This Is the Bike to Get You Started on Your Motorcycle Career
I have a French friend who owned a ‘69 Honda CB450 for years. She finally traded it in after the brakes went out (the latest of its recurrent mechanical problems) on Manhattan's First Avenue. She loved the bike, but mademoiselle needed something that she could trust.
The first thing I thought of was the Ducati Scrambler Sixty2, which is a bike I rode all last week. Especially if my friend had been a beginner, this $7,995 entry-level bike from the most prestigious Italian motorcycle brand would have been perfect. It is, in a word, trusty.
(Spoiler: She got a bike with a bigger engine than the 400cc Sixty2. Demure, she is not.)
Sixty2 (yes it’s named after the year Ducati first launched the single-cylinder Scrambler) is quick to start, easy to push through its six gears, and a 368-pound nimble joy to ride. Ducati launched it this year as a lighter (by seven pounds), sleeker complement to the 800-cubic-centimeter modern Scrambler it debuted in 2014; its teardrop tank, long back seat, slim tires (18’ inches in front; 17’’ in the rear) and that sans-serif Ducati emblem do much to evoke the youth culture of the 1960s and ‘70s. Better yet, Ducati has made it as fully modern, rugged, and capable as the rest of its impressive lineup.
I learned to ride years ago on a Ducati Monster 696. I wish it had been the Scrambler Sixty2, which would have made the learning curve a lot less steep.
Styled Like the ‘60s
Sixty2 is perfect as a bike for getting around a large city or town. Or, as I did, to simply switch neighborhoods and fly over the Williamsburg Bridge to buy plants and coffee at my favorite spots in Brooklyn. It’s no-fuss, no-muss, with classic vintage packaging and a strong premium brand behind it. And it argues a point that Ducati executives have made for a while now: A smaller engine does not necessarily mean an inexpensive, less-good bike.
This philosophy has worked well: Last year, the 800cc Ducati Scrambler was the 10th-bestselling 500cc-or-more motorcycle in the world; 16,000 of them sold worldwide, with one-third of those going to North America. The idea with the new smaller one, the Sixty2, is to sell it largely in Asia and to such underserved market segments as women and younger (under 40) people. Tenth place might not sound like a lot, but it’s massive for a luxury brand that sells wares two- and three-times more expensive than those of most other makers.
This bike is built on the exact platform as the bigger Scrambler, with the same Steve McQueen stance and most of the same components. It’s made in Italy with a steel, teardrop-shaped tank slimmer than its Scrambler sister—Ducati calls the look “inspired by youth street culture, skateboards, street food, pop music and … pop art,” although it’s easier simply to picture it simply as the lean, young sibling to the cool-kid, street-tough, café racer.
There are plenty of allusions to history: The filler cap is inscribed “born free - 1962”; the steel swingarm is done in the classic style; the key inserted on the headlamp unit recalls the design of the original light switch; the cross-spoke alloy wheels have the same look as old flat-track racers; the logo and four stars reflect ‘80s BMW culture and the 400cc engine.
The 14-liter fuel tank is different from its sibling, as are the exhaust system and a lower-spec suspension, but the steel trellis frame, overall body measurements, and most of the components remain identical. The handlebars sit high and wide. The license plate is held high, close to the rear passenger hand-holds and long seat that will easily fit a second rider. A single round LED halo headlight made of glass—the same as on the bigger Scrambler—juts out front. The narrow rear tire (slimmer than the one on the 800cc Scrambler), a unique front mudguard sitting just over the front wheel, and new swingarm run straight off the rear.
Unlike its bigger sibling, which uses interchangeable panels along its sides, the Sixty2 comes with dedicated graphics and logos affixed directly on each side. Three distinctive body colors (Atomic Tangerine, which I rode; Ocean Grey; Shining Black) come standard and exclusive to this model. All things considered, if I owned this one, I’d choose the black option, then pay a guy to drop the high handlebars to something low and cool. The fresh look of the Sixty2 is possibly too eager for some; minor modifications like that would help give it more of an edge.
Strong Engine, Solid Throttle
I found the 41 horsepower, V-twin engine on the Sixty2 thirsty enough for city streets—you really don’t need more than this level of power if you are a city rider, and it’s a good option up from the Vespa because it’s sturdier and more practical for extended use. Gears both up- and down-engaged seamlessly; engaging that green N for neutral came easily; many other modern bikes require you to learn a particular little touch, just as each clutch on a stick-shift transmission car feels a little different from the next.
For my tastes, steering on the Sixty2 may feel slightly tighter, but part of this is a function of the stock handlebars that come with the model. The front and rear Brembo brakes feel firm from the instant you squeeze your fingers and press your foot down (Bosch ABS come standard); you’ll feel confident the moment you use them. The throttle is alert and fluid through all gears, if casual—lazier in character than, say, a Monster, of course. This is no scream machine. If you’re an adrenaline junky, this is not the bike for you.
Some longtime Ducati lovers I spoke with while testing this little whip have criticized the Sixty2’s slower speed capabilities and relatively high price. (Ducati won’t comment on a top speed, but anything over 80 miles per hour feels borderline extreme; I had to be in third gear just to cruise East Village streets. The Sixty2 costs nearly as much as the excellent, much more powerful $8,895 Scrambler ICON; you can get an entry-level Honda for half the price.)
But this bike isn’t for longtime riders. If you need to wreak havoc on two wheels in order to alleviate inner emotional turmoil, declare or defend your manhood, and/or sort out personal problems, check back with Ducati about some of its more aggressive options.
The Motorcycle for Fun Afternoons
If you’re new to the Ducati brand, you’ll discover some idiosyncrasies in the Sixty2: The RPM counter on the single, front, digital dial runs downward and clockwise, in the opposite direction than you'd expect; it includes two trip odometers and one total-mileage odometer, a fuel indicator, an air temperature display, maintenance reminders, a clock, and ABS warning lights. You can change the metrics to European specifications (kilometers, liters) if you want.
The L-twin, two-valve engine that powers the Ducati Scrambler Sixty2 is derived from the engine on the Scrambler Icon—it’s air-cooled but still gets blisteringly hot when running. Beware the “park” function on the ignition—set at one past locked, it drains power in order to keep the parking light on and can leave you stranded with a dead battery if you leave it inadvertently engaged.
Ducati offers many extra bag and storage options for its bikes, but the tiny locked storage space hidden under the long, flat seat provided enough room for my phone, keys, camera and headphones, which was all the storage I needed. If you’ve got a back pocket for your wallet and a jacket pocket for your keys, you’ll be good to go. No one is buying it for long trips, anyway.
In fact, Ducati has done well with the Sixty2 by combining the café styling of the ‘60s with the full benefit of its luxury branding and components. Buy another motorcycle if you want to escape; buy this one if you want to have fun.