When I got my first modern Triumph Scrambler a few years back, it had almost too much character—in the same traditional English sense that led to the original Meriden firm’s extinction in 1983. I rode the new bike home from the dealership and discovered it had two serious oil leaks (missing seal behind the starter motor and a bad O-ring on the oil-cooler line). Also, the rear sprocket hub had been machined out-of-round, and someone on the assembly line had installed an odometer that recorded kilometers in my American speedometer housing. Luckily, the dealer fixed all these problems immediately under warranty, and the bike was bulletproof forever after. I put it down to early teething problems on the new assembly line in Thailand.
So: Other than that (Mrs. Lincoln), did the 900 Scrambler have enough positive traits to make it onto our list of modern bikes with character? Happily, I think yes.
First, there’s the style. Though not quite as lean and clean as the high-pipe TR6C of the Sixties, the 900 Scrambler does a pretty successful job of evoking that uncluttered look, which is right out of one of the great Golden Ages of motorcycle design. It doesn’t hurt that the styling DNA carries a heavy dose of Steve McQueen (or Bud Ekins) desert racing, running the 1964 ISDT or jumping that famous faux-BMW (actually a Triumph) over the fence in Germany.
Then, there’s the engine. Triumph actually took the trouble to change the crank and firing interval on the Scrambler from the Bonneville’s 360 degrees to 270—rather than just glomming badges and high pipes onto a Bonneville—to give the engine its own distinctive exhaust note. It also got a larger front tire and a dual-sport tread pattern, along with more off-roadish bars and a higher ride height and roomier seating position. When in a gravel-road roosting mood, you can stand up on this baby. And it will roost, until you get into serious Single-track-trail work, at which time the Scrambler’s weight and limited suspension travel will quickly disabuse you of any motocross fantasies. It’s a bad-road bike, not an off-roader.
Stock from the showroom floor, the Scrambler is not exactly dripping with functional or aural charisma, but a good set of slightly throatier mufflers and better shocks make a big difference. And that may be the great secret of the Scrambler’s appeal: Like the Bonneville, it’s almost a blank canvas for personalization, allowing you to add whatever level of sound and glory you desire. You get to build upon the $8799 Scrambler’s character to reflect your own. There’s a virtual cottage industry (okay, maybe a large castle industry) in aftermarket cosmetic and performance parts for Triumph Twins, so it becomes a participatory bike, rather than one you just buy and stuff in the garage. And when you get done, you’ve got a motorcycle that sits right and looks right, sounds good and can go almost anywhere. Maybe even over that famous barbed-wire fence.
Or maybe not, now that Bud Ekins is gone. No sense pressing our luck.