Johannesburg - Modern motorcycles are becoming ever more gadgeted-up with electronic nannies like traction control, adjustable suspension, and the ability to change the engine response to suit any weather or road condition.
The trouble with all these gizmos, as effective as they might be, is the riders can get quite distracted by fiddling with them instead of keeping their eyes on the road at all times.
Not the Ducati Scrambler. This is as simple and straightforward a bike as you can get: two wheels, a pair of handlebars, and a two-cylinder 803cc engine is the old-school sum of it. The only nod to modern safety is the presence of ABS brakes, and they’re permanently on so you don’t get to fiddle with an On or Off switch.
There is no distraction on the super-basic instrument panel either. The digital readout tells you your speed, engine revs, and distance travelled, and that’s it. No fuel consumption meter, trip computer, nor a readout to tell you which of the six gears you’re in.
Accustomed as I am to being bombarded with such information on most bikes I test, I found the absence of it a little jarring at first. But the more I rode Ducati’s new retro-styled bike the more I zoned into its whole ethos of simplicity and the purity of biking. It’s a case of climb on, head for the horizon, and forget the rest – much like the original Ducati Scrambler that sold in the US in the 1960s and ‘70s.
IDEAL FOR NEWBIES
This, together with its compact size and generally easy-to-ride nature, makes the Scrambler an ideal starter bike for a novice rider or someone who’s ready to trade-in their scooter.
For a rider moving into the big-engined league for the first time, there’s a decent dose of grunt here without being intimidating. It’s an accessible power delivery with strong midrange torque that allows you to overtake trucks without having to slam down through several gears, although the air-cooled vee-twin engine gets quite gruff and lumpy if you let the revs drop too low.
Our test bike was fitted with an optional Termignoni exhaust which delivered a much heartier holler than the standard pipe.
With outputs of 55kW and 68Nm the Scrambler’s the least powerful Ducati you can buy, but this bike’s not about speed-chasing. If you do wish to unleash the demon, the bike will happily run to 180km/h-plus, although you’ll need a rugby player’s neck muscles to withstand the head-buffetting for any prolonged time at such speeds, as there’s no wind protection of any kind on the Scrambler. This is more of an urban commuter than a high-speed cruiser.
The gearshifts are a little clunky, and the bike has a trigger-like throttle response which feels sporty but makes the power delivery quite jerky when riding in on-throttle/off-throttle urban traffic. It requires a very subtle right wrist to keep it smooth.
For new riders the main appeal of this Ducati is its scaled-down size, which makes it very manoeuvrable and easy to handle – even for riders with the physique of Woody Allen. Short riders will find the low seat easy to straddle, and the Scrambler has a reassuringly light, quick-turning nature that quickly builds confidence.
This reborn icon is sold in four versions: Icon, Classic, Urban Enduro and Full Throttle, each with its own styling theme. None of them has sufficient ground clearance to tackle any serious scrambling, but the derivative best suited to roads less travelled is the Urban Enduro which has a protective engine sump guard, fork protectors, a raised plastic front mudguard, a headlight grille, plus spoked wheels instead of alloys.
All versions, including the entry-level Scrambler Icon I tested, do however come with semi-knobbly Pirelli dual-sport tyres, which proved to have decent traction in the brief dirt-road section I attempted on my test ride.
The entry-level Icon model is available in two colours – red or yellow – and comes with a steel teardrop fuel tank with interchangeable aluminium side panels.
It may look like a poseur’s bike but there’s substance to go with the retro style. The Scrambler’s easygoing nature will appeal to two-wheeler novices, but there’s still enough power not to turn off experienced bikers.
The Scrambler is one of the 16 finalists recently named in South Africa’s 2015 Bike of the Year competition, with the winner to be announced in September.
Icon Red - R117 000
Icon Yellow - R118 500 (plus Termignoni exhaust R13 000 as tested)
Classic - R137 000
Urban Enduro - R137 000
Full Throttle - R137 000