Back in the day, when rules were few, tough guys with an itch for excitement blitzed across California deserts aboard their custom British-made scramblers. Whether it was for work (racing) or play, it was during this era that the Scrambler segment was born.
Fifty years later, the category continues to grow in popularity with no fewer than four manufacturers offering production machines off the showroom floor. After playing second fiddle to its nemesis, Ducati’s aptly named Desert Sled, Triumph aims to retake the class with a pair of off-road-capable but still street-legal bikes in its Scrambler 1200 XC ($14,000) and XE ($15,400). Following a quick tease in the First Look article, we were among the first group of journalists to test ride it during the official press introduction held off Portugal’s rugged Algarve coast.
When you look at the history of Triumph Motorcycles, the Scrambler was the original do-it-all, on-/off-roader. It was the type of bike that Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins ripped the Nevada and California deserts aboard during the ’60s. They’d race, crack open cold ones, and tell everyone about their exploits afterward. Fast-forward to 2019, and these two bikes employ the type of hardware that would make McQueen and company Brooklands green with envy.
Both the Scrambler 1200 XC and XE are Triumph’s vision of all-around, dual-purpose scrambling fun. They are road-legal motorcycles that are just as happy when ridden on the street as when throwing roost on the dirt—it’s that versatile. We began our riding adventure on the dirt, where it proves to have some serious chops.
Equipped with a real dirt bike-sized 21-inch spoked front wheel, big-displacement liquid-cooled 1,200cc parallel-twin engine, and thick, long-travel suspension, these motorcycles hold their own off road. It jumps, slides, digs into ruts, and can tackle treacherous terrain better than a 500-pound streetbike should. Still, both Scramblers are far from dedicated dirt bikes, sporting top-notch road equipment too, including LED lighting, keyless start, and a pair of superbike-spec M50 Brembo calipers hanging off the front hoop. It makes the rotors look tinier than its sporty 320mm diameter measurement implies.
Of course both Scramblers come with all the electronic bells and whistles: ABS, traction control, multiple engine power modes, cruise control, heated grips (standard on the XE but an option on the XC)… You name it, this Triumph has it.
Keeping tabs on it is a beautiful round-faced full-color TFT display, that also integrates GoPro control and Google Maps functionality. Both of these features are in the beta software development phase and weren’t ready for us try. We did note the crisp, clear font of the instrumentation and how easy it is to decipher while riding.
Both electronic and trip settings are manipulated via logically placed switch gear on the handlebar. The ability to switch between “themes” was also neat, with an more analog-style option available if the standard display is too modern for you. The tactile function and overall quality of the controls is top-notch too.
Each come with a pair of Öhlins shocks, but for an extra $1,400, the XE model (stands for “extreme”) gets more heavy-duty suspension (47mm-diameter fork versus 45mm on the XC) with 9.8 inches of travel front and rear versus the XC’s 7.9 inches. The suspension lifts the motorcycle, giving it a taller stance, with seat height climbing over an inch to 34.25 inches. An inch-longer swingarm further enhances grip and the ability to climb steep terrain. The electronics package adds an IMU giving it greater positional awareness. This allows the traction control electronics to account for lean angle—odd, considering the XE’s more off-road focus. Hand guards are also standard—a welcome feature for riding in the rain or cold.
You’d assume a bike that has top-notch pavement bling wouldn’t work so well off road, but it does. The superbike-like brakes are calibrated fantastically for use in the dirt and it was impressive how well the combo worked with Triumph’s recommended Pirelli Scorpion Rally off-road knobs. Metzeler Tourance rubber comes standard on both models. The footpegs’ rubber inserts can be removed for extra grip against boot soles, if desired.
The brakes are sensitive enough to manipulate in the slick stuff—a commendable feature based on the raciness of the hardware. Of even more value, at least in the dirt, was the power and pedal feel of the twin-piston back brake boosting bike control in the tough stuff. The ability to manually disable ABS and traction control is also helpful, allowing you to work the controls organically, as you would on a dirt bike. However, more experienced off-road riders will desire the XE’s Off-road Pro setting which fully disables both traction control and front ABS.
Logic permits the rear tire to spin, but not overly so. If you’re new to kicking up dirt, it’s a great way to get a feel for things without having to worry about landing on your head. Still, it’d be a disservice to readers if we didn’t mention how well the TC system works in its standard Off-road setting (XC model).
Both Scramblers offer adjustable power modes (combining engine power and throttle mapping). We preferred the Road setting regardless if we were on pavement or dirt due to its smooth response and more linear spread of engine torque. The Sport map certainly made it snappier feeling—which is helpful at times (gives it the sort of bark of a modern 450-class motocross bike)—but you simply can’t beat the smoothness of the Road mode. Of course, it all boils down to rider preference, but on-the-fly adjustment is only a push button away.
On another note, we appreciate that Triumph engineers programmed the Sport map correctly—something that other manufacturers have problems with mapping that is too abrupt and/or hard-hitting.
When it comes to big-displacement parallel twins, few do them better than Triumph. And its Bonneville-sourced 1,200cc twin is a gem not only delivering oodles of front wheel lifting torque, but a near perfectly tuned engine and exhaust note. It comes off the line hard, like a new turbo diesel truck.
You don’t have to rev it up to its 7,000-rpm redline to get it moving, but you can, as it’s perfectly happy to scream high in the revs too. The flat torque curve offers a usable spread of muscle that doesn’t intimidate behind the handlebar. It’s an easy powerband to control with an unmistakable tune that needs to be heard to be believed.
Twist the right grip in first or second gear and it has no problem raising the front wheel. Where the old Scrambler was a bit of a pig, this new generation machine is head and shoulders more competent than the bike of old. Engine vibration is muted and the cozy seat and well-thought-out ergonomics make for a machine that can literally be ridden comfortably for days. We spent three days in the saddle without a hint of discomfort.
Few expect a motorcycle equipped with a 21-inch front tire to handle as well on the pavement as this Scrambler 1200, but it does. We traversed a seemingly endless mix of bends off Portugal's SoCal-like Algarve coast and it’s astounding how competently the Trumpet negotiates asphalt turns.
Sporadic rain showers in the morning gave us a taste of how well the OE-fitted Metzelers perform in the wet. These shoes offer good grip and they generate heat quickly. You simply wouldn’t think a bike that’s so capable off road would work this well on asphalt, but it does. Because the Scrambler rolls on a 17-inch rear spoked hoop, there’s no shortage of quality road rubber options.
If you’re a hard-core off-road person, then the XE will be a better overall solution due to its extra suspension travel and ground clearance. However, if you spend more time on pavement than off, the XC is clearly the right tool for the job.
We attempted riding the XC on some of the tougher terrain that we traversed the XE on, but the Triumph crew was reluctant to let us. We’d certainly bet the XC would hold its own, even off jumps. On the street, the XC’s lower center of gravity was preferable, and it’s also easier to reach the ground with its lower seat height. We’d spend our money on the $1,200 less expensive XC model since it doesn’t give up a whole lot in terms of outright performance over any terrain.
Sometimes British manufacturers get knocked for not having that build quality as the Japanese manufacturers, but you put this motorcycle next to one of its competitors it’s really going to knock your socks off. It’s some of the best we’ve seen. Triumph certainly did its homework with this new-generation Scrambler. It’s a versatile and highly capable machine on par with its direct competition and even some ADV entries. If you’re seeking the most badass scrambler motorcycle you can get right now, these bikes are it.
|Price:||$14,000 (XC); $15,400 (XE)|
|Engine:||1,200cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC, parallel twin|
|Claimed Horsepower:||90 hp @ 7,400 rpm|
|Claimed Torque:||81 lb.-ft. @ 3,950 rpm|
|Frame:||Tubular steel w/ aluminum cradle|
|Front Suspension:||Showa 45mm inverted fork (XC); Showa 47mm inverted fork (XE); adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping; 7.9-in. travel (XC); 9.8-in.|
|Rear Suspension:||Öhlins; adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping; 7.9-in. travel (XC); 9.8-in. travel (XE)|
|Front Brakes:||Dual 320mm discs, Brembo M50 monoblock calipers, radial master cylinder|
|Rear Brake:||Single 255mm disc, Brembo two-piston floating caliper|
|Rake/Trail:||25.8°/4.8 in. (XC); 26.9°/5.1 in. (XE)|
|Wheelbase:||60.2 in. (XC); 61.8 in. (XE)|
|Seat Height:||33.1 in. (XC); 34.25 in. (XE)|
|Fuel Capacity:||4.2 gal.|
|Claimed Dry Weight:||452 lb. (XC); 456 lb. (XE)|