Scramblers are one of my favorite genres of motorcycles these days. I’ve always been a fan of the retro off-road vibe these types of bikes are centered around. The original scramblers, of course, weren’t off-road machines at all, but rather small street bikes chopped down to the essentials for weight savings and altered for better off-road performance. In this most recent modern era of scramblers, we’ve gone through the same trends seeing “scrambler” styling with little intention of actual off-road use, and just like in the ‘60’s, we are now seeing manufacturers offering these machines with real off-road chops.
Us lucky motorcyclists riding in 2020 now have scramblers that do both: look good on the strip and function surprisingly well off-road. We say it all the time, “It’s a great time for motorcyclists,” and as we boil it down to categories, it’s a great time to be interested in a bike that can look and perform wherever you want it to. We put together a list of what we consider the best scramblers on the market. These bikes run the gamut of what modern scramblers have to offer. Let ‘er rip!
BMW R nineT Scrambler
If you haven’t had the chance to take a spin on BMW’s R nineT roadster, we’d highly recommend it. The R nineT’s air/oil-cooled 1170cc boxer-Twin is the star of the show with gobs of low-end grunt that makes the engine an absolute blast to fire out of tight hairpins in the canyons or simply light to light around town. The Scrambler submodel of BMW’s R nineT uses the same engine with additional scrambler styling and characteristics. From it’s brown seat and high-pipes to it’s raised handlebar and larger front wheel, the R nineT Scrambler looks every bit the part.
It’s when you start to have a closer look at the BMW R nineT Scrambler that you start to realize this is more of a styling exercise than a motorcycle meant for much off-roading. Suspension travel front and rear is 4.9 and 5.5 inches respectively, and the base model comes with cast wheels, though cross-spoked hoops are a ($500) factory option. The R nineT Scrambler is a fantastic motorcycle with loads of factory options to build it out just the way you want. We’d probably confine BMW’s Scrambler to mostly pavement duty, but we never shy away from a dirt road no matter what we’re riding. The BMW R nineT Scrambler rings in at $12,995 for the base model sans dozens of accessory options and is available in three colors for 2020.
Ducati Scrambler Icon
Straight out of the Land of Joy, Ducati’s sub-brand Scrambler has more than a few flavors of scramblers for folks to choose from – six to be exact. For starters though, let’s just focus on the “base” platform, the Scrambler Icon which retails for $9,595. The Scrambler Icon, first appearing in 2015, uses an 803cc air-cooled L-Twin motor that puts out plenty enough torque to have fun sliding around fire roads all day long. Ergonomics are comfortable while seated, though I might consider swapping in some bars or risers if I planned to do much standing/off-roading. The truth of the matter is that the Scrambler Icon is not the most off-road worthy of scramblers on this list. The mostly non-adjustable suspension provides 5.9 inches of travel front and rear and its low slung exhaust and engine cases are ripe for the damaging should one “send it” off of any sweet jumps.
The Scrambler Icon is a great bike in a small package. The comfortable 31.4-inch high seat, smooth power delivery, and MT 60 tires make for a tight comfortable package with some classic scrambler style. In my opinion, this scrambler leans a little more toward standard bike territory without some of it’s modern styling, but hey, I still thoroughly enjoyed riding it on the curvaceous backroads of Tuscany.
Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled
This is Ducati’s real off-road performance-driven Scrambler: the Desert Sled. The Desert Sled carries over many of the same components from the Scrambler Icon such as the frame and engine, but adds what the Ducati Scrambler really needed most to make it truly off-road worthy, suspension travel. Up from the Icon’s 5.9 inches, the Desert Sled gives riders two extra inches of travel both front and rear. In addition, the Desert Sled comes with a higher cross-braced handlebar, a high front fender and elongated rear fender, the ability to shut off ABS, and spoked wheels shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires (which require tubes). The Desert Sled also has its own unique look with a red frame a white mirage body work. All that extra suspension does raise the seat height to 33.9 inches but also adds ground clearance as well. At $11,995, the Desert Sled isn’t cheap, but if you plan on a heavy portion of your scrambling to be done off-road, it may be worth it.
It’s also worth noting that the Ducati Desert Sled and team just scored the inaugural Hooligan class win in the 2020 Mint 400. Jordan Graham managed to score the top spot on the podium 45 minutes ahead of the second place finisher who was also on a Desert Sled. To be fair, the race bikes were heavily modified for desert racing, but it’s nothing your average Joe couldn’t do without some ingenuity and cash.
Indian FTR1200 Rally
I mean, it doesn’t say scrambler in the name and, sure, you could argue all sorts of points to discredit the FTR from this list, but the Indian FTR 1200 is a pretty cool (scramblery?) motorcycle. I liken the bike to the muscle cars of yesteryear; brutish power and imposing looks. Throw the “Rally” trim at it and voila! A scrambler-ish thing. To be honest, riding this beast off-road requires some serious cajones, skill, and common sense and, really, a mix of all three. The 1203cc V-Twin is not for the faint of heart and one twist of the half turn throttle will send a surge of power to the rear wheel that would leave even Jazzy Jeff’s head spinning. If you’re planning to put the FTR to work off-road, just be ready. It’ll be a handful.
While we’re talking about taking it off-road, let’s be clear, the FTR Rally doesn’t possess much to make it any more rally-worthy (other than it’s tires) than most other options on this list. It actually shares the same suspension travel figures that the Scrambler Icon has. What the Rally version of the FTR 1200 does offer is a handlebar with a more upright bend, spoked wheels with Pirelli Rally Scorpion STR meats, a unique seat and color, a stylish windscreen, and cruise control as standard. At $13,500 it’s not the cheapest on the list, but also not the most expensive.
Triumph Street Scrambler
For the Triumph Street Scrambler, it’s all in the name. A street motorcycle with scrambler style. The modern classic line of Triumphs has been pumping out modern motorcycles with vintage looks for some time now, but with the new more off-road-worthy Scrambler 1200 in the lineup, the Street Scrambler is providing urban ramblers with a steed showcasing some of that old school scrambler style. From it’s high pipes and spoked wheels to its fake carbs and cleverly hidden emissions equipment, the Street Scrambler looks the part of riders from the ‘60’s. The 900cc parallel Twin thumps to a 270º firing order giving it some extra lumpy character at the business end of the twin high-slung exhaust. Match that Twin up to a few ride modes, one of which disables the TC and ABS, and entirely modern Brembo brakes, and you have a sweet ride for blasting around town with some really top notch scrambler finish.
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE
And here we are at the final scrambler of our list. The Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE, a machine built to challenge modern adventure bikes in terms of off-road performance and sophistication all while exuding classic English motorcycle style. Triumph’s most recent Scrambler 1200 line comes in two trims: XC and XE with the latter of the two being the more off-road oriented Scrambler, we can only assume the E is for Exxxxxtreme. The 270° crank gives the 1200cc parallel Twin thumping character and delivers gobs of torque through its mid-range. Toss in some superbike level brakes, Brembo M50s modulated with an MCS master cylinder, and you’ve got a potent street bike. Throw in 9.8 inches of suspension travel, a bevy of electronics that allow you to tailor ABS and TC intervention all the way to the point of nixing it entirely, some cross-spoked tubeless wheels, and high pipes, and you have a scrambler that will perform as well or better than many modern adventure bikes. For $15,400, it’s a bag of cash, but the Scrambler 1200 XE is easily the most off-road capable advanced motorcycle on this list.