What is it?
I like the idea of a Scrambler, the original idea, I mean. Take a standard road motorcycle, give it a set of off-road friendly suspension, add in a bigger front wheel, throw on a set of knobby tyres, stir well and serve hot with a side of off-road trails. Scramblers were born of simplicity – motorcycles that were built to be light and compact while chomping at the bit to go attack some dirt. It’s a pity then, that far too many of today’s Scramblers are watered-down replicas built more for swag value at the local cafe than anything else. This one is different.
What does it look like?
The Triumph Scrambler 1200 was built as a two-finger salute aimed right at its supposed rivals, particularly the one from Italy. That’s because this bike packs some serious go to match all that show, although you definitely won’t mistake it for anything but a scrambler. The bodywork is minimal and it packs the trademark Bonnie-shaped fuel tank that sits ahead of a flat seat and behind a small round LED headlamp.
There are also some lovely detail touches that we’ve come to expect from Triumph, including plenty of brushed aluminium trim all over, a lovely aluminium swing arm and a set of side-laced spoked rims that support tubeless tyres. A massive 21-inch front wheel and long travel suspension (dual shocks at the rear keep with the retro vibe) remind you that this is no poser. The crowning glory of the design comes in that oh-so-pretty high-slung exhaust that looks fabulous, but isn’t without its flaws – we’ll get to that later. All in all, it’s good-looking in a rugged and functional sense, but it isn’t the most handsome of scramblers to my eyes.
What is it like to ride?
Both, the 840mm seat height and 205kg quoted dry weight are identical to the Tiger 800’s, which is a bummer, considering what a scrambler should be, but this bike is so much easier to handle than its ADV sibling. First, it feels much slimmer at the waist, which makes it easier to get your feet down, but more importantly, it has none of that top-heavy weight bias, thus demanding much less of a manhandling off road. And boy does this bike shine when the tarmac ends.
200mm of suspension travel at both ends is serious and it’s fully adjustable as well. There’s a 45mm Showa USD fork at the front and a pair of Ohlins shocks at the rear. Over a full day’s time, we got to ride the Scrambler 1200 through a number of trails, with surface conditions ranging from gravelly, to rocky and even some ridiculously slippery clay-based slush. The stock Metzeler Tourances were fantastic throughout, only getting flummoxed by the slush, but that stretch was so nasty that only a full MX-style tyre would have found any semblance of grip.
Ultimately, I found this bike to be seriously talented off road, and much easier to manage than the Tiger 800. However, I do believe that the Tiger is just a little more capable because its suspension feels more sophisticated at the front, and it has more travel at both ends. Of course, the top-spec Scrambler 1200XE gets 50mm more suspension travel than the XC and it would probably wipe the floor with a Tiger 800 XCx, but an intimidating 870mm seat height means that Triumph has no plans of bringing that bike to India.
A big aspect of the Scrambler 1200 motorcycle’s character comes from its 1,200cc parallel-twin that’s got torque to go for days. Anything upwards of 1,500rpm comes in strong, accompanied by a deep and meaty braap from the exhaust. Responses to the throttle at low revs are much more immediate than the Tiger’s 800cc triple that makes 5hp more, but is down on torque by a massive 21Nm. I really enjoyed this motor and the tidal wave of torque makes the Scrambler a very quick machine without having to go anywhere close to the 7,000rpm redline.
It’s never too aggressive, but you can temper the engine’s responses by switching through the five riding modes, starting with Rain at the mildest, moving upwards through Road, Sport, Off-Road and a customisable Rider mode. The modes allow you to set up throttle response, traction control and ABS, and they work well for the most part. One thing I didn’t like is that you can’t fully turn off traction control and engage off-road ABS at the same time because that’s only possible with the Off-Road Pro mode available exclusively on the Scrambler 1200 XE.
A look at the spec sheet (and the bike itself) easily gives away the fact that it should excel off road, and it does. The surprising bit is that it’s damn good fun on the road as well. Ride quality is great, as you’d expect, and things stay impressive when you up the pace on a winding road. Even on the stock setting, there’s no unsettling wallow from the suspension and the double-cradle frame feels rigid and stable as well. The bike attacks corners with glee and you’ll quickly find yourself on the edge of those really likeable Metzelers, with the foot peg feelers grinding away on the tarmac.
Direction changes don’t take too much effort and when you need to, the bike slows down exceptionally well. Credit here goes to a pair of Brembo M50 brakes that are normally found on litre-class superbikes. M50s sure look great on the spec sheet, but does an off-road-focused motorcycle really need them? I asked Triumph this and they explained that the M50s are mighty, but they also offer higher levels of feel and can be more finely tuned for the application, which is clearly the case here. Bite is not at all superbike-sharp, but the power is very progressive and properly strong further in the lever travel - I’m happy the brakes are there.
While the motor can effortlessly sustain cruising speeds that are much higher than the national speed limit, the complete lack of wind protection will result in some neck ache after a while. In that sense, this bike is a much more single-dimensional machine than the Tiger 800, and it just doesn’t offer the same level of functionality or versatility. The Tiger is a much nicer highway machine – it’s got more spacious seats, is vastly better for a pillion, and it’s much better suited to carrying luggage as well. On the other hand, the Scrambler is a better handler, it packs an incredible features list and has many things the Tigers sorely need, including keyless start, tubeless-ready rims and top-shelf brakes. The Scrambler 1200 also debuts Triumph’s new-gen TFT display, and if you purchase an accessory module, it enables control over navigation, music and even a GoPro action camera.
Should I buy one?
Triumph gives you all of this for Rs 10.73 lakh (ex-showroom), which is great pricing. That makes the Scrambler Rs 1.26 lakh cheaper than the no frills Tiger 800 XR, Rs 3.3 lakh less than the off-road-focused XCx and a whole Rs 4.43 lakh cheaper than the newly launched, top-of-the-line XCa. So that’s it then – this bike is feature-packed, great fun and superbly priced. Time to get one, right? Well, not quite, because there is one caveat, and it’s a pretty big one.
That brings us back to the sexy, high-running exhaust. The heat radiating off this pipe is off the charts, ornate heat shields notwithstanding. In Chandigarh’s flowing traffic, I found that I couldn’t keep my right foot down at a traffic light for more than 20sec, despite wearing proper riding pants and full length ADV-touring boots. Things didn’t get much better outside urban limits, because when you grip the bike with your lower body (as you should), either while sitting or standing off-road, the heat is inescapable and the discomfort was on my mind the entire day. I suspect the only way the heat won't be as intense is if you're wearing a pair of MX boots, with hard plastic external armour.
It certainly wouldn’t have been as unique and good looking, but if this motorcycle came with a conventionally positioned exhaust, I think I’d have been head over heels in love. Right now, I have singed patch of skin on my right leg that simply isn’t letting that emotion through. If you’re tougher about discomfort than I am, you’ll find an unusual, but very likeable motorcycle in the Scrambler 1200 XC.