Back in the day
THIS MONTH WE’VE been camping things up on a beach in the company of three brand-new rugged, rose-tinted roadsters. As chance would have it, ten summers ago RIDE was getting to know the bike that kickstarted the modern scrambler scene. Triumph’s Scrambler 900 was a stylised version of its relaunched Bonneville, with high-level exhausts, chunky tyres and a wide handlebar. While there’s plenty of scrambler-style choice today, a year after the Triumph’s 2006 launch it was still a novel and unique proposition, lacking any direct rivals to compare it to. So for RIDE’S September 2007 issue, we let the Scrambler tag-along with the two most retro-flavoured of our long-term test bikes of the time – a Harleydavidson Sportster 1200 and a Yamaha XJR1300 – for a day in the Dales.
“First off, it’s no scrambler,” we discovered after an abridged attempt to take it off-road. “It was less than 8in from the gravel when the Triumph sank into the soft peat. It took 25 minutes and three knackered road testers to haul it out again.” Not a good start.
Back on tarmac, perceptions didn’t get much better. “The Scrambler’s riding position takes some getting used to. The bars feel a long way away and the wide seat doesn’t have a natural, single place to plonk your bum.” The 865cc parallel twin came in for some stick too. “The Bonnie has an unassuming motor. And slow. Infuriatingly so. In this company, the engine felt gutless and wheezy. All those go-for-it overtakes on the Harley were heart-in-mouth affairs on the Triumph. Not funny for a 900cc bike.”
The Scrambler’s lack of pace might not have amused us but it was clear that someone else was enjoying themselves. “Something strange is happening at Triumph,” we noticed. “There’s a personality forming, confidence seeping out. Triumph are having fun. Not taking themselves too seriously and in doing so, they’re creating a genuine good-time vibe around their products.” Sound familiar? (Cough Ducati Scrambler’s ‘Land Of Joy’ cough.)
Triumph’s light-hearted side was evident in the special patriotic paintscheme adorning our test bike’s fuel tank, as well as the key fob bearing the words ‘Captain Underpants’ – the nickname bestowed upon this particular bike by Triumph staff. With hindsight, in 2007 the Hinckley firm had plenty of reasons to be cheerful: the Daytona 675 had just reset expectations of British sportsbikes; the Tiger 1050 was adding to the success of the Speed Triple and Sprint STS that shared its stonking motor; and they still had the incredible Street Triple hiding up their sleeves.
The Scrambler split RIDE’S collective opinions. Features writer Emma Franklin loved it, while editor Steve Rose clearly preferred the Harley. The public, however, adored the Triumph: “It’s the one that drew the biggest crowds when we parked up.” Over the next decade this affection – along with the swelling popularity of the wider custom scene – would lead to myriad bikes built along the same lines from Ducati, BMW, Moto Guzzi, Yamaha, Moto Morini and others. Meanwhile though, Triumph’s original Scrambler soldiered on until it was superseded earlier this year by the new water-cooled Street Scrambler.