Test Ride: 500 Miles on the Ducati Scrambler 1100 Special

Ducati Scrambler 1100
Courtesy Ducati

Lighter, more affordable, and more versatile motorcycles are all the rage these days—and even luxury brands like Ducati have gotten in on the action.

The legendary Italian marque decided to reincarnate its fabled enduro by following a simple design ethos: “What would the Ducati Scrambler look like today if we never stopped making it in 1978?” The sexy and fun new Scrambler was an instant smash when it debuted in 2014—so much so that Ducati has effectively developed an entire new offshoot brand around the model, and, four years in, it’s proven one of its most popular sellers worldwide, with several style iterations in three engine sizes.



We recently got some quality seat time aboard the Scrambler 1100 Special. After more than 500 miles on everything from pothole-pocked avenues to twisty paved two-lanes and even through a bit of Catskills dirt, we found the Scrambler 1100 Special to be responsive and eager—a decidedly modern-day version of the same kind of scrambling Steve McQueen and Co. were doing back in the ’60s and ’70s.

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OK, fine—the Special is a far cry from a rough-and-ready enduro. Despite the high clearance and semi-knobby Pirellis, the Scrambler Special isn’t ideal for off-road riding; for that, you’d best opt for the 803cc Desert Sled. Rather, this is a chic urban stallion with a confident stature that looks and performs simply great on pavement. It sits on wire-spoked wheels on black rims, with bright aluminum swingarm and fenders, shiny chrome exhaust, and steely gray paintwork. As a runner, it’s nimble enough for the streets, powerful enough for the highway—a twist, not a downshift, is all you need to go from 65 to 95 in mere seconds—and sturdy enough to handle anything that might jump into your path.

Courtesy image

It’s a lot bigger than the old Scramblers, too. The 32-inch seat height will make it tough for shorter riders to touch down at stops, and 1100ccs are enough to stretch anyone’s definition of agility. But thanks to its compact design—straight handlebar, upright seating position, and mid-set foot controls—and nominal curb weight of just 465 pounds, the Special rides much smaller than it looks. And with its rider firmly placed in such a ready-for-anything stance, the 24.5-degree rake and 59.6-inch wheelbase make for a turning radius compact enough to throw the bike around with minimal effort.

The Special is powered by an air-cooled, 90-degree Desmodromic V-twin engine that cranks out an impressive 86 hp at 7,500 rpm, nestled inside Ducati’s trademark steel trellis frame. It’s an eager powerplant that’s just as comfortable at the low end of the tach as it is up near redline. The chain-driven six-speed transmission is seamless and well-tuned for any rev level and all matter of conditions and terrain; it wasn’t unusual to find myself humming well past 65 in fourth (and sometimes third) gear.

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The bike also sports several high-tech features that distinguish it from its predecessor. Startlingly effective Bosch Cornering ABS prevents skidding even while in a leaning turn, and the three-way adjustable electronic Traction Control keeps the rear wheel from spinning at starts, in rain, or on dirt. (Show-offs can relax; burnouts are available simply by switching the TC off.) Three selectable ride modes—Active, Journey, and City—allow you to dial in the torque and maximum horsepower to your liking: Active mode provides the full 86 horsepower, immediate throttle response, and a tight traction control level for sport riding; Journey mode is ideal for around-town or highway use with full engine power but a more fluid throttle response and light traction control; City mode provides a subtle throttle response and squelches engine power to 75 hp, to keep the bike from jerking and jumping off the line.

Courtesy image

And it’s all controlled with your thumbs; a small digital speed console provides the data to configure the Scrambler 1100’s settings, as well as showing rpm, tripmeters, fuel, gear indicator, and tire pressure. The unique setup of the instrument cluster was tricky to process for the first few minutes, but that’s bound to happen when you stuff a ton of info onto a tiny screen. I got used to it.

Aesthetically, the Scrambler 1100 features fewer covers and plastic components than you’ll find on most standard or naked motorcycles, opting instead for authentic materials like steel and aluminum. Up front, the round headlight is enhanced with a stunning circular LED daytime running light. LED taillights and turn signals are bright and easy to see. The brake and clutch levers are adjustable via a simple spin knob, no tools required. And the stitched leather seat is generous and comfortable. Out back, dual tail pipes give the 1100 a brawny hip section compared to the single-sided muffler of the smaller Scramblers.

If there’s a nitpick or two about Ducati’s Scrambler, it’s that the bike is void of even rudimentary tie-down hooks, slots, or knobs; it took some clever bungee work for me to strap a small pack to the rear pillion. Further, the front brake line is rather unsightly for such a finely honed machine. It’s the only real noticeable cable in the rider’s view, and it flies curiously high over the instrument cluster before curling back down.

Overall, the Scrambler 1100 Special does an excellent job at harkening to the past while embracing the future. The price tag, $14,295, is a bit spendy for a standard or naked bike. If you’re leery of the price tag, consider Ducati’s line of smaller, less expensive 800cc Scramblers—including the brand-new Icon, which starts at just $9,195.

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