Back in the early days of motorcycling, there wasn’t much variety in the models available. Motorcycles were basically just bicycles with an engine then. The many segments we have today such as adventure, sport, and touring simply did not exist. And so, if riders wanted a motorcycle for a specific purpose, they had to get creative and build it themselves.
Out of that culture, the scrambler was born. The word “scrambler” wasn’t always a proper noun, nor was it the name of a specific model sold by a manufacturer. Back then, a scrambler was any standard motorcycle that had been modified to handle unpaved terrain. Typically, they were fitted with slightly taller suspension, wire wheels, and knobby tires that made them extremely versatile for use on- and off-road.
Today, the scrambler-style motorcycle is very popular, and for good reason. They are typically simple, modestly powered bikes that are easy to get onto. They can commute, go on dirt, speed through back roads, and do a little bit of everything. To top it all off, the classic charm that comes with one never really goes out of fashion.
Now, we have two modern interpretations of the scrambler. On one corner is the Ducati Scrambler, and on the other is the Triumph Street Scrambler. On the face of it, they look very similar. And now that the Street Scrambler has been rebranded into the Scrambler 900, they’re named pretty much the same, too. But dig deeper and you will see that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Again, these are both retro-styled bikes, but when parked side by side, the Ducati immediately stands out as the more modern of the pair. I’ve said this before, and I believe that the Ducati Scrambler’s styling sits right in the middle ground between the contemporary neo-retro styles and the unmistakably classic interpretations of such bikes as the Triumph modern classics, including the Street Scrambler.
There is a lot more commitment to the classic style on the Triumph. For starters, the brand has created an unbroken horizontal bone line going from the tank, through the seat, and to the tail. The tubular chassis cradles the engine by going around and under the parallel-twin mill giving the bike a distinctly old-school silhouette. Classic ornamentations such as the round floating headlight, the chrome gas cap, the fork boots, and the wire wheels round out the look.
The pilot sits with a slight lean forward on the Ducati, preempting its sportier nature. Seat height is slightly taller than the Triumph at 798mm, yet still remains approachable.
Meanwhile, the Triumph puts its rider in a more relaxed upright position with the handlebars being higher and closer to the rider. The seat is slightly lower at 790mm, and feels narrower between the legs making it the more comfortable urban commuter.
The Triumph has much better stand-up ergonomics compared to the Ducati, too. Its wide hollow pegs provide great stability, and the handlebars are high enough for my 5’10” frame. The only drawback is that the high-mounted exhaust pipes make the bike slightly thicker on the right side. As a result, it’s a little difficult to place your foot comfortably on the center of the right peg.
Though the pillion seat looks diminutive on the Brit, it is actually the more comfortable of the two bikes to carry a passenger with. The flat and untextured rear portion of the Ducati’s seat makes the pillion feel as though one can slip off the bike at any given time, which means he/she has to cramp the rider in order to feel secure. The Triumph’s rear seat is raised slightly, and feels more like a dedicated space for the rear occupant.
The fit and the finish on the English motorbike are slightly better than those on the Ducati—and definitely feel more premium.
The Triumph may look more old-school with the analog speedometer and the small, ancient-looking eight-segment display, but it does come with ABS, traction control, and an electronic throttle allowing it to have riding modes. The three modes available are rain, road, and off-road, which disables traction control and rear ABS for going sideways in the dirt.
Though both are relatively simple on the electronics front, the Ducati is less embellished than the Triumph. The only electronic aid you can find on it are cornering ABS and a digital gauge pod—and that is about it.
You don’t really miss all the electronic wizardry on the Ducati, and you wouldn’t notice it on the Triumph either. Both these bikes have a decent amount of power, but not so much that you would really need the help of rider aids to keep everything under control. Though they’re nice to have, not once did I feel the need to switch between the modes available on the Street Scrambler even through heavy rain and loose terrain.
PERFORMANCE AND HANDLING
The Ducati is powered by an 803cc Desmodromic air-cooled L-twin engine making 73hp and 66Nm, while the Triumph is equipped with a 900cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin with a 270° crank that rumbles to the tune of 64.1hp and 80Nm. There’s barely a 10hp difference between the two, but it feels like more in the real world. The five-speed transmission on the Street Scrambler is geared longer with the focus being on the smooth and gradual delivery of torque. The Ducati has shorter gears thanks to having a six-speed box, and gives bursts of power with every shift.
On road, the Street Scrambler loses out to the brute force of the Ducati. It is a much more rewarding motorcycle to push to the limit. The juicy powerband allows you to attack corner entries and blast out of exits effortlessly, and the single 330mm disc mated to a radially mounted four-piston Brembo caliper provides strong and reliable stopping power. The rear monoshock is slightly softer than the twin shocks on the Triumph, but the upside-down fork more than makes up for its shortcomings.
The Triumph is more of a laid-back cruiser on the pavement. It likes to bide its time and see the sights. The clutch is remarkably light, and the bike is quite agile at city speeds. When pushed to a faster pace, though, it lacks the sharpness of the Ducati in all aspects. The understeer is quite pronounced, and the Brembo four-piston axial caliper fails to inspire confidence and trust. Add to that the bike’s 34kg handicap and the narrower Metzeler Tourance tires, and you will quickly find the limit of this bike.
In low-traction situations, though, the Triumph is more sure-footed and less likely to break traction in dramatic fashion, and its shortcomings on the street start to make sense. The torquey engine and the long gears make it easy to finesse through the trails. The stock bash plate and the wire wheels also add some peace of mind to the experience. In comparison, the Ducati is much harder to ride smoothly off-road. The sharp throttle feels twitchy in this scenario, and the strong front brake is heavy-handed.
As for fuel consumption, the Triumph averaged 17km/L, while the Ducati was able to manage 20km/L, both in mixed conditions. Though the Triumph’s tank is only 1.5L smaller than the Ducati’s 13.5L tank, the former’s higher fuel consumption meant that it had to stop more often than the latter.
It’s clear that the British and the Italians adhered to two distinct philosophies while building their respective Scramblers. For two bikes that are supposedly the same, there’s an ironic dichotomy between the two.
The Scrambler is without a doubt a modern Ducati in a retro costume. The sound, the speed, and the riding satisfaction we have all come to expect from the Bolognese brand can all be found within this motorcycle. If anything, it is more deserving of the “Street Scrambler” moniker as it’s really more of a street bike. It performs excellently in most conditions so long as you are on a paved road. It can also take a dirt road here and there, but you will neither be as comfortable nor as confident as you would be on the Triumph. With a starting price of P680,000, it is an outstanding, well-rounded package.
On the other hand, the Triumph Street Scrambler (or Scrambler 900) comes at a premium with an SRP of P805,000. It’s the closer of the two to a scrambler in the traditional sense of the word given its dirt-focused skill set. But if you’re buying the Triumph because you begrudgingly ride the streets to get to the trails, a similarly priced middleweight adventurer such as the Aprilia Tuareg or the KTM 790 Adventure R might offer more performance for the money.
More than anything, what you’re really getting with the Triumph is nostalgia—a taste of a bygone era. Not only does it look like a thing of the past, it feels like it, too. Yes, it’s liquid-cooled and has disc brakes, but it is a good approximation of what it must have been like to ride a scrambler back in our grandfather’s days. But the truth is that we no longer live in a world where the traditional scrambler needs to exist. Ducati knows this and has adapted its Scrambler to suit, which is why it remains the last man standing in this shoot-out.