Scramblers are one of the biggest current motorcycle trends, with a large number of the manufacturers choosing to produce their own version of these modern-retro standard motorcycles with one eye on the dirt. With many of the scramblers seeming to be more for looks than performance, we wanted to head out into the dirt and do our best to push these bikes to their limits—seeing if they really stacked up on dirt like the companies say they do, and how much of their road performance was sacrificed for these off-the-pavement ambitions.
Jordan Mastagni, Morgan Gales, and Jon McDevitt took three European scramblers—the BMW R nineT Scrambler, Moto Guzzi V7 II Stornello, and Triumph Street Scrambler—out to the dirt roads, fire trails, and curvy paved canyons of Southern California’s Ortega Highway to see which of these scrambly standards would come out on top.
2017 BMW R nineT Scrambler
By Morgan Gales
After riding the base-model BMW R nineT, I was nothing short of giddy to throw a leg over the R nineT Scrambler. About a thousand miles later, I felt like a kid who opened his presents Christmas morning to find a pair of socks. It’s a great-looking bike, but as one of BMW’s employees described it during the HighPipe Moto Festival, it’s “an exercise in aesthetics,” rather than a truly capable scrambler. While BMW did hit its goal in making an awesome-looking motorcycle, the Scrambler sacrifices on-road capabilities for off-road ambitions that just aren’t met. Compared with the Triumph and Moto Guzzi, even with their shortcomings, the looks of the BMW were not enough to truly set it apart or make up for its shortcomings in performance.
The 1,200cc engine of the R nineT is awesome. It puts out 110 hp and 86 pound-feet of torque; power that is strong and smooth. The engine both looks and sounds awesome right off the bat. You have the classic airhead BMW horizontally opposed shaft-driven twin with a 2-1-2 pipe putting out a good, throaty pop. With the original R nineT that comes equipped with road tires, you can get all that power to the ground. Unfortunately, it seems like the Bavarian engineers didn’t update the traction control when switching to the knobbies which led to an incredibly inhibited ride for the Scrambler. Turn off the traction control and you’re burning through tires and slipping through turns; it’s all real fun until you pull in your driveway and see those tires that cost about $500 a pair are going bald. It’s hard to win.
The biggest detracting factor of the bike is the weight, or more so the way the bike carries it. Seeing as there’s only a 30-pound difference between the Street Scrambler dry and the BMW wet, it can’t just be the weight of the bike; it has to be the geometry and where that weight is held. While the phrasing on their respective websites makes it hard to state numbers (rake versus steering head angle), it’s clear to see that the BMW has a longer rake than the other two here, meaning its front wheel is extended farther from the weight of the bike. This translates to a sort of floppy, squirrelly, and sluggish feeling when handling at low speeds and more stability at higher speeds, a tradeoff that doesn’t really make sense for a scrambler. The wheelbase of the BMW is also significantly longer than the other bikes at just over 60 inches, compared to 57 on the Triumph and Guzzi, more geometry that just doesn’t add up for the type of riding this bike is supposedly designed to handle.
Now the R nineT Scrambler isn’t a bad bike by any means; it’s just not nearly as good as some of the other models in the R nineT family or the other European scramblers we’re testing here. BMW changed up the geometry and did a handful of “exercises in aesthetics” that just take away from the bike’s rideability. Sure, it’s a damn fine-looking machine; we just want some bite to back up that bark.
Coming in at $13,000 this is the most expensive bike in our shootout. As you might expect from BMW, fit and finish definitely meet its high standards, but when comparing performance, the Triumph Street Scrambler is a much better buy at $10,700.
By far my least favorite of the three, the R nineT Scrambler was too heavy, too bulky, it didn’t feel good on the street, and something just felt off when scrambling in the dirt too. Slapping a set of knobbies on an R nineT doesn’t make it a Scrambler. I get that BMW wanted to enter the category with something special, but it missed the mark as far as handling and overall rideability. The front end was floppy and the seat height was too much for my stubby inseam (30 inches).
However, I love the engine power and torque output. The R nineT Scrambler is fast as hell. And as far as looks, it was definitely the most stylish of the three. I loved the lines of the bodywork, especially the 2-1-2 stainless steel high-swept pipe. And I liked the color of the brushed aluminum tank. But after riding the bike, I definitely prefer the stock R nineT over its Scrambler sibling. Please stick to making the GS for dual-sports and R nineTs for performance cruisers. The end.
I had such high hopes for the BMW R nineT Scrambler when I first heard about its upcoming release. I loved the standard R nineT and I was sure the Scrambler would measure up as well. Unfortunately, I was wrong and the R nineT Scrambler just doesn’t translate to a usable bike off road. Not only does the bike not handle well in the dirt, it handles worse on the road compared to the standard version because of the knobby tires. This makes for a loss on the road that isn’t made up for in the dirt.
The Scrambler looks great and hit the mark in the aesthetics department, but that’s just not enough. The bike is simply too heavy to be a viable option in the dirt, and as strange as it sounds, the motor is too large for scrambling. It’s unusable power because if you use it to its potential, you will be holding on for dear life to keep it upright, and stopping is no picnic either—just too heavy.
This editor would be picking the standard R nineT any day of the week and leaving the scramblers to a different manufacturer.
2017 Moto Guzzi V7 II Stornello
By Jon McDevitt
During our scrambler shootout, I was assigned the beautiful-looking V7 II Stornello. This is a limited-edition motorcycle from Moto Guzzi and the only factory-made scrambler the Genoese manufacturer makes, with the “V7 II Scrambler” being just a dealer kit.
Coming in at $11,190, the V7 II Stornello is rocking a decent little air-cooled 744cc engine. The bike is shaft driven, which was something I was not particularly happy with, but we will get into that a little later. Enjoying a seat height of 31.4 inches and a minimal ground clearance of 7 inches, the V7 II is plenty capable on the trails we explored. With a tank capacity of 5.5 gallons and a 1-gallon reserve, you have enough fuel to get you there and back home—or at least back to a gas station.
The power output is enough to get you around on the pavement safely, but it won’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. In the dirt, even with the traction control turned off, it was pretty hard to get the rear tire to really break loose and swing the tail end around as much as the other guys were able to with their bikes. That being said, the Guzzi was able to get me everywhere I wanted to go in the dirt, with the only real complaint being that I couldn’t be as big of a hooligan as my friends and their bigger-displacement bikes.
The fact that the V7 II was the lightest of the bunch at 410 pounds did make for a good time sending it over a decent little jump. It is very thin and tucked in nicely, which makes it extremely easy to navigate small, narrow paths without whacking your hands or the limited paint with bushes and branches. The seating position was a dream for my 6-foot frame. The tank cutouts result in a perfect “holstering your legs” feel. The bars were at a decent angle, and having farther back mid-foot controls made it a perfect package. A whole day of riding on the street to get to the trails and hours of jumping, trail riding, and some pretty gnarly, steep, rocky grades left me not even the slightest bit sore or uncomfortable.
I found the style of the Guzzi absolutely gorgeous. Just perfect execution of the classic scrambler styling, though I could do without the red-painted frame, which was a bit much for my taste. The Arrow stainless 2-into-1 exhaust system not only does the bike a great favor in the aesthetics department, but it sounds brilliant. Not too loud and not too quiet; it was the perfect balance. Its resting place up high makes for a rad look as well as keeping it out of the way for ground clearance.
All in all, the V7 II would have been a real contender for first place, but the price tag along with its weak motor paired with the shaft drive led to its downfall for me. If that bike was chain driven and rocking a 900cc motor with a smaller price tag, it very well might have won.
The Stornello is the only factory scrambler to come from Moto Guzzi, so it ended up in our lineup here even though it’s a limited-edition bike, which bumps up the cost considerably. With its 744cc longitudinally opposed shaft-driven motor, the Guzzi is the smallest displacement and most approachable of the three bikes tested. It was the lightest and most nimble of the trio, but where it really stood apart was in ways of appearance. Being a limited bike, the Stornello has some custom-looking accents that you just don’t see on production bikes. Like the Arrow 2-1 high exhaust system or the aluminum plate above the light—just cool little style details that add to the overall look of things.
Performance-wise, the Stornello behaved sort of like a 30-year-old bike. The gearbox was clunky and rough, taking some force to shift gears and fighting you to find neutral. Power output is decent but, again, closer to what you’d expect from an air-cooled bike 30 years older. While this bike was a bunch of fun and more capable than the BMW off road, it almost felt mean pitting the Guzzi against the Triumph.
The Stornello was in my opinion the best representation of the scramblers from the past in the looks department. It was stripped down but still offered some of the components that modern-day scramblers are equipped with: traction control, ABS, EFI. After throwing a leg over it and hitting the ignition button, it certainly felt like an old motocrosser too. It rattled. It shook. It felt really agile sitting still. So far, I liked it… And when I rode it, I liked it more. I did not like the $11,190 price tag, given what it was. I get that this is a collector’s edition motorcycle and that it’s representative of 50 years of Guzzi heritage, but for the dough, I’m choosing the Triumph or a way more capable, plated 450. While I believe Morgan and Jon weren’t the biggest fans, I really liked it given that it fit the scrambler category pretty well.
2017 Triumph Street Scrambler
By Jordan Mastagni
The 2017 Triumph Street Scrambler has been redesigned to embody sort of a utilitarian scrambler, with upgrades in all the right places. Sharing the same contemporary custom principles as the Street Twin, the new Street Scrambler also represents classic Bonneville characteristics: clean lines, minimal bodywork, contemporary finishes, and a sleek fuel tank
The new Street Scrambler chassis features one of the most ergonomically friendly riding positions with a 31.1-inch seat height and mid-mounted foot controls. Simply put, at 5-foot-10, I felt as if the motorcycle was made for the average Joe for riding on the street and the dirt. The Triumph also offers longer shock travel, upgraded brakes with ABS (Nissin two-piston caliper and 310mm disc up front, and 255mm disc with Nissin two-piston caliper in the rear), and a new 32-spoke 19 x 2.5-inch front wheel (32-spoke 17 x 4.25-inch rear) equipped with Metzeler’s Tourance tire. The tires are grippy on the street, surprisingly sticky in the corners, and knobby enough for the dirt for scrambling good time–some really solid rubber for blending both worlds.
The factory cartridge fork does a great job soaking up the bumps and rocks on the trail, and the twin shocks with adjustable preload were pretty aggressive. We had a hard time bottoming the front or rear, which was a pleasant finding when going off road and constantly crossing unexpected obstacles.
The Triumph Street Scrambler is a stylish motorcycle, but it’s also very technologically savvy. Powered by a 900cc parallel twin (same as the Street Cup and Street Twin), the Scrambler is well suited for riding both on and off road. Throttle response is crisp and snappy too, which is where the torquey motor and ride-by-wire technology come in handy, especially in the dirt. The liquid-cooled, eight-valve, SOHC parallel twin boasts 55 hp and 59 pound-feet of torque at the rear wheel. And given the overall 450-ish pound wet weight, the Scrambler’s power output is plentiful.
Triumph’s modern Scrambler wouldn’t fit the bill without standard traction control and ABS–both can be turned off or on depending on riding conditions. I recommend turning traction control/ABS off when ripping through the dirt but switching them on again for a confidence-inspiring feeling when back on the tarmac, traversing the twisties; however, these functions can only be manipulated when off the throttle, so it’s much easier to set before you head out on your ride. I guess that’s not a small price to pay considering the advancement in modern-day technology to the scramblers from the past. Also, the Street Scrambler’s torque-assist clutch reduces the overall bulk from the clutch compartment to give the engine profile a sleek and narrower look, but the clutch lever effort is also pretty minimal with smooth clutch actuation when needed.
While we didn’t really use this feature, you’ll find a USB power socket under the seat for charging electronics. A nice addition that could really come in handy if you get lost on the trail with a dead smartphone/GPS.
Overall, the Street Scrambler comes in with the lowest price point at just shy of 11 grand; it definitely packs the best overall punch in terms of value. You get the nostalgia of Triumph’s original Scrambler with some serious upgrades in the technology department, making this the clear-cut winner of our scrambler shootout.
To me, the Triumph is the quintessential scrambler in our lineup. Triumph was one of the original names in scrambler racing back in the ’60s, so it’s only fitting that its bike checks all of our boxes. First off, it’s great on the road where most people will be spending most of their time on this bike. The tires work well, the suspension is good, the bike is nimble—all the boxes. Take a quick turn down a dirt trail and she’s still in her element. Sure, it’s no single-track-ready dirt bike, but in the spirit of true scrambling, like fire trails, dirt roads, and more hard-packed stuff, this thing rips.
The Street Scrambler also holds what I consider the most iconic scrambler look of the threesome. That classic high and tight 2-2 pipe is such a symbol of the rowdy, go-anywhere nature that started scrambles back in the day. For me, the fact that this is both the cheapest and best-performing bike makes it a very obvious choice. Add all that lovely old-school Triumph sex appeal and I don’t think the other two bikes ever stood a chance.
Ah, the Triumph Street Scrambler. The golden egg of our three test bikes. I love every single thing about this motorcycle. Styling is perfection, the motor has the perfect amount of power on and off road, the suspension is perfectly adequate, and the chassis handles wonderfully. The Street Scrambler will keep your wallet a little fatter too with the price coming in at the lowest between the three bikes at $10,700.
The Street Scrambler is perfect for you if want a solid commuting motorcycle, something to play with in the dirt, and to rip around the canyons. This bike does it all, but more importantly it does it all well. I think my favorite part of this bike, aesthetically, is the high brushed stainless steel 2-into-2 exhaust system. The Triumph is also the only one of these three that is chain driven, which gives it more of a classic vintage scrambler feel to me.
What it comes down to is the Street Scrambler outperformed the other two bikes quite literally in every way. It was the clear winner, and If I were to buy a new Scrambler, this would be my top choice.