Scrambler motorcycles evoke iconic images, like Steve McQueen railing up a desert dune and Bud Ekins jumping fences in The Great Escape. Built for the road, adapted for the dirt, scramblers broke down borders. Fun and affordable, these air-cooled bikes sported an open, simple design ripe for tweaking and personalization. While popularity waned for a while, Scramblers have enjoyed a recent resurgence. That’s why we rounded up three modern takes on the classic recipe for our first Scrambler Motorcycle Shootout.
When it comes to Scramblers, no brand has more of a storied legacy than Triumph. The British outfit gave birth to the subclass with its iconic TR6 Trophy, a bike that sported a simple and stone-axe reliable, air-cooled Parallel Twin. The TR6 Twin was paired to equally adaptable chassis that worked as well on-road and off. During the late ‘50s, and ‘60s the TR6 was the weapon of choice for racers of the era, including the aforementioned ‘King of Cool’ McQueen.
Born again in 2006, the Triumph Scrambler ($9099) is a contemporary take on the TR6 but with all the conveniences of a new motorcycle, including fuel injection (fitted in 2009), Kayaba suspension components and disc brakes. Although nearly a decade old in current form, the Triumph has seen a steady stream of subtle fit-and-finish updates. But does the Triumph have enough to fend off new competition from Italy?
Ducati’s Scrambler returns to the Italian marque’s lineup after a 37-year hiatus with the 2015 Icon model Scrambler ($8495). Powered by Ducati’s playful, air-cooled, 803cc L-Twin mated to a sport-oriented chassis. The new Scrambler dons a fresh, clean-looking appearance that incorporates modern features like LED lighting and all-digital instrumentation. While sporting an updated look, it’s clear Ducati is serious about getting riders back to simpler times of motorcycling.
Moto Guzzi inspires riders to take a trip down memory lane with its V7 Special ($9290). Like Triumph, the modern V7 (last updated for 2013) pays homage to the Italian company’s original 1970s machine with its signature transverse-mounted, 90-degree, air-cooled Twin, elongated fuel tank and wire-spoke wheels. Although positioned more as a café racer, the V7’s Scrambler-esque styling made us wonder how the Guzzi would fit this reinvigorated segment.
We found out by scrambling across the always congested Los Angeles basin and up one of our favorite mountain roads. Joining us on the ride was professional street freestyle rider and Red Bull athlete Aaron Colton as well as Cycle News test rider, Jason Abbott. We played in the dirt along the way, then followed up the ride by performing our usual gamut of performance indexes. The bikes were rated according to our standard ‘street’ scorecard, with the points assessed revealing a winner.