Julian Challis heads to Portugal to check out Triumph’s new ‘modern classic adventure bike’.
As I headed for the corner, I dropped into fourth, caught the rut and blasted through, the rear wheel fighting for grip on the soft Portuguese sand. With a long straight ahead, I nailed the throttle, clicking through fifth and then into top, the big twin motor roaring away beneath me. Glancing down at the clocks, I realised that I was nudging 70mph off-road on a bike that I only started riding 15 minutes ago. This is good… This is very good.
But to be honest, that’s not much of a surprise. If you were to pick a company that would be able to produce an authentic and capable ‘scrambler’, then Triumph would be my first, if not only choice.
With a back story starting with the pioneer racers as far back as the 1920s, through to the halcyon days of early motocross in the 50s and 60s, the British firm was in the vanguard of off-road racing both in Britain and America. Add in the endorsement of long-time Triumph fan and arguably the coolest motorcyclist ever, Steve McQueen, and the new Scrambler had an impeccable heritage to live up to. No pressure then.
Straight off the bat you can see just how well Triumph has risen to the challenge. The new 1200 Scrambler looks truly stunning and ticks just about every box going. Whether you are looking at the more street based XC version with its iconic green livery and purposeful lines, or the XE with its taller suspension and two-tone paint, the new bikes are some of the best-looking machines you’re likely to throw a leg over in 2019.
From the curves of the high-level twin exhausts, the sculpted flanks of the fuel tank with the brushed steel strap running up the middle or the clean uncluttered profile of the bench seat, everything about this bike just makes you smile.
Looking beyond the cosmetics of the new bike, the 2019 1200 Scrambler is another example of what Triumph has proved very good at, taking an existing powerplant and repurposing it into something new and extremely capable. Just like taking its punchy triple motor and building an adventure bike around it with the Tiger series, the basis of the Scrambler is the twin-cylinder Bonneville motor that is used in the Thruxton café racer, which Triumph has then tweaked for its new role.
That tweaking has involved a brand-new tuning set-up, a new crankshaft, lighter alternator, magnesium cam covers, a revised clutch, and a host of other mass optimisations to create the perfect motor for a modern scrambler.
There’s a staggering 12.5% more power and 4% more torque than the motor in the T120 Bonneville, the new one putting out 90bhp at 7,400rpm with the torque a healthy 110 nm at 3,950rpm. Compared to Triumph’s own 900 cc Street Scrambler, the 1200cc bike has nearly 40% more power – pretty good for an additional 200cc.
But don’t think that the Hinckley manufacturer is intending this bike to be the same as the scramblers back in the day. Far from it.Triumph is seeing the 1200 as a true crossover bike that will effectively create its own genre. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the first ever ‘modern classic adventure bike’ (or so Triumph called it), capable of competing against the massed ranks of conventional adventure machines on an equal footing while still allowing owners the option of hooning off down the green lanes decked out in a scuffed leather and a Bell Moto.
It’s a measure of how confident Triumph was in its success in delivering this enticing combination that our first outing on the new 1200 was not on the sweeping and smooth tarmac around the launch destination of Albufeira, southern Portugal, but instead on the network of sinuous trails cut into the deep, red sand an hour or so north of the coastal resort.
After being briefed as to the various riding modes and options available to us, it was time to saddle up and give this bad boy a chance to impress. I picked the XE as it’s clearly the right tool for the job – both bikes have impressive amounts of suspension travel, but the XE benefits from 50mm more than the XC at the front and rear with a full 250mm on offer. It also has a 32mm longer swingarm, longer wheelbase and slightly more rake and trail, the combination of these variables adding up to improved off-road geometry.
Before we set off, I checked out the options on the neat and stylish TFT display in front of me. In keeping with the crossover theme, the look may be that of an old-school Smiths speedo, but the tech is pure 2019. The XE has six selectable riding modes; Rain, Road, Off-Road, Sport, Off-Road Pro and the customisable ‘Rider’ setting to choose from, along with selectable ABS, cornering ABS and traction control matched to the riding modes.
Packed full of tech
Most of these are controlled from the ‘switch cube’ on the left side of the bars which allows you to toggle through the options on the display. There’s also keyless ignition, one-push cruise control, heated grips and, as an added bonus, all the switches are back-lit so you can actually see them in the dark.
If this were not enough technology to satisfy you – there are two different themes to choose for the display, the classic ‘Quartz’ theme which can be selected in low contrast black or high contrast white, or the more modern ‘Cronos’ theme, again with white or black options.
Enough already – let’s get riding. I selected Off-Road mode and after a few laps of the practice oval at the Wim Off-Road Motor Academy that was our base, we set out after our lead rider for the day.A short bit of gravel track took us onto half a mile of blacktop to reach the first trail. The bike feels beautifully responsive and powerful, with a suitably effortless gearbox and torque-assist clutch complementing the motor.
The riding position is high and commanding, the sculpted tank feels far more below you than the usual in-front feeling of bigger adventure machines. With the wide, adjustable bars, small clocks, minimal LED headlight and general lack of any clutter, the bike feels much smaller than the 1200cc lump it’s packing.
A hoot to ride
Even the high-mounted exhausts, which look like they might get in the way, are suitably tucked in so that, although you can feel them on the inside of your right leg, they don’t affect your riding or position.
And that feeling continues as we hit the dirt. Although we’ve been advised to try both the ‘scrambling style’ of staying on the saddle and the more usual off-road option of standing, I’m far happier on the pegs as soon as the going gets rough and, from this position, the Triumph is just a hoot to ride. The balance is impeccable and with the punch of that 90 bhp motor below, you rapidly find yourself going very fast, very quickly and loving every second.
The front suspension is bang up-to-date with 47mm USD Showa cartridge forks that would not look out of place on a motocross bike and this, combined with the 21-inch wheel and Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyre, delivers precise control and cornering at whatever speed you dare. At the rear, it all goes a bit retro with a pair of beautifully detailed Ohlins shocks with piggy-back reservoirs.
I think the last bike I rode with twin shocks was a Honda CB550F back in 1986, but thankfully these are in a completely different league. Triumph has worked closely with Ohlins to create these long and stylish twin spring units that perform as good as they look, with adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping easy to make.
On the trail, it’s almost impossible to notice any difference to a more modern monoshock set-up and the rear of the bike feels both plush and predictable over everything from big hits to stutter bumps.
Having covered a fantastic variety of lower lying trails and tracks in the morning, we took on some more testing and rocky stuff after lunch, and the Triumph continued to impress and build confidence in its abilities. The riding experience is not dissimilar to 450 enduro bike, not only in the combination of massive power and balanced chassis, but also the need to plan ahead a little more to cope with the bigger speeds that this brings.
Luckily, the huge, premium-spec Brembo Monoblock calipers and massive 320 mm discs at the front are well up to the task of hauling up the Scrambler when required, yet being combined with a radial master cylinder and Brembo MCS lever, can offer incredibly delicate control if you are trickling over rocky terrain.
The rear brake is Brembo too, with a height-adjustable and folding pedal to cope with off-road boots and potential offs. Combined with the reasonably-sized serrated footpegs and similar folding gear shift, the foot controls are as good as any adventure bike or enduro we’ve ridden.
Having got the hang of the ‘Off-Road’ setting, I tried the ‘Off-Road Pro’ option which cuts out both the ABS and, more importantly, the traction control. While this theoretically allows you to hurl the back end out at flat-track style angles, the reality is a bit less impressive as the rear of the bike threatens to overtake the front if you are not careful.
Given a bit more time with the bike, I’m sure that I could have mastered the technique, but considering how good the limited traction control of the base ’Off-Road’ setting is, there seemed little point of being too Luddite and switching off the technology…
Towards the end of the day, I hopped on the XC to assess the differences between the two variants. The main ones being the reduced suspension travel (still an impressive 200mm at both ends) and the reduced rake and trail compared to the XE. If there was nothing to compare to, the XC would be perfectly acceptable in the Off-Road setting, but once you have ridden the XE, the difference is noticeable.
That said, it is more marked the faster and harder you ride, so if you are not a regular dirt bunny, then it’s hard to imagine you are going to miss the suspension travel or notice the slightly faster steering on the XC.
With the day done, it was back to Albufeira for dinner and a chance to chat to the Triumph staff about the bike – it’s always great to be able to talk to the guys that have been involved in designing and making a bike that you are testing.
Excellent road manners
Chief Engineer Stuart Wood and his team were positively brimming with enthusiasm for their creation, and consequently delighted to spend time discussing the merits of the new bike and fielding any questions about the creation of the Scrambler.
The following day was road ride day, and conveniently I’d been allocated the XC for the first part. Setting out from the resort, the weather looked initially promising and, as we belted along the small back roads away from the sea, the road manners of the Triumph were once again evident, the big motor pushing the machine forward eagerly. Our route took us further inland, and the skies began to turn ominously grey the higher we climbed into the Algarve’s interior.
The XC comes with Metzeler Tourance tyres as standard and faced with the now persistent rain that was drenching the scenery all around, they responded extremely well, gripping the wet tarmac with a welcome tenacity, assisted by my switching the riding mode to the inevitable ‘Rain’ setting.
Even when the wind added to the joy with a worrying selection of leaves and branches strewn across the road, the Metzelers were unphased and kept things stable and grounded, and despite the considerable travel, the suspension both front and rear was similarly predictable and reassuring.
Full force of the wind
After a stop for a leisurely espresso to sit out the worst of the weather, we set out again as the skies started to clear a little, but I was still glad that the XC has been fitted with the heated grips that come as standard on the XE.
The XC lacks the handguards too, so without either of these then your hands remain relatively unprotected from bad riding conditions – not ideal for touring. On the subject of touring in poor conditions, without a screen to deflect wind away, the rider will feel the full force of any adverse weather conditions.
We rode for another hour or so before lunch and, having been sat on the bike for some considerable time compared to yesterday’s feet-up shenanigans, it’s good to know that the somewhat frugal if stylish bench seat is far more comfortable than it looks.
If the Triumph does intend to achieve sales within the adventure market, this is essential, and it’s a measure of how well the team have thought about the bike that they’ve achieved the required retro look without the expected discomfort.
Whether the aftermarket luggage options that Triumph is offering will impress the same market is debatable, as the small rear rack and almost cowboy-style leather panniers and roll bag look more suitable for a day trip in California, rather than a road trip to Croatia.
For the afternoon, I swapped back to the XE to asses the taller bike’s prowess away from the dirt, and I was pleasantly surprised that although the bike undoubtedly feels slightly different on the road, the emphasis should be on the word ‘different’ rather than ‘better’ or ‘worse’.
The XC sits lower and turns with slightly more agility, but the longer, plusher suspension makes the XE just as enjoyable, and combined with the killer look of those massive gold forks, takes the edge for me.
With only £800 between the two models, then price is unlikely to be the deciding factor, and with a smorgasbord of accessories, styling options and ‘Inspiration Kits’ available to tempt eager buyers, any savings can easily be converted into shiny metal.
By the late afternoon, the sun had returned to the Algarve and chased the ragged clouds out of the sky. As we swept through the small villages on the way back to the coast, I was left with the lasting impression of just how enjoyable this bike is to be on. It does everything you’d ever want to do from spirited trail riding to back road or highway cruising and does it exceptionally well.
In a sense, whether it’s a scrambler or an adventure bike is relatively irrelevant, it’s just a great bike and it makes you feel like Steve McQueen. What more do you need?
As a commuter
The tall, slim profile of the Scrambler 1200 could make it an ideal tool for commuting both on fast roads and in urban traffic, allowing you to slice through the congestion with a satisfied grin on your face and then spend the rest of the day looking forward to the ride home.
As a weekend tourer
If you are looking for a bike to turn the weekends into two days of fun, then the Triumph is a great choice. It looks super cool, has great road holding and power characteristics, and enough technology to keep you occupied from Friday to Monday.
As an off-roader
Triumph has designed the new Scrambler to excel off-road and it has succeeded. Considering the capacity of the lump, the 1200 is surprisingly agile on the dirt and can be chucked about like an open class ‘crosser. Don’t buy this bike and keep to the blacktop – you’ll be missing out!
As a continental road tourer
As a brand-new bike, the options on luggage systems are fairly limited and hence initially you’ll have to rely on either the small Triumph panniers and roll bag, or invest in throw-over and soft luggage. With a relatively small tank size and lack of weather protection, there are better bikes for long distance touring, but get the conditions right and the Scrambler would be a blast.
As an rtw overlander
If you want to cross the globe on a simple and practical motorcycle, then the Scrambler would be a willing and entertaining partner. The lack of enclosing bodywork makes the bike easy to work on, and the off-road prowess will make the rough stuff infinitely more pleasurable than the larger choices on the market. As with the road touring comments, the luggage options may, however, prove an issue.
As a pillion carrier
We’re not so sure that pillions will share our rosy view of the Triumph, as a bench seat with no rear rail isn’t the most attractive proposition to tempt a partner away from the comforts of four-wheels. If you ride two up a lot, then you might need to look at a different seat option.
Specs at a glance
Engine: Liquid-cooled 4-stroke parallel twin with 270-degree crank angle. 4 valves per cylinder