One man’s Scrambler is another man’s cafe racer. What? I don’t really know. Scrambler maybe means something different in Italy, where that nomenclature encompasses entry-level Ducs with off-roady aspirations as well as cafe raceresque ones. What they all have in common is a two-valve per cylinder version of Ducati’s classic air-cooled V-twin, ranging in size from 399 cc all the way up to the 1079 cc of this lovely new 1100 Sport PRO Ducati loaned us for a few days. I’m down. I’ve been a big fan of air-cooled Ducatis since before there were liquid-cooled Ducatis.
This latest L-twin is now Euro 5-compliant and completely ride-by-wire, with impeccable fueling and a few ride modes – Active, Journey and City – all of them perfectly acceptable and their differences barely perceptible (City lowers engine output a bit). The six-speed gearbox is a thing of beauty so slick it doesn’t need a quickshifter, and there’s a nice, light hydraulic-activated slipper clutch to boot. With the powertrain dialled, then, the 1100 Sport PRO is kind of a rolling fiesta of Ducati style.
In fact, the 1100 Sport PRO here and slightly different 1100 PRO were both the subject of a big confab at the famed Art Center College of Design in Pasadena back in February, where students were invited to design the Ducati Scrambler of the future, with the most original proposal taking one of them to the Ducati Design Centre for a training internship – an event attended by world soccer icon and passionate motorcyclist, Alessandro Del Piero.
Your basic 1100 PRO is distinguished by its: black steel trellis frame, rear aluminum subframe and aluminum side covers. A new right-side dual tailpipe and low-slung plate holder provide distinctive rear-end styling advertised to give the bike “a coiled, compact” look. “Another hallmark,” says Ducati, “is the round headlight; inspired by the protective adhesive tape used back in the 1970s, a black metal “X” has been incorporated inside the headlight. This is a detail that makes the bike instantly identifiable, even with the lights off.”
In addition to that, our 1100 Sport PRO also gets a matte black color scheme, Öhlins suspension, and a low aluminum handlebar mounting café racer mirrors at either end.
Swinging a leg over, Sir-Alan style, and blasting off down the lane is easy enough, since the stylish brown vinyl seat is claimed to be a mere 31.9 inches off the deck but feels lower. The handlebar feels lower too; it’s what Harley-Davidson would call flat, dragster-style. With the midmount footpegs, you’re crouched there waiting for the ref to blow the whistle to start wrestling somebody. For 5’8” me, that slight forward crouch isn’t at all bad and the faster you dial up the airflow, the more not-bad it gets.
The seat’s pretty swell and seems like it would make passengers just as happy. The Öhlins suspension does nice work soaking up small chop, but bigger hits can still deliver sharp blows through the cantilevered rear shock. Both ends are said to give 5.9 inches of wheel travel. On smooth pavement, it all works very well right up until you ask yourself why they’d put Pirelli MT60 tires on this particular Scrambler, which with its low handlebar feels much more cafe racer? (The other Scrambler 1100 Pro has a higher handlebar.)
The MT60s will be nice enough to have on dirt roads, but on pavement they’re a tad vague-feeling, don’t encourage you to rush up and lick the edge of the performance envelope – and the powerful Brembo calipers and big discs up front have more power than the front tire can handle; luckily there’s good lean-sensitive ABS, because when you’re upright it’s not hard to lock the front wheel and feel ABS kick in. Kick off, actually. Off-road, you can’t turn the ABS off, so probably not a good idea to head down any steep hills.
Really, this particular Scrambler reminds me of nothing so much as the Monster 1200S we rode last year, the biggest difference being that the Monster made 132 horsepower to the Scrambler’s 74, and way more torque too. Otherwise, size, ergonomics and even suspension travel are nearly the same between the two bikes. At 457 pounds gassed up, the Scrambler is about 16 lbs lighter than the Monster, probably mostly due to it not having a liquid cooling system – though it does have a pretty prominent oil radiator. Surprisingly, prices aren’t even that far apart, the Monster being only a couple G’s more than the $15,495 Scrambler. We’ve strayed away from our humble entry-level beginnings with this one.
(caption) 74 horses aren’t that many, but the 64 foot-pounds of torque at just 5100 rpm gives really nice meaty midrange.
At the end of the day, this motorcycle’s kind of a mixed kettle of calamari. It’s a Scrambler whose only scramblery item is its tires, which are exactly the thing that hobble it as a cafe racer/ sportbike. But if we’re actually talking about just scrambling mostly around the urban maze and down the occasional dirt road on the way to Coachella, if performance is less important than the coolness of the overall package, then no one can deny this is a cool Ducati in the same idiom as the BMW R9T and Triumph’s classic collection; high fashion layered atop yesteryear’s mechanicals.
The lack of cooling apparatus on the left side of the bike, though, and the full frontal cooling fins, almost makes up for the lack of horsepower: With only 74 of them, this 1079 cc twin can’t keep up with a 790 Duke on the straights. Or in the corners.
It feels like kind of a Sportster Italiano. Harley’s been throwing different footpegs and handlebars on its Sportster for years to see what sticks; this Ducati 1100 Sport PRO lines up closest with the current Roadster version of the Sportster (which lists for $4000 less). Hmmm, have they ever made a Scrambler Sportster? If you really want to scramble, Triumph’s 1200 XE costs about the same money but has 9.8 inches of suspension at both ends and more power; the 1200 XC has a bit less travel but brings the seat back down.
As soon as I saw this Ducati, though, I instantly thought about a favorite bike of mine, the Indian FTR1200. I guess it’s the tires and the exhaust system. That bike’s also got knobby-looking (Dunlop) tires (19-/18-inch), a cantilevered rear shock, identical 5.9-in suspension travel front and rear – but it’s also got a 1203 cc V-twin that made 113 horses on our dyno, a much lower price tag for the base model, and ahem, cruise control. The FTR makes this Ducati look positively stone age.
But then, the FTR’s also got a plastic gas tank and it’s not Italian, which may be more important considerations for attracting Art Center College of Design buyers. And if part of the brief is to simplify, then yes, air-cooling and two-valve heads are better than four. I always loved the midrange intensity of the two-valvers, but now that it’s 2020, even this 1079 cc unit is beginning to wheeze a bit at altitude. Hurling one more spitball from the cheap seats, $15k just seems like a lot for a bike not terribly removed from the Monster Ducati began hawking in what, 1993? Heated grips are optional, but there is a USB under the seat so your Insta feed need never be interrupted. We like this Ducati, we don’t love it.
|2020 Ducati 1100 Sport PRO Specifications|
|Engine Type||1079 cc air-cooled 90-degree V-twin, SOHC, 2 valves/cylinder, desmodromic actuation|
|Bore and Stroke||98mm x 71mm|
|Rear Wheel Horsepower||74.3 hp @ 6800 rpm|
|Torque||63.7 lb-ft @ 5100 rpm|
|Front Suspension||48mm Öhlins inverted fork with spring preload, rebound and compression damping adjustability; 5.9-in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||Öhlins monoshock, spring preload, rebound damping adjustability; 5.9-in travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 320mm discs, Brembo Monobloc M4.32 4-piston calipers, Bosch Cornering ABS|
|Rear Brake||245 mm disc, 1-piston floating caliper, Bosch Cornering ABS|
|Front Tire||Pirelli MT60RS 120/80-ZR18|
|Rear Tire||Pirelli MT60RS 180/55-ZR17|
|Rake/Trail||24.5 deg/4.4 in (111mm)|
|Wheelbase||59.6 in (1514mm)|
|Seat Height||31.9 in (810mm)|
|Wet weight (MO scales)||457 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity||3.96 US gal|
|Observed fuel economy||41 mpg|
|Warranty||24 months, transferable, unlimited-mileage|