Triumph Scrambler 1200 - Ride Report
By Ross Sharp - 19 Dec 18
The revival of the scrambler as a style, a genre even, has brought with it some ambiguity as to what scrambling actually is. Fire up the YouTube and search for old pathé footage of early sixties scrambling events and you'll see open faced daredevils hooning through fields and across deserts. Clearing 60ft triple jumps or crossing continents it ain't, and this bike, Triumph's all-new Scrambler 1200 has been designed with that firmly in mind. As with the rest of the Modern Classics range the Scrambler 1200 is aimed at a distinct market niche, promising riders within it much of what they want, along with some of what they didn't know they needed. As a result there really isn't anything to compare the 1200 to. During the presentation, power and torque figures were charted against the revamped Street Scrambler 900 but to my mind these are completely different beasts and it seemed slightly incongruous making the assimilation. On paper the 1200 Scrambler is also a little misleading. I prefer to ride motorcycles to spec sheets and I'll do my best to avoid joining-up stats and figures with hyperbole. If you'd rather scoff at my opinion and want to make your own mind up, there's a techy pdf after the last photo below. And before anyone chimes in with comments about the bike being just a T120 Bonnie with long forks, pipe down and go sit on your hands. The now familiar heart of this new bike is the 'High Power' version of the engine that shares the same origins and architecture as the T120 Bonneville, Thruxton, Speedmaster and Bobber, but there are key differences across those models. Here, there is a single throttle-body to improve torque and reduce girth between the knees. The cam cover is made from lightweight magnesium alloy, side covers are 'mass optimised', as are the balancer shafts, and the alternator (unlike the rider) has been on a diet. The torque assist clutch is smaller and has been redesigned, there's a new, low inertia crank, high compression head and finally a dedicated Scrambler tune. And thankfully this new-age parallel twin runs the 270 degree firing order, which'll equate to an ear boner even with standard pipes. The bench seat, peanut tank (de-seamed), rear looped subframe (complete with neat weld) and high level twin pipes balance the overall silhouette and the proportions are on the money. But the brief wasn't to simply produce a bike that looked cool and plonk the 1200 Thruxton motor in, Triumph were hell bent on putting the scramble back into Scrambler and making up for someone else robbing the desert sled moniker. As with the bonafide adventure bikes in the Triumph range there are two versions of the Scrambler to try and choose between - the XC and XE. The XC is the smaller, shorter one with 200mm of suspension travel fore and aft, and a shorter swingarm too. The XE (E for extreme) has a slightly thicker, gold anodised Showa fork with 250mmm of travel and an extra 32mm in the swingarm. Both have externally laced spokes, fully adjustable Öhlins piggyback shocks, Brembo M50 monoblocs (MCS lever and cornering ABS on the XE) multiple riding modes and a sophisticated dual contrast TFT dash. Both forks are Showas with the latest cartridge technology, and are fully preload and rebound adjustable.
There's also a natty bluetooth integration module on the way later in 2019 which means you'll be able to stick your smartphone in a padded, USB powered box under the saddle and use the switchgear joystick to make and receive calls, control your music playlists and perhaps most importantly, use Google Maps. The clear and concise TFT display will offer turn-by-turn directions thanks to a dedicated collaboration with Google themselves.
Triumph also worked with GoPro to integrate functionality, again via the bluetooth, so that riders can control the new Hero 7 Black action camera through the handlebar controls. These functions weren't available at the time of the launch but will be shortly after the bike's release next year.
So who is this bike for and what will they do with it? Well, for people like me I suppose. 10 years ago I had a BMW GS and I thought I was the next Ewan Boorman, yet now I struggle with the concept of owning a dual purpose bike that I'll never take off road. Sure, people more capable than I can send a third of a ton of GSA or KTM 1190 up gravity defying climbs but for us mortals, where's the fun in that? Sounds like hard work to me. Those things are fit for purpose, that being to travel long distances with loads of luggage. I have no time for such trips but I do want an all-rounder that will be happy to take a beating in the dirt and most importantly - put a smile on my face.
I had a hoot ragging the Street Scrambler off-road (click here) and loved banging around town and along local B roads on one but if a long motorway trip was involved, I'd drive. The Scrambler 1200 promised me the previously illusive one bike garage, and half the Bike Shed office checked the resale values of their current rides upon returning from the glitzy launch last month. But could it really be that much fun? Surely it'd be riddled with compromise and hampered by attempts to do too many things well.
A 21" front wheel and 17" rear sounds weird, and the twin shocks are long enough to suspend a trophy truck, so there was certainly potential for this bike to look like a tarted-up giraffe. But yet again Triumph's designers have triumphed. And as with the rest of the Bonneville family the fit and finish is properly premium. Up close there are numerous neat touches that prove the design engineers' credentials.
The catalytic converters are nearly invisible, lambda sensors are neatly set into the exhaust header collar and the rolled aluminium mudguards are as good as you'd find on a deBolex build. Cable ties are nearly impossible to find and care has been taken to make wiring harnesses and ugly bits disappear. There is a bit-of-an-afterthought section of loom behind the clocks but perhaps this'll be remedied on the actual production models.
One upgrade I was very happy to see is the addition of threaded bosses for bolt-on pillion pegs. To my mind an essential for a dirt oriented machine. Not only is there a weight saving to be made (a small one admittedly) but it's one less thing to catch a trailing leg on, and more importantly there's less chance of the frame being deemed a write off if the thing is dropped. I'm amazed at how many production bikes run similar welded-on appendages.
The rear brake pedal and gear lever are sprung, ready for impact and the former can be twisted through 180 degrees to allow a quick height change. A few obvious features, but ones that separate the Scrambler 1200 from some of the wannabes in the market.
The global press launch was held over two days in Faro, Portugal which would give us lucky Brits the chance to be the first people outside the factory to test the marketeers' claims. First up, a whole day at a purpose-built off-road centre in the mountains, perfect!
From the showroom both the XC and XE roll on the tried and tested Metzeler Tourance, but to really make the most of the Scrambler as an experience there's a dealer-fit option of Pirelli's Scorpion Rally. Our fleet of XC and XEs were wearing fresh knobblies, ready for an initiation on a damp and tacky clay oval that sort of resembled a flat track, although it was on a hillside and had four apexes. One lap was enough to top-up the confidence tank and I was ready for the trails.
Somehow I'd been bullied into the advanced group with some yanks, along with Matt, the enduro champ instructor from Triumph's Adventure Experience in Wales. The pace was quick enough to leave no time to get used to the XC, straight in at the deep end. And my gosh is the Scrambler 1200 a flattering machine. With a dry weight ever so slightly the wrong side of 200kgs some were concerned it's heft would be an issue, but that certainly wasn't apparent to me. At no point did I think that I was on a heavy bike. Perhaps my inexperience showing, but if Global Brand Manager and presentation-giver Miles Perkins had told me the figure was 20kg less I'd have believed him. That's the trouble with specs, knowing them in advance clouds your judgement. One of the other journos was moaning about the "500 lb motorcycle" before he'd even seen one, let alone ridden the thing.
I barely had to dance on the pegs, and bar inputs were minimal. At one point while fiddling with my GoPro mount I covered about a mile of dirt at 40mph one handed, which felt neither showy-offy or dodgy. In fact my WR250 is more tiring, on the 1200 I could have ridden for hours, seated or standing.
Then there are the riding modes. The XC has Road, Rain, Sport and Off Road. The latter leaves the front ABS on and dramatically reduces intervention from the traction control system. What that means in real life is fun, available by the bucket load. Jam the throttle open on the loose stuff and you'll be rewarded with controlled slides that only a Dakar hero would otherwise be capable of. Everyone in our group quickly abandoned trying to ride with finesse and turned wild-wristed hooligans, roosting everyone behind with each turn. Mud, slop, sand, loose rocks, gravel - it made no odds, the Scrambler revelled, willing us on to take more liberties. The motor span-up predictably without any cammy peaks, just a lovely linear dollop of torque and buttery power. And the ride-by-wire throttle appears to have had the initial slack taken out of it. I could be wrong but it sure felt like that dead spot was gone. If you've noticed this on previous Bonnie based models there's a plastic clip mod that Dutch is soon to fit to his Hoxton - will report back if it works.
We all did as we were told in the presentation "try to ride sitting down, scramble, don't ride like you're on an enduro bike" which led to the next surprise of the day - the suspension's plushness. Silky smooth and without drama the shorter shocked XC never ran out of travel or felt skittish. The XE is a different beast altogether. The frame is slightly different with a degree more rake, 8mm of extra trail, and the longer swingarm contributing to 4cm extra in the wheelbase, making for improved manners when the going gets really tough. The saddles on both are supremely comfortable and feel slightly memory foamish - I had no issue with clattering around while seated. And again, the weight didn't impinge on usability when positioned higher up.
Combined with the taller suspension, and wider bars angled more towards the rider (reversible bar mounts) the XE initially feels a little more like a traditional adventure bike - big and tall. But not in a bad way. It also had a trick up its sleeve, Off-Road Pro mode. This allowed the front ABS and traction control to be turned off and a switch to a dedicated off-road engine map. Without the safety net of the apparently magical TC, I gave the XE a bit more respect, but I needn't have bothered too much. The tractable and predictable power delivery made for a confidence inspiring and grin filled ride back to base, which included a short road section. We were supposed to turn the mode back to Road or Rain but I preferred the squirm from the Pirellis on damp tarmac when pressing hard.
Sadly, days of rain had made the level 2 trails impassable even for the pros, so once back at the adventure centre we took it in turns to scare ourselves on the MX track and scare the photographers on the flat track - ahem, oops. I caught up with one of the main guys in charge of developing chassis for Triumph, Felipe Lopez, at a minibike track at the bottom of the hill. It was hard packed and clearly had an additive in the soil as it was bone dry compared to the rest of the area. I didn't let on that I do a bit of sliding in my spare time, but he was happy to let me spin a few laps on an XC. Even on a super tight track designed for 100cc kids bikes the Scrambler 1200 was a doddle to chuck around. Again, if I was blindfolded and told I was on an 800cc something or other I'd have believed it.
We hung out, just the two of us, for a while chatting about what went into making this bike so good. The refusal to compromise the Scrambler 1200's off-road credentials was the overriding takeaway from our conversation, and if there was anyone to trust on such a matter, it's Felipe. If you don't know who he is then head to the Google, or click here.
Goaded by other riders we returned to the larger 'flat track' to do some skids. I gave the XC plenty. If there was a throttle cable it'd have been baggy by the time I'd finished, pinned to the stops the TC allows generous sideways action without incident. It is possible to override the TC on the XC which I tried, the gentle fuelling making for predictable slides. The photographer might not have thought so but I was gently dabbing the rear brake to ensure any showing off was kept in check. With nobody watching I'd have been happy to really let loose, and even without a steel shoe I reckon some decent laps times could've been had. The top spec monobloc Brembos are obviously complete overkill for this level of off-roading and I barely used more than the very tip of my index finger all day. When the ABS did cut in it felt progressive enough, but then again I'm happy with the front tucking from time to time so I'll refer to one of the other journos on this point.
The technical MX practice track put me closer to my talent limit but again the 1200 flattered, skimming over mini whoops and choppy ruts with plenty of capacity left in reserve. And despite what I said about scrambling not being about jumping, owners are of course going to encounter reasons to be airborne, so a few of us felt compelled to thoroughly test the XE's extra suspension travel. I'm shit at jumping, as you can see, but some of the others 'sent it' without incident.
It wasn't just me that was feeling the Scrambler's vibe. Nearly everyone was beaming and had had a blast, including the nervous off-road newbies. Compliant, plush, easy, forgiving, flattering seemed to be the adjectives of choice, and spirits were high. Surely with this much capability on the dirt the Scrambler 1200 would be a soggy mess back on the asphalt.
Day two was wet before we'd even left the hotel and by the time we'd climbed a thousand feet into the mountains visibility was 25 bike lengths and I was soaked. The first photoshoot was cancelled and the second hardly worth it. The silver lining though, trying both bikes in torrid conditions on shiny, slick roads.
The shorter XC is noticeably sharper at turn-in and its lower seat height settled nerves. Press launch photoshoots are a rushed affair. You have to send a bike through curves you've never seen before and with just a couple of passes make it look like you're nailing it. Swapping over to the XE I thought I'd embarrass myself but the lanky suspension and 21" front wheel belied their dimensions.
What I haven't mentioned yet is that our lead rider was Isle of Man TT winner and crowd favourite Gary Johnson. Our group split and three of us chased him along twisting, flowing mountain roads only a biker could have built. The pace was initially a sniff too quick for my skill level yet the compliant and neutral handling XC lapped it up, the Metzelers offering grip that shouldn't have been there. There's a huge element of trust involved in following someone else into a corner twice as fast as you'd manage on your own, but I figured if Gaz was still upright on the way out and I relaxed then I'd have a fighting chance of making it to the lunch stop. The TC light was flashing like a disco strobe in Rain mode, yet all I felt was a gentle dulling of the power delivery, with no stutter or lurching, merely a sensation of covering the rear brake slightly. In Road mode the rear could be unsettled easily but I wasn't about to send myself into orbit, so I stuck with Rain.
Grinding footpegs, in the wet, on a tall, soft Scrambler with dual sport rubber and 500 ft drops off the side of the road... that shouldn't be possible, should it? "You were touching down?!! Fuuking eck, you're a braver man than me" *Lincolnshire accent* Very flattering Gaz, but that's clearly unfathomably far from the truth. However, if the 1200 can offer an average rider those levels of confidence it'll surely have plenty left in reserve for all but the most talented owners.
After lunch the sun finally did it's thing and cleared most of the water, although shaded corners remained sketchy. Again we hustled and chased Gaz back down the mountain. And yes, it was as surreal as it sounds. TT hero + mountain + mates + capable bike = gigging schoolboy. The roads were some of the best I've ridden. Imagine sections from the Wall of Death laid out not quite flat, and just the right distance apart for flick-flacking between in 3rd, rolling up and down that silky torque curve. The 1200 will rev, 500 more times a minute than the T120 Bonnie, but I found little need to go past 5000-ish. Carrying speed through this magical terrain delivered the smiles and I was sure the guys in my group were having just as much fun.
Again I can't really report properly about the Brembos' power as I barely used them. A gentle single digit caress dealt with nearly every corner, complimented by progressive engine braking at the rear. Riding in a group I'm always conscious of trying not to cause the guy behind to reach for his own lever, so tend to under-brake and use the 'box instead. The XE's extra travel does become apparent though as it dives considerably more than the XC, but don't take that as a negative. It's merely something to plan for and not something riders will be sensitive to as they're unlikely to be jumping Marquez style from one version to the next.
As aforementioned, the XE has a whiff of traditional adventure bike feel to it whereas the XC is more like a melodic and sophisticated supermoto. What I'd really like to do is take both to Lydden Hill and spank them around the rallycross course, wag the tail and see what a full-on two finger tug on the brakes feels like. But again, not really what this bike was designed for.
Now, I'm not a Triumph guy. Some people go all weak kneed at the sight of Steve McQueen jumping fences or sledding through the desert on a TR6 Trophy. Sure, those are damn cool looking machines but I'm really not fussed about whether there's a trumpet or a triangle on the tank. Nor could I give a monkey's if the bike I was riding "isn't a proper triumph because it wasn't made in Meriden." For me the Scrambler 1200 simply needed to perform and excite on its own merit. I'm a soft hearted nostalgist don't get me wrong, but that wears very thin when aboard sub-par equipment. This bike made me want to ride all day, into the night and then do it all again, many times over - something that's been missing from my two-wheeled world recently. If it's taken a bit of whizzy technology from engineering boffins to give me this feeling then I'm all for it.
The Scrambler 1200 is a riot on tarmac, delivers face-ache off it, looks as if one of the established custom shops has designed it, yet it'll pick through city traffic with ease and will munch the miles (one button cruise control fitted as standard) with abandon, while offering the rider touring bike levels of comfort. If the sound of that doesn't float your boat then cool, to each their own. But one thing is for certain, Triumph have another hit on their hands. And if you're wondering why I haven't mentioned other bikes from other manufacturers, well, it's because that wouldn't be comparing apples with apples. The Scrambler 1200 is in a league of its own, for now.
And trust me, as a relatively inexperienced off-roadist, if you can't ride the Scrambler 1200 in the dirt, the bike sure isn't the problem - it's you!
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See more BSMC Ride Reports here
And if you'd like to try the very bikes seen here they'll be heading from Portugal to the Triumph's world class Adventure Experience in South Wales, ready for the 2019 season. We'll be organising a BSMC trip in the spring, get in touch if you'd like to join us.
Scrambler 1200 numbers and spec stuff - here and see the pre-launch article here.
For the full details, prices and a list of all options including inspiration kits and accessories (like some of these below) click here.
And keep an eye on Triumph's social media. Test rider Ernie Vigil has recovered from his broken leg and is set to compete in the Mexico 1000 rally in April.
For a detailed review of all this lot, click here.
Ethen x BSMC Scrambler
Fuel Bespoke Motorcycles 'Division'
Fuel x BSMC Sergeant
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Bike Shed Roundel waffle