2019 Ducati Scrambler: Uncomplicated

Text: Jeff Buchanan • Photography: Jeff Buchanan

No other motorcycle manufacturer has invested itself in the retro market quite like Ducati. When the Italian company reintroduced its iconic Scrambler in 2015, it crafted an effective campaign selling the lifestyle as much as the machine. The campaign blossomed by capturing the sentimentality of older riders, while appealing to newer riders with its theme of free-spiritedness.

To review the Scrambler properly, one can’t simply expound on specifications and a road test. There is also the very pertinent matter of nostalgia. The original Scrambler, released in 1962, targeted the burgeoning American market with its combination of style and function: like the “desert sleds” and “scramblers” of the day, it promised transportation and fun (both on- and off-road). The Scrambler was eventually discontinued in 1976, forever imbuing the bike with the carefree spirit of the times into which it was born. 

Style and Performance

True to the Scrambler of yesteryear, the new Icon is a stripped-down motorcycle that embraces 1960s simplicity. Designers have managed to capture the essence of the original machine with a retro style that’s effectively wrapped around modern engineering. From a distance the new machine bears an uncanny likeness to the early model (especially the 3.75-gallon gas tank), which was precisely Ducati’s intent: the visual allure of the first bike, with today’s mechanical advances.

The Scrambler Icon is built around Ducati’s signature steel tubular trellis frame, which holds an air-cooled 803cc Desmodromic L-Twin. An uncomplicated two valves per cylinder, and a bore/stroke of 88x66mm, produce a claimed 73 hp at 8,250 rpm. That number becomes more significant when you take into consideration the Scrambler’s weight of just 381 pounds wet. The engine ushers exhaust through artistically shaped, raw-metal finish header pipes with a pleasantly throaty exhaust note exiting the stainless steel silencer. Throttle response (via a 50mm throttle body) is crisp and builds revs quickly, with plenty of low end to get the Scrambler off the line. The six-speed transmission is evenly spaced and mated to a hydraulically controlled slipper clutch, which helps eliminate rear-wheel hop on aggressive downshifts.

Chassis and Handling

The 41mm upside-down Kayaba forks feel soft when sitting still, but do a decent job soaking up the sharp hits and glitches that adorn many roads. The rear is equipped with a single side-mounted Kayaba shock, which works well in factory settings (though most will want to roll in a few turns on the adjustable preload). Despite its relatively basic components, the ride is plush and responsive enough to handle most of the situations the Scrambler is intended for (i.e., simple, short-distance street riding and light off-road use).

The Icon’s 10-spoke light alloy wheels (with stylish machining on alternating spokes) come standard in an 18-in front and 17-in rear combination. Upon first glance the single front 330mm disc (with radial 4-piston Brembo caliper) appears to be a bit on the light side, but in fact handles braking duties remarkably well. A 245mm disc with floating caliper handles the rear.

The most significant upgrade to the Icon for 2019 is the Bosch Cornering ABS, which comes standard. The 6-axis accelerometer (located under the seat) works with wheel speed sensors to calculate brake pressure. In a straight line the system works without any noticeable oscillation between calipers, and gives the Scrambler enormous stopping ability. As expected, when applying the brakes while leaned over there is some slight sponginess in the lever as the system works against the reduced contact patch of the side of the tire. That said, the system provides an added element of safety that riders of all experience levels will appreciate. 

Features and Ergonomics

Ducati has given the Scrambler Icon a switchable daytime running light with an internal “X” framework meant to replicate the old-school practice of headlight tape-up. Engineers have managed to cram a great deal of information into the tiny circular instrument panel. However, the lower perimeter register of the tachometer takes a little getting used to, and the glass occasionally catches the sun, obscuring the gauges. The tiny unit is fitted with Ducati’s multimedia system for phone connection through Bluetooth (receiver is not included).

With all the hype centered around the Scrambler in pursuit of uncomplicated, carefree riding, there’s no disputing the simple fact that the new Icon is a blast to ride. It has enough performance and character to satisfy an accomplished rider while also being suitable for newer and beginning riders. 

Newer riders will especially appreciate the Scrambler’s standard seat height of 31.4 inches, with an optional low-seat feature that reduces it even further to 30.6 inches. The bike is narrow, with shifter and brake pedal placed within easy reach while seated but requiring a little more effort when standing on the pegs.

Wrapping It Up

When Ducati reintroduced the Scrambler to its lineup in 2015, they were intent on capitalizing on the retro style so in vogue. In the process of resurrecting an icon, Ducati—an Italian brand steeped in exclusivity with price tags to match—created a fun, simple motorcycle accessible to an entirely new generation of riders by virtue of an affordable sticker price. The 2019 Scrambler Icon, with an MSRP of $ 9,395 for ’62 Yellow and $ 9,595 for the Atomic Tangerine (how’s that reference for a reminder of the times?) enables a younger, more brand-driven generation to enter the fray of two-wheels with a Ducati beneath them.

Taken altogether, the engineering, styling, and range of machines available in the Scrambler stable are working wonders for the company. The Scrambler represents one-third of motorcycle sales for Ducati. 

The essence of the Icon and the Scrambler lifestyle harks back to a simpler time, not just in terms of mechanical design but also the uncomplicated lifestyle that accompanied it. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia clouding the motorcycle’s aura, because the ’60s weren’t all fun and games. But if that’s what people want to take from this most invigorating and industry-saving approach, that’s fine with me. Ducati has touched on an attractive and proven human desire when it comes to life and motorcycles: simple and uncomplicated.