A CLASSIC RETRO DUST-UP
New BMW & Ducati scramblers tackle the bikes that inspired them
If you’re a cynical old devil you might roll your eyes as BMW and Ducati reveal yet another variant of their R ninet and Scrambler families. But bear with us because the two bikes you see spraying mud in the pictures could just be the best retros of them all.
Forget café racers, bobbers and flattrackers, the new £11,185 BMW R ninet Urban G/S and £9495 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled don’t just have some of the longest model names in biking, they’re inspired by two of the most iconic off-roaders of the 70s and 80s.
BMW have captured the shape and mouth-watering M-sport livery of their 1984 Dakar-winning R80G/S with their new offering and Yamaha’s thudding single-cylinder XT500 was clearly the inspiration for Ducati’s latest Scrambler variant (and we also got to ride the originals – see over).
So throw away your turn-ups, dig out your old-school motocross boots and let’s hit Lincolnshire’s finest back roads and dirt tracks.
You don’t get a bad R ninet. Whether it’s the 2014 original, the Pure, Racer or Scrambler, BMW’S retro range offers traditional looks and air-cooled simplicity, scintillating performance and character and meshed with 21st Century handing, braking, electronic refinement (traction control on our test bike is an optional extra), grip and safety.
With its wide bars, roomy riding position and big Mickey Mouse-eared mirrors the Urban G/S mixes easy comfort with practicality. The gearbox, clutch and throttle are all light
and simple to operate, the steering is crisp, the Brembos have serious bite and the rasp from the perky 110bhp, 1170cc flat twin is addictive. Build quality is superb and the ‘Light White’ paintwork is tank-strokingly lustrous.
BMW offer the choice of dual-purpose rubber or hardcore off-road Continental TCK80S. We plumped for the Contis to play in the mud, they are fine for normal tarmac speeds but roll around when you turn-up the wick. If you’re never going to take your shiny Beemer on the dirt, stick with the road tyres.
Jon Urry rode the new Urban G/S at its press launch last month and was smitten. “I love them,” he grins. “For me it’s all about the styling. I love all the R ninets, but this one just looks fantastic. R ninets are so loud I wonder how they get away with it, but I’m glad they do. The knobbly tyres aren’t for me, but it rides beautifully and you’ve got heated grips, ABS and traction control, if you want it. But it’s a short-hop bike and one I wouldn’t do massive distances on.
“Retros are usually raw, but what’s so clever about the Urban G/S is that it delivers everything you want, but it’s also refined. It’s a lovely package.”
Fellow tester Bruce Dunn agrees and added: “Quite often when a bike is developed from an existing model it’s not as good as the original, but this is even better. It has a lovely exhaust note, even at tickover and it harmonises modern technology with the retro look better than most.”
It’s fair to say the Urban G/S is a tough act to follow, but the Desert Sled has a few tricks up its sleeve. Its smaller 803cc, 73bhp L-twin motor (when did Ducati stop calling them Vs?) may
‘It’s the beefier, testosteroneinjected version of the Scrambler’
be down on power and instant grunt, compared to the BMW, but it’s every bit as quick on the road and the engine is more refined with fewer vibes.
Costing around £1500 less than the Urban G/S X (and around £500 less than the standard BMW), the Ducati is cheaper and more affordable on PCP at just £102.40 a month.
In its transformation to its XT500style, Onanysunday off-roadiness the Desert Sled has become one of the best incarnations of the Scrambler range. It’s tall, tough, involving, friendly, fun, hard-braking, sharp-handling and capable, on and off-road.
“It’s the Scrambler I wish they’d built first,” says Bruce. “It’s the beefier, testosterone-injected version. It’s the man’s one. It’s got presence, is firm, aggressive, and purposeful. It has real strength to it.”
Jon agrees: “If you’re not really into off-roading it’s just a really nice and enjoyable bike to ride. It’s tall, upright and the ride quality is beautiful. The engine isn’t the most powerful in the world but it has enough poke to be fun. It’s easily the best of the Scrambler models. The rest are a bit pretend, but this is a proper scrambler.”
Whatever your level of experience you can happily take the BMW or Ducati off-road. They’re never going to be as flingable as a dedicated lightweight single-cylinder enduro, but they have surprising poise and grip.
MCN Senior Designer Simon Relph – who owns an XT500, see below – is an experienced old hand in the mud and couldn’t wipe the smile off his face once we hit the rough.
“I thought I’d prefer the Ducati because of the way it looks, it’s narrowness and smaller engine,” he says. “The BMW doesn’t look like it would be as capable, but once you ride it you realise what a lovely thing it is. Those off-road tyres are obviously a big help and once you’ve turned the traction control off the power and torque is great. It handles well and does what you want. It gives you the feel to slide it around bends without any drama - although it shakes its head a bit when you push it. But it soon sorts itself out.
“For a 6ft 1in rider like me the BMW’S set-up is spot on, but the Ducati riding position would need some little tweaks like lower bars and a more rear-set peg position.”
On and off-road the BMW has the most to offer and really is a class act, but all this comes at a cost. If you don’t want to pay north of 10 grand the cheaper Ducati is every bit as fun on any Sunday you choose.
Spot the difference… the new arrivals meet the ancestors
The Beemer looks great and sounds mighty fine too Beefed-up suspension on the Sled is welcome This is all well and good but let’s go and find some dirt…