New BMW & Du­cati scram­blers tackle the bikes that in­spired them

Motorcycle News (UK) - - NEWS - By Michael Neeves CHIEF ROAD TESTER

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…

Proper off-road abil­ity from the lat­est BMW These beau­ties make ev­ery ride spe­cial

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