As with café racers, scrambler-style motorcycles are in the midst of a mainstream revival, custom builders across the globe often turn to this aesthetic in their projects, and manufacturers are seeing enough mass-market appeal to dedicate resources to creating off-the-shelf versions. For fans of the look and function of a scrambler, these are good times indeed. We’ve chosen five of the best versions available today that prove the point.
Starting things off is the 2019 BMW R nineT Scrambler. Even though it looks a little too polished to take in the dirt, BMW was smart about the roadster’s conversion. This bike is much more capable off road than it appears. A few years back, Ari Henning put one to the test and found its 1,170cc boxer twin capable, it’s weight well balanced, and the 19-inch front and 17-inch wheel combination a good fit for an off-road ride. Now, as with all of the bikes in this list, if you’re looking to do serious adventure riding, get an adventure bike. But if you want a great roadbike with the ability to explore a fire road on a whim, complete with nods to the scrambler style like high exhaust, fork gaiters, and a stripped-down look, then the R nineT Scrambler is a great choice.
The 2019 Indian FTR 1200 S isn’t a scrambler in the strict sense; it’s clearly a tracker based on a competition machine. But it warrants inclusion on this list for two reasons. First, it’s an able-bodied roadbike with off-road chops. This motorcycle will blast down a dirt road as well as it leans into the corner on an oval. Plus it’s got solid, fully adjustable suspension, a 19-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel configuration, and is pared down to the essentials. Second, it’s ripe for customization. Indian Motorcycle already offers curated kits to turn the motorcycle into a more sporty, more rugged, more touring-friendly mount. That means you can easily transform this already off-road-capable streetbike into a motorcycle more in keeping with the scrambler aesthetic. The scramblers from the ’60s generally started life as roadbikes and were altered to better handle the demands of the dirt, so customization was a necessary facet of the type. The FTR 1200 S honors that tradition.
There is hardly any rival to the new Triumph Scrambler XE. It’s the epitome of the scrambler look from a brand that made this type of bike famous in the mid-20th century. This is the more off-road-focused version, there’s also an XC that is geared toward the road a bit more, so will have no trouble at all getting on it in the dirt. It’s packing a 1,200cc parallel twin with huge amounts of torque, long-travel Öhlins suspension, a 21-inch front and 17-inch rear wheel configuration, and electronic aids that can be switched off to really get spinning off-road. This bike impressed during our first ride review earlier this year and is really the standard-bearer of the segment currently. It’s so good off-road and on that it could hold its own against some adventure bikes.
The 2019 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled is the closest rival to the Triumph in this list in terms of off-road capability. Ducati delivered a version of its versatile Scrambler line with long-travel suspension, a stout trellis frame, good power delivery on the low end, 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels, and all the aesthetic touches one would want on a truly on-/off-road-worthy motorcycle. It’s not as completely authentic in terms of the scrambler elements as the Triumph, a single shock out back and a somewhat low exhaust setup being the main offenders in this regard, but it’s still a really sharp machine.
Husqvarna came at the café segment with a fresh perspective with the Vitpilen bikes, and does the same with the scrambler segment with its Svartpilen 401. We chose the 401 over the 701 version because it’s the more rugged of the two, better equipped off the showroom floor for some fun off road. It’s more of an urban scrambler than a true competitor to the Ducati or Triumph, but it wins points in our book for the bold design that Husqvarna has achieved.