Ducati’s Scrambler line of air-cooled motorcycles has spawned some extremely lovable, beginner-friendly bikes. Previously, I’d experienced , which costs a lot of money, but comes with some high-end safety tech to justify its heftier price tag. I liked that bike a lot, but this new Cafe Racer is a package that’s almost too good to pass up.
The Scrambler combines the 1100’s tech upgrades with the original bike’s smaller, 803-cc engine. Plus, all 2019 Scramblers get the 1100’s lean-sensitive, dual-channel, anti-lock brakes. That makes this an incredibly compelling package.
Typically, for someone on the larger size of the height/weight spectrum, a cafe racer-style bike is just code for “wildly uncomfortable.” Usually, these bikes have low-mounted clip-on handlebars, high-mounted rear set foot controls and a long leaned-out riding position — that’s the cafe racer style. Sure, this makes the bikes look sleek as all hell, but it’s a very physically taxing design to ride. The added weight on your wrists is useful for handling, keeping the front tire biting in a corner, but it also hurts after about 45 minutes. The high-mounted foot controls are great for providing more lean angle and getting your body weight down on top of the tank, but crampy legs are no fun when riding in traffic.
Ducati’s Scrambler Cafe Racer happily bucks that trend; it gives you all the cafe racer style you could want, but its ergonomics are tweaked subtly to make it livable for longer rides. The handlebars, for example, are narrower and lower than on some of the other Scrambler bikes, but still relatively upright, and because they’re so narrow, they tend to blend in visually with the rest of the controls.
The foot controls are more or less in the same position as the standard Scrambler, which is to say that they’re high enough for decent ground clearance in a long sweeping corner, but they’re not tucked way up or set way back. This gives ample room for even long legs like mine, and I’m 6 feet, 4 inches tall.
Another standout aspect of the Cafe Racer — and the Scrambler line in general — is accessibility for shorter riders. With a seat height of just over 31 inches, it’s not exactly a cruiser, but it’s not a towering behemoth. Coupled with a relatively svelte wet weight of 432 pounds, I imagine that many smaller-framed riders would find the Cafe Racer easy to approach, and a willing participant in around-town blasts that require a lot of foot-on-the-ground stops. There are very few bikes like this that offer so much style and ask for so little compromise of comfort in return.
The other massive feather in the Scrambler line’s cap is the 803 cubic-centimeter, air-cooled,twin-cylinder engine. This engine has been in the Ducati family for over a decade and was the motor with which the Scrambler line launched. It’s a total gem.
The Ducati L-twin (so called for the direction of the V of its two cylinders) produces a healthy 73 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 49 pound-feet of torque at 5,750 rpm. Surely there will be those among you that scoff at power figures under triple digits, but the Scrambler isn’t an out-and-out speed machine. It’s meant to be fun, not frightening.
The way that the bike delivers power is smooth and easily manageable. The torque comes on low enough in the rev range that you won’t find yourself struggling to take off, but high enough that you’re not running out of puff and being forced to short-shift. That’s especially good because this engine sounds magical in its upper registers.
The Scramblers all make use of a cable-actuated throttle. The downside of this is no traction control, but the upside is that throttle actuation is smooth and predictable. The fueling on this bike is exquisite. There is no jerkiness when opening the throttle, making it perfect for newer riders.
The Scrambler’s gearbox is slick and unobtrusive. It’s not the most precise thing in the world, sometimes needing a healthy kick to transition between gears, but it doesn’t detract from the experience and still feels better than the transmission on the much more expensive BMW that I tested last year. The clutch on the Scrambler is now a hydraulic unit and works smoothly with a light pull of the lever.
The suspension on the Cafe Racer is adjustable in the front and rear. The front units are 41 millimeters in diameter and come from Kayaba. The rear shock is also from Kayaba and is adjustable for preload only. The suspension is competent and plush enough for the broken streets of Los Angeles, but serious canyon carvers might want to look into upgrading.
Braking is handled by a single 330mm disc up front and a 245mm disc in the back. Calipers are a four-piston radially mounted unit and a single-piston unit, respectively. Bosch two-channel ABS is standard.
The Scrambler is a bike that works with you, rather than something you feel you need to tame. It is as happy rumbling along at 30 miles per hour in second gear as it is careening up a freeway onramp at full-chat.
The Cafe Racer’s chassis and unique ergos are confidence-inspiring, as well. In my testing, I never found a situation where the bike did anything unexpected or felt less capable than I did. It was comfortable to ride all day, easy to maneuver in parking lots and through narrow gaps in traffic. That being said, I would have liked more range in the suspension’s adjustment, but I’m definitely outside the norm when it comes to intended rider size, so that’s not really a criticism.
The bike’s brakes, while basic in appearance and spec, were unflappable. The single disc up front is usually enough to give me — again, as a larger rider — some pause on faster roads, but I never found it lacking in feel or stopping power. Being from Brembo probably has a great deal to do with that.
During my weeks with the bike, I participated in Motorcyclist’s Alley Rally event. This was the third running of the ride, which starts near downtown Los Angeles and snakes its way through the hidden roads of LA. This year’s theme was the secret dirt roads of Los Angeles, and despite some initial hesitation on my part, the Cafe Racer again proved itself to be a willing participant.
The inherent nimbleness of the bike allowed me to pick my way surgically through rutted dirt roads and glass-strewn alleys without fear of getting a flat tire. I had plenty of power to keep up with the myriad of bikes on the ride, ranging from KTM’s new 790 Duke to.
The biggest downside on this ride was the simple fact that the Scrambler is air-cooled and throws a ton of heat when idled for any prolonged period. Once things got moving again, it quickly became bearable once more, but had I not been wearing Kevlar-lined jeans, I’d have probably cooked the lower half of my body pretty good.
The 2019 Ducati Scrambler Cafe Racer is a fantastic little motorcycle, ideal as a daily rider, a willing canyon-carving companion and just as handsome as you’d like. If there is a downside to it, it’s price. You’re paying a premium for style, and not an insubstantial one, either. The Cafe Racer model starts at $11,995, and that’s before you add in any dealer fees or screw on any of the hundreds of available Ducati-sanctioned accessories.
With the Scrambler line, you’re not getting the latest and greatest of anything from a tech standpoint, and you’re not on the top of any real performance heap. What you are getting, however, is an extraordinarily attractive and well-sorted package that will keep you entertained well after you’re out of your beginner rider phase.