When most of us think of scramblers, we probably conjure up that scene with Steve McQueen (or Bud Ekins, anyway) jumping a barbed wire fence in The Great Escape (if you're of a certain age, anyway, cough). Built for the road but adapted for the dirt, scramblers evolved into fun and affordable bikes over the years, with open, simple designs. They may have gone away for a few dark years but, like anything retro, the original do-it-all-machines have enjoyed a resurgence recently.

The recipe used to be simple: Take a streetbike; strip off the bodywork and other unnecessary bits; fit longer-travel shocks, high-mount pipes, knobby tires, and higher bars; and go riding. But that was then and the modern formula has taken on added complexity, with many of the higher-end models featuring rider aids like traction control, riding modes, switchable ABS, and even adjustable suspension. Most of these are purpose-built machines, but generally scramblers offer classic styling and a balance of on-road worthiness and off-road prowess without the stormtrooper vibe of a full ADV bike. Some are more about fashion than function though, and it pays to check the specs. Here are our top picks for 2019 (all available in the US).

2019 BMW R nineT Scrambler: $12,995
R nineT Scrambler
Despite cost-cutting measures like cast wheels, a traditional 43mm fork, and no tach, the Beemer can still handle fire roads.Courtesy of BMW

The Bavarians nailed the urban scrambler style from the jump, and at the heart of the BMW Scrambler is a classic 1,170cc flat-twin engine doling out powerful torque and a unique sound. The air-and-oil-cooled opposed twin is also found in the GS, R, and RT models, with an identical output of 110 hp, but it does get a revised fuel map for the Scrambler. Making it feel a wee more dirtworthy is the requisite high-mount exhaust, slightly more suspension travel, rugged finishes, a more relaxed seating position, and a larger 19-inch front wheel typical of scramblers (though the wheels are cast). Non-scrambler bits include a monoshock, a traditional fork, and street-biased rubber, though all these can be upgraded (for a price). The R nineT Scrambler nails the look perfectly, but expect some compromise in the off-roading department; this is basically a 485 lb. streetike with better clearance. Its pricier, slightly heavier R nineT Urban G/S sibling is slightly more dirt-worthy, so at the end of the day it comes down to personal choice. More info here.

2019 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled: $11,995
Scrambler Desert Sled
Ducati offers five scrambler-style machines of varying displacements and Scrambler has become its top-selling line.Courtesy of Ducati

Ducati brings a full line of 800cc scramblers, with the Scrambler Icon, Desert Sled, and Scrambler Full Throttle all equipped for some type of brown-top scrambling, but the Desert Sled is probably the most versatile, with a heavier-duty and fully adjustable 46mm USD fork (with 7.9 inches of travel), a stouter swingarm, a 19-inch laced front wheel, and Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR rubber. Wet weight? 417 lbs., so not exactly a lightweight. Bosch Cornering ABS now comes standard on all Scrambler 800 models, making them the only motorcycles in the mid sized scrambler class with that safety technology.

If you need more—or less—muscle, Ducati has two other options as well, with the bigger Scrambler 1100 and the baby 400cc Sixty2, for a total of five true scrambler options.

The Desert Sled will set you back $11,995, but the Scrambler Icon is priced at under $10K. Details can be seen here.

2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE: $15,400
Scrambler 1200 XE
Triumph’s robust 1,200cc Scramblers are fully equipped for desert duty, while the 900cc model is more street-oriented.Courtesy of Triumph

Triumph arguably has the deepest roots in the style, stretching back as the TR5 Trophy in the late '40s, all the way up to the popular desert sleds of the '60s, and then the reintroduced Bonneville-based Scrambler in 2006. Today the Brits are just as invested in the class, with three scrambler variations in the mix. Its new 1200 XC and XE are the heavy hitters, boasting 1,198cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin motors designed to conquer urban lanes as well as dirty trails, and Senior Editor Justin Dawes called the duo "the real deal" after blasting around on them in Portugal. Those who take their scrambling seriously should look to the top-of-the-range XE, which brings a longer-travel adjustable suspension (9.4 inches of travel from the fully adjustable fork), switchable ABS and traction control, and a claimed 88 hp and 81 pound-feet of peak torque, all intended to really get down and dirty, while the XC, with its lower seat and narrower handlebar, is more inclined to favor country roads (though it can still rumble off road). Both wear a classic profile enhanced by 21-inch front wheels, Brembo brakes with ABS, and selectable riding modes.

Doing just blacktop and the occasional fire road? Opt for the smaller, street-oriented 900cc Street Scrambler which also got major upgrades like better suspension and a boost in horsepower last year, but embraces the retro style more fully.

2019 Indian FTR 1200 (shown with Rally Collection): $13,499 (base)
FTR 1200
The base model FTR is a streetbike, but fitting it with the Rally kit (optional) makes it more dirtworthy.Courtesy of Indian Motorcycle

Yes, it’s a streetbike, but it’s also the model that got everybody’s tongues wagging last year. Indian’s all-new 2019 FTR 1200 is based on the FTR750 dirt track racer, but is very much its own animal. A steel trellis space frame encloses the 1,200cc engine (boasting a healthy 10.5:1 compression), which also acts as a stressed member. The riding position is upright and there’s long-travel suspension in the form of an inverted 43mm fork and monoshock rear. The street tracker vibe comes courtesy of an 18-inch wheel out back with a 19-incher up front, both covered in flat-track-biased Dunlops designed for the FTR (but you can upgrade to wire spokes and knobbies). And, hang on, there’s a claimed 120 hp going through a six-speed gearbox and chain final drive.

Triple disc Brembo brakes and ABS are standard on both, but the up-spec FTR 1200 S brings fully adjustable suspension front and rear, and also comes with Bosch stability control. Indian offers accessory kits for the FTR; the Rally Collection will get you closest to a scrambler configuration, though ponying up for the laced wheels, high-mount Akrapovič exhaust and other add-ons doesn't come cheap. More info here and here:indianmotorcycle.com/en-us/ftr1200/.

2019 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401: $6,299
Svartpilen 401
The Svartpilen definitely blurs the lines with its modern aesthetic and hybrid/tracker vibe, but it’s definitely down for a quick scramble.Courtesy of Husqvarna Motorcycles

The Svartpilen 701 hybrid grabbed headlines for Husky this year upon its release, but it's the smaller Svartpilen 401 that's playing the scrambler role in the family. Okay, more like scrambler-styled; the beginner-friendly 401 is more comfortable on blacktop than berms, but that slim profile with a steel trellis frame nevertheless gets ruggedized by a pair of 17-inch spoke wheels bracketing a liquid-cooled, 373cc, single-cylinder engine (same as the one usually found on the KTM 390 Duke). The 43-hp output doesn't sound like a lot, but it's ideal for scrambling. The excellent ByBre (a subsidiary of Brembo) braking system is comprised of 320mm dual discs at the front, a 240mm disc at the rear, and a Bosch switchable ABS system. An off-road-style handlebar gives an upright riding position, and the nonadjustable suspension consists of a 43mm USD cartridge fork with a monoshock out back. Pirelli Scorpion Rally donuts seal the deal.

Honorable Mentions

Moto Guzzi V7 II (shown with scrambler kit): N/A
V7 II
Although Guzzi no longer offers a purpose-built scrambler model in the US, you could easily outfit one its V7 models with available components.Courtesy Moto Guzzi

Guzzi's last true modern scrambler was the Stornello, which unfortunately was only offered for 2015–2017 in the US. So if you're looking for more current scrambly-styled rigs from Italy's oldest brand, your best option would be to outfit one of its V7 models with a Guzzi-supplied scrambler kit. Scrambler kits for the V7 range have been in the catalog for years, and the integrated components—which include a high pipe option, beefier springs, and aluminum side plates—provide a good result. Pricing varies, so see Moto Guzzi for more info.

2019 Royal Enfield Himalayan: $4499
Himalayan
RE’s Himalayan hews pretty close to the scrambler formula as is, save for the added luggage and screen, but word is there will be a true scrambler model soon.Courtesy of Royal Enfield

The Himalayan aims for ADV bona fides, but with retro feel, low-tech vibe, and light weight (and low price), you could also argue it’s a scrambler underneath. Ditch the windshield, toss the bags, and voila.But we also keep hearing news about RE teasing a true scrambler-style model, which we understand is destined for India only. Word on the street is that Enfield will simply use two powerplants it already has on hand; the 350 air-cooled single and the 500cc single-cylinder engine, the latter of which has fuel injection. Stay tuned.

2019 Norton Atlas Ranger: est. $13,500 USD, based on 11,995 Euro pricing.
Atlas Ranger
Norton’s new-for-2019 Atlas Ranger is one of the best-looking modern interpretations of the scrambler style we’ve seen, and the spec sheet looks promising too. It’ll cost you though.Courtesy of Norton Motorcycles (UK)

Not cheap, and not even yet available in the States, this new 650cc entry from the resurrected Norton marque looks like a strong contender in the lightweight (read: sub-liter) scrambler class. The parallel-twin liquid-cooled powerplant has four valves per cylinder, with output claimed to be a respectable 85 bhp at 11,000 rpm (more than the bigger Ducati Sled or Triumph Street Scrambler). The Atlas Ranger also piles on 7.9 inches of travel for the front inverted Roadholder forks, beefy triple-disc Brembo binders with ABS, aggressive rubber, a 19-inch laced front wheel, and a skid plate. The less aggressive (and less expensive) Norton Atlas Nomad sports much of the same architecture, but does it in “neo-cafe” style. Build quality on both bikes looks excellent, but no one outside of the Norton R&D department has ridden them yet, so we’ll reserve judgement until they hit the US this summer.