Scramblers are the current craze in the custom bike scene, and now manfacturers are catching on too, with several releasing great-looking all-new scrambler models you can buy right off the showroom floor. But where did this style come from, and what really makes a “scrambler” different from other bikes anyway?
The Triumph Scrambler has all the attributes of a modern-day scrambler; vintage looks, knobby tires, high pipes, and a rugged, stripped down appearance.
If you follow the motorcycle industry the way we do, you know the hottest up-and-coming motorcycle style right now is the “scrambler.” This rugged, stripped down, vintage look is the latest craze in the custom bike building world, and now the big manufacturers are jumping in the scrambler game, with Ducati’s Scrambler becoming their hottest selling model in it’s first year out, and now others like BMW and Moto Guzzi following suit (and the word is, more are coming.) Scramblers are hot property in 2016 – but what exactly makes a scrambler a scrambler, anyway?
In this article, we’ll trace the DNA of the scrambler genre, show you what separates a scrambler from other similar styles, and show you how to buy or build your own if the scrambler look has stolen your heart. Check it out!
Where Did Scramblers Come From, Anyway?
Scramblers may seem like a new fad, but they’ve actually been around for a really long time. The “scramblers” you see becoming so popular now are a kind of “2.0 version” of the scrambler, a style resurrected from it’s heyday during the 1960’s and earlier.
The origin of scramblers is a lot like that of café racers, where club racers in the early twentieth century would take the standard, all-purpose motorcycles built at the time and modify them for maximum performance in their races. But where café racers would race a road course (“from one café to another,” as the story goes), scrambler races would take the fastest line between two points – yup, even if that meant driving through fields, over mud, through streams, and anywhere else!
Back in the day, there were no “dirt bikes”; you had to build your own out of a regular road bike, and that’s how the scrambler genre was born.
These “as the crow flies” race courses meant that the bikes had to be able to transition seamlessly from road to widely varying terrain, then back to road again. To make their bikes suitable for these all-terrain races, bikes were stripped down to shave weight for speed, given taller suspensions, fitted with spoked wheels and knobby tires, and high exhaust pipes for ground clearance (all essential components of the scrambler aesthetic to this day.) The style evolved over the decades, but as motocross racing grew in popularity in the 1960s, and manufacturers developed purpose-built dirt bikes for off-road racing, modifying road bikes into scramblers eventually died out.
Now you might be thinking “if scramblers were meant to switch seamlessly back and forth between pavement and off-road, wouldn’t the modern day equivalent of a scrambler be…a dual-sport?” If so, you would probably be right. These days, “scrambler” describes more of a look than a purpose; it’s a vintage bike style that captures the stripped-down, raw, nostalgic appeal of the scramblers of yesteryear, as opposed to being built to actually shred on- and off-road.
Steve McQueen, the king of cool, in one of his own famous scramblers; a Triumph TR6 race bike.
The Essential Ingredients for a Scrambler
If you want to build a scrambler, or just want a bike that looks the part, you have to become familiar with the scrambler “recipe.” Scramblers have a distinct look, and the essential components of a scrambler are:
- A torque air-cooled single or twin cylinder engine
- High mounted exhaust pipes for ground clearance
- Knobby, usually square-blocked tires on spoked wheels
- Dual rear shocks
- A short, padded seat
- A smaller-than-normal tank
- Mini-gauges and a small headlight
- An overall stripped down appearance
So You Want Your Own Scrambler…
The scrambler look is hot right now, and with good reason – they are handsome and nostalgic, but still have a rugged and fun look. Want to get a scrambler of your own? A few years ago, your only choice was buying a Triumph Bonneville “Scrambler” off the showroom floor, or busting out the tools and hitting up Craigslist to build your own. But these days, you have a lot more options.
If you want the convenience and reliability of getting a brand new bike with the scrambler aesthetic, you’re in luck; you have several options (and we think more are coming.) Check these out!
The bike that smashed onto the scene and made scramblers officially a “thing” in 2015, the Ducati Scrambler was actually a revamp of a 1960s model Ducati offered in the U.S. by the same name. Ducati did a great job with this bike; it has a great-looking vintage style offered in four variations, a powerful 75HP V-twin engine, and is a perfect all-around motorcycle for anything from urban cruising to canyon carving.
The only gripe about this bike being called a Scrambler is the placement of the pipes; purists criticize the bike for its lack of a high-mounted exhaust, which is considered an essential part of the scrambler DNA. But it’s a small knock on an otherwise awesome bike, and Ducati can barely keep these things in stock.
Triumph Bonneville Scrambler
The Triumph Bonneville Scrambler was introduced in 2006, and was the only production option available for anyone wanting a scrambler for nearly a decade. Built on the always-popular Bonneville platform, which already carved out its place as a new bike with vintage looks, the Scrambler was a natural evolution for the Bonneville and it has been a solid performer for Triumph. The down side? Triumph really nailed the scrambler aesthetic here, but not the scrambler performance; this bike is criticized for being pretty terrible for actual scrambling, being too heavy, too under-powered, and too undersprung for any traversing off-road (not like many scrambler owners go off-road anyway.)
Note: as of this year, the Triumph Scrambler is no longer it’s own separate model – it’s now offered only as a modification package on a regular Bonneville. (We’re not sure why, but we think an all new Scrambler could be the reason!)
Moto Guzzi V7 Stornello Scrambler
Like Triumph, Moto Guzzi has an already successful line of vintage-looking roadsters in the V7 line, and moving into scrambler territory was a natural progression. The Stornello Scrambler is a handsome bike with retro appeal, but a whole host of modern goodies like dual-channel ABS, traction control, and a 6-speed gearbox.
But while it has mad curb appeal, this particular Italian stallion probably won’t be taking you across any grassy meadows…it’s quite underpowered, cranking out only 48 horses with a weight of 410 pounds, and probably a little too fancy to do any actual scrambling. Another knock is the exhaust, which technically is a high-mount exhaust – it’s not done in a very visually appealing manner. But if a unique bike with a scrambler look is what you’re after, the Moto Guzzi definitely has potential.
BMW RnineT Scrambler
BMW knocked an unexpected home run with the introduction of the RnineT, a bike that broke almost all their own rules, but did it so well it was an immediate hit. The retro-styled RnineT roadster is solid, refined, and functional, just like everything you’d expect from the Bavarian brand, and the platform lent itself perfectly to the fast-growing scrambler genre.
Late in 2015, BMW announced that it would be making multiple variants of the RnineT, starting with the new Scrambler; and it was an immediate hit. BMW’s air-cooled twins made great scramblers back in the day, and the new RnineT does just as well as the original when scrambled; many observers think the RnineT Scrambler looks even better than the original (and I tend to agree!)
What do you think of the resurrection of the scrambler genre – are they just poser bikes pretending to be more rugged than they are, or is this style a welcome addition to the world of new motorcycles?