sim­i­larly brushed al­loy hug­gers as the Moto Guzzi. Such fine pur­chas­ing dis­tinc­tions are what the cof­feecus­tomis­ing scene has done for us. Not to men­tion beards and knuckle tat­toos.

The Scram­bler is more con­ven­tion­ally fun than the Guzzi – it has a more so­phis­ti­cated ride qual­ity, and steers more ac­cu­rately and with greater agility than the Stor­nello. It feels sig­nif­i­cantly lighter too, and is more eas­ily man­age­able with a lower seat height. In this re­spect, it’s much more novice-friendly.

And the Scram­bler’s 803cc air-cooled 90° L-twin mo­tor is very much more pow­er­ful too, ev­ery­where – bot­tom, midrange and top end – which gives it a broader pal­ette of rid­ing sce­nar­ios. You can do more with the Scram­bler; it’s not as one-paced as the Guzzi. Fire it away from the lights with a lively jolt, belt around dual car­riage­ways at 80mph, and have enough juice un­der the tank to crack the ton. And while

‘The Scram­bler’s 803cc air-cooled 90° L-twin mo­tor is very much more pow­er­ful too, ev­ery­where’

some crit­i­cised the Scram­bler’s 75bhp out­put as un­der­whelm­ing when the bike was launched it turns out that, like the Guzzi, it’s just the right bal­ance for the Scram­bler’s chas­sis ca­pac­ity and, more im­por­tantly, the kind of rider the bike is built for – few of whom will want wheel­ies and skids.

But that per­for­mance flex­i­bil­ity comes at a price be­cause the Du­cati can be over-sen­si­tive on the gas, and a novice rider will find deal­ing with in­stant throt­tle re­sponse can eas­ily turn into a jerky, snatchy ride. I found my­self us­ing a lot of back brake to keep the bike mov­ing evenly at low speed. It’s also a quiet, civilised, vibe-free en­gine; don’t ex­pect the tra­di­tional Du­cati thrash­ing about.

The Scram­bler’s rid­ing po­si­tion is odd, at first. The seat is low, bars are high and wide, and pegs feel for­ward­placed – it’s a bit like an adult rid­ing a kid’s chop­per, all knees un­der your chin and hands in the air. And it’s hard work when there’s a head­wind on a mo­tor­way. But it makes ab­so­lute sense bat­ter­ing about on city streets, where the bars give fan­tas­tic turn­ing abil­ity (more lock would be nice) and di­rect steer­ing and pos­i­tive sus­pen­sion feed­back let you know ex­actly what lib­er­ties you can take.

And low speed bal­ance is im­pec­ca­ble. The Scram­bler should have an ‘Ur­ban Ju­nior Kick­start’ ver­sion with a pen­cil-thin seat, no tank and built-in Peter Purvis run­ning commentary. If rid­ing as slowly as possible over speed bumps, up kerbs and round taxis is your bag, the Scram­bler is for you.

But there’s no easy way to say this: the Scram­bler isn’t as pretty as the Guzzi. It’s not ugly but, with chunky sad­dle, in­vis­i­ble sub­frame, shorty ex­haust plumb­ing and banana swingarm, the Scram­bler looks un­bal­anced, as if it can’t de­cide whether it’s a flat tracker, a street bike, a scram­bler or ev­ery­thing at the same time. Du­cati have de­signed more than their fair share of the world’s most beau­ti­ful bikes, but un­for­tu­nately this Scram­bler isn’t one of them.

It’s well-made though, and much ti­dier and thor­ough than the Moto Guzzi Stor­nello. The switchgear is neater, the com­pe­ti­tion throt­tle ca­ble hous­ing is ge­nius, the sin­gle clock dial is fresh and sim­ple, and the gen­eral level of fit, fin­ish and com­po­nen­try is out­stand­ing.

Ôthe Du­cati should have a Ôju­nior Kick­startõ ver­sion with a pen­cil-thin seat and no tankõ

Cylin­ders pok­ing out at each side, the Guzzi’s got loads of char­ac­ter With more go in the en­gine de­part­ment the Scram­bler is more of a rider’s bike Guzzi or Du­cati, now you can choose the flavour of your Ital­ian scram­bler

Banana swingarm and ra­dial Brem­bos bring a bit of mod­ern mus­cle to the Scram­bler

Move over Scram­bler, Moto Guzzi’s Stor­nello is out to claim your retro crown

Spoked wheels, twin cylin­ders, iconic names, these retro ri­vals have it all

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