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Common Tread

2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100 first ride review

Mar 26, 2018

When a manufacturer builds a bigger-engined version of the same model, the focus is usually on the power.

You know a Suzuki GSX-R1000 accelerates faster than a GSX-R600 and a Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT provides a stronger platform for two-up weekends than a Versys 650. Simple, right?

Maybe not so simple in the case of the 2018 Scrambler 1100 from Ducati.

Scrambler 1100
The Scrambler 1100 Special poses beneath Lisbon's iconic 25 de Abril Bridge. Ducati photo.

When we first wrote about the Scrambler 1100's unveiling at EICMA, one question bubbled to the top of the reader comments: With just a little more power and quite a bit more weight, would the Scrambler 1100 have a performance advantage over the 803 cc Scramblers to justify the higher price? It's a reasonable question, but after spending a day riding the bigger Scrambler and talking to the engineers and designers, I see that question misses the point of the Scrambler brand's purpose.

The bigger V-twin in the newest Scrambler does provide a fat tabletop of torque (can't call anything that flat a torque curve) and makes the bike both fun and — let me say it directly — easy to ride. But features (mostly electronics), style and sheer dimensions (the issue of who it fits) are what really separate this model from the smaller Scramblers.

Scrambler 1100
Lots of brushed aluminum on the Scrambler 1100 Special. Ducati photo.

What Scrambler does for Ducati

Think back to the reason Ducati introduced the Scrambler brand three years ago. Every Ducati was distinguished by its focus on performance, even the Diavel cruiser. To attract riders who buy based on style and feel, rather than high performance, Ducati needed another brand with a different identity. Thus was born capital-"S" Scrambler, the brand, which is more than just the small-"s" scrambler style of motorcycle.

The 1100 adds to the Scrambler line an option that is still an elemental motorcycle, but with an electronics package that goes not just beyond its smaller siblings, but also beyond its competition by offering four levels of traction control (plus off), three riding modes and — unique in this class — Bosch cornering ABS. It retains the classic styling and proportions of the earlier Scramblers but upsizes them for riders who felt cramped on the 800s.

Those changes, far more than the 13-horsepower bump in peak power, are the reason for the 1100's existence.

Scrambler 1100 lineup
The Scrambler 1100 line consists of the Special, left, the Sport, right and the base model in the middle. Ducati photo.

The Scrambler 1100

Back in the 1960s, Ducati made 250 cc, 350 cc and 450 cc Scramblers. Now, it makes 400 cc, 800 cc and the new 1,100 cc versions. "This completes our family," said Scrambler Product Manager Rocco Canosa.

Scrambler 1100s are scheduled to be available at dealers the first week in May. Ducati is producing three versions for 2018: The base Scrambler 1100 comes in a choice of yellow or black and U.S. MSRP is $12,995. The Special, which is the version we rode at the press launch in Portugal, adds the brown seat, brushed aluminum fenders instead of plastic, brushed aluminum finish on the swingarm, black spoked wheels and other appearance tweaks. It comes in gray and the MSRP is $14,295. The Sport upgrades to Öhlins suspension, comes in black with yellow stripes and costs $14,995. Those prices definitely aren't cheap, so let's see what you get for your money.

Scrambler 1100 Sport tank and accessory cap
The Scrambler 1100 Sport features black paint with yellow stripes. The aluminum fuel tank cap shown here is one of the accessories Ducati developed in partnership with Rizoma. Ducati photo.

All three are built around an air- and oil-cooled 1,079 cc two-valve-per-cylinder engine derived from the version found in the Monster, though several parts are new and the engine complies with the latest European laws on emissions and noise. Ducati claims 86 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 65 foot-pounds of torque at 4,750 rpm and a wet weight of 454 pounds.

The Scrambler 1100 is intended to be a bigger motorcycle, both to fit larger riders and expand the performance envelope with changes such as a slightly larger fuel tank and bigger, more comfortable seat, but it still had to be a Scrambler. While models routinely grow in size in the car world, "On motorcycles, it is quite tricky to upsize," said Ducati designer Jeremy Faraud. "The biggest challenge was to find the perfect ratio."

The wheelbase grew 2.7 inches to 59.6 inches and the seat rose 0.8 inches to 31.9 inches, as well as getting wider. The bigger fuel tank on the 1100 holds 3.96 gallons.

Scrambler 1100 fuel tank
The Scrambler 1100 gets a larger fuel tank, but it still holds slightly less than four gallons. Ducati photo.

That fuel tank is one of many parts of the Scrambler 1100 that get aluminum highlights, from the heat shields on the dual, high-mount mufflers to the panels on the sides of the tank that are adorned with creases "inspired by muscle fibers," said Faraud. Even more aluminum accessories are available and Ducati developed several of them in cooperation with Rizoma and Termignoni. Ducati execs are quite proud of the fact that the Scrambler 1100 only has five significant parts made of plastic, with the main one being the airbox. On the Special, the aluminum fenders reduce that number to three.

Those materials and styling touches are intended to make it clear that the 1100 is "the Olympus of the Scrambler world," as Ducati's marketing puts it, and is "a premium and advanced product," in Canosa's words.

Scrambler 1100
Among the many aluminum pieces on the Scrambler 1100 are the shrouds just ahead of the frame, which cover the regulator-rectifier and the oil cooler. The shroud and the unobtrusive fins on the cylinders mean the air-cooled Scrambler could be mistaken for a liquid-cooled bike at a glance. The spoked wheels are unique to the Special. Ducati photo.

"Premium" means that in addition to aluminum instead of plastic you also get touches such as a hydraulic slipper clutch and adjustable levers. A side benefit of the equipment needed for the cornering ABS is a self-canceling turn signal system that really works because it knows when you've actually leaned through a turn. The instrument panel, an upgrade from the one on the 800 cc Scramblers, looks like a nicely styled piece of jewelry.

It looks the part. So how does it work?

Scrambler 1100
Riding the Scrambler 1100 Special in the hills of Portugal. Ducati photo.

Riding the 2018 Scrambler 1100

The typical press launch ride is not for those who like to warm up slowly, and the Scrambler 1100 ride was no different. Straight onto an unfamiliar motorcycle, following the hi-viz-clad leader lane-splitting through Lisbon traffic on narrow, cobblestone streets, then hop onto the 25 de Abril Bridge (Lisbon's version of the Golden Gate) and hit the highway in sixth gear. That's just the first few kilometers.

What's my point? Well, all of that would be challenging on many motorcycles, but it felt almost easy on the Scrambler 1100. That feeling only grew throughout the ride. This may be the biggest and baddest Scrambler, but it's friendly in nature.

That feeling starts with the neutral riding position. The fairly wide handlebar put me in the slightest of forward leans (keep in mind the Special has a slightly lower handlebar than the others), my feet beneath me just where I want them so I can shift my body weight easily, but without feeling folded up. I never felt I needed more leg room for my 32-inch inseam, but I've found that some riders feel cramped on bikes I feel are just right.

Scrambler 1100
A day at the beach for the Scrambler 1100 Special on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. Ducati photo.

The second trait that gives the Scrambler 1100 an easy-to-ride vibe is the handling, which feels as neutral as the riding position. I could bend the bike into the turns with just the right amount of effort, predictable every time.

Part three of the easy nature came from the fueling. For the Scrambler 1100, Ducati calls the three rider modes Active, Journey and City instead of the usual names. Active and Journey both give you the full 86 horsepower. City cuts that to 75 and would probably be best in the rain. I started out in Journey and was happy to find no abruptness in the throttle. With a little apprehension, I switched to Active later in the ride. On some bikes we've tested, the more aggressive maps are no fun. You may get more urgency in the response but pay too high a price in terms of throttle twitchiness, making you work harder to ride smoothly. Not so with the Scrambler 1100. Riding on the beautiful hillside roads overlooking the Atlantic coast, trying to catch glimpses of the spectacular scenery without embedding myself into it, I rode for miles and forgot I had switched modes. I could notice the sharper response but only when I thought about it. I usually figure that a feature is working best when it just works without drawing attention to itself.

The fourth contributor to the bike's easy-riding nature is its torque. Ducati cites peak torque of 65 foot-pounds at 4,750 rpm (3,000 rpm lower than the 803 cc engine!) and the output stays completely flat up to 6,500 rpm. You can lug the engine lower and it will dig you out of the hole, but surfing that fat middle portion of the rev range is the satisfying way to go. I quickly decided that revving beyond 6,500 rpm was the least satisfying option, producing vibes in the seat and footpegs that exceeded any advantage in acceleration. This is a mid-range engine.

Of course you could argue — and Ducati would — that the electronic aids also make the Scrambler 1100 easier to ride by making it safer. And once again, this brings us back to the difference between Scrambler and Ducati. The electronics package here is about making the ride more enjoyable, not about cutting a faster lap time at the track — it's cornering ABS, not launch control.

Scrambler 1100
Riding the Scrambler 1100 Special in the hills of Portugal. Ducati photo.

Only once was I certain I felt the traction control step in to save me, when the combination of trying to look good for a photographer and a slow-moving car caused me to make some poorly chosen throttle inputs while leaned over in a curve dusted with coastal sand. The Scrambler handled it with no drama. And I apologize, readers, but I did not test the performance of the cornering ABS by grabbing the brakes in one of those sandy curves, either. I'm neither that brave nor that curious about learning new and exotic foreign health care systems. I love you folks but I have my limits.

Those brakes consist of dual 320 mm discs up front with radially mounted Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers and a 245 mm disc at the rear. What did I think of them? At the end of the day, I noticed I hadn't written down a word about the brakes in my notes, and considering how many downhill, cliffside, oceanview turns I'd encountered, the lack of complaints in my notebook speaks well.

The base model and the Special we rode pair a fully adjustable 45 mm Marzocchi fork with a Kayaba shock adjustable for preload and rebound damping with 5.9 inches of travel at both ends. (The Sport gets a 48 mm Öhlins fork and rear shock.) I felt the jolts of a few sharp-edged Portuguese manhole covers in the city, and then once we hit the curving mountain roads I found the suspension could be upset by mid-corner bumps, but overall it was a good compromise between sporting firmness and city comfort.

Scrambler 1100 Kayaba shock
The Kayaba rear shock is adjustable for preload and rebound damping. Ducati photo.

During photo stops, one of the heavier riders was adding preload and damping at the fork and the lightest, female rider in our group was reducing preload in the rear shock. Being somewhere in the middle, I didn't make any roadside changes. It would be interesting to compare the Sport version's suspension, but given the Scrambler's mission, most riders probably won't feel the need to upgrade.

The Scrambler 1100 comes standard with a hydraulically operated slipper clutch, so action was as light and smooth as you'd hope. The six-speed transmission was slick and I never missed a gear change or had trouble getting into neutral. Again, just easy to ride, though the gearing felt a little high — something I noticed mostly in first gear at parking lot speeds or taking off from a stop.

Any shortcomings?

Just about every quibble I found with the Scrambler 1100 is related to styling, but many people more readily make sacrifices for fashion than I do.

Scrambler 1100 LCD gauges
The Scrambler 800 models have the single round display. With more information to display, the 1100 adds the oval portion to the left. The only drawback is the hard-to-read tachometer. Ducati photo.

The gauge cluster looks nice and the oval section added for the 1100 makes the speed and gear position easily readable, but some of the other parts of the LCD display are hard to read at a glance, especially the bar-graph tachometer that curves along the bottom edge. The good news is that the fat mid-range torque means you really don't have to pay close attention to the tach, and if you do care to know, you can switch to a more legible digital display of engine speed.

The Pirelli MT 60 tires work better on the street than you might expect, but the 18-inch front (to maintain those perfect visual ratios) means you have far fewer choices. A 17-inch front would open up a huge range of sportier street tires or the excellent, long-lasting sport-touring tires available today, while a 19-inch would provide more dual-sport options.

Scrambler 1100 dual exhausts
Ducati stylists said the dual, high-mount exhausts are intended to remind us of iconic models from the marque's past. The downside is they complicate the use of even simple luggage. Ducati photo.

The bigger fuel tank and more comfortable seat enable longer rides, but the absence of wind protection offsets those advantages. Even a short stint at highway speeds had me feeling tired of bracing myself against the wind. Plus, the high-mount exhausts preclude throwover saddlebags and a total lack of tie-down points would make even using a tail bag difficult. There's a USB charging port under the seat but barely enough room under there for your phone, and definitely no extra space. If I were planning a weekend excursion on a Scrambler 1100, I'd probably be forced to resort to a backpack and a tank bag. Ducati has promoted this bike with two videos titled "The Getaway" that are far too young and cool for me, because I couldn't help noticing in part two that as Davide Hardcastle's character leaves his secret lair in Joshua Tree to go hunt down the cute female fugitive bank robber in Las Vegas, he apparently needed to pack no more than a toothbrush in his official Scrambler accessory leather jacket. Maybe not even that. Your real-life experience may vary.

More of a personal preference than a shortcoming, I missed the top end even as everyone else seemed to be praising the engine's admittedly strong mid-range torque. It really all depends on what engine character you value (more on that below). Torque is great, but the Scrambler still puts out less power than its competitors.

Questions I know someone will ask

Scrambler 1100
Scrambler 1100 Special. Ducati photo.
Will I go broke servicing it? The air-cooled twin requires valve adjustments and timing belt checks every 15,000 miles. Perform an honest assessment of your DIY desmodromic valve adjustment skills and consult your personal financial adviser to determine your individual outlook.

If they call it a Scrambler, I demand to know: Will it go off-road? This is Scrambler the brand, not scrambler the category. Ducati kept us firmly on asphalt during our guided ride, passing a few dirt roads without even a longing glance down them, so this is purely speculation on my part, but I'd put it this way: Think of the best pure street bike you've ridden on a dirt road and the Scrambler is probably at least that good, thanks mainly to the riding position, the Pirelli MT 60 tires, the ample torque and the smooth throttle response, offset perhaps by the tall first gear. If you want a scrambler Scrambler, seek a Desert Sled.

Will Lemmy flat-track it/Spurgeon ride it in the Pine Barrens 500? Ducati's contractual language on loaner press bikes is extensive. I'm guessing no.

Scrambler 1100
The chrome exhaust pipes, here glowing in the Portuguese sun, are one of the appearance parts that separate the Special from the other two Scrambler 1100 models. Ducati photo.

The competition

Full disclosure here: I wasn't supposed to be writing this first ride review, but then Spurgeon took a bullet (no wait, that was a Himalayan, not a Bullet) to the knee deep in the heart of Texas and I was forced to step up at the last minute and travel to Lisbon and sample the local pastries and sunshine while Spurgeon limped through yet another Philadelphia "spring" snowstorm. (No, he's not in the cheeriest mood.) I've ridden 16 brands of motorcycles (number of individual models uncertain) since I started writing about them around the turn of the century (21st, not 20th, to forestall incoming jokes from Lemmy) but I've previously ridden a grand total of one air-cooled Ducati and it wasn't a Scrambler. All that is to say that I'm not the staff Ducati expert and not in a position to answer that reader question mentioned above about how the Scrambler 1100 compares to the 800 models.

Elsewhere, the Scrambler faces some strong and stylish competition these days as other brands tap into their own variations on the "heritage" theme. There's the BMW R nineT line (similar prices, more power) or, if you're not into the off-pavement look, the new Kawasaki Z900RS or even something like the Yamaha XSR900 (both less expensive and more powerful). Those may seem like dissimilar motorcycles because they pay homage to different ancestors, but I could easily imagine someone considering both the Scrambler and the Kawasaki, for example. The Scrambler's chunky tires aside, both offer a similar combination of classic styling and modern features. Of course the BMW R nineT line is the most direct competition.

Scrambler 1100 headlight
This photo shows the daytime running light ring around the headlight. The metal parts look better than the traditional two pieces of black tape. All lights are LED except the headlight. Ducati photo.

I feel that if you're shopping this aisle in the motorcycle superstore, you probably put more emphasis on a certain style and feel than you do on specs or my opinions. This category is more about personal appeal, and in that context, the Scrambler's power deficit to the R nineT or the R nineT Scrambler or Urban Enduro may matter less to you than the question of whether the sideways tug of a BMW boxer engine when you blip the throttle tugs at your heart more than the beat of a Ducati V-twin. Or maybe a multi-cylinder classic sings the music you love. Take some test rides and check your bank account and I'm sure your choice will be clear without any input from me.

Scrambler 1100
Riding the Scrambler 1100 Special in the hills of Portugal. Ducati photo.

But I will leave you with this. If the Scrambler 1100 has the look and feel you love and it falls within your budget, in my short day of riding I found not a single reason not to buy it.