Written by Justin W. Coffey
Did Triumph Just Invent the Naked Adventure Bike, and do we Want it?
I can’t get it out of my head – the way it looks, the way it feels tearing down a dirt road, and how easily it handles the twisties on our way back to town. To be honest, I was apprehensive at first. Another ‘scrambler,’ another retro styled motorcycle taking aim at the hipster millennial? But Triumph’s new Scrambler 1200 seemed different. It slots itself into a spot no one knew existed: The Naked Adventure Bike. But does anyone want that? Do we need a bike that can ADV and be “cool” at the same time?
My first encounter with the Scrambler 1200 was likely similar to yours – an article on the internet announcing its forthcoming arrival. A few photos of the motorcycle sitting at its unveiling and a handful of specs that might have changed my mind about this whole scrambler thing: 10 inches of suspension travel, a 21-inch front wheel and six different riding modes, including Off Road Pro. But do specs and speculation amount to a decent ADV motorcycle? Does suspension travel and Steve McQueen spell real world rideability?
We traveled to Portugal to find out.
• The Basics
Triumph has released to iterations of their new Scrambler 1200, the XC and the XE models for 2019. Both motorcycles claim to provide adventure bike capabilities with scrambler styling, although the XC is billed more as an ‘all-rounder,’ while the XE sits firmly in the off-road category. Powered by the 1,200cc 8-valve parallel twin found in the Thruxton R, both models share the same dedicated engine tune, producing a claimed 90 hp at 7,400 rpm with 88.1 pound-feet of torque at 3,950 rpm. For reference, this is roughly 38-percent more horsepower than the 2019 Street Scrambler and 12-percent more horsepower than the Bonneville T120.
The motor features a low inertia crank, lightened balance shafts, lighter alternator, and magnesium cam cover, which reduce overall mass and produces a quicker response and greater efficiency. Similar to a v-twin, the 270-degree firing order of the engine provides a throaty sound, and more importantly, linear torque delivery which can be crucial when riding off road. The fly-by-wire throttle is direct and intuitive, allowing the rider to control power output while maintaining traction in slick off-road environments.
Justin gets used to the Scrambler 1200’s off-road manners in Portugal.
Both models of the 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 feature an all-new tubular steel frame with aluminum cradles incorporating a new headstock and overall geometry focused on rider comfort and off-road capability. Like the frame, the swingarm is completely new on both iterations, with the XE offering a 32mm-longer aluminum swingarm than the XC (579mm vs. 547mm, respectively). Seat height is an approachable 33-inches (840mm) on the XC, while the XE sits a bit higher at 34-inches (870mm), both of which are comparable to Triumph’s Tiger 800 offerings.
Triumph chose a pair of fully adjustable, twin spring Öhlins shocks in the rear, and a 45mm inverted Showa fork which is also fully adjustable. The XC model offers 7.9-inches (200mm) of travel, while the XE provides a jaw-dropping 9.8-inches (250mm).
Twin Ohlins shocks in the rear and Showa forks up front are spring for off-road abuse.
Up front you’ll find a pair of Brembo M50 monobloc calipers grabbing hold of 320mm discs, while a two-piston Brembo caliper and 255mm disc take care of the rear wheel. These are the same calipers used on the top-shelf Street Twin RS. They worked extremely well at slowing down the 456-lb (dry weight) XE model when heading into a corner a little hot (we’ll get to that later). Both models of the Scrambler 1200 are outfitted with a 21-inch side laced front wheel, while a 17-inch wheel provides added grip and stability when riding on the road. Metzler Tourance tires come as standard equipment, although Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires are offered direct through the dealers as well.
What truly sets the Scrambler 1200 apart from the rest, however, is the addition of a dedicated IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) co-developed with Continental. While both bikes feature ABS and Traction Control as standard, the XE model is equipped with the IMUwhich provides cornering traction control and cornering ABS. Both models feature five riding modes – Road, Rain, Off-Road, Sport and Rider – the latter of which is a rider configurable mode that allows you to set up the bike as you see fit. On the XE model, an Off-Road Promode is available which turns the ABS and traction control completely off and utilizes the Off-Road throttle mapping.
The Scrambler 1200’s gauges are classy like an old watch, but highly customizable.
Both the Scrambler 1200 XC and XE model are equipped with keyless ignition, cruise control, heated grips and USB charging, all of which are standard equipment on most modern adventure motorcycles, but a first for the scrambler category. Additionally, both models offer integrated GoPro connectivity and control via the TFT dash, a world’s first. Utilizing an accessory Bluetooth module, a rider can control camera functions on their GoPro through buttons on the left handlebar end. As if that wasn’t enough, Triumph partnered with Google to provide turn-by-turn navigation displayed on the TFT dash, but like the GoPro connectivity, you’ll need an additional Bluetooth module and smartphone app for this feature.
All of these features sound fine on paper, and perhaps even a bit exciting considering there is nothing on the market remotely similar. But it wasn’t until Miles Perkins, Head of Brand Management, stated that the bike can “do everything an adventure bike can do, but with a lot more style,” that I knew I had come to the right place to answer the question we’d first asked. Does the world want or need a naked adventure motorcycle?
The only way to find out was to ride the damn thing.
A host of electronics helps keep the Scrambler 1200’s wheels to the ground.
• Deep Down and Dirty
To test the capabilities of both the XC and XE model of Triumph’s new Scrambler 1200, we traveled to southern Portugal and spent two days riding both models on and off the road.
I must admit, I was skeptical at first. I’ve spent the last seven years riding nearly every variation of ADV and dual-sport motorcycle on the market, and while the stats told me the new Triumph was a tall and capable companion, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a 1200cc scrambler.
I’d ridden the competition, which felt nimble and easy to ride, a great all-around motorcycle, but lacked the off-road abilities of my trusty DR-Z400S, or the proper road going prowess of my Indian Scout. They just didn’t do either of these things really well. But this new Triumph was billed as the in-between. A bike, as Miles mentioned, that could do everything an adventure motorcycle could do but with a bit more style. And when I think of adventure motorcycles, I see utility… and Starbucks. So hoping that this could fill the void between the two bikes currently in my garage, we set out for Wim Motors Academy, an off-road riding and Dakar Rally training facility set in the foothills of southern Portugal.
The first test Triumph put us through was a handful of laps around a rather muddy flat-track course. But, unlike the infamous mile and half-mile of American Flat Track, this course featured elevation changes and a penultimate corner with a decreasing radius. Onboard the XE, I set the ride mode to ‘Off-Road,’ which deactivates the traction control and ABS in the rear but leaves a subdued version of ABS active in the front; perfect for someone unfamiliar with the terrain they’re about to encounter.
On the throttle and through the gate, the XE was noticeably stable and well mannered for a near 500-lb motorcycle on a loose surface. Apply rear brake pressure, the back end walked out a bit, but a mild twist of the wrist brought things back in line. I managed four laps, each a bit faster than the one before it. It wasn’t the easiest way to get acquainted with a new bike, but it was definitely effective. By my fourth lap I had a pretty good understanding of how the Scrambler 1200 felt when traction was limited, and just how good those big Brembo’s really were.
Following our flat track foray, we were split into six groups and assigned a ride leader. While waiting for our turn, my group chatted about their flat track experience and each of us agreed that the bike was surprisingly predictable. Our first loop of the day would take us out of the Wim Motors facility and through small towns and agricultural areas on winding dirt roads. Loose gravel, mud, and sand were all present, and our speed was moderate if not hurried at times. I moved my way ahead of a few riders and behind a friend whose abilities I knew to be similar to mine, and from there we wicked up the pace a bit.
Grunty twin sounds great and puts out near linear horse-power and torque.
Riding over loose surfaces in ‘Off-Road’ mode, the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE was surprisingly stable, and the 21-inch front wheel tracked through obstacles with ease. The suspension felt stiff, and made quick work of larger holes and ledges we encountered. The wide handlebars (65mm wider than the XC) offered a great deal of leverage while negotiating tight corners, and the flat, bench-style seat was more comfortable than most factory dual-sport or adventures bike saddles I have sat on. After scrambling down countless country roads and through farming communities, we returned to Wim Motors for lunch, followed by a lap around their motocross course.
Yep, you read that right, a motocross course! To say that Triumph is confident in the Scrambler 1200’s off-road capabilities is an understatement. The company went so far as to enlist the help of long-time stunt rider and off-road racer, Ernie Vigil, to pilot a lightly modified XE model at this year’s SCORE Baja 1000. Unfortunately, Ernie sustained injuries prior to the race and had to bow out. But now that he’s on the mend, Ernie has agreed to race the no less difficult NORRA Mexican 1000 come April of 2019.
I’ve never ridden around a motocross track aboard a 500-lb scrambler. But again, the XE was confidence inspiring, and by turn three I was happily sliding my way out of one corner and onto the next, trying my best not to throw too much throttle at the upcoming jump. When the inevitable happened, however, I found myself landing the XE at speed, and could feel the fully-adjustable Öhlins doing what they were designed to. And while I may not have looked like Steve McQueen on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I certainly felt like this bike could handle just about anything I was willing to throw at it.
A piping hot bowl of rice and beans and shredded chicken was served to us from a food truck parked at the facility before we departed for the second off-road loop of the day. The pace was increased for this portion of the test, and elevation was introduced into the route. Surfaces were similar to the first go-round, with loose gravel, sand and mud came at us around every corner. A more technical section was included, which allowed me to stand on the Scrambler 1200’s adjustable footpegs and negotiate obstacles slowly, utilizing the torque-assisted clutch and ride-by-wire throttle to maintain momentum. Again, the big scrambler proved itself to be confidence inspiring and easy to ride.
• The Paved Performance
With rain in the forecast, the following day’s ride would start out slow and steady. We departed the hotel at 9am, just as the clouds turned a chalky grey and a light drizzle began to fall. By the time we’d worked our way out of town, the rain was coming down at a fever pitch. Our ride leader this day was an Isle of Man TT racer who insisted we keep our pace slow. I switched the Scrambler 1200 XC I was riding into ‘Rain’ mode and proceeded with caution.
While the XC model does not come equipped with the IMU’s cornering ABS and traction control, it does offer both of those features to a lesser degree. So, with ‘Rain’ mode activated, the XC modulated throttle response and braking input to keep both wheels firmly planted on the pavement. Our pace was average given the conditions, though we suffered one ‘off motorcycle incident,’ with a fellow journalist losing the front end in a slow corner. Our only conclusion was that he must tagged a patch of oil, as our bikes felt confident in these conditions, all things considered.
A coffee break and a chance for the rain to pass allowed all of us to share our thoughts on the two variations of the Scrambler 1200. The XC, with its shorter seat height, reduced suspension travel and steeper rake angle on the fork, made the bike a bit more nimble on the tight, twisty country roads we had encountered. The wider handlebars on the XE, however, provided increased leverage and a more aggressive riding position, something I was fond of.
With the rain subsiding, we ventured out again. And it wasn’t more than an hour later before the roads had nearly dried completely. This provided us the opportunity to increase the pace substantially, entering and exiting corners at speed. I switched the XC from ‘Rain’ to ‘Sport’ mode and took advantage of the increased throttle response and diluted traction aids.
Brembo M50 Monobloc calipers make stopping easy.
At speed both the XC and XE are extremely stable. The M50 monobloc Brembos pulled speed from the Scrambler at an astonishing pace, while the stiff Showa fork prevented front end dive heading into a late apex. Turn in was, as like many things about this motorcycle, surprisingly good, even with the 21-inch front wheel. The twin cylinder 1,200cc mill proved to be more than enough, thanks in part to the 88.1 pound-feet of torque that helped propel the bike out of a corner, even when lugging the motor. Gear changes were crisp, however the clutch feel on the XC was a bit delayed in comparison to the XE model, likely something you could adjust. Overall, the ergonomics of both models provided tremendous feedback and a solid feel when riding at speed on paved roads. Lean angle was impressive, although I did scrape pegs on the XC model when exiting off-camber uphill corners. All in all, the Scrambler 1200 was shockingly good on the tarmac, with performance akin to that of a naked standard.
• Questions – Answered…
I arrived in Portugal with a burning question: does the world want a naked adventure motorcycle? When I left a few days later, I realized that was the wrong question entirely. Yes, Triumph’s new Scrambler 1200 can perform all the duties a dedicated ADV motorcycle can. With its 4.2-gallon fuel tank and claimed 48 mpg capability, you’d be safe to assume a 200-mile day is do-able. And with 9.8-inches of adjustable suspension beneath it, coupled with a torquey 1,200cc twin, you’d be hard pressed to find an adventure rider that would ask more from their motorcycle.
But, without the added wind protection and cargo capacity of a true ADV machine, doesn’t the Scrambler 1200 fall short of the adventure category all together? Perhaps that’s not the point of this bike. Maybe the bike was built to do all the things most adventure riders really do – three days in the desert with a tent and sleeping bag strapped to the back, rambling down long dirt roads and through sleepy mountain towns before making a break for home come Sunday. Then riding the thing to work all week, and looking out the office window longingly, plotting your next ride – this time a little longer, a little further away.
The Scrambler 1200 does all of that. Maybe not as well as some of the other ADV offerings, but what it lacks in razor sharp ADV exactness, it makes up for in style with a splash of Steve McQueen. Perhaps that’s the answer we’re all looking for. Triumph’s new Scrambler 1200 isn’t built to be an adventure motorcycle, or an old-school scrambler for that matter, it was designed to do all the things many riders are likely to do, and look damn good in the process. TriumphMotorcycles.com