2015 Ducati Scrambler first ride

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The day the news broke about Ducati's new Scrambler line of motorcycles, I posted a photo of this bike on Instagram and a friend asked what it was. When I responded that it was the new Ducati, he asked what a Ducati was.

The stir this new line of bikes has created, even among non-riders like my friend, tells you why this new brand is so significant.

The Scrambler — which comes in four variations of the same bike — represents an entirely new focus for the Italian manufacturer, with new riders, fashionistas, and a younger demographic as the target. This doesn’t mean the Scrambler won’t perform in a way that will please those of us who do know what a Ducati is, even those who can quote specs on Ducatis past and present. It does mean that Ducati is moving beyond its sportbike focus and is taking a different approach to selling motorcycles to a different audience.

The Scrambler line was presented separately from the other Ducatis at the EICMA motorcycle show, with a yellow theme instead of the traditional red. While the focus with Ducati's sportbikes revolves around horsepower numbers and other specs, the marketing of the Scrambler features lifestyle images of young people camping in the mountains or riding to the beach. You're more likely to see a surf board than a spec chart.

But don't worry. We're going to tell you about the hardware, too.

Scrambler Icon

Scrambler Classic

Scrambler Urban Enduro

Scrambler Full Throttle

803 cc engineThe bike

The 2015 Ducati Scrambler is powered by 803 cc air-cooled motor from the last-generation Monster 796, which makes 75 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 50 foot-pounds of torque at 5,750 rpm.

The Scrambler uses a twin-spar steel trellis frame and a die-cast aluminum swingarm. Two of the models get 10-spoke alloy wheels, while the other two get spoked aluminum wheels, and all four are 18-inch up front and 17-inch in the back. The Pirelli MT 60 RS tires were designed specifically for the Scrambler and both look awesome and perform admirably, both on pavement and fire roads.

The semi-floating and radially mounted Brembo brakes clamp a 330 mm single disc up front and 245 mm single disc in the rear, and a two-channel anti-lock brake system comes standard, though it can be turned off in the bike’s menu system. The Kayaba suspension is a 41mm inverted fork up front and a monoshock in back that is adjustable for spring preload.

The Scrambler weighs 410 pounds full of fuel and has a 31-inch seat height. The seat narrows towards the front, which makes putting a foot down easier for shorter riders.

The Ducati Scrambler Icon (the base model) has an MSRP of $8,495, while the other three will retail for $9,995.

Testing the Ducati Scrambler

The press launch for the Ducati Scrambler was held in Palm Springs, Calif. The route included a brief freeway stint and an incredible route up Highway 243 and then down Highway 74. Overall, we did a little over 120 miles which, while not a ton, was definitely enough to get a good first feel for the bike in a variety of situations. Unfortunately, only the Icon version was available for the press ride, so I can’t speak to the ergonomics or feel of the other models.

One of the big questions I had was about how the Scrambler would do on the freeway. It has plenty of power, but its petite size and upright riding position had me worried I would turn into a sail trying to hold on. Luckily, that question was answered within our first five miles on the bike.

Even at speeds above 80 mph, I felt comfortable cruising. The Scrambler is geared well for higher speeds, and despite the lack of any sort of wind protection, I didn’t feel like I had to struggle to keep from being blown off the back.

At six feet, one inch tall, I fit surprisingly well on the bike. The pegs are placed perfectly, and my only complaint was that the bars felt a little too swept back and left me feeling a little cramped, in terms of reach. Luckily, this is about the easiest problem to fix on a motorcycle, especially when you consider that simply rotating the bars forward could be enough. The higher bars do fit with the Scrambler theme and come in handy for stand-up riding if you do venture off the pavement.

As we headed up into the hills and straight roads gave way to twisty ones, the Scrambler really came alive. The position of the bars again threw me off a bit initially, and I felt like the handling was almost a little too sensitive, but again, a quick swap with the bars from the Full Throttle model and I think it would be perfect.

Once I spent a few miles getting used to the handling, I really began to fall in love with the bike. The motor feels super torquey in the bottom of first and second, but gives you plenty of room to hold a line well through some fast corners. The suspension was stiffer than you might expect on a bike with supposed enduro capability, but I have to admit I appreciated the on-road bias.

Unfortunately, last week’s rain meant the fire roads Ducati intended to lead us on were closed. Lunch was held at a camp near Lake Hemet, where we were able to find some fire-road-like conditions. The Scrambler, in large part due to the Pirelli tires created for it, actually did a decent job. The high bars made standing manageable and turning off the ABS instantly made hooligans of most of us as we slid around in the dirt for a bit.

Ducati Scrambler highlights

Ducati has something special with the Scrambler. It isn’t that there’s anything particularly unique about the bike, its performance, or its aesthetics, but it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Ducati has done what so many other brands have failed to do: make a nice-looking motorcycle that’s fun to ride and that speaks to the emotional connection so many of us have to motorcycling. They beat the Triumph Bonneville at its own game, and did so with a better bike.

Performance-wise, it’s hard to ask for more from the Scrambler. It’s the perfect size for riding around town, and beat my expectations in the twisties and on the freeway. The motor is perfect for the bike, making plenty of power for moving through traffic or wheelieing down mountain roads (or so I’ve heard).

Even though the only point of adjustability in the suspension is the pre-load at the rear, Ducati nailed it with the suspension. It was soft enough to soothe road imperfections and make for a comfortable ride, while stiff enough that I didn't feel like a pogo stick when leaned over or under heavy braking or acceleration. Bravo, Ducati.

Aesthetically, the bike is incredibly nice looking in person. Nothing, from the grips to the instrument cluster, feels like an afterthought.

I expect the Scramblers will be customized many different ways, but even before the aftermarket gets geared up and the custom shops start dreaming up designs, Ducati has given owners a head start with a really nice range of accessories for the Scrambler. All of the options are available for and fit all four Scrambler models, which means you can sort of mix and match everything from gas tank side panels to seats to fenders. Ducati is also releasing a number of exhaust options (including high pipes!) to help people achieve the right look.

Ducati Scrambler lowlights

It took me all of six miles to find my first false neutral and, as with every other air-cooled Ducati I’ve ridden, the shift peg makes you give it a solid kick, rather than slight nudge (which makes shifting a little more difficult while riding standing up).

During the launch, a few bikes had problems. A fuel hose come loose on the freeway on one bike and another had a throttle cable issue, which held the throttle open slightly in a turn. Hopefully, just the new-model blues, but only time will tell. For the record, the Scrambler Icons we rode were pre-production units built in Italy, though the motorcycles for sale in the United States will be built in Thailand.

Finally, the fueling is a tad snatchy, especially in the bottom of first and second. New riders will struggle and probably have a difficult time feeling confident at low speeds, as the throttle can lend to a fairly jerky ride. I hope Ducati can remedy this with a re-flash of the ECU.

The competition

The only real competition for the Ducati Scrambler is the Triumph Scrambler (or Triumph Bonneville). The Triumph makes 59 horsepower, 68 foot-pounds of torque, and weighs a portly 510 pounds (wet). It also comes with worse brakes and suspension and its five-speed gearbox means you’ll always feel like you’re too high in the rev range on the freeway. And at $9,099, the Triumph costs more than the Icon version of the Scrambler.

Conclusion

The Ducati Scrambler is a great bike but, more importantly, it’s great for motorcycling. Ducati has managed to take motorcycling back to its roots by creating a fun, beautiful, and decently performing motorcycle, and they’ve done so at a very accessible price.

Truth be told, I’m very seriously considering buying one. I sold my Bonneville a few years ago and, while riding press bikes is great and all, I miss that connection I have with a bike I bought and have made my own. So much of motorcycling is self expression and, while I love and appreciate so many of the bikes I get to test, none of them really feels like me. The Ducati Scrambler is everything my Bonneville was, while performing better and being extremely fun to ride. It pays respects to a little of Ducati's history, dating back to seemingly more innocent times of 40 years ago, when Ducati built scramblers, but it packages that dose of nostalgia and tradition in a thoroughly modern and useful motorcycle.

While it is difficult to call an $8,500, 800 cc bike a "beginner bike," this is the perfect "beginner Ducati" and a fantastic move for the Italian company.

I can't wait to get one in for a longer test, and I'm pretty sure I know what mine will look like if I buy one. Which one would you get?

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