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MD First Ride: Triumph Scrambler 900

How can you prepare for a test of the Scrambler without giving old Steve McQueen a thought? “On Any Sunday”, “The Great Escape” … “I live for myself and I answer to nobody” McQueen said. The Scrambler 900 is all about that lifestyle, a lazy, sun-drenched, surfin’ California lifestyle.

The Bonnie Scrambler feels right straight away. I can almost feel the salty warm sea air flowing through my hair through my full-faced helmet. But I’m not in California; I’m in old foggy Blighty. So how come I get this calming sensation, as if I’m on my way to the beach to do a bit of off-road riding and watch the surfers? It’s because I’m surfing with the Scrambler.

The big parallel twin thumps out smooth torque below me and the handlebars are comfortably wide. Stress relief is what this bike is all about, and the Scrambler is damn good at it. From looking at the sturdy tubular frame, and the two stretched high mounted exhaust pipes in the morning, to watching the sunset between the handlebars in the evening – this is a very relaxing bike.

The Triumph Scrambler 900 is the natural follow-up to 2004’s Thruxton 900. Compared to the Thruxton, the Scrambler is very docile and laid back. There’s not as much horsepower on tap, and the riding position is much more relaxed. The seat height is low, slightly too low for me since the seat is so soft. My legs would have felt much more comfortable if I could just sit slightly higher on the super soft seat. But who cares – I’m Steve McQueen, and I can stand up and eat barbed wire if I wish.

The tyres are not as knobby as the one’s on McQueen’s 1964 “278” Enduro bike, but they do look the part. They are Bridgestone Trail Wings on spoked wheels, and can handle some gravel if need be. But the bike is more a statement than anything else. Ride it because you like to remember those days rather than trying to act them out. You are better off with a Honda CRF or something similar if you like to jump. The weight of the bike makes itself felt immediately when you venture off the pavement, the twin-shock rear suspension doesn’t have enough travel and you don’t want mud under that attractive rear fender anyway.

The Scrambler 900 works best when cruising in the countryside or commuting to town. The gentle 900cc parallel twin makes you relax in much the same way as a big cruiser. Compared to a cruiser, the riding position is more upright and the handlebars tall and wide.

To see if it handled well, I rode it through some corners as quick as it would go. Top speed is around 110mph, and the Scrambler is stable enough for what it can do. In the corners it is easy enough to lean it from left to right (the wide bars help), and the Scrambler feels very stable here too. Particularly on really bad pavement, the Scrambler 900 holds its own over most other retro machines. The Trail Wing tires, stable chassis and wide bars give good control. The suspension is on the soft side, and the front fork feels softer than the twin rear shocks. The chromed rear shocks can be adjusted for preload, and perhaps I could have softened it slightly to be in tune with the front for my use.

The 865cc parallel twin develops a claimed 54bhp @ 7,000rpm. The engine is fed with double, electrically-heated carburetors-perfect for those ice-cold mornings. On the Scrambler, all you need to do is short shift as soon as possible up to fifth for smooth and pleasant acceleration. You never feel like you need to go anywhere in a rush. Life’s like a piece of chocolate.

When you do need to stop the brakes (310mm disc in front, and 255mm in back) have got good feel and, particularly when used together, conjunction they feel more than up to the job of stopping the 450 pound bike. With loads of engine braking, I rarely felt the need to apply the brakes hard.

Triumph has been producing versions of this 865cc twin for some time, so reliability shouldn’t be an issue.

The bottom line is that the Scrambler design and Triumph badge are enough to sell this bike to the target customer. There is not much I can or will say that can change that. The Scrambler 900 is a lovely piece of retro-styled machinery. It made me relax, and I found myself exploring the side roads I usually fly past on other bikes. I did not feel completely in tune with the rear suspension, but I reckon with a pillion on it would have been perfect. I can’t imagine any other bike that would better introduce a new pillion to motorcycles. The Scrambler is calm and easy – ready to hit the beach, Steve?

The 2006 Scrambler 900 carries a US MSRP of $7,999. Check out Triumph’s web site for more info.

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