Test rides

The Italian Country Gentleman

Ducati’s Scrambler 1100 is the perfect tool for backroad exploring

What sort of bribery is required, do you suppose, that Ducati is able to make its bikes so much louder than everyone else’s? Ostensibly the bikes adhere to the same European regulations as everyone else, the very same responsible for ginormous cans and whiffing exhaust notes on everything from the Harley-Davidson FXDR to the Triumph Street Scrambler.

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Yet Ducati is somehow able to deliver motorcycles that sound so much better. No, not as loud as bikes used to be, but still loud enough to result in anonymous notes being dropped through my letterbox as a result: “PLEASE BE AWARE THAT SOME OF US ARE TRYING TO SLEEP AT 6 AM.”

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Your neighbors may complain about the lovely sound these pipes make

Yeah, well, some of us are trying to get to work. And for two weeks my weapon of choice in doing so was the 2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100. In addition to my daily 32-mile roundtrip commute (Have I mentioned how much I hate working in an office?), I racked up a few hundred more miles exploring the rabbit warren of country lanes that run through South Wales, zipping around Brecon Beacons National Park, and riding the thing across the country twice – a tidy 1,400 miles in total before (begrudgingly) handing the keys back to the folks at Ducati.

KEEP READING: Check Out All of TMO’s Bike Reviews

Ducati, of course, introduced the Scrambler 1100 for 2018, and received a somewhat lukewarm reception from the motorcycling press. The general consensus was that there wasn’t enough “more” about the bike to justify the “more” of its price tag. I’m not sure this is fair, however. The Scrambler 1100 is a heck of a lot of fun. Mucky, and possibly limited in its application, but a hell of a lot of fun.

The Daily Commute

Ever since I ran out of money I’ve been getting up early each morning to go to a real-person job. The only highlight to this, apart from the dramatic increase in donut consumption, has been the fact that I am “forced” to ride a motorcycle every day.

My 16-mile route to work capitalizes on my transportation mode of choice and includes a long section of country lane. For those of you playing along in Trumpistan, lanes in the United Kingdom are about as big cycling paths – usually only just wide enough for a car and a bold motorcyclist who isn’t afraid to put him- or herself into the tall hedges that line the road. My route also incorporates a bit of town center lane-splitting wackiness, and a short stretch of highway – a little bit of everything, in other words, and a good test of a motorcycle.

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2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100

Within this context, the Scrambler 1100 does pretty. Powered by a 1079cc air-cooled L-twin, the 85hp moto delivers delightful levels of almost-instant and almost-always-available torque. The engine is equal parts characterful and well-mannered, kept in line by three riding modes: Active, Journey, and City. That last one is useful in the rain, otherwise my advice is to just stay Active.

Ducati transmissions be Ducati, so false neutrals can be found here and there, but you learn to deal with it by being more affirmative in your gear selection. There is a fifth gear, you simply have to communicate to the bike that you really want to use it. And everything else is so enjoyable – the bike so easy to ride – that you really, really won’t care.

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One of the things helping you not care is that aforementioned exhaust note. Even if it doesn’t ruffle the feathers of your self-involved middle-class neighbors it will make you happy every single time you twist the throttle. No, really: every single time. Have you ever had that experience of driving to work and suddenly your favorite song comes on the radio just as you’re nearing the office, so you have to deliberately miss your turn and keep driving for a while? It’s like that – every day, all the time.

Throttle response is instant without being snappy, and power delivery is smooth unless you try to hold your speed at 30 mph (something that seems to be a challenge for a lot of bikes in the modern age). The bike is nimble and relatively light (more on this below) and although it has narrower steering lock than I’d have expected it weaves through traffic with ease – thanks to low center of gravity and ‘bars that aren’t too wide.

The headlight is top notch. Never underestimate the value of a good headlight.

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Many manufacturers don’t seem to think their products will be used after sunset. The 2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100, however, is ready to play.

Highway

Without investment in accessories/aftermarket bits, the Scrambler 1100 is weakest when you try to cover long distances of super slab. It is a naked bike that puts you in an upright position. So, although the engine has no trouble cruising well in excess of license-ban speeds, you’ll find it physically difficult to sustain 70 mph for an extended period of time. It’s just not comfortable.

As such, I found myself strangely thankful for the bike’s somewhat poor fuel economy when having to ride to or from Ducati’s headquarters in the English East Midlands – about 150 miles from TMO’s Cardiff headquarters. I was only able to get 120 miles from its 15-liter tank before fuel light panic set in, so I was forced to stop and rest. But considering the fact the 1753cc Harley-Davidson Street Bob can go further on a smaller tank, I wouldn’t consider the Scrambler 1100’s frequent stops “feature” to be a selling point.

Exploring the Back Roads

Where the Scrambler 1100 comes into its own is – perhaps not surprisingly – on back roads and farm lanes. It is quite happy trundling down a narrow, pockmarked lane or gravel track. And, as I learned when invading a farmer’s field and demonstrating my trademarked off-roading incompetence, it is surprisingly easy to pick up. By the same token, it’s pretty resilient, as well.

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Personally, I was much happier burbling away on paved country lanes, investigating every hedgerowed corner and hill of the Vale of Glamorgan – my little patch of South Wales. It was a fantastic experience, exploring my own back yard, and not something I would have done on my Triumph Tiger Explorer. The Triumph is too tall, too heavy for such work – too desperate to stretch its legs, too demanding of one’s attention. The Scrambler 1100 is well mannered and politely just there – responsive, perfectly balanced, and so easy to ride that your brainpower can be dedicated to looking around, taking things in, rather than operating the bike.

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Country lanes are well the 2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100 excels.

I really can’t overemphasize what an incredibly lovely experience it is. “Lovely experience” probably isn’t quite the description Ducati’s shooting for in targeting Millennials so bluntly that it physically hurts, but, by golly, that’s what this bike is: lovely. It delivered one of the best quiet Sunday afternoon rambles I’ve had all year. And like a good headlight, I feel such a thing is too often undervalued.

Practicality

The Ducati Scrambler 1100 probably wouldn’t be my first choice for a daily commuter due to a handful of issues. It’s light and easy to maneuver (if you’re 6-foot-1), but there are the aforementioned issues of windblast and poor fuel economy, as well as the fact there is no place to easily strap luggage.

You’ll have to put some real effort into getting at the frame to attach Kriega straps. Or invest big to get side cases from Ducati’s accessories line or an aftermarket company like Givi. In fairness, however, I was perfectly content throwing all my stuff in my Kriega R20 backpack, so maybe bungee points aren’t all that necessary.

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My biggest issue against regular use, however, is that the bike throws a hell of a lot of muck onto the rider. If those aforementioned lovely country lanes have even the tiniest bit of mud on them you will be wearing it. On rainy mornings this meant arriving to work with my Aerostich R3 so covered in filth that one person asked if I had been lying in a field.

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The Scrambler 1100’s brakes are excellent, though sometimes a little much in light of the somewhat bouncy forks

As with windblast and luggage, there are probably some aftermarket fixes to this issue but at that point you sure are spending a lot of money to create an effective commuting tool. It’s probably better to accept this as more of a lifestyle bike – a sunny-day joy machine.

What Everyone Else Says

The power delivery, even from walking pace, is flawless. The V-twin foams with easy, but not intimidating, grunt and without its water jackets the motor has that classic Ducati guttural raw when you work the light action twistgrip.” – Michael Neeves, MCN

Think of the best pure street bike you’ve ridden on a dirt road and the Scrambler is probably at least that good, thanks mainly to the riding position, the Pirelli MT 60 tires, the ample torque and the smooth throttle response, offset perhaps by the tall first gear.” – Lance Oliver, Common Tread

No matter what your riding background, the Scrambler 1100 has got something for you. With a bit more power, a leading electronics package but still all the style it ever had (and more), it’s everything we wanted from Ducati’s Scrambler brand. We can’t think of a better bike to be seen on this summer.” – Rich Taylor, GQ

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The 2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100 has a wheelbase of 59.6 inches. Notice how it just about fills the width of the lane. This is what British people think is a public roadway!

The Little Things

I found the muckiness of the bike annoying, but I’ll accept that, as a scrambler, it may be part of the spirit of the thing. If a person’s going to ride a bike ostensibly made to tackle a little bit of dirt and mud, he or she wants to look like they’ve ridden through dirt and mud. Maybe.

Instead, my biggest pet peeve came in the quality of the suspension. It wasn’t as good as I would have expected. I found that if I came to a hard stop I could get the the front to compress a little and I could sit there and count – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi – before it would spring back. I don’t feel that should be happening.

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Though, take that criticism with a grain of salt. This particular Scrambler 1100 was a press bike being used in the autumn. That means it had by then spent several months being tortured by British moto-journalists, many of whom have a bad habit of trying to assess motorcycles by extreme metrics. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some journo tried to treat the Scrambler 1100 like a trials bike. So, I’m willing to accept that the suspension of a Scrambler 1100 you might buy new would be better and hold up longer than the one on the bike I rode.

Lastly, although many other reviews of the Scrambler 1100 describe it as a “big” machine, I found it to be quite small – bordering on too small. Once I got used to the thing I had a lot of fun, but I never got over the feeling that I was scooting about on a tiny something and not terribly visible to other road users. People who are not 6-foot-1 nor from Texas (where “big” is synonymous with “good,” and “bigger” is synonymous with “better”), may disagree with me.

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The Scrambler 1100 is not as fuel efficient as I would like.

The Best Things

I mentioned the exhaust note, right? Put the bike into third rev it up to, say, 5,000 rpm, then just release the throttle to hear the bike bubble and pop and snarl. You’ll spend your whole day doing it, laughing every time, and never growing tired of the sound. Add that experience to the lightness and ease with which the thing can hustle through tight spaces and you have the makings of the perfect back country wandering companion.

And despite the fact it felt just a bit small for me, I always felt cool on the Scrambler 1100. I wanted to be seen on it, wanted people to know I was riding it. On several occasions I tried to convince folks in my office to come out to the parking lot to just stare at the bike with me. No one took me up on the offer, so I started showing people pictures of it on my phone.

Would I Buy It?

The Scrambler 1100 starts at £10,700. I loved my two weeks with it, but ultimately I feel it’s a little limited in its application. It’s fantastic for getting lost and/or looking good on sunny Sunday afternoons but starts to come up short when you ask for more than that. It can do more than that, easily, but can’t do it better than other Ducatis. For example, I’m not sure there’s much it does better than a Monster 821 (which is more powerful and less expensive), apart from look like a scrambler.

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I think the price tag is fair if you consider both the actual qualities of the bike (engine, handling, electronics package), as well as intangible qualities (exhaust note, aesthetics, feeling you get being seen on it), but it’s still more than I personally would want to pay for such a bike.

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Fun, but feels limited in its use

But, having said all that, if an owner were to tell me that he or she feels it is the most perfectest wonderfulest bike ever, I wouldn’t argue the point. It is a fantastic motorcycle, and if you’re the sort of person who buys what the experience is selling, who really “gets” the scrambler genre, you’ll probably be happy with your purchase.

The Three Questions

Does the Ducati Scrambler 1100 suit my current lifestyle?
Sadly, no. This is not the first choice for a guy who commutes in a cold, rainy country, nor a guy who likes to travel long distances (in a cold, rainy country). But it is fun enough that I daydream of changing my whole lifestyle to better accommodate the bike. If I win the lottery, I will move to Galveston and buy a Scrambler 1100.

Does the Ducati Scrambler 1100 put a grin on my face?
Yes – a big, stupid, ridiculous grin. Ducati seems to have the magic touch when it comes to bikes that make you hoot into the wind.

Is the Ducati Scrambler 1100 better than my current motorcycle, a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX?
It’s certainly better at looking and sounding cool, and at not being a colossal pain in the ass to push around in a garage, but otherwise, no. It’s simply not as practical and well suited to doing all the things I want from a motorcycle. I’d like to own a Ducati, but a different one.

Rider Stats

Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch tall
Build: Lanky
Riding experience: Daily commuting, regular touring

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2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100