Test rides

2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 – First Ride

Triumph seeks to reclaim its scrambler crown with a tech-laden off-road-ready beast

Yet another scrambler. For motorcyclists and moto-journos alike, the last couple of years at least have felt like Groundhog Day. Scrambler this, scrambler that. Joy this, Authentic that, Heritage the other. Blah blah blah. So, of course, it was a breath of fresh air to see what might be a “proper” scrambler being announced, unveiled, and then launched by Triumph.

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OK, so Ducati’s Desert Sled exists, but that’s possibly the only thing in the scrambler category that’ll even get close to holding a candle to Triumph’s new Scrambler 1200. Rather than being a run of the mill scrambler (de-tuned road bikes dressed down a bit and fitted with dual-sport tyres, which, paradoxically, really aren’t intended for scrambling at all), Triumph says the Scrambler 1200 is an “adventure scrambler.” It’ll eat the others for breakfast before picking up the front wheel and disappearing off into the distance to find the rockiest, muddiest, sludgiest trails around.

Three years ago, Triumph decided to embark upon an “all bets are off” effort to retake what it must’ve perceived to be some lost ground. Triumph considers itself the owner of the scrambler space, and constantly makes reference to Steve McQueen and his cohorts doing all that mad stuff in the deserts all those years ago.

Speaking as an early 30s millennial, that was roughly two decades before I was even born, so I find it all a bit hard to buy into. It feels like when you’re told something is cool, or when you’re forced to join one of those cringey “fun” days at work. When does that ever work out? Indeed, you need to be in your late 50s to mid 60s to properly remember or identify with the marketing here. Make of that what you will.

2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE

You Say Eck-see, I Say Ecks-ee

Anyway, the Scrambler 1200. In case you’ve somehow missed all the hype, it’s a f**k-off big motorbike and simultaneously a giant middle finger to Ducati, BMW, maybe even Indian with its FTR1200, Honda and its Africa Twin, and maybe Moto Guzzi’s V85 and Yamaha’s “2019 sometime, we promise” Ténéré 700. It’s got properly big suspension travel, loads of ground clearance, that brilliant looking side exhaust, a skinny 21-inch front tyre/wheel (and a 17-inch rear) and more tech than you can shake a selfie-stick at.

There are two models, both of which, when spoken, sound identical: the XC and the XE. The names make listening to someone compare the two very difficult: “Wait, sorry, did you say Ex-see or Ex-eee?”

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The XE’s the Mad-Max badass (extreme) version (£12,300) with more suspension travel (250mm vs 200mm) and, by extension, a higher seat height (870mm vs 840mm). It has a six-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU), a longer swing arm than the XC, hand guards, and heated grips as standard. The XC (£11,500) lacks the IMU and doesn’t offer the XE’s “Off road pro” rider mode. It has a shorter swing arm and 50mm less suspension travel, as well as subtle visual differences: a different bezel colour around the headlight, a slightly softer, differently coloured seat, and non-adjustable footpegs, amongst other minutiae.

Subtly different: 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC

‘It’s a f**k-off big motorbike’

Both models have an abundance of technology and Triumph is keen to stress that it’s using the second-generation TFT dashboard screen – presumably the first wasn’t without its teething issues. It’s a nice looking unit, and, as with all other TFT-equipped Triumphs, has more configurability than the International Space Station – different displays, different themes – plus GoPro and Google Maps turn-by-turn integrations via an optional Bluetooth accessory module.

There are six riding modes (five on the XC) available: Road, Rain, Sport, Off Road, Off Road Pro and Rider. That last one allows you to configure a map to your liking. Off Road Pro disables traction control and ABS completely, whereas plan ol’ Off Road keeps both systems active and tries to learn your off-road style as you go. Theoretically, Off Road allows you to spin the rear and lock the brakes if you show enough intention.

Only the XE has cornering ABS and traction control. Both models have a USB charger-thingy under the seat and (grit teeth your teeth and curse now) both have that seriously annoying keyless ignition system. I’d like a zeroth generation of that system, i.e., a key. And on that tedious note, both also have that “joystick” control (in)conveniently positioned right under the indicator switch, which is both fiddly and frustrating to use. It’s the thing you need to navigate the uber-sophisticated dashboard menu system.

Someone stole Grandad’s favourite M&S shirt…

So advanced – and perhaps over-featured – is this second generation software that you can even configure a customised welcome message when you turn the bike on: “Good morning, Dickhead!”

The frame is unique to the Scrambler 1200, as is the tune on the 1200cc parallel twin that we’re so used to seeing (It’s the engine used in the Bonneville T120, Bobber, Speedmaster, Thruxton and – soon – Speed Twin). Unique also are the shock absorbers, which Triumph had Öhlins develop exclusively.

Stuart Wood, Triumph’s chief engineer, shrugged off the fact the Scrambler 1200 “only” makes 89 bhp as he educated us to what he and his team of boffins have done to the engine. Basically, they lightened the hell out of it, removed as much inertia as possible from the spinny bits, and engineered in a tonne of torque. I’m with Stuart on this one; I don’t really care how much power this thing makes. But I do care that it makes 110 Nm (81 lb-ft) of torque at 3,950 rpm. And I do care that it makes 102 Nm of that right from 2,500 rpm – as, I suspect, will you. That’s 39 percent more torque than the Street Scrambler from a very similar looking curve. 

KEEP READING: 2018 Triumph Street Scrambler – Ride Review

To look at, the Scrambler 1200 is… um… interesting. When I first saw it I spent a good minute or two trying to figure out how I felt about it. I ended up deciding the bike has uncanny parallels to a pubescent schoolboy trudging to school in the morning. Picture those lads you see wearing a mix of school uniform that does and doesn’t fit: shoes too big, trousers too short, still growing into that shirt, and shoulders too big for that blazer.

2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC

‘The bike has uncanny parallels to a pubescent schoolboy’

I’m not sure about the small headlight; I prefer the bigger units on the rest of the Bonneville range. (I asked Triumph why it’s small – it’s aesthetic apparently.) It’s a bike of three thirds: the front third is all off-road, the middle third is Bonneville with a random bash plate, and the final third is monster truck. Just look at those friggin’ shock absorbers!

Thankfully, once you’re sitting on it the looks don’t really matter. I’m 5 feet 9 inches tall and I can cope with the XE’s seat height (again, 870mm), but given some uneven ground things get a little tricky. At 6 feet tall, though, you’d have no issues. The slightly shorter XC, meanwhile, is a doddle and didn’t present me with any awkward moments at all.

Everything’s where you’d expect it to be. Cruise control is crucially on the left handlebar along with the joystick thingy and mode button. Note that the XE has a span and ratio and adjustable brake lever. This is a typically Triumph cockpit with decent build quality (continued the entire bike over), a nice recessed strip down the tank, big risers on the yokes, and back-lit switches. I noticed, as well, that the what I’m going to call “dual circle” dashboard design mimics the ratio of the bezel on the headlight. 

Tiny headlight is tiny

Off-Roading Joy

First things first, at the press launch we were to immediately head out onto a not-so-flat flat track to get our bearings. Ever the optimist, I’d opted for an XE. And here it comes: I’ve basically never ridden off-road before. Gulp. Mountain biking yes, and lots of it, but never on anything with an engine.

More than I ever imagined translates across the two disciplines, and I was fairly happy with the XE moving around under me. I was also staggered by the amount of grip on offer from the handbook-approved Pirelli Scorpion tyres.

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Now, clearly, I can’t give you an experienced off-roader’s opinion on how good the XE (or indeed XC) are off road, but perhaps a lot of customers will be starting from the exact same place as me. So, if anything, I might actually be a good test subject. We spent the day off road: fire trails, tracks, rocky ravines, puddle-strewn lanes, and all sorts came our way, with a bit of light tuition thrown in. This part of Portugal, near Odemira in the southern part of the country, is stunning and an off-roader’s paradise. Before too long my group was motoring along at 25-30 mph, sometimes up to 40 mph, on completely unpaved tracks – with slower, more technical bits thrown in too, of course. Using a mixture of sitting down and standing up we spent a lot of time riding it completely on the torque in 2nd and 3rd gear.

The bike also works well on Portuguese roads

Through claggy mud the skinny front tyre cuts nicely and the entire bike just floats over the dry stuff. While I didn’t use the full amount of suspension travel on either bike, the XC felt a bit more twitchy (steering angle, I suppose) and that’s all my novice ability can say about the XC compared to the XE. I can’t tell you whether the XE’s 207 kg or XC’s 205 kg dry weight felt light or heavy, although I imagine a 250cc motocross bike would feel a heck of a lot different. I will say, though, that I didn’t struggle with the weight or seat height on the slower, more technical bits, nor when spinning the bikes around for photos.

Anyway, it was a real rush, and I remember muttering under my breath that I was having nearly as much fun as I would on a track day (Watch the video above, you’ll hear Jake more than just mutter his approval – CC). The XE will take huge, huge ruts and potholes completely in its stride thanks to that suspension travel. You end up aiming for holes just to giggle as you smash through them.

2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE

‘Fun? Yes. Huge, genuine, whooping and hollering amounts of fun.’

I used off-road mode almost exclusively, and it does a great job of letting you feel like a pro (even though I am a complete novice), allowing the wheel to spin, then pulling everything back into line when things get sideways. It puts a grin on your face every time, especially if you’re covering the rider behind you in muck as you do it. And the ABS modulates so well that you can pull at the front brake almost as if you were on tarmac. One thing’s for sure though, switching to Off Road Pro made me feel like a right noob.

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Fun? Yes. Huge, genuine, whooping and hollering amounts of fun. I hate the word “fun”, but that’s what it was. As sure as the sun will rise in the morning, I’ll be doing some more of this off-road lark. You should, too!

Perhaps counterintuitively the better road bike is the more affordable one

On the Road

On-road is a totally different experience, obviously, and something I can offer far more useful opinion on. I opted for the XC here. The weather was forecast to be extremely wet all morning. And it was! Not to worry, though; I’m British, after all, and was only in a group consisting of Ross Sharp (Bike Shed), and Simon Hargreaves (RiDE), with, er, Gary Johnson (Lunatic Asylum) leading.

We were let loose on the N2, which runs from Estoi up to Almodovar (and beyond), and you’ll find this road regularly referenced in guides to the best motorcycling in Portugal. And what a stunning road it is. Endless corners with good visibility, great tarmac and no traffic. The pace was beyond stupid, even in the wet, but the XC did better than you’d think. With less suspension travel, a steeper rake, and a shorter swing arm, the more affordable Scrambler 1200 does an admirable job of tipping into corners quickly and gives lots of good feedback. Third gear was just the ticket, even when pulling out of tight corners, despite the occasional temptation to slip down into 2nd (If you do that, you sacrifice the low down torque and end up slower coming out the other side).

The work Triumph’s engineers have done to lighten up the engine can certainly be felt in comparison to the Thruxton; the Scrambler 1200’s eager to rev up and, I think, feels more powerful than it really is. And the exhaust note is to die for. Quite how it gets through Euro4 is beyond me.

Jake breaks the fourth wall

The engine seems to get a bit breathless beyond 6,500 rpm (the redline is at 7,500), but fuelling’s almost telepathic. Despite big suspension travel, the XC doesn’t pitch into corners too much, and the Brembo M50 brakes only ever required one finger’s worth of tug on the lever. On that note, I was aghast that Triumph would fit such powerful calipers to 320mm discs. I recall on the Street Triple 765 launch commenting that the M50s on the RS model are far too powerful for the road. But they work well on the Scrambler 1200. I think that’s simply down to the fact the front wheel is larger and therefore requires more power to stop. It could also be down to pad compound, though…

I didn’t really feel the need for Sport mode here: Road mode was plenty good enough, and was also my choice in the pissing wet, Rain mode being far, far too conservative. I think the utterly superb Metzeler Tourance tyres might’ve had a helping hand in that. The grip they offer in the wet, let alone the dry, is staggering.

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The gearbox is a thing of beauty and barely requires any clutch; it’ll shift clutchless up and down without any complaints. Gary Johnson commented the same thing. As usual with modern Triumphs, there’s a torque-assist action to the lever, meaning it’s pleasantly light to use. And some degree of slip is allowed, which enables aggressive downshifts if you want. MPG, as tested, was 47.8, but bear in mind we were riding like absolute tools: Triumph claim 58 mpg.

I swapped back to the XE for some parts of the road ride and found it far more “boingy” than the XC, with a fair amount more movement when braking into corners and accelerating out. The steering’s a tad slower, as well. That’ll be the elongated swing arm and more relaxed rake angle up front. I suspect stiffening the suspension (it’s fully adjustable, front and rear) would bring the XE and XC within a whisker of each other. But, still, for what it is, it’s also remarkably good on a technical road. Naked roadsters and sports bikes would leave both of these scramblers behind fairly quickly, but that goes without saying. 

Fun.

What’s Not So Good?

What don’t I like? Well, I think both models should come with a centre stand given their intended use, and I’ve already had a dig at the keyless ignition – which is a right faff – and the joystick control. Heat from the side exhaust is definitely an issue, for your calf on the XE and for your thigh on the XC. I also don’t like the endless amounts of modes you can change the dashboard into, but in fairness, it’s the kind of thing you set and forget.

The fact Triumph calls this an “adventure scrambler” needs a bit of thought. It’s “adventure” in the sense that you can take it where you could take, say, a BMW R 1250 GS. You’d probably tackle harder terrain, while going faster, and be more likely to pick the Scrambler 1200 up after a fall. In fact, the XE has more suspension travel than a KTM 1290 Super Adventure.

But where the Scrambler 1200s fall down is their long distance road trip ability, or lack thereof. The absence of wind protection, luggage carrying ability, combined with limited tank range (16-liter capacity) puts paid to that side of adventure. You’ll have to do the maths on whether a Scrambler 1200 suits your on-road/off-road needs without being too much of a compromise. More trails? XE. More roads? XC. 

Unnecessary feature is unnecessary

Verdict

Anyway, do I want one? Yeah, I do. I’d have an XE in a heartbeat, but for none of the reasons Triumph’s marketing team want me to want one, and all of the reasons their engineering department want me to. I couldn’t give a flying fig about all the Steve McQueen, Go Pro or Google Maps stuff. An awesome chassis, a brilliant engine, fun in the twisties, proper off-road ability, a fantastic sound track and loads of tech is what I care about, and that’s what both Scrambler 1200s offer.

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Just promise me this: if you buy one, for god’s sake take it off road. To use one exclusively on the black stuff would be a crying shame. Alternatively, fit 17-inch rims and slick tyres, and go full on supermotard.

The Scrambler 1200 is great on the road, but don’t limit yourself

Rider Stats

Rider: Jake Barnes
Height: 5 feet 9 inches
Build: Wily

Helmet: Bell Moto III
Goggles: Oxford Fury
Upper Armor: Knox Urbane Shirt (worn under Grandad’s shirt)
Jeans: Furygan Jean 03
Boots: Dainese Torque D1 (on road) | TCX X-Helium (off road)
Gloves: Racer Windy