Rapid rider and dapper gent Rich Taylor is the resident motorcycle expert at GQ and he was in Italy for the recent press launch of the updated Ducati Scrambler 800 – here’s his ride report.
2019 Ducati Scrambler 800 – Rich Taylor
Ah, the Ducati Scrambler. Available in a gazillion flavours and surrounded in endless hype, marketing and excitement, underneath all of that is… actually a pretty decent bike. As another year rolls by, so does another boast from Ducati detailing how many Scramblers they’ve sold since its launch in 2015. 55,000… so that’s another 9,000 since Ross rode the then-new 1100cc version back in April. Therefore this marks yet another Ducati Scrambler article that starts off telling you how demand is, apparently, still keeping the Italian factory very busy indeed. And that is precisely why it should come as little surprise that Ducati are throwing another load of love at the Scrambler line-up for 2019 to ensure those sales charts keep going up and to the right.
So what’s new? Well, to start with, all of the models – the Desert Sled, Full Throttle, Cafe Racer and Icon – are getting new colour schemes. The Icon is now available orange (as well as yellow), the Desert Sled gets a red frame, the Cafe Racer goes blue (with spoked wheels), and last but not least, the Full Throttle goes black and yellow (with side numberboards). And they’ve all got achingly hip names like “Tangerine Orange”, “White Mirage” and “Silver Ice Matt” (whoever he is).
While that’s all very nice, it’s really only the tip of the iceberg because the real story is that all of the 803cc Scramblers now have “improved security” according to Ducati. So, like, a better immobiliser or something? Nope. Actually, that means Bosch’s Cornering ABS… so that’s safety in my book, not security. Anyway, that’s a big deal because far as I know, there’s no other bike out there in the modern Scrambler category with cornering ABS. If you’re not familiar with it, the simplest explanation is that the bike knows how far it’s leaned over and can adapt the ABS system’s level of intervention depending upon the grip it reckons the tyres are capable of delivering as you’re piloting through your favourite set of twisties, or more probably that dodgy roundabout on your way home. While it won’t make the bike uncrashable, it’s a huge security (ah!) blanket for new and returning riders, who are presumably responsible for those impressive sales figures. But honestly, it’s a nice feature even for experienced riders – why would anyone *not* want cornering ABS given the choice?
Cornering ABS aside, there’s a tonne of other changes and improvements too. The list’s exhaustive, but here’s the most important stuff that you’ll care about:
– The lighting has gone LED meaning the indicators and daylight running light. The headlight unit itself has been updated too, and boasts a glass lens and a more premium look (in fact, it appears to be identical or near identical to the unit on the Scrambler 1100).
– The handlebar switchgear has been completely overhauled. Gone are the fiddly indicator and starter button switches (borrowed directly from the first generation Panigales!), replaced entirely with chunkier, more substantial looking grey buttons which just like the headlight appear to have been lifted directly from the Scrambler 1100.
– The dashboard now features a fuel gauge and gear indicator, and the cable actuated clutch has been chucked out in favour of a hydraulic unit. The brake and clutch levers have been resculpted to look less like they’re fashioned from old teaspoons, and both are adjustable.
– The seat has been re-worked on each and every model. In the Icon’s case, it’s flatter, wider and firmer. As my buttocks recall, the Cafe Racer’s seat was hell to sit on after ~100 miles, so I’d hope whatever they’ve done to that particular model solves that issue.
– Engine cases have been painted black, leaving machined cooling fins on the heads. Various wheels have changed too – the Icon’s now more closely resemble the Scrambler 1100s, where as the Desert Sled changes from gold rims to black and the Cafe Racer has gone from cast rims to spoked. The eagle-eyed amongst you might also spot that the exhaust headers have been coated with a darker, more protective finish, and the Icon’s silencer design has been updated.
– The suspension, at least on the Icon, has been tickled to be more plush and less basic-feeling.
And last, but not least, Ducati has added its Multimedia System (DMS) so that you can swipe left and right on tinder using the indicator switch. Well, ok, you can’t do that but it’ll let you control music on your smartphone and read texts, if that’s your kinda thing.
If you’re still awake after all that, I’m sure you’ll agree that it all adds up to quite a substantial update, all of which is hard to sniff at. Ducati are so confident in the changes that it didn’t even bother walking us through the changes in a presentation as per the usual. Instead, we rode to a theatre on the updated Icon (in Tangerine Orange) and watched a short film about the Scrambler lifestyle.
Back at the hotel, and prior to our ride-out the following day, we got the chance to compare, side-by-side, the 2019 Icon with the previous generation Icon. From 20 yards you’d be hard pushed to tell much of a difference, but up close it’s all extremely obvious to see and appreciate. The black engine cases look so, so much better, and the headlight, newer exhaust design and updated wheels really do transmit premium vibes. If I was being very, very critical the previous generation might’ve been accused of being built to a budget, where as the 2019 generation looks as if it was put together as Ducati really wanted it to be and then the price worked out afterwards. It looks a lot beefier too; the tank in particular looks like it has spent a month in the gym and swapped the salads for protein shakes.
And so on to riding the thing. Ducati chose picture-postcard Tuscany as the setting for our ride out, and what a place to pick. The roads aren’t too bad out near Siena – a stark contrast from the terribly surfaced roads on the Cafe Racer launch ride last year – and the rolling scenery amongst the vineyards of Chianti served almost as a distraction from experiencing all things new onboard the new Icon.
Unsurprisingly, to ride, it’s very much like the previous Icon. The engine’s the same – punching out 73 respectable horse powers and 49 torques – and so’s the chassis geometry. It sounds the same too, even after some Euro4 fiddling. It’s a rewarding bike to dart about on; it’s refreshingly basic and not in any way scary, but it still packs a punch when you need it to, and right from the bottom of the rev range. “It’s playful rather than powerful”, to quote a mate, and that really does sum it up. It’s sort of like a grown up Suzuki VanVan.
But it’s the stuff that you touch, feel and interact with that’s now very different. Those updated switches on the bars really are nice to use with good, solid feedback; you’re never left glancing at the dashboard to see if you really did activate the indicators. The adjustable levers have a much better shape that fits nicely in your grasp, and that seat is 100% a nicer place than before to park your backside. The addition of a gear indicator, and a re-assuring fuel level gauge, will no doubt make it more friendly for newbies (especially the fuel gauge if they’re coming from the world of more-than-two-wheels). The hydraulic clutch, too, is lovely to use – linear all the way through rather than differing in feel from the start to the end of its travel. And a quick word about the suspension too: infinitely better – plusher with more feedback (especially if you’re doing your best impression of Andrea Dovizioso), and less initial sag as you get on the bike. Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t bottom the fork out if I tried, where as the previous generation would come to an abrupt “bonk” if you asked enough of the brakes.
I can’t tell you much about the cornering ABS, though, other than presumably it was watching over me all day long. I had the ABS working in a straight line into a hairpin corner (it might’ve been down to the tarmac, mind), but thankfully I didn’t ever need to grab a handful mid-corner, especially as I was riding behind Carl “Pretty Boy” Stevens from Fast Bikes. Our ride was dry and warm, and the Pirelli MT60 tyres are way, way grippier than they have any right to be, but I reckon on damp and/or cold roads I’d have seen some action.
So this is all quite easy to sum up. The Icon’s the same bike as before, but more substantial and premium feeling than before – and presumably that applies to the rest of the range as well. It’s probably what Ducati wanted to build all along, and the addition of cornering ABS is both a great selling point and a giant two fingers to the rest of the competition. Not even Triumph took the opportunity to add cornering ABS to their just-updated Street Scrambler (which we’ll be riding next month). Personally I can’t really fault this latest generation. It’s a road bike that’ll do basically whatever you want it to – Sunday ride-outs, city commutes, trips to the shops, whatever… just don’t go off-road on it, it’s really, really not for that. The only negative points I gave it on my 100-odd mile ride around Tuscany was the occasional false natural when giving it the beans, but all of these Desmodue engines seem to do it (the Cafe Racer does it, the Monster 797 does it, the Desert Sled does it…). Otherwise it’s kind of got every box ticked, even a USB charging port under the seat. And the price has only gone up £1000 in exchange for all these features. While it isn’t a cheap bike to start with, that’s fair compensation for what you’re (now) getting.
Before I finish though, a quick thought about the Cafe Racer: I really like what Ducati have done with it for 2019. Its previous guise in black and gold with cast wheels felt way, way too un-Scrambler and far more worthy of sitting amongst the normal Ducati range (Monsters, Panigales, et al). With the new spoked wheels and new colours it seems to have found a home in the Scrambler catalogue, and obviously it has all of the upgrades that the Icon now has too.
£8,150 (62 Yellow)
£8,250 (Tangerine Orange)
Hedon Custom Ash Heroine
Furygan D03 Jeans
Racer ‘windy’ Gloves
Furygan Legend Jacket
Dainese Torque D1 boots
Read more from Rich, including what it’s like to ride pillion with Randy Mamola, over on the GQ Motorcycles website