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WORLD LAUNCH TRIUMPH STREET SCRAMBLER | Bike Tests | Latest Tests | Top Sellers in Australia

Will the real street scrambler please stand up?

With the debut of the latest version of its twin-cylinder Street Scrambler, Triumph has taken another long look in its corporate rearview mirror and homed in on one of the most successful models in its 1960s classic-era line-up: the go-anywhere Trophy
street enduro.

For all the hullabaloo when Ducati launched its Scrambler sub-brand back in 2014, many people overlooked that it was actually Triumph that invented the street scrambler category back in 1949 with the TR5 Trophy. This powered Triumph’s expansion in the US and was followed up by a bike that for many is still the most alluring of the many different models in the British brand’s twin-cylinder back catalogue, the 650cc Bonneville-based TR6C Trophy Special.

With its two-tone paint scheme and those stacked high-level twin exhausts running down the left side of the bike – as well as a smaller fuel tank, chunky sump guard, high-rise ’bars, 19-inch front wheel and knobbly tyres – the TR6C shouted James Dean and the Sunset Strip, hollered Ray-Bans and Hawaiian Tropic, and grooved to the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. It was a true go-anywhere bike, ideally tailored for the many unpaved or poorly surfaced roads that still existed out west in the Land of the Free’s pre-Interstate era. And, thanks in no small part to Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins (see breakout), it became a legend.

John Bloor’s men had already reinvented the TR5/TR6 Trophy in a modern context back in 2006, with the first-series T100-powered 865cc Scrambler model. Its John Mockett styling brilliantly captured the various design cues of the original version and kickstarted the current fashion for tarmac scramblers – a sector subsequently (re-)embraced eight years later by not only by Ducati but also BMW and even Moto Guzzi. Aside from the addition of fuel injection and some minor changes, Triumph’s scrambler has remained largely the same ever since.

Now it has been updated to the new 2017 Street Scrambler model, based on the 900cc Street Twin introduced a year ago as the first step in the company’s comprehensive overhaul of its Bonneville twin-cylinder range. With more than 150,000 such bikes built in the 16 years since the born-again Bonneville’s 2000 launch, this represents one of the core products of the British marque’s line-up, presently responsible for as much as one-third of its annual sales (a record 56,253 in 2016, up from 53,812 the previous year). For 2017, the Bonneville line-up comprises 10 models on two distinct platforms, designed and developed in the UK at Triumph’s Hinckley base and manufactured in Thailand at the company’s three factories south of Bangkok.

Costing $15,900, the new Triumph is more expensive than the entry-level Ducati Scrambler Classic by $410, but less costly than Ducati’s more rugged new $16,990 Desert Sled, or the twice as powerful BMW R nineT Scrambler. which

at its $19,150 starting price isn’t really a direct competitor like the Ducatis surely are.

After hitting showrooms in February, the new Street Scrambler will carry Triumph’s hopes for similar sales success to the outgoing 865cc model, 17,000 examples of which have been sold in the past decade. So what has changed?

Well, the company’s engineering team, headed by Stuart Wood, has taken the Street Twin introduced a year ago and retuned its water-cooled parallel-twin 900cc motor for a greater spread of torque, while also revamping the chassis for notional dual-purpose use by repositioning the footpegs for easier off-road riding and fitting longer rear shocks. However, with just 120mm of travel at either end from its Kayaba suspension, not a huge amount of ground clearance and a strictly cosmetic plastic sump guard, the new model is essentially a roadbike.

That said, while the suspension is too hard and short-travel to cope with any serious bumps or potholes, it’s perfectly adept at handling loose-surfaced dirt roads, as proved by an hour riding around the original Rio Tinto mine north-west of Seville during a 200km ride out into Spain’s southern province of Andalusia, where Triumph’s press launch for the Street Scrambler was held. Iron ore, copper, silver and gold have all been mined here over the past 3000 years, and the new Triumph was an ideal mount to explore its technicolour rock strata via shale tracks.

When you stand upright, your right foot gets pushed to the end of the rest by the exhaust’s heat shield, but there’s still a great sense of control. This is aided by a light clutch-lever action that also made riding the bike in stop-start Seville traffic both untroubling and untiring. So too did the precise, light-action gearchange, which is far better than the previous Scrambler’s much notchier shift action.

Smooth, controllable pick-up from a closed throttle is also a huge help. This denotes superior fuelling with Triumph’s EFI, especially compared to the rival Ducati’s much snatchier pick-up in the bottom two gears – a problem that wasn’t fixed in the desmo V-twin model’s first two years of production, though I haven’t yet ridden a 2017 version. When it comes to smooth, supple torque delivered in a flexible, forgiving manner, the Triumph is clearly the class paragon.

Just as well, as the Street Scrambler is a model where convenience and cool will arguably be more important to customers than actual performance.

The zestful snap of the original McQueen-era TR6C dirt sled, as manifested in The Great Escape, has been replaced by laid-back look-at-me boulevard brio more redolent of the Triumph Tiger 100 used by Warren Beatty’s hairdresser character to zap around LA from one female conquest customer to another a decade later in Shampoo.

Triumph has equipped the Street Scrambler with the lowest-spec version of its revamped family of parallel-twin motors, which produces 40.5kW at 6000rpm, but 80Nm of torque, peaking as low as 2850 revs and holding steady until
almost 5000rpm, when it only gradually starts to fall away.

This means that holding third gear out of the five available – and I never once found myself searching for a non-existent sixth ratio – will take you almost anywhere you want to go, at whatever speed, until you hit the open road.

The huge flexibility of the 900cc motor makes the Street Scrambler chic and convenient for city use as a commuter, bar-hopper or delivery bike, with what you’d call sufficient rather than sporty performance, but so-cool as well as so-retro looks.

Its natural habitat isn’t anywhere off road, but rather city streets, especially traffic-clogged roads where you can use its easy clutch action, responsive but controllable throttle, light and immediate steering, wide (831mm) handlebar and skinny 19-inch front tyre to plot an ideal course through rush-hour traffic with the help of the upright riding position.

Seat height is perfectly judged to be just low enough to sling a leg over easily at rest, but just high enough to see over car roofs and plan where you’re going once you’re aboard.

It also rather surprisingly has a snuggle-down factor that was missing from the outgoing model, where you felt overly perched on top of the bike and not a part of it.

The new bike’s upright riding position, taller suspension compared to the Street Twin, and wide ’bar make it a formidable and fun traffic weapon. Just don’t expect to out-accelerate a Ducati Scrambler away from traffic lights because at 213kg dry (versus 191kg for the Ducati) the Street Scrambler is pretty porky, even if it hides its weight well in terms of handling.

The sound of the Street Scrambler is now as satisfying as its Scrambler forebear’s muted murmur was disappointing. The stacked crossover exhausts give a satisfyingly rorty response when you twist the wrist, while at the same time looking good and meeting Euro 4 compliance. Kudos to Triumph. Plus, the heatshield does actually protect the inside of your right leg in a way that the outgoing Scrambler’s guard largely failed to do.

However, while the controls are very light and easy to use (especially the clutch), the single front 310mm disc with its twin-piston caliper gives barely adequate bite in stopping a bike weighing a hefty 213kg dry from speed on the highway. Meanwhile, its 255mm rear companion gives effective but not excessive braking when you step on its lever – a level that’s ideal for off-road use.

Faced with the open road, the Street Scrambler’s excellent low-down torque lets you gear up and go. It has the mid-range oomph that its predecessor was lacking, allowing you to accelerate smartly into a gap in the traffic at 80 km/h.

It will be an ideal tool for the Paris Periphérique or the San Diego Freeway at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, then when the traffic clears the Scrambler’s optimum cruising speed is a relaxed 120km/h, with the engine turning over at exactly 4000rpm. And it will comfortably do the ton (160km/h in metric) if you’re really prepared to hold on tight enough. Which not many customers will want to do – they’ll prefer to just go with the flow till they come to a snarl-up, then use the Scrambler’s easy steering and that ideal view ahead over cars which its stance provides to jink a way through. This will be an ideal ride-to-work traffic tool.

Outside town on the open road, the Street Scrambler carves corners with zest and brio – its steering is neutral and predictable, and the wide ’bar gives plenty of leverage as you flick the bike from side to side with heaps of confidence. It feels balanced and nimble in a way its predecessor never did, and that’s surely down to the sharper steering geometry.

In Triumph’s now totally revamped twin-cylinder range, the new Street Scrambler is in many ways a 900cc option to the equally new 1200cc Bobber. Both are brilliantly styled and well-engineered, but with contrasting levels of engine performance. I forecast that the Bobber will initially outsell the Street Scrambler, but its sales will then taper off as its dynamic looks become, well, not exactly commonplace, but still increasingly usual. The Street Scrambler on the other hand will sell steadily and constantly. Five years from now it’ll be interesting to see which one has won in terms of overall sales.

But both are excellent motorcycles – so, which one’s for you?

TEST ALAN CATHCART PHOTOGRAPHY MATTEO CAVADINI & ALESSIO BARBANTI