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Introduction and test ride review.

11278 Views 15 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Bubba Satori
OK, let’s start with me. Been riding since before I was legally old enough to do so, which is nigh on 50 years now. So I’ve ridden quite a few bikes and am still obsessed with them as much as, or even more than, way back then. In the meantime I spent some years working for Honda UK, mostly teaching in and then running their Technical Training School. I’ve ridden on and off-road competitively, although both some time ago now. One of my greatest pleasures nowadays is the annual European bike trip with friends and anyone who wishes to join us (see DiGitour 2016 if interested in the next one)

I got caught up in the ‘faster is better’ ethos until sports bikes became race track refugees and I belatedly decided I was no longer prepared to put up with having to uncomfortably wrap myself around the bike and always needing to wear full leathers to even consider riding. Where had the fun gone.

But, the performance offered by a sports bike is intoxicating, so a couple of years ago I decided to solve the problem by converting a FireBlade into a more comfortable naked roadster or ’StreetFighter’ to which they are often referred. The result was my FireFighter:-


Unsurprisingly it’s a stunning bike. Superb handling and incredibly fast, yet really very tractable and super smooth at low speed. But, being an in-line 4, it gets buzzy at higher speeds. Not vibration. Just a sound and feeling that the engine is spinning really fast, even at <4K rpm. As you actually go faster, this gets masked by general speed buffeting etc, but at 70 - 80 it’s not a relaxed feel from the engine and you are often thinking you can’t actually be in top. This is typical for an in-line 4.

V-twins are of course entirely different and I’ve had a number of Honda VTR1000s (FireStorm, Sp-1, SP-2) and others. These give a far more ‘relaxed’ ride, not necessarily slow, just not feeling so frenetic and I’ve ridden for miles without realising I’m not yet in top gear. Totally different to an in-line 4. But, a big, sports V twin is usually rough low down and a pain in traffic.

The single bike solution is actually a V4, but the alternative is to have several bikes with different characteristics, choose the one you want to ride and enjoy the diversity. I still have the FireFighter as it’s such a great bike, but since its introduction I’ve hankered after a Monster 1200S. I’ve had a couple of test rides and was looking forward to having one eventually. That was my plan and the Scrambler was originally to me, a bit meh! Then, EUREKA!

One day I woke up and realised how great a Scrambler would be. I’ve done a lot of off-road riding and still have a Honda CRF450X, but not used it for a few years. Part of the reason is a loss of interest in hauling it about through deep mud and over tall rocks and up impossibly steep rocky climbs - my knees can’t take it any more. But I still yearn for a bit of simple green-laneing, getting off the tarmac and into the countryside again. More of a dry summer’s day sort of pursuit and it occurred to me that a Scrambler might not only be fun on the road, but also provide me with the gentle off-roading that I desire. So off I went to Blade motorcycles in Reading (UK) for a test ride. Not only the Scrambler, but I also wanted to ride the Monster 1200S as a comparison and then a DVT MultiStrada to see what a difference DVT makes.

Blade were very accommodating and I first set off on the Scrambler, followed by the others in the order listed above, plus an 821 Monster at the end for a further comparison. Why, because I couldn’t believe how utterly horrid was the Monster 1200. I chose a route through some unpleasant town traffic then a bit of dual carriageway and some A and B roads on which I grew up learning to ride bikes. So familiar to me and also I rode the same lap for each bike. After a mile in traffic on the Monster, I hated it and couldn’t believe how dreadful it was, even in Urban mode. Sport mode was simply a waste of time in town with the engine bucking and banging. Once in the open on flowing roads, it began to make sense again, as I remembered from previous tests (which obviously didn’t include any heavy traffic). But that’s not enough, A bike has to be able to cope with some traffic even if it’s not an urban commuter and I found constantly having to switch engine modes became an extremely irritating, but necessary chore. KTM have done a far better job with their Super Duke R 1290 whose engine is WAY more controllable than this, well, Monster is a good name. Horrible. I even tried the 821 Monster to see if that was better. No, not significantly. But…

The DVT MultiStrada has a delightful engine. Almost as smooth low down as the Scrambler, even at 30 mph in top, in SPORT mode. No need to mess with engine modes as the DVT system seems to eliminate the big V twin’s shortcomings. So when Ducati release a Monster 1200S with DVT engine, then I’ll consider it again, but until that time, no chance. Actually, having seen pictures of the new Diavel, add belt drive to my list of ‘must haves’ for a Monster. Oh and a gear position indicator - I don’t care what others may say, they’re great.

However, ignoring my disappointment with the Monster, what about the Scrambler? Simply, completely and utterly delightful. I had the biggest smile on my face as I rode around those roads that I remember so well from when still on L plates (a 250 in those days) and subsequently as I built Tritons with Bonneville engines and ultimately had a Norton Commando that was far and away the best British bike I’d ever ridden because with its rubber mounted engine, it didn’t shake your fillings loose. But now, on this Ducati Scrambler I was riding a bike that was actually way better than even my rose tinted memories of those old bikes, yet with the same simplicity. No fancy engine modes to faff with yet always easy to ride and satisfyingly smooth at low speed. Not even water cooled, just plain honest biking and I absolutely loved it, finding little to fault. Which is odd because…

I have read many complaints on the forum(s) about the shortcomings of the Scrambler. Here’s my take on them.

Seat. Yup, not great for long distances. The Icon I rode was uncomfortable after an hour, the Full Throttle I have subsequently sat on felt a bit better. The problem is the seat is narrow at the front which concentrates the weight in a smaller (and soon more painful) area. But it’s rare I find a bike long term comfortable these days and I could put up with the Scrambler as I don’t see it as a long distance bike.

Throttle response. Yes it is a little ‘sharp’ but that took about 10 mins to get used to. Some bikes cannot be smoothed out with careful throttle control, but I didn’t find that to be the case with the Scrambler. I can only surmise from reading comments on various forums (not just about the Scrambler) that some riders’ technique obviously treats the twist-grip as a switch. Open wide to increase speed, slam closed to slow down. But it shouldn’t always be like that. Ok, for a small automatic scooter, there’s probably no other way, but as engine power increases, the care that must be exercised with the throttle has to similarly increase. Try riding my FireFighter using the twist-grip as a switch like that and you’ll be off, or at least think it unrideable, whereas to me it’s buttery smooth. But I’m only using up to about a quarter throttle, with small micro adjustments to keep it smoothly doing what I require. The Scrambler throttle can be operated in a way that the engine responds smoothly and controllably. Sorry, but if you are having real trouble with this, I suggest you need to practice your throttle technique - unless you’re trying to ride seriously off-road. In which case, you may well want a slower acting throttle as it’s more difficult to control when bucking up and down over rocks. But all the complaints I’ve read seem to be related to road usage. Either way, if it remains a problem, fit a throttle tamer which will solve the issue once and for all.

Brakes. I found the front surprisingly powerful. I was expecting worse from a single caliper setup, but in fact it was controllable and powerful. Why some people have complained about this I cannot imagine, unless it’s simply down to adjustment. I initially found the lever was too close to the bars for my liking and so it seemed to come back too far when braking. So I ADJUSTED IT. Now with the lever a bit further out as I like it and perfect for 1 or 2 finger braking, it was great. No 2 ways about it. This is not a race track weapon but I have plenty of experience to compare to such and the Scrambler front brake is not lacking in its ability.

Clutch. Specifically the take up point of engagement of the clutch. Well in the same way as the front brake, if it’s not to your liking - ADJUST it. This is not a fault of the bike. Handlebar levers and even pedal position are intended to be adjustable to suit the rider. So do it. If I’m testing a bike, the first thing I do is check that the levers are adjusted acceptably. If the controls are badly positioned, but not actually adjustable, that is a fault with the bike, but don’t mark the bike down just because you haven’t used the available adjustment to suit yourself.

Shifting. Excellent. The clutch is nice and light and the gearbox shifted smoothly and precisely with little effort and neutral easy to find when stationary - unlike the other bikes I tested that day all of which seemed to be particularly stiff and finding neutral on the MultiStrada was almost impossible, even with the clutch lever suitably adjusted. I didn’t really pay it much attention when riding the Scrambler. Only later when finding how bad the others were did I think back and realise how effortless the Scrambler was in this regard.

Gearing. This is more of a general treatise. Lowering the gearing does NOT make a bike accelerate faster overall. It may do so at a particular road speed, but there will be other different speeds when it will make it slower. Look at it this way. Imagine the gear ratios are evenly spaced. Lower the gearing slightly and the common misconception is that it will now accelerate faster. Lower it some more and by the same argument, it will be even faster and so on. But eventually, top will now be geared the same as was 5th originally, and 5th as was 4th etc. All you’ve done now is lose top gear and added a new lower bottom gear. Will it now be faster? Of course not. Apart from off the line (which may or may not actually be quicker) the bike will perform exactly as it was when stock as it now has the same gearing again, until max. rpm in the new top. At which point the bike with the original gearing will clear off into the distance. It is a fool’s logic to think lower gearing means faster overall acceleration. Yes, at any specific rpm in the same gear, the lower gearing will be faster, but you’ll run out of revs sooner and have to change up. Whereas on the original gearing you’d still be accelerating and negating any gain of the lower gearing. On the race track, gearing is adjusted to suit the individual track, to keep the engine at its ideal rpm for as much time as possible and place the gear shifts at the best places on the track. On the road, there can be no such optimisation, so gearing has to be chosen to suit ALL conditions and there is no easy way to simply make a bike faster just by altering the gearing. Doing so only really affects first and top (similarly). so if you want it to be revving a little lower while cruising in top, raise the gearing a bit. It won’t be slower getting there. If it’s that much of a problem, change down and hold onto a lower gear. The real problem with the Scrambler is possibly that it could do with being slightly lower geared (with a lower first) for off-road, but probably a bit higher geared for even more relaxed highway cruising. So on the whole, I think Ducati probably got it about right.

Handling/suspension. Another thorny subject. One man’s comfort is another man’s lousy suspension. I have to say I found no problems with the suspension. I was particularly looking for a bike with longer suspension travel than a normal road bike. The current parlous state of British roads normally has me wincing each time I fail to avoid another pothole or sunken manhole cover. The only bikes I’ve found to comfortably deal with such imperfections are adventure style bikes. But they come with their own drawbacks like seat height and overall top heaviness. The Scrambler looked to offer a good compromise and indeed I found it soaked up the bumps almost as well as an ADV and had that same, slightly floaty feel when cornering which invites me to simply go faster and lean it further and it just, well, does it. I like this. I have other opportunities to dash about on taught race track handling missiles and I’m specifically NOT looking for that in the Scrambler. Others have commented on it feeling ‘vague’ at the front. I can only think that this is the same softness I experienced, but whereas it IS what I want, some people seem to find this a problem and suffer a loss of confidence. I think they should be more worried about the tyres as the dual sports fitted will undoubtedly be a far more limiting factor as to how fast you can actually go around a corner. Not that I had a problem with them as I thought they were excellent, but ultimately they canNOT offer the levels of grip of a full sports road tyre. Overall, I really did not find the suspension lacking in any way.

While on the subject of suspension, it is worth bearing in mind the compromises that have to made in the design of a bike, due to cost. Why not supply every bike with top grade, fully adjustable MotoGP spec suspension front and rear? Then everyone will be happy and able to adjust it to their heart’s content. There are 2 problems with this. Firstly, such equipment would cost more than quite a few complete Scramblers so there have to be decisions made as to exactly what spec and hence cost is suitable for the bike in question. Secondly, not everyone needs fancy suspension. Not trying to be patronising here, but most riders either don’t know whether they’re coming or going with regard to suspension, spring rates, pre-load, damping etc. or they don’t care. Providing them with a myriad of tuning options is a complete waste of money as it will not get touched. So why force the majority to cough up the extra expense of unnecessary fancy adjustable suspension just for the few who do want to make use of it. Every bike is built to a cost and to me the Scrambler’s looks very reasonable. But start putting fancy suspension on it and it rapidly becomes unobtainable, or at least sufficiently unattractive to make it not worth buying. No point moaning about this, it’s just the way of the world. If you want fancy suspension, buy a bike with it already on (and pay more for it) or pay for the trick bits and modify it yourself.

Personally, as I said above, I found the suspension more than adequate. Would I like to replace it all with fancy Ohlins? Yes, sure I would. Because it would make me faster - ha no. More comfortable - maybe. Adorn my bike with flashy gold and yellow bling - oh yes please, I love gold Ohlins. But does this mean Ducati should have fitted these and added over £2K to the base price? No, of course not. Be a nice option though:)

So my advice would be:-

If you’re looking for pin sharp handling that would be great on a race track (but probably bone jarring on regular British roads) and an engine with supersonic performance and/or continent busting comfort, then I suggest the Scrambler is not for you - likewise if you cannot conceive of a twist-grip as anything other than an on-off switch. But…

If you want a reasonably comfortable bike, that handles British road surfaces with aplomb, is terrifically easy to ride smoothly, in traffic or on the open road, is more than quick enough to be great fun and even get you into trouble if you’re not careful, yet has a ‘cool’ factor other bikes fail to achieve and should bring a huge smile to your face while riding it for it’s sheer unadulterated simplicity and the ultimate pleasure of riding a motorcycle on and perhaps a little off road, then maybe the Scrambler IS for you. Love it for what it does and stop obsessing about what you think it doesn’t do as well as you imagined. The problem might just be you :)
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