Ducati Scrambler Urban Enduro excels on pavement, not so much on dirt

Ducati's new Scrambler has a lot going for it. Maybe that's why the Italian bike builder is selling so many.

Packaging retro styling with ease of use and a price point that's low for a Bologna-built two-wheeler, Ducati credits the Scrambler with making 2015 its best North American retail year.

As is appropriate for an entry-level machine — the least expensive in the Ducati line — the Scrambler offers a low 31-inch seat height, wide seat and wide handlebars.

The soft clutch pull, 410 pounds wet weight and low center of gravity give an easy, small-bike feeling to this mid-sized motorcycle.

But it's no scooter. The air-cooled 803cc twin-cylinder engine puts out a claimed 75 horsepower and 50 pound-feet of torque, giving the Scrambler plenty of pep and corner-to-corner acceleration. It decelerates well, too: The ABS-enabled Brembo brakes provide sharp, responsive stopping power.

The Scrambler is a comfortable cruise at higher speeds, too, thanks in part to the very good six-speed transmission. You may wish you had a windshield on the freeway, but you won't need more motor.

Ducati also says the Scrambler will go 8,000 miles between maintenance intervals, which comes as welcome news for the casual rider who doesn't want to spend a lot of time or money at the dealership. It also goes a long way toward reassuring consumers spooked by Ducati's reputation for high-maintenance bikes that cost a lot to service and repair.

The Scrambler is an important effort for Ducati. Its previous entry-level bike, the Monster, has been in production since 1993.

So Ducati is going all in. To the original Icon model, Ducati added a trio of slightly more expensive variations — the Classic, the Full Throttle and the Urban Enduro.

I spent a week riding the Enduro around town, and took Ducati up on its offer to "switch from city streets to country back roads in an instant." But I kept wondering: Is it actually an Enduro, and is the Scrambler really a scrambler?

That moniker traditionally was applied to road bikes that had been made off-road worthy, particularly for off-road competition. The Enduro badge generally was given to models that did well in long-haul races that tested a motorcycle's endurance.

With the Urban Enduro name and styling, Ducati is evoking the 1950s and '60s, when Triumph, BSA, AJS and others dominated the dirt. It also recalls Ducati's own Scramblers — single-cylinder thumpers the Italian company made and exported from 1962 to 1974.

To get there, Ducati has decorated this modern version with off-road elements such as headlight protection, an aluminum skid plate, dual sport tires, a chopped rear fender, high front fender, spoked wheels and a handlebar cross brace.

But to comply with the laws of the road and the laws of economics, Ducati also has included other elements that would hinder really rough riding. The license plate and back fender wouldn't last long on a rocky road. Neither would the add-on technology required to meet tough U.S. emissions standards.

Ducati has included some helpful modern amenities, but has made concessions, too. There's a tachometer, but no fuel gauge. The Kayaba suspension is adjustable in the rear, but not up front. The perky engine pulls hard, but I found the choppy throttle took some getting used to. The engine also puts out a lot of heat. Under the seat, meanwhile, an old-school canvas tool kit shares space with a plug-in for electronic devices.

On the pavement, I liked this Scrambler a lot. Even though two hours in the saddle had me ready to sit on something more forgiving, the upright riding position and ergonomics were comfortable. The low-end torque and generous power band provided an energetic platform for riding around town and hitting the highway.

Off the pavement, though, my experience was mixed. With the soft suspension and limited travel and ground clearance, it's not up to anything daring. Unlike real scramblers of old, the exhaust pipes are tucked under the bike, not swept up. The ABS switches off, for riding in the dirt, but even with the dual purpose Pirelli rubber, off-road attributes and Enduro badging, the Scrambler won't be competing in any enduro events.

So, really, the Ducati Scrambler isn't much of a scrambler, and the Urban Enduro won't be headed for the Dakar Rally. But for most people who'll buy one, it doesn't need to be.

This is a great around-town bike, and a great starter bike. At $10,495 it's more expensive than the $8,895 Ducati gets for the basic Scrambler.

At that price, the Scrambler has done well by Ducati. Although the company won't say how many units it sold last year, it says the Scrambler contributed materially to record sales in 2015, with total numbers up 14% in North America, during a period that did not see similar upticks for Japanese companies producing more affordable mid-sized motorcycles.

Buyers attracted by the styling but put off by the price tag will have another option this year, when Ducati begins importing its Baby Scrambler, the 400cc Sixty2 version that will sell for a promised $7,995. The Scrambler Urban Enduro is already in dealerships, and the Sixty2s will join them this spring.


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