The battle to own the ‘Scrambler’ label is hotting up, but which is the ultimate? We head to the capital to find out
Ducati may have started it, but the Scrambler scene is now a hotbed of stylish innovation and activity. BMW has joined the scrap for sales in this lucrative part of the market. We pitch the new BMW against the Ducati and Guzzi V7 Scrambler as well as Triumph’s Street Twin, which has been fitted with a Scrambler kit. Let battle commence.
Day one London
Central London on a glorious September evening. What better place to spend one of the last days of summer, especially if you’re riding some great bikes in the company of top mates.
Our bikes made light work of the rush hour congestion and then, as the natural light faded and the café bars and pubs started to fill up, they put on a show for the early evening drinkers. Our four-bike fleet of scramblers was in its element.
You can call them what you want – retro, hipster or scrambler – but this influx of studiously cool nakeds simply can’t be ignored. They are all over every major metropolitan centre, their popularity in urban areas seemingly without limits. I have to raise a slightly embarrassed arm because I love this new wave of bikes, too, despite my lack of beard and body art.
The latest to join the gang is the most powerful of the bunch: BMW’S R ninet Scrambler. At just over £11,000 the 108bhp air-cooled Boxer is, as you might have guessed, a scrambler-style R ninet, another BMW success story from 2014.
Moto Guzzi have also thrown their hat into the ring this year with their recently launched Stornello, which is based on their popular A2 licence compatible V7. Like the BMW it comes with a must-have high-level Arrow exhaust (the Beemer’s is by Akrapovic), and additional scrambler styling including distinctive number boards.
With all four bikes parked outside the Dog House pub just south of the river it was easy to see why these machines are in such demand. They looked full of purpose – stunning in fact – under the lights. Countless admirers stopped in their tracks, while a constant stream of social media users snapped pictures on their mobiles. Between us we couldn’t decide on which we preferred as each one appealed to our test riders’ different personalities.
Ducati’s Scrambler Full Throttle, the sportiest of their Scrambler range, comes with mag wheels, a cut-down front fender and a distinctive Termi exhaust. In this company it’s a little plastic, lacking the ‘metal’ feel of the others, but it’s still good looking and distinctive in its own right. We first saw pictures of Ducati’s Scrambler around two years ago, but it still feels fresh and remains the cheapest of the bunch at £8395. And if you want a Scrambler with more metal you could opt for the Classic with its vintage seat and spoked wheels.
Next up in the price range is Moto Guzzi’s new £8635 Stornello. Guzzi have simply transformed the charismatic V7 into a scrambler by adding that highlevel Arrow exhaust, a bench seat, number boards and off-road-biased tyres. They’ve also added some tasty aluminium in the form of mudguards and injector cover, and the footpegs are now all alloy. We, the shandy-nursing jury, liked the new paint-scheme of white with red frame, but we were split on the number boards. We unanimously agreed that there is something special about the Guzzi. Its transverse V-twin and protruding cylinder heads remain a motorcycling touchstone, while its clean and pretty design seems effortlessly authentic and helps give it more personality than the other three scramblers on test.
Our Triumph Street Twin started life as a normal Street Twin (£7350) but now comes with the official Scrambler
‘There is something special about the Guzzi. Its protruding cylinder heads remain a motorcycling touchstone’
Inspiration Pack, which transforms the look and attitude of the standard bike.
The pack comprises of a high-level Vance & Hines exhaust, which for legal reasons is for off-road use only; the rear mudguard has been chopped down; a smart brown bench seat replaces the standard item and there are matching grips. There are also new compact LED indicators and a bash plate. The full kit is available from Triumph for £1745 taking the Twin’s price to £9095.
Finally, the most expensive bike on test: the £11,090 BMW Scrambler X. And frankly, it shows. The design is bold and classy. The high-level exhaust looks like it’s been sculpted, and anything but an aftermarket afterthought. Pleasing detail touches are everywhere and there’s a pervading air of quality throughout. It’s the only bike with twin front discs and the only one with a steering damper.
Our test bike, the Scrambler X, comes with additional heavily treaded offroad Metzeler Karoo 3 tyres, which give it a bold look. The X model also gains beautiful wire wheels, heated grips and LED indicators. It’s a bold statement from the Germans, one that certainly sounds like it has some bite because the twin-exit exhaust gives the air-cooled boxer a serious bark.
Around inner London the BMW truly excelled. It gobbled up the ground between sets of traffic lights, barking at tourists and grabbing the attention of snoozing taxi drivers. It has enormous road presence and, despite being the biggest bike of the group, is still balanced and easily manageable as you dart around traffic.
The BMW does have a drawback: those off-road tyres. They lack feel and stability and, if you have ever ridden with dirt bike knobblies on tarmac, you’ll know exactly what I mean. In a straight line they are normal, but as soon as you start to lean they ‘fall’ off one set of off-road blocks onto another, giving a stepped and uncertain feel. Throughout our test we never had a problem with grip, yet nobody felt confident on the BMW either.
It was the same story with the Guzzi Stornello, which came on Italian-made Golden Tyre rubber that lacked feel on London roads, especially from the front, and slowed down the steering too. Like the other bikes on test the Guzzi comes with ABS and, like the BMW and Triumph, traction control comes as standard. It might seem pointless to add rider aids to a bike that makes only 47bhp but, in its role as an A2 licence-compatible machine, TC can be a useful tool for inexperienced riders.
And, of course, you rarely exceed 40mph in much of London and 47bhp
‘The BMW gobbled up ground between traffic lights, barking at tourists’ ‘ The bike from Bologna has the most natural handling but you’re always clipping mirrors cyclist mirrors or cyclists with the wide bars’
is usually more than enough. The Guzzi was fuss free around town, popping from its rather muted exhaust, and easily staying ahead of the angry hordes of taxis and commuters.
You can see why Triumph have labelled the Arrow exhaust ‘off-road use only’ as it sounded great – too great – under the many bridges along the Thames. The Street Twin’s small dimensions helped it make light work of the city’s hustle, it’s narrow bars allowing it to dart through gaps in the traffic that the wider Ducati could only dream of. The bike from Bologna has the most natural handling but you’re always clipping mirrors or cyclists with the wide Scrambler bars, which are reminiscent of the original off-road Ducati Scrambler. I like the feeling of the wide bars and low seat; it’s just a bit of a pain around town.
If you’ve never messed around on a bike in central London it can be great fun, especially riding attention seekers like these, and is certainly the best way to see the capital. But by 11pm we were about done and, anyway, we had a breakfast appointment at the Ace Café to look forward to, followed by a long ride back to the office on the open road.
Day 2 The open road
The giant full English breakfast sat heavy as we started the long slog up the A1 from the Ace Café back to Peterborough. As great as these bikes were around central London they’re by no means built for distance. The Triumph is the smallest of the four and didn’t appeal to the taller riders on test, while everyone complained about the hardness of that cool, brown seat. It was a similar story with the BMW, the seat may look good but it wasn’t the most comfortable. Taller riders much preferred the BMW but if I was to cover some miles in comfort on straight roads it would be with the Guzzi or Ducati, possibly more so the Guzzi with its larger 21-litre fuel tank over the Ducati’s 13.5-litre tank.
Once away from the dull A1 it was time to have some fun on the open roads, but unfortunately the Guzzi soon fell short. At city speeds you don’t think about its dearth of power, but out of town it becomes immediately apparent. Don’t get me wrong, up to 70mph it’s swift enough, but high-speed overtakes need careful planning and in this company it’s simply outclassed. The air-cooled shaft-driven V7 lacks the necessary get up and go, the brakes aren’t the best and the off-road biased tyres are as vague as a wheelbarrow with a flat tyre and worn bearings.
The Triumph feels quicker than it actually is, thanks to that booming exhaust. There’s decent torque; it will happily pull away from 40mph in top gear, and even cruising at 80mph doesn’t feel like too much effort. The water-cooled motor certainly has some go, which makes it way more exciting to ride than the Guzzi. The brakes aren’t bad and the handling is light, which means you can really have some fun on this British scrambler. It’s just a shame that it’s so uncomfortable, especially for taller riders.
The BMW has the size and most certainly the motor. Dare I say it, the Beemer feels like a real bike whereas the others feel like toys, well, almost. It has the physical presence and power that most hipster bikes can’t quite manage; will show an indicated 100mph and more without any complaints, and kicks sand in the face of the other three in terms of performance. Frustrat- ingly, it’s almost too much power and handling for those Karoo 3 tyres - they work splendidly in the visual sense but do hinder the handling. Fast corners especially feel worryingly vague – and even after two days and a few hundred miles I still found myself slightly on edge with the handling.
The Ducati Scrambler, meanwhile, is sure-footed and secure. So much of its charm comes from the way it’s so easy to jump on and ride, even at pace. There’s nothing to get used to, you don’t have to compensate for odd tyres or weak brakes; in fact it will happily bounce down an unfamiliar B-road at speed. It may not have the shouting engine of the BMW but for a Sunday blast down unfamiliar tarmac I know which I’d choose - the Ducati.
‘The Beemer feels like a real bike whereas the others feel like toys’
Moto Guzzi V7 Stornello £8636 The recently launched Stornello is based on the popular A2 licencefriendlyfriendly friendly V7 Triumph Street Twin Scrambler £9095 The new water-cooled Street Twin with the Scrambler Inspiration Pack added (£1745)
Bikes like the BMW and Ducati Scrambler stop traffic, especially when ridden by cool cats like Chad and Jimmy Summer in the city — our four super-cool urban scramblers are lighting up London All bikes are welcome at the Ace, but super-cool scramblers fit
The Ducati Scrambler Full Throttle features a Termignoni exhaust Hit any major city and the bikes fit right in
With its Scrambler kit fitted, the Triumph Street Twin has a sleek, stylish sawn-off tail unit
Trafalgar Square plays host to the battle of the scramblers between Germany and Italy
Both the Triumph and BMW sound great when ridden under bridges
BMW has presence and performance that other retros can only dream of
All these machines look amazing, but it’s the BMW and Ducati that win on rideability