10 Modern Takes On The Classic Scrambler Motorcycle
There’s More To The Modern Scrambler Motorcycle Movement Than Ducatis
Updated August 25, 2018
Over the past few years we’ve seen the re-emergence of a few old school styles, like café racers and flat trackers, but none of them have made as big a splash as the scrambler motorcycle. The scrambler style has literally revived itself from obscurity and is now growing from strength to strength as more and more manufacturers jump on the scrambler motorcycle bandwagon. But it wasn’t always like this. In fact, by the end of the 70s, good old fashioned home built scramblers were becoming a thing of the past thanks to the advent of far superior, factory built dirt bikes.
The scrambler scene was pretty much born out of the Mojave Desert in California during the 50s and 60s. Since there weren’t any real dirt bikes available back then, those in the know would take your standard big single 500s or 650 parallel twins and strip the back to the bare minimum, fit them with longer suspension, give them higher handlebars, and swap out the road tires for a set of knobbly off-road rubbers instead. Thanks to the new modifications, these new motorcycles were able to traverse tough terrain in a way that regular motorcycles just couldn’t handle. Thus the scrambler was born.
The new style of scrambler motorcycle was a huge success back then, but the success was short lived. Most of the big motorcycle manufacturers had paid attention to the growing trend and they all decided that there was a huge demand for a factory built motorcycle that was capable of serious off-road riding, and that was the beginning of the end for the old school scrambler. Now, the likes of Honda and Yamaha had purpose built models like the XL500 and XT500, with proper suspension and road legal accoutrements like headlights and turn signals, making the homemade scrambler completely irrelevant. And that would’ve been the end of the story, but the scrambler motorcycle has resurfaced.
In the custom world, the scrambler never really went away and it has been a regular go-to silhouette, much like the flat tracker or café racer, but since the custom scene is now more popular than ever, of course it wasn’t long before the big manufacturers began to pay attention. Back in 2006, Triumph pulled the covers off a Bonneville that had been dolled up to look like a scrambler using a branded accessory kit…and it proved to be a massive hit. Even though the Triumph Scrambler motorcycle was a success, it wasn’t until around ten years later that the scrambler would really come back to life – in the form of a Ducati.
When Ducati first unleashed their 804cc, 75 hp, v-twin, scrambler back in 2015, we thought it was a cool quirky motorcycle that would maybe enjoy some sales success for a few years. Years later, and the Ducati Scrambler is still very much alive and well, having spawned eight models from the original platform, and with more to come. And other manufacturers have capitalized on the scrambler’s sales success by building their own variants. So what are the best scrambler motorcycle models out there? Well, we’re going to show you our favorites.
10 Awesome Modern Scrambler Motorcycles
The Mash Motorcycles DirtStar 400
You’ll be forgiven for not knowing the name “Mash” because the company mainly operates outside of Europe and the United Kingdom, but what they’re doing is pretty interesting. A group of French designers teamed up with the Chinese manufacturer Shinray to create a cool line of retro-styled machines. For their scrambler motorcycle, known as the DirtStar, Mash have employed an engine that’s a copy of the old Honda XBR500 with a five speed transmission, resulting in a cool 29 hp 400 coming with all of the necessary scrambler additions such as long travel suspension, knobbly tires at higher handlebars, with some excellent scrambler accessories bolted on for good measure. While not available in the USA yet, these good lookin’ motorcycles retail for £3,999 in the UK, which is around $5,600. It might be a Chinese motorcycle at heart…but it’s nice to look at. And if you’re staunchly anti-Chinese then a lot of entries on this list should give you a good reason to shake your fists in anger.
The Sinnis Scrambler 125
Here’s another brand that you might not have heard of: Sinnis. Actually, you might have heard of Sinnis because they’re a cool up and coming brand. Designed in the UK with the actual manufacturing outsourced to China, Sinnis have made a name for themselves by building quality reliable motorcycles with a great deal of character. Built around Yamaha and Suzuki technology (sort of) and with plenty of cool models to choose from, it’s the Sinnis Scrambler motorcycle that we like the look of most. Armed with an air-cooled 125 motor that offers 11.5 hp, you’ll be pleased to learn that it’s not the performance numbers that we like the most about this little scrambler motorcycle – it’s the fact that it’s quite a novel alternative learner bike for those who are in need of a 125 but want something a little different. Is it a good scrambler? Probably not, if you’re putting form over function, then this 125 does the job nicely.
The Herald Motorcycles Rambler 250
Alright, last obscure one, we promise. The bikes on offer from Herald are exactly what they say they are, and the company tells you no lies about this: they are Chinese motorcycles with the Herald logo slapped on them. However, Herald know quite a bit about Chinese motorcycles, having imported their scooters for years, so they know what companies are good, and which ones are bad, and most importantly, what parts need replacing as soon as they arrive in the crate. Starting with an already good base, the team at Herald get rid of all the poorer quality Chinese parts and replace them with high quality alternatives. The sparkplug and leads get replaced with NGK units straight away, the chain and sprockets are updated to hardier parts, Chinese brake pads are updated to western ones, and the tires get updated too. In the end, you’re left with a superior scrambler motorcycle, complete with top of the line high bars, LED lights, nice touches like rubber tank pads, and Continental Twinduro tires. All for a package that costs less than $5000.
The Yamaha SCR950
Surprisingly, the Japanese have been pretty slow to jump on the Scrambler bandwagon, with Yamaha being the only company to produce a full production scrambler motorcycle. The SCR950 is one of our favorite scramblers on the market and one look at it should tell you why. The aesthetic alone should be enough to sell it to you, thanks to the vintage-inspired retro look, but there’s more to this scrambler than a pretty face. At the heart of the SCR950 is a potent 942cc v-twin engine that produces 48.5 hp at 5,400 rpm and 54.1 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm. It might not seem that impressive, but when you consider that the average modern scrambler buyer isn’t going to be pulling any sick stunts, or more likely even ride in the rain, it has enough pull for getting around town in a comfortable and cool way. Other cool features include the retro-inspired spoked wheels, that awesome high rear fender, and the addition of a racing number board…for all that racing that’s definitely going to be done on it. Ahem. But modern scramblers aren’t actually meant for scrambling, they’re just there to look pretty – and the Yamaha does a great job at the latter, and for a decent price too with an MSRP of $8,699.
The Moto Guzzi V7 II Stornello
Moto Guzzi already know how to build a good looking retro, so when they decided to re-work their already successful V7 roadster into a cool scrambler motorcycle, they didn’t have to work too hard. This V7 II “Stornello” variant manages to tick all the right boxes in the scrambler department whilst still holding onto Moto Guzzi’s aesthetic principles. As always with a Guzzi, the eye is immediately drawn straight to the 744cc air-cooled 90-degree v-twin engine, but there’s more to the Stornello than the standard Guzzi power plant. To turn the conventional V7 into a scrambler motorcycle, Moto Guzzi treated the Stornello with loads of awesome accessories, including an extended seat, spoked wheels, fork gaiters, aluminum fenders, aluminum number plates, cool enduro-inspired pegs, wide handle bars, and decent semi-off-road style tires. Overall, it’s a very impressive package – only let down by the exhaust. We think the designers could have done a better job there. Even so, with an MSRP of just over $11,000 we really like this one.
The Benelli Leoncino
Benelli are one of those brands that keep on surprising us lately, and one of their most recent unveilings has got us seriously interested. This is the Leoncino, a 500cc parallel twin scrambler motorcycle that seems to have one foot in the retro camp and another planted in the futuristic. Benelli might be Chinese owned, but they’ve proven their quality time and time again, and the Leoncino is no different. The motor itself is a solid and reliable unit capable of 47 hp at 8,500, the tubular steel trellis frame is stylish and does the job, and the suspension works just fine. While it’s not at all technically innovative, and leans quite heavily on other scrambler motorcycle designs, we think that the Benelli Leoncino deserves a place on this list. Purely because it’s a Benelli – and if you’re actually going to take one of these motorcycle for some serious off-road scrambling, you’re going to want one that you can drop without having to remortgage your house to pay the repair bill. While the price hasn’t been formally announced yet, a UK distributor reckons that $7,000 sounds about right. And that’s a fair price.
The Triumph Street Scrambler
While the good old Triumph Bonneville can still be turned into a scrambler courtesy of Triumph’s scrambler kit, you can save yourself a lot of effort by simply buying Triumph’s purpose-built Street Scrambler instead. Essentially, Triumph have taken their 900cc Street Twin and have re-purposed it into a cool scrambler motorcycle that has got us all worked up. To bring the Street Scrambler to life, Triumph took the original Street Twin and upgraded the chassis with new, longer rear shocks, a set of wide handlebars, a raised stainless steel exhaust system, off-road inspired foot pegs, an all-important and engine-protecting bash plate, simple instrumentation, and very cool Metzeler Tourance tires. Naturally, it comes with all the modern comforts that you would expect, like ABS, switchable traction control, torque assisted gear shifting, and ride by wire, and all told it’s a very tempting scrambler motorcycle. With prices starting from $10,800, it’s not hard to see why the Triumph Street Scrambler has become such a hit.
The Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled
While any version of the modern Ducati Scrambler motorcycle range should be featured on this list, we decided to choose the one that is the closest thing to a genuine scrambler. While there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the Scrambler family, the Desert Sled is the one we’d actually want to be riding if something vaguely off-road was required. Essentially, it’s the same as the other Scramblers but with some tougher parts. The engine is the same air-cooled 804cc, 75 hp engine, and the frame is the same classic steel trellis affair, but Ducati have turned the Desert Sled up a notch by treating it with heavier duty 46mm, fully adjustable, USD style Kayaba suspension, a tougher and fatter swingarm to cope with proper off-road trails, a fully adjustable rear shock to match, and a set of Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR rubbers. All in, it comes with a higher riding stance that the other Scrambler motorcycles, and it looks like it can really handle some mild scrambling. Prices start from $11,395.
The BMW R nineT Scrambler
The BMW R nineT as already proven itself as one of the most versatile platforms ever made, with it spawning new models all the time and consistently being a favorite donor bike amongst the custom crowd. With the recent interest in the scrambler motorcycle scene, it was only a matter of time before BMW got involved themselves. And you might be thinking how could that 1200cc boxer ever transform into an effective scrambler, and BMW have your answer. By pairing the R nineT back to the bare minimum and by replacing some of its more expensive parts with cheaper ones to keep it affordable, the R nineT suddenly becomes quite an attractive proposition. It might look like there’s more style than substance but thanks to the boxer’s 108 hp grunt, it’s actually quite like the original GS concept in a weird way. So what parts got downgraded? The forks aren’t USD anymore, the headlamp is a little simpler, it now rolls on cast wheels instead of spoked, and the tank is steel rather than alloy – but if it keeps the cost down to an attractive $12,995 (with ABS) then we’re happy that BMW made the sacrifices.
The Husqvarna Svartpilen 401
If you want a motorcycle that can perform well both on and off-road, doesn’t way a metric ton, and turns heads wherever it goes, then you’re going to want to investigate the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401. We have been waiting for the new Husqvarna’s to arrive for some years now, and from concept to production, the firm hasn’t disappointed. The scrambler motorcycle variant, the Svartpilen, is powered by the same engine usually found on the KTM 390 Duke: a 375cc single that’s good for an excellent 43 hp at 9,000 rpm and a 27 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm, and that’s ideal for actually scrambling on. Husqvarna know a lot about off-road motorcycles, and they’ve put it all into their new breed of machines. Blessed with a 43mm USD fork arrangement up front with a matching rear mono, efficient brakes, excellent geometry, and the same Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires found on the Ducati Scrambler, the Svartpilen 401 is probably the scrambler motorcycle on this list that’s the most true to the original concept of what a scrambler should be. As for the price and availability, we haven’t got either of those facts for you yet. Just know that it’s coming soon, and it will come at a cost that is more than appropriate for a motorcycle of its caliber.