The Ducati Scrambler 1100 does not come in red.
If you don’t know Ducati, that may not seem like 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’s a reason for this: The motorcycle maker wants to make sure you know that the Scrambler line is different from its other bikes – ones such as the high-powered, rocket-style Monsters and Hypermotards and, most obviously, SuperSports. By contrast, the genial Scrambler – with its flat seat built for two and higher handlebar – sits you more 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 squarely at attracting riders who may also sport trimmed beards, perfectly roughed-up denim and favourite roasts of local coffee.
The 2018 Scrambler 1100 also does not showcase Ducati’s signature trellis frame. Nor, even more sacrilegiously, does it have Ducati’s most famous engine. Instead, 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 kilometres an hour-plus.
The 1100, which I rode around New York last week, 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 best-selling 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 (the era on which it’s based) with modern technology and safety systems so myriad they’re almost excessive.
This stands in stark contrast to the Harley-Davidsons and Moto-Guzzis of the world, which can feel outdated in terms of actual operation, gauges, screens and mechanical systems, but have components with delightful heft and grittiness. Alternately, electric bikes from cool companies such as Zero and Alta feel coolly futuristic to ride, but also feel like plastic appliances everywhere you touch. (Not cool.)
The body on the Ducati 1100, meanwhile, is made nearly exclusively of steel and aluminum (the seatpan and airbox are plastic, although these are out of sight and mind; the 1100 Special even has aluminum mud guards). Everything that meets the eye looks meaty – substantial. Its tubular steel trellis and aluminum subframe are hidden by blacked-out paint 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 aluminum supports, while the rear one incorporates LED indicators. (Old and new combine, see?) Even the single, round headlight is a real glass parabola, rimmed in polished aluminum.
Even better, the unique, deeper growl of the 1100 sounds just like what you’d 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 computerization appears; three riding modes adjust throttle and brake response, among other things. (I mostly used “City,” as that’s where I rode.) There’s 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, 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 with the smaller engines in the Scrambler lineup, 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, although the cornering is nimbler in the smaller versions with their smoother tires 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 fulfills the purpose of the Scrambler line in a way that is nearly impossible to improve. After all, this is a bike meant for urban driving and short trips, not longer cruises – which the 1100 tends toward.
But it’s a solid motorcycle. And, it should be noted, one especially well suited to larger riders, since it weighs 40 pounds 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.