The reaction to reviews of the new Ducati Scrambler has been…mixed. I think that's partially because us journalists have failed to do it justice and partially because the bike is very misunderstood. So I figured I should take a few minutes and explain it for you.
With both of us on the same launch, Damon and I decided to divide and conquer. He wrote the review, I wrote sort of a high level overview explaining why a company that's near-exclusively focussed on fast bikes for rich people has suddenly decided to chart a different course. I'm pretty sure Damon wrote most of his article after drinking his weight in Negra Modelo and I'm absolutely positive I wrote my article first thing the next morning, with a hangover and while riding a party bus. Such is the downside of the pressure to get reviews up in a timely manner. I don't think either of us managed to quite capture the total significance of this new motorcycle, nor communicate how much we enjoyed riding it.
That, and the photos of us riding the bike were pretty lame. Just to lift the launch curtain a bit, we spend like half the freakin' day trying to get photos in massive groups. It's incredibly annoying, inefficient, and often results in boring shots. So, included here are some shots that someone actually put some effort into. Pretty sure that's Nate, Ducati's new PR guy, riding.
That evening, I was chatting online with a moto journalist buddy who hadn't been on the launch. Here's a screen cap of the relevant part of that discussion. I'm pretty much unfiltered in my articles, but this candid insight into how we actually talk hopefully delivers some perspective.
Now, let's break down people's comments, reactions and general negativity or misunderstandings around the Scrambler and address each.
Teh Internets: "But the Scrambler is for hipsters!!!1!"
Me: Do people really still use this word? I feel like existing motorcyclists (also known as 51-year old white men) feel threatened that a company like Ducati is no longer exclusively focussed on filling their need for over compensation. That's bullshit. Ducati just replaced its previous flagship (the fastest production bike in the world) with something even faster (now the new fastest production bike in the world). They have a range full of models from the ridiculously fun Hypermotard to the incredibly fast-on-the-road Multistrada to the basically-just-a-penis-extension Diavel. Just because someone is young, possesses the ability to bone members of the opposite sex without paying them or using a pill and doesn't consider bikes to be their one and only world does not make them someone to look down on. What's more ridiculous, the Kirkland mom jeans you try and cover your beer belly with or the artisanal shop cloths Ducati is handing out to people interested in Scramblers? Answer: they're the same damned thing; bad fashion.
Trolls: "Lifestyle, rahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!1!"
Me: Know how many people read the "most popular" motorcycle magazine in the US? About 160,000. All of whom are those 51-year old white men and most of which live in suburban Orange County. To put that in perspective, Supercompressor, a new lifestyle blog for young men, has about 1.5 million monthly readers who aren't 51, aren't all white and even live in cities! If you were running a company trying to make money (the goal of every company on earth), which one would you solicit coverage in? Guess which one has a Ducati Scrambler review on its front page right now and which doesn't?
A person who has never done a trackday: "My 600 has more power!!!1!"
Me: And you can't ride it within 50 percent of its capability. Trackdays attract riders in what's probably the top 5% of ability and experience in this country and every time I do a public one, all I see is people crashing left and right. On the road? All is see is people falling over every time they encounter a simple corner. That's a big part of the reason I decided to give up writing about motorcycles and instead became a dog camping journalist. Not only is that a more lucrative world to cover (really!), but I'm no longer fighting a losing battle in trying to get my readers to not kill themselves. Even second-tier motorcycles have become so fast that the vast majority of even licensed motorcyclists (much less the general public) is unable to ride them properly. And, if you can't ride them properly, you can't enjoy them. Scaring yourself is not fun. Sportsbikes are just so focussed that they're completely miserable to ride any time you're not dragging knee at 100mph. Know what's very illegal and very dangerous? Dragging knee at 100mph. So what's the point? Riding a motorcycle is supposed to be fun. Know what's a fun bike to ride? The Scrambler.
A relatively sensible person (in comparison): "Triumph already makes a Scrambler!!!1!"
Me: It does, and it's a pretty good bike. But, it weighs 507lbs (wet) to the Ducati's 410lbs (wet). 100lbs is a massive difference. The Triumph is also equipped with heavy spoked wheels fitted with tubed tires. Over the cast aluminum wheels and radial tires of the Ducati, that increases unsprung weight, spoiling everything from ride to acceleration to braking ability to outright straight-line performance. Compared to the Triumph, the Ducati isn't a recreation of a classic bike with modern reliability, it's a modern performance bike with a nice retro nod in its styling. Triumph launched its Modern Classic range something like 15 years ago, it's way overdue for a total overhaul. When that happens, I bet they'll look an awful lot like this Ducati.
Also a relatively sensible person: "What about the Monster?!!1!"
Me: Way back in 1993 a designer named Miguel Galluzzi dreamt up a bike that wasn't the pinnacle of performance and wasn't targeted exclusively at existing motorcyclists. It was light and simple and air-cooled and it was a blast to ride while also being accessible. Ducati definitely made faster, fancier bikes at the time, but it was the Monster that propped up its shaky financials and kept the company mostly out of the red for the next two decades. Does that formula sound familiar? The Monster was the right bike, for the right time but has since morphed into something a little fancier, a little more expensive and a little more performance/enthusiast focussed. It's now water-cooled, frameless and very fast. That leaves a gap for a new bike that's design-led, that puts the emphasis on the fundamental motorcycle experience and that captures the imagination of a new generation of young people who haven't yet been converted to the two-wheeled religion. Does that sound like the Scrambler to you?
A completely insensible person: "It's not a real dirt bike!!!1!"
Me: Hate to break it to you, but neither are most dirt-style bikes sold today. And that didn't stop Ewan and Charlie from riding a couple of definitely-not-dirt bikes around the world or from that Adventure category becoming the second most popular in the western world (after retarded cruisers). I haven't had a chance to hit the dirt on it, but a few of my buddies have, including Jamie Robinson, who is a better rider than anyone you know. The unanimous conclusion is that it's about as capable on dirt as a big ADV bike, but also just like a big ADV bike it does need some additional parts fitted to protect its vulnerable sump and exhaust collector before you do.
Let me give you quick review free of colorful adjectives and bad David E. David impersonations: The Scrambler addresses one of the single most-heard complaints about modern motorcycles in delivering a low seat height. That, combined with the classic-style long/low tank really does feel like sitting on a bike from the '60s or '70s. But, start it up and it's got the urgency and control of a modern motorcycle — good fueling, good brakes, good handling. With relatively raked-out forks and a fair bit of distance between the motor and the front wheel, that front end can feel a little remote, but not to the point where it infringes on confidence. The suspension is soft, but well damped and the bike remains planted over bumps, even while leant over. The upright riding position is comfortable, with just enough room for my long ass legs, but does work best below about 100mph, at which point your body turns into a bit of a sail. The best part is the 803cc V-twin which, unlike more modern Ducati motors, has loads of torque low in its rev range and has a nice, uneven character. It's a simple, honest motorcycle that doesn't try to achieve much beyond delivering a good time. Fast enough to keep me amused, but easy enough to ride that you'd be confident on it after your obligatory training period on something cheap, small and used. It's a practical commuter, a great bike just to keep around for fun and a decent do-it-all for us city folk. What's wrong with that?