The 2017 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer Will Be Your Favorite Ducati
Ten bucks says you can’t explain what a “scrambler café racer” is. I certainly couldn’t.
If you ask Ducati, the new Scrambler Café Racer is an extension of the Ducati Scrambler Classic, not to be confused with the Ducati Scrambler Icon or the Ducati Scrambler Full Throttle. Those models appeared on the market two years ago.
Here’s how I’d parse it. The $11,395 Scrambler Café Racer that Ducati unveiled this summer combines the best of two worlds. It has the sportif body of a traditional scrambler but handles with the élan of a café racer.
What’s more, it could very well become your favorite Ducati ever. I say this as someone who earned her motorcycle license riding a sporty Ducati Monster 796.
The first things you may notice about the new Scrambler Café Racer (or second, after the blaring “54” pasted beneath the seat, which is an homage to the famous racer Bruno Spaggiari, who famously used that race number on a 350cc Scrambler in 1968) are the smooth 17-inch wheels with Pirelli tires.
They are pivotal, because they pare back the knobby tire style that characterized the Icon variant, therefore allowing tighter turns and a smoother ride. You’d think the loss of rubber here would make the bike more difficult to handle over rough streets—and Manhattan has plenty of them—but other adjustments on the bike actually make it easier than ever to maneuver.
The new tires also give the Scrambler Café Racer a fast feel that was inaccessible on the Icon and its ilk, such as the Scrambler Sixty2 that preceded it.
The brakes are soft and forgiving. The combination of smooth wheels, optional spiked rims, and Brembo brakes with Bosch ABS, plus a pressure sensor makes stopping tight—on a par with a café racer, rather than the spongy feel of an off-road or dual-sports bike. The smaller wheels also make for a slightly shorter, tighter ride than the Icon provided.
The gold patina on the rims does attract attention, but the overall effect is restrained, relatively speaking. Italian luxury brands aren’t exactly known for their stylistic reserve, are they? The bike looks cool, and it starts with those wheels.
Cool factor point two: The stock clip-on handlebars are new this year. They sit far lower (6.1 inches forward and 6.9 inches down from the stock Icon bar) than what you’ll find on the Scrambler Icon, more like the kind used by racers in the 1960s, thankfully. The effect is casual; if you just raise your arms a little from the waist, the handlebars are there.
Small, round mirrors are attached on either side, so they come up and forward from the bars rather than out to each side, which I like, because, let’s face it, if the bike tips over, at least the mirrors won’t be damaged when the handlebars hit the ground.
But really, to talk about the handlebars in the Scrambler Café Racer is to talk about rake. Rake is how far a motorcycle’s steering column is situated away from the frame; it’s how far the handlebars and front wheel jut out from the rest of the bike. If the front wheel sits stretched far in front of the motorcycle, it has a big angle of rake. If it sits close, like a sport bike, it has low rake.
In practical terms, bikes with big rake are super-stable at speed but far less agile around bends than ones with a smaller front angle. Choppers can have rakes of 45 degrees; sport bikes generally tend to stay near 25 degrees or so. The rake on the Ducati Scrambler Café Racer is 21.8 degrees. You’ll notice it right away. Remember that feeling on the roller coaster as you crest the top of the highest hill, right before you drop? It looks like that when you sit on it and look over the handlebars—straight down.
Those components—wheels, handlebars, and a slightly higher, more forward seat position than the classic Scrambler—add up to how this sucker handles. It is very fun to ride, with the silky slick, laser-precise fluidity of the best Ducatis, paired with a body more amenable to what younger, cooler riders need for city and borough riding.
My favorite part about riding the Scrambler Café Racer is how it feels when you turn into a corner. It’s far more maneuverable around tight, single-lane streets, cobblestones, and back alleys than anything I’ve ridden. Riding it is like being teleported around the neighborhood: One moment you’re here, one moment you’re around the corner. You barely realize the transition.
Conversely, on the highway, it can take some care to get right. That aggressive rake means you can get ahead of yourself a bit; I had the distinct feel that I would need some real seat time to discern the edge between realistic and reckless over the front of those handlebars.
I am not the biggest fan of the big “54,” but I have to admit it makes the bike distinct. It was like the Moto Guzzi V7 Racer I rode to Montauk, N.Y.—everyone notices and comments on the large racing number emblazoned on the side of your bike, though it’s highly likely that not everyone enjoys it.
Elsewhere, the bike is highly customizable. While the frame, tank, headlight, instruments, and brake rotors and calipers are the same as those on the Scrambler Icon, and the Termignoni-branded exhaust is the same as that of the Scrambler Full Throttle, options include an X-shaped mesh headlight guard, a long flat seat (the one I had was a single-rider-only format), a small, leather tank bag, and a black anodized aluminum cover for the dual exhaust. You can also switch out the badges on the black steel teardrop engine tank and refine the “black coffee” color scheme once you buy one.
I’d bet a lot of Scrambler Café Racers are adjusted this year. The prospect of customization is one of the most attractive things about this bike.
I realize I haven’t said anything about the engine. It’s the same 75-horsepower, 803cc, air- and oil-cooled twin-cylinder engine that powers the Scrambler Icon. But last year, the Icon was Ducati’s bestselling motorcycle by far. I don’t blame the engineers at Ducati one bit. They didn’t need to change a thing.
Still, a newly stiffer suspension and updated throttle control on the Scrambler Café Racer contribute greatly to that smooth power surge you feel whenever you pull the throttle. And its excellent, six-speed gearbox is even simpler and more direct (unlike its model name). But that’s the beautiful part: You don’t have to totally understand Ducati’s nomenclature, or even know this bike’s background, to fall in love with it. And with the 2017 Scrambler Café Racer, there’s a good chance you will.