Expect the unexpected at all times: that’s my mindset when riding a motorcycle, and so far it has saved my ass on a handful of occasions. However, sometimes the unexpected thing is in the middle of a damn corner. I have no doubt that a lesser bike wouldn’t have been able to handle the crater hiding in the shadows of a sweeping left-hander I encountered while riding the 2019 Ducati Scrambler 1100. I had read the corner in my approach; my entry speed was right, my line was right, my lean angle was right and then, WHAM! The front wheel dropped into this black hole, then bounced back out at an angle, sending a shockwave through the bars up into my hands and arms.
By the time the sensation registered in my brain the rear wheel was already in the hole, where it seemed to ponder for a few seconds what to do next. It chose to leap out, slapping the pavement upon returning from the pit. Still, it didn’t jump out of line. And although it felt like I’d just grabbed ahold of an electric fence, I was good to roll on. While many things impressed me throughout my day riding the Scrambler 1100 Special, the fact that it remained poised through that whole scenario takes the cake.
The Good: At first glance the new 1100 doesn’t appear to be all that different than the other 50,000-plus bikes the Scrambler sub-brand has sold since 2015. However, when you look closer and read the spec sheet you realize a number of subtle, yet important changes have been made. The same basic heritage-inspired look forms the basis of the bike, but this time designer Jeremy Faraud started with a clean sheet of a paper — the result is a bike that is 100 percent new. It retains the knobby tires, banana seat and drop fuel tank indicative of the Scrambler, but they’ve all grown to fit the bigger personality of the 1100. More fuel capacity and a wider seat are among the most important changes because riders are going to want to go further and for longer periods of time on this updated bike.
Who They’re For: The rider who wants the best Scrambler will go right for the 1100, however it’s not just for those who want the range topping model. Anyone who wants a bike that is equally entertaining in corners as it is capable of facilitating extended adventures should have it on their list. With three selectable riding modes that make changes to power and traction, you have one bike that is a commuter, a cruiser and a canyon carver all in one. Those looking to drag a knee should seek out something else, as should the overlanding crowd. For the torque hungry rider who welcomes technology baked into their bike and isn’t worried about ponying up for it, the Scrambler 1100 is a perfect choice.
Watch Out For: The Scrambler 1100 is larger all around it may prove too much for some smaller riders who are attracted to the power. Seat height is now 31.8 inches and while I’m 5’11” I was able to stand flat footed when stopped, other slightly shorter riders will have trouble maneuvering in tight quarters.
Alternatives: You could drop roughly the same amount of coin on a number of similar options, but the most direct competition comes from BMW’s R-Nine T and Triumph’s Street Scrambler. Both of those bikes have similar integrity when it comes to style and performance. However, it seems Ducati has gone above and beyond to make the Scrambler 1100 the best value for the money in terms of it filling multiple roles.
Review: I couldn’t get enough of the tailpipe soundtrack. Whether on throttle or off, the two-into-one exhaust, which terminates with a terrific set of side by side mufflers, releases a simply joyous sound into the world. Rolling out of the powerband generates pops and burbles not entirely dissimilar from the sounds made by Ducati’s four-wheeled German relatives that wear four rings. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that our riding route featured a section with a number of tunnels and bits of road with high walls on either side. Twist the grip and the pipes let loose a throaty growl that becomes a wail as the revs climb higher. What I would have liked to know is how the optional Termignoni exhaust sounded, but a dead battery on the only bike outfitted with the exhaust kept it parked.
Reeling the 1100 in from a rapid clip is alarmingly easy, though not surprising given the dual 320mm Brembo discs mounted up front. In addition to running big discs with performance brake pads, the 1100 also boasts four different levels of selectable traction control (one of those being “off”), Bosch cornering ABS and three riding modes. Safety is absolutely as much a part of this bike as performance and, as you may have gathered from reading the introduction above, I’m rather pleased that’s the case. Fortunately, I didn’t get too familiar with all the other safety features.
One more thing I have to touch on is the riding position. A bike can be pretty as hell, make all the right noises and boast big power, but if it’s not comfortable to ride then it’s a miss. I’m happy to report the Scrambler 1100 is not a miss. At least not the 1100 Special. The lower taper bars that are specific to this bike make it easy to settle into just the right zone for touring and were comfortable for a highway tuck as well. The wider and taller seat rounds out the equation as it allows for multiple positions to be found. At the end of the day, my back wasn’t out of whack, my wrists weren’t aching and I wasn’t walking around like a toddler with a full diaper. I call that a win.
Verdict: Having not ridden any of the other Scrambler models myself I can’t definitively say that the 1100 Special is my favorite, but I can say it is the best. Through discussions with other journalists and Ducati employees it became clear that while the other models may be enjoyable, they are not without certain drawbacks such as fueling issues and concessions made on materials in order to keep costs down. No such criticisms were flung at the 1100 — that I heard — and I certainly didn’t have any complaints following my day in the saddle.
Of course, at the end of the day was already wondering about customization options; namely, the possibility of fitting the 1100 Special with the Ohlins suspension setup from the 1100 Sport. The brown seat, “Custom Grey” tank and chrome exhaust of the Special is more suited to my taste than “Viper Black” with yellow stripes color scheme of the Sport, and it’s hard to pass up Ohlins. Decisions, decisions. Regardless of which model you choose, there are plenty of factory customization options, including some bling from Rizoma in the form of pegs, brake fluid reservoir covers and a fuel tank cap.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The perfect primary balance of a large-displacement 90-degree Ducati twin is one of motorcycling’s great sensations. If you’ve never ridden one, there’s something almost organic feeling about the way the engine configuration translates reciprocating motion into visceral presence. The 1100 feels like a Ducati. Riding through oceanside tunnels and revving the throttle just to hear the holy thunder of the booming twin is really all the justification this bike needs, to be honest. Or maybe that’s just me. The 1100 sounds like a Ducati.” — Seth Richards, Cycle World
• “Slightly jumpy handling won’t worry most Scrambler owners because this is a bike that’s as much about the way it looks and how it’s put together. The 1100 has the kind of attention to detail that would make a Bimota owner proud: billet ali bar ends, braided steel brake hoses, digital dash, daytime running lights, adjustable suspension, quality fasteners, classy engine surface finishes and Brembos. The ‘X’ detail in the headlight mimics the tape scramblers had to put on to race back in the day.” — Michael Neeves, Motorcycle News
• “That distinctiveness remains, despite the 1100’s greater power, the Scrambler’s calling card. More and more bikers are seeking to individualize their bikes without having to resort to big-buck customizers. What has made the smaller Scramblers so successful for Ducati is that it is but the blank canvas that marks just the beginning of the new rider’s ownership experience. And that’s something all bikers can relate to, regardless of age or riding experience.” — David Booth, Driving
While the 1100 and 1100 Special get fully adjustable 45mm Marzocchi fork up front and a Kayaba monoshock with adjustable pre-load and rebound at the rear, the 1100 Sport gets a Ohlins hardware at both ends.
Transmission: six-speed; 1.85:1 ratio
Torque: 65 ft-lbs
Weight: 454 pounds wet; 417 pounds dry
Frame: tubular steel trellis
Seat Height: 31.9 inches
Fuel Tank Capacity: 3.96 gallons
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