Embrace the street scrambling scene with MCN's best ‘soft-roaders’ and enduro motorbikes
No type of motorcycle is currently more fashionable than that of retro-styled street scrambler.
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Inspired by the trail bikes of the 1960s and ‘70s these largely middleweight twins and singles are modern road all-rounders that have fashionable retro looks, easy manners that appeal to novice and experienced riders alike and have enough off-road ability to bimble down a dirt track, too. Stylish, versatile and affordable they’ve got masses of appeal.
Are they only for skilled off-road types?
Not at all. Although some, especially Triumph’s latest 1200 Scrambler, have genuine off-road ability, for most the scrambler looks are more form than function. They’re road bikes first and foremost but with the rugged stature off-roaders offer. That said, all are more than capable of tackling a gentle trail.
Best scrambler and enduro motorbikes of 2021
- Triumph Street Scrambler
- BMW R NineT Scrambler
- Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled
- Indian FTR1200
- Triumph 1200 Scrambler
- Yamaha XSR700 XTribute
- Royal Enfield Bullet Trials works replica
- Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler
- CCM Spitfire Flat Tracker
- Honda Monkey 125
Spec: 900cc / 64bhp / 203kg / 790mm seat height
Price: £7000 (used)-£9300 (new)
Triumph introduced the Street Scrambler as an enduro version of its more affordable, novice-orientated Street Twin retro roadster in 2017 and added to that bike’s easy charm and gentle manners with bigger wire wheels, upswept exhaust, trail bars and more. And 2019’s version is a significant update with 10 extra bhp, new clocks, improved modes and extra styling touches. It may still lack the outright pep of some (Ducati’s big-cc Scrambler or Yamaha’s XSR900) but it’s an easy, stirring ride with more authenticity than most.
Triumph’s rejuvenated Bonneville family from 2016 has proven both popular and durable and the understressed 900 is more durable still. Build quality is good, too but its novice appeal means you should look out for ‘beginner dings’.
Spec: 1170cc / 110bhp / 220kg / 820mm seat height
Price: £8500 (used)-£10,765 (new)
BMW’s original retro, tribute boxer roadster, the R nineT of 2014 proved such a hit it spawned a family of variants. This more affordable, basic, bigger-wheeled and high-piped Scrambler version arrived in 2016. As with all nineTs, the base bike is the quality, entertaining and effective old R1200R so dynamically it’s a cut above most scramblers. Cheaper suspension, wheels, steel (not alloy) tank and single (not twin) clocks barely affect this and almost add to the rugged, pure appeal.
Modern scramblers don’t come with either a more proven platform or are built to a higher standard. Quality BMW accessories (heated grips, wire wheels etc) can be a bonus and, having been around a few years, there’s plenty to choose from.
Spec: 803cc / 72.4bhp / 191kg / 860mm seat height
Price: £5800 (used)-£9950 (new)
Italian legends were among the first to produce a credible, modern scrambler when it requisitioned the name as its own with a whole new family of novice-friendly, retro V-twins in 2015. The first Desert Sled with a taller posture and trail-bike styling added serious trail style in 2017 that appealed to both novices and more experienced types and that bike’s been improved further for 2019 with new colour options and clock and revised seat. If you fancy a scrambler with Italian cool, this is the one.
Although fairly basic and deliberately built down to a price Ducati’s Scramblers are still alluring, stylish machines and the uprated Desert Sled is better than most. There are no known mechanical problems and plenty of used examples to choose from.
Spec: 1203cc / 120bhp / 230kg / 840mm seat height
Price: £11,000 (used)-£11,899 (new)
Resurgent American marque Indian has made quite an impact since their return in 2014 and its flat track-style FTR is its most Euro-centric and, arguably, best bike yet. The tuned Scout V-twin motor gives a punchy, exciting 120bhp, there are modern brakes, suspension and handling, it’s far more comfortable and practical than it looks and it’s different, too. Not a true ‘scrambler’, maybe, more a spaghetti western Ducati Monster, but it’s got bags of retro style and more performance than most.
It’s too early to be certain about the tuned Scout motor but previous Indian’s have been solid and its cycle parts are top quality. It’s a niche buy, however, so used examples are rare.
Spec: 1200cc / 89bhp / 205kg / 840mm seat height
Price: £9800 (used)-£11,500 (new)
Much more than just a bigger version of Triumph’s 900cc Street Scrambler or even an off-road styled version of the 1200 Bonneville; the 1200 Scrambler, new for 2019, is a serious, credible, dual purpose machine that just happens to have a retuned version of the high power Thruxton engine and a retro tank and styling. Two versions are available: the XC and the more off-road XE with longer-travel suspension and more sophisticated electronics but both are capable. A scrambler in much more than just name and with true versatility.
So new that faults are few but the Thruxton powertrain is proven, the cycle parts are quality and its build is impressive. A huge accessories range can add value but look out for off-road scars.
Spec: 689cc / 75bhp / 186kg / 835mm seat height
Price: £7500 (used)-£7945 (new)
The XTribute, as its name suggests, is a tribute to Yamaha’s legendary XT500 trail bike of the 1970s based on the already semi-XT, retro-styled XSR700 which in turn is based on the brilliant MT-07 roadster. The XSR was already a great bike: fun, flexible, affordable… but the XTribute adds authenticity and stature with its XT livery and taller, trail-style seat and bars, albeit for a 10% hike in price.
Although the XTribute is new for 2019 the vast majority of its mechanicals are based on the XSR700, which has been around, untroubled, since 2015 so you should have little to fear.
Spec: 499cc / 28bhp / 187kg / 790mm seat height
Price: £4300 (used)-£4699 (new)
Royal Enfield’s new 650 twins have grabbed most of the attention in 2019 but the Indian-owned firm’s classic, air-cooled singles, in every respect true 1950s ‘throwbacks’, have arguably even more heritage appeal and this new trials replica, with off-road wheels, bars and style, make it arguably the most authentic scrambler out there. Unfortunately for some, its meagre 28bhp and crude chassis is all-too authentic, too, but it certainly doesn’t lack charm.
Enfield singles are neither long distance machines nor likely to be ridden hard. They’re also simple and likely to be looked after plus there’s plenty to choose from. What they lack in modernity and performance they make up for with heritage appeal.
Spec: 449cc / 43bhp / 150kg / 845mm seat height
Price: £5900 (used)-£6400 (new)
Price: £5900 (used)-£6400 (new)
Revived Italian brand Fantic has returned with a range of retro-inspired scrambler singles using modern Chinese liquid-cooled singles mixed with credible chassis and plenty of feel-good factor. There are 125s, 250s and 500s available, but the lquid-cooled 500 Scrambler is our pick of the bunch. It’s stylish, light, easy to ride, great fun and affordable, too. It’s no big-distance machine and there’s little by way of versatility or proven durability, but few scramblers raise as big a smile.
It’s new, from the revived Italian brand and uses Chinese mechanicals, so you’d be right to be wary but quality and cycle parts are pretty good. Besides, there aren’t many used examples out there yet.
Spec: 599cc / 55bhp / 125kg / 830mm seat height
Price: £9500 (used)-£9995 (new)
Bolton-based CCM have caused something of a stir with their funky, fashion-conscious, retro-inspired Spitfire family. The Spitfire uses a modern, punchy, Husqvarna liquid-cooled single in a lightweight, hand-made tubular steel frame and, beyond a couple of wheels and a few styling touches, not a lot else. The result is undeniably cool and different. This latest Flat Tracker version adds, like Indian’s FTR, a sprinkling of American dirt to its persona. Not much use as a practical motorcycle but a great Sunday toy with oodles of style.
Again, so new our jury’s still out. The lightweight chassis is a little spindly and the enduro engine a bit of a jackhammer while CCM certainly aren’t Honda, but neither have we heard of any horror stories.
Spec: 125cc / 10bhp / 107kg / 776mm seat height
Price: £3100 (used)-£3695 (new)
Yes, this little fun bike, which is based Honda’s cute and popular MSX125 minibike, or Grom as it’s also known, may be a little left-field, but you can’t deny its 1970s scrambler style and appeal. Inspired by Honda’s original Monkey bikes it’s got bags of style, appeal and authenticity. Yes, its 10in wheels and muted performance limit its ability but as a round-town or Sunday toy few bikes generate as big a smile… especially for the money
Although £300 pricier than the standard Grom, the extra style is worth it. Build quality is good, it’s under-stressed and it’s a Honda so sleep soundly but watch out for novice dings.
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