Ducati GT1000 And Triumph Scrambler - Cruiser Or Not

Ducati's GT1000 and Triumph's Scrambler -cruising in the past (April 2008)

"Say, that's a pretty nice rig. The low saddle and the way the v-twin is framed- beautiful. But i'm not sure it's really a cruiser . . . "

Those words, uttered by a rider ogling the rubenesque victory vision at a show last month, brought to mind a debate i'd had with a colleague over what defines a cruiser. There's a school of thought that says cruisers must possess certain styling characteristics: wide bars, a stepped seat, a fairly long wheelbase and a relaxed fork angle. (note that engine configuration doesn't seem to matter. V-twins, v-4s, singles, sixes and triples are all ok.) On the face of it the vision meets all those criteria, but apparently even that's not enough.

The definition of cruiser has been bandied about since the term was coined, but the discussion's become heated now that some designs combine characteristics from other bike classes. Touring rigs have grown more bodywork, streetfighters have sprouted high bars, boulevardiers roll with sportbike components, and so on.

So rather than defining a machine by a set of styling characteristics, why not consider its intent? I know that's a tough sell-tradition dies hard, and tradition sells. Retro repackaging, for instance, works like a charm for everything from mini coopers to harley road kings and honda shadows. More recently triumph's bonneville and ducati's gt1000 have joined that expanding group.

Never mind that neither has a narrow v-angle or fits into the "traditional" cruiser-styling niche; there's no question they're made for cruising. Not for shredding tarmac and not for the long haul-just for trolling about on a ribbon of asphalt in pursuit of a grin (don't know about you, but it's why i started riding in the first place). Both recall an earlier era, yet both incorporate modern tech to enhance ride quality. Call them classics or souped-up standards, but the defining element is still their fun factor.

Mcqueen For A Day
Like the standard bonneville, the scrambler 900 traces its lineage to triumph's classic '60s models-in this case the do-it-all tr6c. You might remember it as the bike steve mcqueen's character jumped over a barbed-wire fence in the film the great escape. Mcqueen and the guy who actually did the stunt, bud ekins, have since shuffled off the planet, but the tr6 legend lives on in the form of the scrambler.

It's a pretty faithful rendition, too, with its fork gaiters, tank guards, twin high pipes and classic two-tone paint scheme. True to the era, the scrambler rolls on wire-spoke wheels shod with chunky bridgestones, a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear, the same sizes as on the standard bonneville's pavement-only rubber.

With its twin carbs, five-speed tranny and chain final drive, the scrambler shares its basic architecture with the rest of the bonnevilles, though there are functional differences.

The scrambler's 865cc, eight-valve, air-cooled vertical-twin, for example, has been revamped for a lower torque curve and switched from a 360- to a 270-degree crankshaft (also used in the america and speedmaster). The scrambler's engine pumps out 56 hp at 7000 rpm compared with the bonnie's 66 bhp at 7200 rpm. Suspension has been raised so the seat height is now 32.5 inches, and the chassis has been tweaked, too.

Once aboard the scrambler you sit on the tallish seat. It isn't intimidating for my 5-foot-7-inch frame, and the flat, long shape provides plenty of real estate, but that saddle isn't particularly comfortable for longer stints. Still, the neutral handlebar bend and standard upright riding position suit me well.

Pull the choke, press the starter and the engine fires, idling with a slightly different cadence from the 360-cranked versions. Unfortunately the engine note sounds about as menacing as a sewing machine. Might be a good idea here to swap in a triumph accessory silencer ("closed circuit competition only") for "enhanced tonal quality" (triumph's words).

At the first corner it becomes apparent that the scrambler steers lightly; in fact it feels almost flighty, and the bike has a tendency to fall into turns at low speeds. But you get used to the response, and on secondary roads handling is composed. Nastier midcorner bumps will instill some jitters, however.

If the scrambler is down on horsepower, its readily available torque seems to mask that deficit. A snappy throttle lets you zip though traffic easily, and the scrambler feels lively in stoplight- to-stoplight jousts. I also found the bike bearable at highway speeds. The flat seat and moderate bar bend made 80-90 mph feel comfortable; any faster and the wind blast became overwhelming. Gearing is tall and the box shifts smoothly, but because the scrambler is so butter-smooth you can't tell what cog you're in (there's no tach) until you need to shift.

Don't expect to haul up quickly, either-the 310mm disc with two-piston caliper up front can be best described as adequate. And range is on the small side- I couldn't squeeze much more than 125 miles out of a tank in most situations.

Everywhere i went, however, people were smitten by the scrambler, longtime riders as well as the general public. The bike looks good, but it's also an everyday rider-air-cooled, simple to repair and relatively inexpensive. The scrambler is more show than go, but for sheer fun at a nice price it's tough to beat.

Boom From Bologna
"Our demographics are along the same lines as harley's. We've had guys on road kings come in and request these gts. They mount risers and tall bars, slap on a pair of bags and troll around."

I'm speaking with john canton of ducati north america, and to be honest i'm not buying his "cruiser" pitch, but i am intrigued. You can't blame canton for pushing the gt; ducati designer pierre terblanche himself said he'd designed the bikes for the 50-year-old rider looking to cruise the countryside.

But it's a ducati, and that may raise howls of protest from the traditional cruiser set. I'm not a ducatista (that's catterson at motorcyclist)-i've always associated the bikes with a riding position that'd make the marquis de sade shudder. And those in the know will recall ducati's first foray into cruiserdom -the lackluster 650cc indiana.

But like triumph, ducati has learned to mine the past effectively; the gt borrows liberally from the classic '71 gt750. That bike, ducati's first production v-twin, was a high-barred roadster with plenty of grunt. The gt1000 follows that trend with a thumping v-twin, wide touring saddle, high bars and a massive, 10-inch headlight.

The GT nails the retro part, but it's mated to modern technology -an updated version of ducati's air-cooled 992cc desmodue engine, the 1000 ds. The mill's identical to those of the other sportclassic models and the multistrada, except it uses a wet clutch. Our gt's bars are comfortably situated (we requested a riser kit) and that cushy saddle is wide, but it's a reasonable 32 inches in height and strikes the right compromise between a standard and a cruising position. And i'm definitely sitting in the bike this time.

With its well-calibrated efi the gt1000 starts instantly, and there's a hint of hooligan lurking on the other side of that loping idle. Lever pull is still overly stiff but at least it's adjustable. At a twist of the throttle, cylinders explode with gobs of torque and a rush of power between 4000 and 7000 rpm (meaning it can be tricky to pull away smoothly from a stop). At revs below 3500 rpm the motor feels lumpy, but the six-speed box shifts so sweetly that it's a pleasure to snap down a gear.

The GT is also way overgeared, running only 4000 rpm at 70 mph in fifth, but that just makes for a relaxed cruising pace. The 56.1-inch wheelbase is short, so steering is nearly instantaneous and the fork settings deliver a firm ride. Out back the shocks feel spot-on for my 155-pound frame, and the dual 320mm disc, two-piston front brakes feel effortlessly powerful.

Peak horsepower at 8000 rpm is accompanied by a trademark rumble from the pipes, but if you order the factory-approved termignoni exhaust with ecu and airbox like we did that glorious basso profundo will have you weeping tears of joy (though the $1213 price won't). If you can afford it the gt is a beautiful motorcycle and a huge bag of fun-just watch for the mirrors vibrating loose.

Ducati's reinterpretation of a classic is more sporting than triumph's, but both reflect the era that inspired them. Though the scrambler is more cruisernatured, both can quite arguably be dubbed standards, if nothing else. But that's just semantics-at the end of the day it's all about the grin they leave on your face.

'08 Triumph Bonneville Scrambler
Suggested Base Price: $7999
Standard Colors: red/white, green/
silver, orange/silver

Type: 865cc, air-cooled parallel twin
Valve Train: DoHc, 4 valves per cylinder
Bore X Stroke: 90 x 68mm
Compression: 9.2:1
Fuel System: twin carburetors
Transmission/Final Drive: 5-speed/chain

Weight: 451 lb. (dry)
Seat Height: 32.5 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.4 gal.
Wheelbase: 59.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 27.8 degrees/4.13 in.
Front Suspension: 41mm fork
Rear Suspension: Dual dampers,adjustable preload
Front Brake: 310mm disc, 2-pistoncaliper
Rear Brake: 255mm disc, 2-piston caliper

'08 Ducati GT1000
Suggested Base Price: $10,495
Standard Colors: Gray, red

Type: 992cc, air-cooled, 90-degree l-twin
Valve Train: OHC, 2 valves per cylinder,desmodromic actuation
Bore X Stroke: 94 x 71.5mm
Compression: 10.0:1
Fuel System: Efi, 45mm throttle bodies
Transmission/Final Drive: 6-speed/chain

Weight: 407 lb. (dry)
Seat Height: 32.6 in.
Fuel Capacity: 3.9 gal.
Wheelbase: 56.2 in.
Rake/Trail: 24 degrees/3.6 in.
Front Suspension: 43mm fork, 4.7 in. Travel
Rear Suspension: Dual dampers
Front Tire: 120/70-17 tube
Rear Tire: 180/55-17Front Brake: two 320mm discs,2-piston calipers
Rear Brake: 245mm disc, 1-piston caliper