Categories: Ducati Features
December 10, 2014
| On 8 years ago

Ducati Scrambler Retrospective

Today we’re getting our first crack testing Ducati’s new Scrambler, one of the most talked-about motorcycles of 2015. Some say its all-purpose design perfectly suits their requirements for a retro-themed-but-modern motorcycle, and Ducati tells us initial demand has been huge. Naysayers, however, deride the new Scrambler’s inadequacies for use on dirt trails, asserting that its 800cc V-Twin makes it too heavy when compared to Ducati’s single-cylinder Scramblers from the 1960s and ’70s. So, as we enter a new era of Bologna-built Scramblers, we’re taking a look back at the first-generation models to gain some historical perspective. -Ed.

Fifty years have drifted by since I first laid lustful eyes on a Ducati Scrambler. My friend Hank worked for a Saab dealer who also sold Ducati, Suzuki and Marusho motorcycles. (Making a fortune was obviously not his highest priority.)

Discuss this at our Ducati Scrambler Forum.

Anyway, the Suzuki X6 Hustler upped our heart rate, as did the Ducati Mach 1. Of course, we had to put a few break-in miles on them. But it was the Ducati 250 Scrambler that got the hormones hopping, even though it was no match for the competition-only two-strokes from Spain and Japan. The Duc was more quarter-Sportster than dirt-track racer, but still gobs of fun.

Here’s a shot of 1965 Ducati 250 Scrambler, bone-stock aside from a 12-volt electrical system and electronic ignition. Owner George Betzhold has it geared to top out about 75 mph and uses it ”with impunity” on paved and dirt roads. The owner of several vintage and modern Ducati V-Twins, George says, “It’s probably the bike that delivers the most fun.”

By 1965, its fourth year of production, the Scrambler added a gearbox ratio to create a 5-speed transmission, and still included a competition kit with spare cables, extra front and three rear sprockets, and solid struts to replace the shocks for short-track dirt use. And a hinky muffler for street use if necessary.

But by that time, the level of the game had risen sharply. More riders were forsaking flat track and TT scrambles for motocross. My Bultaco Sherpa 175 Scrambler was swapped for a 250 Pursang. The enduro and dual-purpose markets still grew incrementally, with the efforts of John Penton and others, but motocross ruled.

The last iteration of the original Ducati Scrambler family was the 450 R/T, here in motocross trim for testing. The Doctor of Desmology himself, Fabio Taglioni (wearing shades),discusses the machine with the corporate chiefs. Longtime development rider/racer, Franco Farne, wears NCR race shop work clothes with the slogan “Scuderia Speedy Gonzales.” The 450 had a desmo valvetrain and weighed 285 lbs wet.

The weapons from the Japanese Big Four, plus Husqvarna, CZ, Bultaco, Montesa, Ossa and Maico, virtually put true scramblers behind the barn. But street scramblers remained on most manufacturer’s rosters, and the Ducati, in varying 250, 350 and 450cc configurations, would stay in production for 10 years.

The 1962-64 4-speed Scramblers, commonly called “narrow-case” models, are sometimes still seen at vintage races. This custom is one of several owned by Ed Sensenig of Pennsylvania.

The Singles grew steadily less dirt-oriented, and by the ‘70s, Ducati’s racing efforts focused almost exclusively on its V-Twin. The payoff came with the famous Imola road race victory in 1972 – the Superbike era had begun, and the on/off-road market was left to others.

John Tunstall, #36, puts his Ducati Scrambler inside a Bultaco Astro in a flat-track race. He gets some help from his dad, Malcolme, former Superbiker racer, and grandpa Syd. Syd’s Cycles of St. Petersburg, FL, has been a Ducati specialist since the beginning of time.

But in another dozen years, the bevel-drive era itself would end, and new owner Cagiva decided to join the sphere of popular Paris/Dakar-style trailies with the Elefant. With 650 and 750cc Ducati Pantah engines housed in box-section perimeter frames, with Ohlins shock and Marzocchi fork, the Elefant was a serious instrument of off-road velocity. It’s on the porky side, but you could ride it to work, or across the country.

The Cagiva Elefant, with “Soft Damp” suspension, grew within five years to a brawny 900cc rally bike, ridden to victory in the 1990 Paris/Dakar event by Edi Orioli. The production dual-adventure-sport-scrambler-touring-trailie was dubbed the 900e. Subsequently, the stylish Gran Canyon. emerged, which would effectively be the last Ducati “scrambler.” Until now, 15 years and a few Ducati corporate owners later.

One other anomaly in the fettuccine should be mentioned here, which was the brief but glorious appearance in 1993 of the only “modern” Ducati single – the Supermono. A halved Twin, the custom roadracer had a production run of just 67, at $30,000 per. It was beautiful. It was fast. And it was gone. The last one recently posted for sale had an asking price of $150,000.

Sixty-one horsepower, 280 pounds wet. The Supermono was a tour de force of reverse engineering. Is there some reason that such work couldn’t be applied to, say, a 315-pound scrambler, with perhaps 50 horsepower? A bit more flywheel, maybe. Just enough in the way of accessories to make it street legal?

The veteran Ducatisti have been quite twitterpated over the long-rumored, leaked and teased Scrambler model. Now, with its arrival, both the nit-picking and the compliments have gone up a couple gears. Many of the early skeptics have admitted it looks better than they thought it would. Among the nits: Handlebars are wrong; ugly tank; no skid plate; no high pipe; wrong wheels. Of course, these litanies of lament accompany the release of every new motorcycle and maintain a fairly consistent ratio of the astute to the inane.

A Termignoni high pipe is on the way, and carbon fiber heat shields are sure to follow. Now if they could just get that rear header pipe out of harm’s way.

Ducati appears to be trading on its heritage with respect here, which is likely to pay off in both sales and good will. The standard roadster market has lately been invigorated, with almost every manufacturer serving that market in various ways. Now that Ducati’s Monster lineup has switched to liquid-cooled engines, it’s good to see its air-cooled V-Twin carry on in the Scrambler.

Having yet to see the new Scrambler in the metal, I can only comment on its stance or aesthetics based on photos. They indicate a simplicity of line and form uncharacteristic of some recent Ducati models, and the design package looks unified and functional. Less functional, at least for off-road trail use, are the mere suggestion of fenders on the Full Throttle and Icon models, which show function following form at some distance. On a moist day, at anything above walking speed, the rider will likely be splattered in road mung front and rear. The Urban Enduro version appears to make the most sense for a street scrambler.

Mike McGeachy’s ’66 Scrambler has a storied history: It became a hill climber in 1967, with an Erv Kanemoto-ported head, then saw considerable use as a desert racer, trail bike and commuter. Restored as a cafe racer, the engine was built by Syd’s Cycles with titanium valves and handmade aluminum rockers from the owner. McGeachy also made the carbon fiber tank, and added a 750 Sport seat/tail and a shortened Betor fork from a Montesa. Tidy.

However, like the Monster, the Scrambler will surely serve as an accessory platform for owners and custom builders far and wee. And who can logically argue against an 803cc V-Twin packed with a claimed 75 hp in a 400-lb bike with a rational riding position?

To me, it looks like a nice triple sport – suburban adventure, middleweight touring, commuter scrambler, which is to say, a good all-round motorcycle. I look forward to finding out. And to seeing the first one show up at a half-mile flat-track race.

While Ducati asserts that the new Scrambler is the logical extension of the original, it ain’t a 250 or even a 450. So the author labeled his own street/dirt scratcher in memory of the old Single, kinda like a tribute band. The Honda NX250 weighs 250 pounds and makes 25 horsepower at the rear wheel. And it makes Rafferty smile just like his old Ducati.

Rafferty is head cheerleader for Team Geezer, “Sworn to Swerve. Since 1963.” He also swerves as bartender and mascot for the Scar Canyon Scramblers (“Slide ‘Em if you Ride ‘Em”), and is drum major for the Bevelheads, a graying but not quite extinct band of traditional Ducatisti.

The Bevelheads, a virtual m/c club email list may be accessed at