MOTORCYCLES: Ducati Scrambler 1100 offers more power, but you may not need it

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 2, 2018.

Ducati says its new Scrambler 1100 aims to meet the needs of even the most demanding, expert motorcyclists without compromising the fun, style and freedom the Scrambler represents.

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THE Ducati Scrambler 1100 does not come in red. If you do not know Ducati, that may not seem a big deal. But for fans, the colour red is as core to the brand as it is to such fellow Italian brands as Ferrari or Valentino.

There is a reason for this: The motorcycle maker wants to make sure you know that the Scrambler line is different from its other bikes. The genial Scrambler — with its flat seat built for two and higher handlebar — sits you upright and is happiest cruising sunny urban neighbourhoods or on hot summertime dates over bridges and through tunnels. It’s the hipster model of the line, aimed at attracting riders who may sport trimmed beards, perfectly roughed-up denim, and favourite roasts of local coffee.

The 2018 Scrambler 1100 does not showcase Ducati’s signature trellis frame. Nor, even more sacrilegiously, does it have Ducati’s most famous engine. It comes with a choice between black and yellow or slightly muted two-tone colour schemes and a 1,079cc air-cooled twin engine good enough for 86 horsepower and easy highway cruising speeds of 160.93kph-plus.

The 1100 is the most powerful of the Scrambler line. It has two round, thick, silver tailpipes stuck under its seat — unlike other Scramblers, which lack such heavy metal — and a turgid tangle of pipes stuck underneath its wide tank. It’s a beefy bike for a mature rider. Where sales of cruisers and superbikes continue to decline, pockets of Scrambler-style motorcycles and flat-track dirt bike culture are blossoming. Ducati needs these bikes more than it needs any other of its models — even the bestselling flagship Monster.

 

The past and the future

The most arresting thing about riding the Scrambler 1100 is how it combines the style and feel of a bike from the 1960s with modern technology and safety systems so myriad they’re almost excessive.

The body on the Ducati 1100 is made nearly exclusively of steel and aluminium (the seat pan and air-box are plastic, though these are out of sight and mind; the 1100 Special even has aluminium s). Everything that meets the eye looks meaty — substantial. Its tubular steel trellis and aluminium subframe are hidden by blacked-out-paint mudguard and those winding steel tailpipes. The 10-spoke light alloy wheels and two-tone teardrop tank even out the bike’s heft, as does the wider-than-other-Scramblers stitched seat. The front mudguard is held in place by two die-cast aluminium supports, while the rear one incorporates LED indicators. Even the single, round headlight is a real glass parabola, rimmed in polished aluminium.

Even better, the unique, deeper growl of the 1100 sounds just like what you would dream this metal beast would sound like.

Once you get on the bike and turn the key, everything fast-forwards into the future, and a universe of computerisation appears: Three riding modes adjust throttle and brake response, among other things. There is also Bosch Cornering ABS and traction control, which manages how you ride while you ride in order to help prevent a crash, a dump, or an over-the-handlebars number before it happens. (For example, traction control activates when it senses the wheels are on a slippery surface, helping drivers make the most of the traction that’s available on the road surface.) The dual-element LCD instrument panel monitors gas levels, the trip distance and engine output — unlike nearly every motorcycle until the last year or so, automatically turns off blinkers. There’s even a USB outlet underneath the seat cover for charging your iPhone. Ahh, modernity.

Compared to the smaller engines in the Scrambler line-up, which come in 400cc or 800cc, riding the 1100 feels as you might expect: a little more power at your fingertips, which you feel especially in the upper of its six gears; a little more torque; a little heavier; and a little more gristle. It’s fun to ride, though the cornering is nimbler in the smaller versions with their smoother tyres, and it generates obvious interest from pedestrians and other riders as it passes. Yes, it’s loud. Why should you get the 1100 when the less-expensive 800cc one is so good? To be honest, most people won’t need it. The 800 fulfils the purpose of the Scrambler line in a way that is nearly impossible to improve. This is a bike meant for urban driving and short trips, not longer cruises — which the 1100 tends towards.

But it’s a solid motorcycle. And, it should be noted, one especially well-suited to larger riders, since it weighs 18.14kg more, has a wider tank and seat, and is taller, with a longer wheelbase than the 800cc version. If you’re looking for a motorcycle you can ride mostly in the city, with additional longer rides in more comfort and power, you may find the Scrambler 1100 is just your tune. — Bloomberg