Ducati Scrambler Icon vs. Triumph Scrambler Comparison Review

Is motorcycling's past morphing into its future? We scramble to find out.

Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Scrambler desert action at sunset

Group action photo #5

Ducati Scrambler and Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen

One of the motorcycle's best qualities is its ability to trigger your mind to build a pleasing image around the machine. For this pair of Scramblers, one from Ducati and one from Triumph, the image is idyllically rustic, backlit with hazy-warm golden light complete with lens flares. Much like the cozy cross-generational visions you're looking at on these pages now. These are images evocative of times and feelings that may or may not have actually existed, though if you ask a riding enthusiast who lived and loved through the scrambler heyday of the '60s and '70s, there's no doubt it was real.

And there is no doubt it is real right now, on the highways and dirt roads of America. Good times, accessible motorcycles, and decent pricing are what fueled the boom times first time around, and both of these Scramblers offer a lot of bike for the money.

Ducati Scrambler desert action

Ducati Scrambler action photo #4

Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen

Step one to good times was sending our pair of pro-racer photo models for a real scramble in the California desert near Pioneer Town, not far from Joshua Tree National Park in California. Ryan Dudek’s skills are well documented in these pages, and he was joined by AMA Pro SuperSport East champ Hayden Gillim. That’s Hayden on the Ducati (above photo), dragging a footpeg while dirt-tracking on a dry lake bed. It was totally impractical and all about fun, but if you happen to be a pro-level rider and want to slide one of these bikes on dirt, both of our guys picked the agile, light, and quick Ducati.

But back to reality.

Triumph came to this retro-scrambler land first, way back in 2005 (if you don’t count pre-unit and unit-construction scramblers it made during the company’s first life). If you missed it, the Scrambler is based on the love-object Bonneville, which I first rode on its introduction in England in 2001, when the weather forecast was so bad that the lady on the telly said, “Don’t leave your homes!” Could have used the Scramblers’ Bridgestone Trail Wings on that ride back then.

Triumph Scrambler static side view

Triumph Scrambler static photo #1

Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen

We didn’t have any such weather troubles even though it was “winter” out here in Southern California. Sunny and warm, just like the personalities of these great bikes.

That said, the Triumph has that almost exclusively English property of being stylish and elegant while also getting its frump on a bit. This latter point comes mostly from the basic "thickness" of the bike, both in its width from the high-mount pipes and from the shape of the fuel tank and engine. Its weight and power output also give it some of that staid character. If you haven't picked up 106 pounds in a while, give it a go and ask yourself if you'd like to not have to lift it. Better yet, try running with that load. One hundred and six pounds is how much more the Triumph weighs than Ducati's exceptionally light Scrambler Icon, and you feel that difference in every movement of these bikes.

"The Triumph has that almost exclusively English property of being stylish...while also getting its frump on a bit."

The power situation is also decidedly skewed: The Triumph’s 51.6 hp from its 865cc parallel twin is delivered in measured fashion, thanks to the abundant flywheel inertia and bottom-end-centric power delivery. Its 46.2 pound-foot torque peak is essentially equal to that of the 803cc V-twin Ducati, but it’s delivered at 2,800 rpm, where the Duc’s peak is at 5,570. That’s it in a nutshell, but I’d be remiss not to point out the Ducati revs to 9K, 1,000 rpm higher, and belts out 69.7 vigorous horsepower along the way. It’s a completely different tuning ethic at work.

To the Triumph’s credit, it is exceptionally easy to launch, thanks to its torque character, smooth throttle response, and lighter-pull clutch.

But there will be no power wheelies.

Triumph Scrambler on road action

Triumph Scrambler action photo #1

Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen

This helps make the bike a friendly commuter, and its time-travel nature is accentuated by a pair of “carburetors” that house the fuel injectors. There is even a manual fast-idle pull-knob down on those carb-like things. It’s quaint and way cleaner than tickling an Amal Concentric. If you’ve never done that and want to experience it, every time you start your bike cold, go dip your finger in gasoline and pour some on the back of the engine so it drips onto the ground. Then pull the plug wires off and push the starter button until the battery dies, reconnect the plug wires, then push-start the bike. If you’re lucky. Breathe more gasoline fumes. That’s a roughly accurate approximation.

But this modern British Scrambler starts great every time, leaks no oil, and feels wonderful to ride. When Senior Editor Blake Conner and I hit the road for testing—with a quick foray onto dirt roads in the local national forest—we both liked the ergonomics of the Triumph better. Its seat is flatter, the handlebar is farther forward, and there is generally more room for a bigger 6-foot-2 guy like me, but even my 5-foot-11 cohort was happier. The softer suspension was more compliant, but once the pace heated up the Triumph wallowed during sporty cornering.

Ducati Scrambler static side view

Ducati Scrambler static photo #1

Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen

No such worries on the Ducati. It was rock solid and leans a long, long way before a footpeg will touch the road. Its ride is much firmer and more precise than the Triumph’s but was nonetheless comfortable and not harsh.

Based on the ergonomics, Ducati is clearly trying to make this an easy-access motorcycle for smaller riders and to inspire those of less experience. Its light weight and narrowness are great in this respect and are even great for full-size guys like me. But the seat basically appears to have had most of its foam scooped out to lower its height, and the tall, swept-back bar (as if borrowed from a '68 Yamaha DT-1, minus the crossbar) jams up taller riders. When you also factor in the high footpegs, you are looking at an uncomfortable riding position for anybody taller than about 5-foot-10.

"If you are a pro-level rider and want to slide one of these bikes on dirt, both of our photo guys picked the Ducati."

Ergonomics are pretty easy to change, though, and the other Scrambler models like the Full Throttle have a lower handlebar. So maybe there is some relief there.

The rest of the Scrambler Icon's ride is pure Ducati sporty naked fun with a whole lot of wheee! The engine is lively and quick revving, pulling strong all the way to the rev limiter. In fact, it's usually a surprise when you hit the limiter because there is no sign of power tapering off (and the LCD tachometer is hard to read at a glance). With its lighter weight, stronger engine, and more planted chassis, the Ducati rules winding roads. Add in much better brakes front and rear (with ABS standard) and the sporty package is complete. Not only are brake feel and front-end feedback significantly better on the Ducati, but its braking performance from 60 mph is 20 feet shorter (143 versus 123) than the Triumph's.

Ducati Scrambler on road action

Ducati Scrambler action photo #1

Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen

So in both numbers and feel, the performance choice is the Ducati. But one real drawback to the Italian bike’s eagerness was its very quick throttle response and heavier-pull, lower-feel clutch. If you are at all unsure about your throttle control and clutch coordination skills, the Ducati can challenge your ability to be smooth. This is less a flaw than a matter of tuning style, but it’s a real thing.

As we got more miles under our belt and felt like we’d explored the faster end of the performance spectrum, we backed off the pace a bit and focused more on riding away from our troubles and taking in the scenery. The nonadjustable fork and preload-adjustable-only shocks (two on the Triumph, one on the Ducati) began to matter less. The sounds and smells of the bikes, working as our accomplices in escape, came to the fore, the pleasing beat of the Ducati with its more distinct boom generally making most testers a little sonically happier.

Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Scrambler desert action

Group action photo #2

Ducati Scrambler and Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen

The softer setup of the Triumph became a benefit, particularly when we headed up a bumpy fire road. While the pro riders on our photo shoot liked the Ducati for its speed, firmness, and agility, for a couple of dudes wandering around on a dirt road, the Triumph was our pick. At a mellow pace, its cushy nature helped it glide over chop that punished the Ducati rider and sent him looking for smooth tarmac once again.

But very few people actually will scramble these Scramblers. So?

Triumph gets the credit for (re)treading this chunky-tired path first in modern times and for building a bike that fits a big fella like me (and testers of most sizes) comfortably. It was also more relaxing to ride, thanks to its mellower engine response, easy-pull clutch, and softer suspension. Because of this, the Triumph would make a better starter bike, but the 106-pound heavier weight and awkward width due to those cool high-mount exhaust pipes are a couple of big strikes against it. And they’re noticeable even if you’re not a beginner.

"The real power of the new Ducati Scrambler is that it will evoke a feeling of longing and nostalgia 20 years from now."

The Ducati comes in lighter and leaner and $500 cheaper (for our yellow Icon; red is $100 cheaper still). For this money, you get a bike that is basically as sporty as a Monster but with a more laid-back personality. It’s just about as easy to relax on while offering a lot more performance headroom. Even if its suspension is a bit stiff for bumpy dirt roads, the bike is ultimately truer to the scrambler ethic, both in image and performance numbers, freeing both your mind and your body just a little bit more.

The real power of the new Ducati Scrambler is that it will evoke a feeling of longing and nostalgia 20 years from now, and anybody who’s ridden the bike will know just how real it is.

SPECIFICATIONS Ducati Scrambler Icon Triumph Scrambler
PRICE $8595 $9099
DRY WEIGHT 393 lb. 499 lb.
WHEELBASE 56.9 in. 59.4 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.8 in. 31.4 in.
FUEL MILEAGE 43 mpg 44 mpg
1/4 MILE 12.02 sec. @ 109.35 mph 13.76 sec. @ 95.18 mph
0-60 MPH 3.4 sec. 4.8 sec.
TOP GEAR, 40-60 MPH 3.9 sec. 4.9 sec.
TOP GEAR, 60-80 MPH 4.2 sec. 6.4 sec.
TOP SPEED 120 mph 109 mph
HORSEPOWER 69.7 hp @ 8220 rpm 51.6 hp @ 6620 rpm
TORQUE 46.9 lb.-ft. @ 5570 rpm 46.2 lb.-ft. @ 2810 rpm
BRAKING, 30-0 MPH 30 ft. 35 ft.
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 123 ft. 143 ft.
Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Scrambler road action

Group action photo #1

Ducati Scrambler and Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Scrambler wheelie action

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Ducati Scrambler and Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Scrambler burnout action

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Ducati Scrambler and Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Scrambler beauty scene

Group static photo #1

Ducati Scrambler and Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Scrambler group static beauty

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Ducati Scrambler and Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler cornering action

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler side road action

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler dirt action

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler static side view

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler front wheel details

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler headlight details

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler fuel tank details

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler instruments details

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler engine details

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Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Ducati Scrambler engine details

Ducati Scrambler details photo #6

Ducati ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler cornering action

Triumph Scrambler action photo #2

Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler side road action

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Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler stunt ride action

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Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler dirt action

Triumph Scrambler action photo #5

Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler static side view

Triumph Scrambler static photo #2

Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler front brake details

Triumph Scrambler details photo #1

Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler fuel tank details

Triumph Scrambler details photo #2

Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler headlight details

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Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler engine details

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Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler exhaust details

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Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler engine details

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Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen
Triumph Scrambler exhaust pipes details

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Triumph ScramblerJeff Allen