Given the chance, I’d love to experience pretty much every motorcycle in existence. So when Motorcyclist asked if I’d like to borrow a new Ducati Scrambler for a couple weeks, I was more than happy to accept the offer. My buddy Joy and I fought the traffic from LA to the Motorcyclist HQ in darkest Orange County where the yellow Icon Scrambler was waiting for me. As we approached, the little yellow Ducati sitting alone in the parking lot stuck out like a sore thumb. With its short 31.1-inch seat height and relatively light wet weight of 410 pounds, it felt really agile from the moment I threw a leg over. I reset the tripmeter, familiarized myself with instruments and buttons, said my goodbyes to Joy, and took off to wind my way through the bustling city back to my Ventura base camp.
My main ride is a custom Ducati Monster. It’s rather old in the world of Ducati motorcycles—a 1998 M750. To me, it’s a classic. When restoring the neglected and wrecked machine, I opted for a retro theme with an improved ride quality. I decided to swap out the stock front end for a 748 superbike setup. I got a better fork performance but suffered a major loss of turning radius. To give you an idea, the stock Monster has a total steering sweep of 30 degrees—still rather inhibited—but the 748 setup allows only 24 degrees. Hopping on the Scrambler and noticing its much larger 35-degree range is a real luxury. It feels instantly capable of tight maneuvers at slow speeds. I was ready to hit the streets of LA.
The Scrambler’s throttle, which reacts instantaneously to the smallest motions, combined with the sassy torque of the 803cc V-twin Desmo engine takes some getting used to. The touchy throttle, to me, has to be one of the biggest drawbacks of this machine. However, that same responsiveness can work in your favor when paired with the strong torque for a serious get-up-and-go effect. Although it’s a lot quieter than my custom Monster, the stock Scrambler feels really quick. Combine that with the flat seat and you’ll definitely find it pulling against your arms when you crack the throttle. Do mind the clutch—the little bike wants to wheelie.
Now comes the question that got me the bike in the first place: How does the Scrambler compare to the Monster? It’s a whole different beast, as it should be. Developed to fill the current void of classically good-looking motorcycles that also perform well, the goal was achieved. The Scrambler is unique without seeming to call for the attention of everyone around it. In some ways, it’s because the stock exhaust is so quiet. I had to get used to hitting the horn while lane-splitting, rather than folks noticing the rumbling approach of the Monster (outfitted with custom exhaust with very little packing for some volume). Of course, Ducati will sell you a louder exhaust, so that’s handled.
Best of all, the Scrambler seems like a great modern canvas to paint your own custom ride. A chop chop here and a weld weld there, you could do some really fantastic things without having to rip off 70 pounds of extra stuff first—that’s the advantage of starting lean. Change the mirrors, swap out slightly different bars, and boom it’s tailored to suit you. Ducati obviously had this in mind, and that’s a good thing.
That being said, the friendly/inviting design and upright stance of the bike seemed to get positive responses everywhere it went. Like a happy puppy waiting for its owner to return from inside the shop, it was observed by all sorts of passersby—from motorcyclists at gas stations to senior citizens on the sidewalk. Cars seemed to almost magically pull over to let me pass on the back roads and in the twisties. There was only one instance where someone seemed none too pleased, but we’ll get to that later.
I truly enjoyed scrambling around on such a light and nimble bike—often opting to run errands with it because, hooray, there’s a passenger seat on which you can strap stuff! That’s an aspect of motorcycles that felt extraneous on the Monster, which ended up leaving me pretty restricted. As a general street motorcycle, the Scrambler is more than fun, plus it’s not limited to pavement. The truly upright riding position felt right to me, the taller bars allowing relaxed but proper posture, and centered footpegs give you the ability to move your body weight around on your legs (or even stand up). With the effective front brake, usable rear brake (unlike some Ducatis), and dual sport-style tires, I felt comfortable pulling off main roads. I could plod around in deep gravel and ride on dusty dirt with confidence. The bike’s low center of gravity made maneuvering at slow speeds more fluid, taking away the wobbliness that gives you a horrible knot in your stomach. I could tell it was going to be really tough to give it back.
My buddy Joy got her hands on a Scrambler of her own for a bit, and as the fateful day I had to give mine back approached, we planned a duo-ride that quickly turned into an impromptu photo shoot in Santa Barbara. So, the day before I was to return the bike, we met up around 4 p.m. and headed north to meet up with her friends. When Joy and I get together, we have some fun on the road. You know those riding partners who you just jibe really well with? Where you can communicate easily with no words and your riding styles work well together? That’s how I feel whenever she and I hit the road.
As we merged onto the freeway, I opened it up a little bit, super excited to be riding perfectly matched stock Scramblers with my good buddy. She passed me, leaving a big grin on my face. We sailed down the road, slipping through lanes and passing each other with a certain feeling of ease and elegance. Like a high-speed biker ballet. As we got by the big herd of cars, I glanced down at the speedo and read 86 mph. At that exact moment, I did my usual mirror-check and spotted a Crown Vic all up in my tail. Throttle down but too late. His lights flick on, I merge over, and he sails by yelling something at me through the loudspeaker. Joy safely pulls over across the lanes and we park on the shoulder. The officer approached, obviously annoyed, and asked us, “So what’s the rush?” It was apparent from his expression that he wanted a good answer, but I had nothing. We got tickets for 86-plus in a 65 zone. Joy and I both feel like it worked out okay. While I can’t be too upset at the guy doing his job, I wished it had happened on the return leg of our outing so we would’ve gotten to the shoot on time. Now I have an expensive little souvenir from “that time I got to borrow a Scrambler.”
When we finally met up with the photographer Dylan Gordon and Holly Hanson of the Lady Tramps, who was acting as driver, we told them about our sweet citations and headed to Gibraltar Road, which goes up, up, up above Santa Barbara. Dylan snapped photos out the window of Holly’s Mustang as we slowly made our way up the very unkempt road, working out our clutch hands through the tight turns. There were no burnouts or wheelies, just three ladies who like to ride and great views of the Pacific Ocean at sunset. Holly swapped spots with Joy and rode the Scrambler back down the mountain for some more photo ops.
After our shoot, I parted ways with everyone to head back and get to work for a while before it got totally dark. Tooling back I tried to keep it under 70 so I wouldn’t encounter the same kind of fellow for another souvenir. Seems like it should have been easy, but riding a totally fun and fast little zipper—knowing you have to give it back the next day—it’s hard to contain yourself. I feel like having fast fun on a motorcycle is a balance of being safe and still giving it some gas. The Scrambler fit into that role perfectly, so stop calling it a “retro” bike or a “beginner” machine. It’s not, really.
For me, the cool thing is that the Scrambler looks at home in the garage among vintage and modern motorbikes alike—bridging the gap between form and function for folks like me. I always prefer the visuals of vintage styling over the carefully sculpted and engineered, spaceship-looking modern sportbikes. The Scrambler allows retrophiles the advantages of improved modern technologies (awesome brakes and an accurate speedometer to name a couple) without compromising style. Kickstarters sure are cool but so is having a bike that starts right up every morning. Plus, you can always chop ’em a bit.