There’s no questioning the badass factor these on/off-road motos lent to their unreasonably brave riders. The scrambler motorcycle carries a mystique that is difficult to distill, but one thing is certain—they belong off the beaten path.
In 1920s England, the need for speed pushed riders to invent a new kind of racing. One that demanded more from riders and their motorcycles. The new sport, which came to be known as scrambling, had only a starting line and a finish line—the rest was up to each rider.
Riders could take any path to victory, so long as they got there first, and in one piece. This often meant screaming through the rocky, brutal terrain of the English countryside. Anybody crazy enough to try it needed to adapt, and their bikes needed to adapt with them.
The scrambler style was created to protect riders’ motorcycles from the dangers that lay off the beaten path.
These beefed-up street bikes traded sensibility for brawn, stripped down and kitted out to endure a battering.
- Fenders were lifted or chopped off
- Suspension travel was lengthened to soak up unforgiving terrain
- Exhaust was routed high, keeping the pipes safe from rocks, debris, and stream water
- Skid plates were mounted to guard the engine’s underbelly
- Knobby rubber, of course, was essential.
Early scramblers were pieced together from anything you could pull off the street in the early 1900s, so it’s hard to pin down any go-to donor bikes for the style. However, these machines needed to chew up mean terrain, so big 500 or 600 cc singles were in vogue. Barring that, riders simply modified what they had and hoped it would withstand a thrashing or two.
There are many motorcycles that evoke the scrambler ethos today. As more factories hop on the retro bandwagon, the streets are graced with beautiful examples like the Triumph Scrambler 1200, Moto Guzzi V7 II with scrambler kit, BMW’s R NineT line, and of course Ducati’s Scrambler line. Even Indian’s FTR 1200 flat tracker throws down some scrambler vibes.
Yet, the emphasis is on “beautiful” and “streets.” While fully capable of clipping along from café to café, and maybe some light gravel duty, most modern factory scramblers fall short of expected performance in their natural habitat. They are decidedly street machines dressed up to play the part but not expected to truly part forests, dart across deserts, and climb mountains.