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Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC(2019) Motorcycle Review

Triumph Scrambler 1200 : Bridging the Gap

A scrambler with ADV ability, you say? Sounds like someone’s dreaming.

It isn’t every day you ride something new — as in didn’t exist before — but that’s precisely the experience Triumph’s new 1200 Scramblers offer. We rode both the XC and XE versions in Faro, Portugal during their global press intro, and came away enamored. 

I landed in Faro to attend Triumph’s all-new Scrambler 1200 XC and Scrambler 1200 XE press launch with a healthy dose of doubt. Having ridden all current big ADV bikes and having also tested everything that calls itself a scrambler these days, I know how extensive the gap is between those two categories: adventure models just don’t have anything in common with retros and scramblers by and large really don’t like getting dirty. 

Still, Triumph was adamant its new pair of Scrambler 1200s brought both categories together. Well, let’s see, then. 

Both the XC ($15,200) and XE ($16,300) share the same frame, motor, body parts and state of the art TFT instrumentation with GOPRO control, turn-by-turn navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and multiple layouts. They each go their own way when it comes to suspension, though: the XE has a full 50mm of additional travel compared to the more road biased XC. Both the Showa fork and Öhlins rear shocks offer manual full adjustability. Both versions are equipped with spoked wheels (side laced for tubeless tires), a 21-inch at the front and a 17-inch at the back, all-LED lighting, ride-by-wire throttle, cruise control, five ride modes (Rain, Road, Off-Road, Sport and Rider), keyless ignition and backlit illuminated switches. 

The $1,100 premium that comes with the XE buys quite a bit: more advanced cornering ABS and traction control supported by an Inertial Measurement Unit, an additional Off-Road Pro riding mode that turns off ABS and TC, heated grips and an upside-down fork with 47mm (versus 45mm) tubes. 

For those not keeping count, that’s a lot of equipment not only for the price, but also for the category since scramblers are usually very frugal with features. And it doesn’t stop there. 

triumph scrambler 1200 tackles the ADV terrainFor those 15 or 16k, Triumph throws in all the right goodies when it comes to the rolling chassis too. The steel frame with aluminum cradle is a new dedicated unit built with off-road capability for the 1200 Scramblers. The swingarm is an impressive aluminum piece (32mm longer on the XE), the front brake uses Brembo M50 calipers gripping twin 320mm discs.

And for the pièce de résistance: a Scrambler tuned, High Power version of Triumph’s latest 1200cc vertical twin producing 90 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 81 foot-pounds torque at 3,950 rpm. Finally, one of the 1200 Scramblers most impressive spec is dry weight barely above 200 kg (205 kg for the XC and 207 for the XE), which is massively lighter than adventure models of similar displacement. 

Speaking of adventure bikes, I was downright shocked to discover in the big Scramblers motorcycles of a totally different class, but with equal or even better off-road capability than many ADV models. How could that be? Even the road biased Scrambler 1200 XC performed very well in the dirt, and we’re not just talking hard-packed gravel fire roads here, but full-on trails with rocks and deep ruts and water holes and mud and even sand. 

The XC limits off-road are mostly the result of its 200mm of suspension travel. To prevent the fork or shocks from bottoming out, the pace has to max out at fun but not too fast and attention has to be paid to tough obstacles like rocks that stick out of the ground, big holes or deep ruts, especially if the speed is up, which, thanks to the wonderfully torquey British Twin, happens only too easily. 

On the other hand, the XC has the advantage of a substantially lower seat (840mm versus 870), a feature that boosts confidence and makes an average rider surprisingly quick and agile off-road. 

The relatively low weight of the Scrambler 1200sis a massive advantage in that environment where a heavier and higher adventure model is clearly more intimidating to ride. 

One unexpected advantage the Triumph Scrambler 1200 offerings have over big ADV bikes is the clear and unobstructed vision they offer of the oncoming trail: all ADVs have a rather large and heavy front fairing that I never considered an issue until I rode the Triumphs and discovered that only having a round headlight in front of the tank greatly improves vision and lightens the steering. 

Jump on the XE and things change. Immediately, you know possibilities off-road just got serious. The seat is now high and the suspension has that long and plush travel that lets you know you can crank the speed up in the dirt without fear of bottoming. 

On a fairly busted up trail, the XE floats along effortlessly, soaking up everything and doing so without stressing the rider with huge weight management. Also, get this: it can be ridden with the rider sitting instead of standing. On anything else off-road worthy, that would be a no-no, but both the Scrambler 1200 models are actually built for that. 

triumph scrambler 1200 tackles the ADV terrainFor the more intense stuff, standing up is still preferable, but for anything else, sitting on the flat seat with the inside leg out in turns, flat-track style, works just fine.

Not only does off-roading sitting down allow less experienced riders to feel more confident, but it’s also an inherent part of “scrambling” which, back in the ‘60s, was done exactly that way: sitting down, leg out, fun pace, on bikes based on street models. 

Speaking of which, for all their legit off-road capability, both Scrambler 1200 machines still very much feel like street bikes once back on pavement and especially with the stock Metzeler Tourance adventure tires installed (Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires were used for the dirt part of the test). 

The long suspension travel of the XE makes it move around a bit more when pushed hard and dives a tad more when braking, but other than that it feels pretty normal with precise, light steering (its handlebar is 65mm wider than the XC’s) relaxing, balanced upright ergos and, predictably, excellent bump absorption. 

As much as the XE was a surprise off-road thanks to its impressive capability, on the road, the XC stood out because of its normal feel. Other than noticing a high-ish seat, a rider used to street bikes would never guess the XC has any real dirt potential. Even at a fast pace on a twisty back road, everything feels natural: brakes are strong and don’t generate unusual dive, steering is precise and unaffected by the big 21-inch front wheel, the chassis feels strong and unchallenged by whatever speed the rider throws at it, and the confidence-boosting ergos make you feel like everything is under control no matter what. In a nutshell, on pavement, the XC behaves just like a good bike with no hint of its very real off-road talent. 

I was extremely impressed by both versions of the Scrambler 1200 and at how well each define scrambling. Neither is really better than the other, they’re just different in that they each offer a remarkably smart bias toward either street or dirt, allowing buyers to pick the direction that suits them best. 

triumph scrambler 1200 tackles the ADV terrainNeither is perfect, but whatever issue I found with them is either predictable, like a high seat on the XE, or relatively minor, like the average comfort level of the seats on longer rides, the not exactly intuitive interaction with the many electronic functions or the price to pay for that cool high exhaust: a slow roasted right inner thigh. They are powered by an absolutely exquisite engine as much in terms of performance and rideabilty as in terms of sound and feel, they look as cool as James Dean himself and are impeccably finished. 

Most bikes, I road test, then move on to whatever is next. 

These left a mark.

by Bertrand Gahel, Canadian Biker Issue #343


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