A need for Speed? Ben swaps the Scrambler 400 X long-term test bike to see what he's been missing

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As soon as I saw the Triumph Scrambler 400 X I wanted a go. It looked somehow more grown up than its simultaneously launched stablemate, the Speed 400, and I thought a lightweight single would be more fun on the dirt, too.

The Scrambler’s road handling impressed me, though, and it got me thinking about the 17in front wheel and road tyres on the Speed and how I might be missing out on a better road experience.

The FOMO got even stronger when I read in the Scrambler’s manual that it is “designed for on-road and light off-road use” – unpaved, dirt or gravel roads but specifically not jumps or obstacles.

Triumph Scrambler 400 X roundabout

What’s that kit?

I didn’t expect the Scrambler to be a motocrosser, but Triumph’s own modesty about its capability on the dirt made me wonder what exactly I’m sacrificing better road holding for.

As I said, the Scrambler handles better than I imagined and I suspect a few extra clicks of rear preload will improve it even more, but when you really crank it over there’s a vagueness from the Metzeler Karoo Street dual-purpose tyres that leaves you unsure of how hard you can push.

There’s only one way to find out if the grass is really greener on the other bike, and that’s to have a go, so, I traded the Scrambler for a Speed 400 for a week. The first thing I noticed was that the Speed sounds even better than the Scrambler.

Triumph Scrambler 400 X exhaust

I love the raw bark of the single-cylinder 400; it sounds like a motocross engine. The stock exhaust on the Scrambler sounds great, but the single exit end can on the Speed is meatier, bassier, and sounds less whiny at high revs.

The next most obvious difference is the braking power. I expected the Speed 400 to handle better thanks to its Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tyres but I wasn’t prepared for how much extra braking force they would allow.

When a van pulled out on me on the first ride home, in fact, I almost threw myself over the handlebars grabbing the same amount of front brake I would have done on the Scrambler.

Triumph Scrambler 400 X vs Speed 400

Strangely, the Speed 400 feels more urgent on the power, too, and I’m not entirely sure why. The power, gearing and rear wheel are all the same (the Scrambler has one fewer teeth on the front sprocket to compensate for a larger tyre circumference but you should end up back where you started).

So, either the riding position gives a greater sensation of speed, or the particular bike I borrowed just had a bit more poke than my long-termer. A couple of horses make all the difference at this end of the power spectrum. I’ll be taking both variants for speed testing for a future update on this.

Handling things

The Speed 400 handles every bit as well as I expected it to. When you’ve only got 40bhp to play with, you want to avoid scrubbing speed and carry as much momentum as possible through the corners.

Triumph Scrambler 400 X on the road

You can do this more effectively on the Speed with the smaller front wheel making tip-in more purposeful and controlled. You can pick a line more accurately, too, and get far closer to the edge of the tyre without the wooliness of the Scrambler.

You’d think it was a landslide victory for the Speed and that’s before I’ve even mentioned that it’s £600 cheaper to buy.

Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks. The bar end mirrors make the handlebars vibrate so badly that the accelerometers in my Beeline Moto II sat nav stopped working at 70mph. It’s also less roomy, feeling more toy-like than the grown-up Scrambler, and not as comfortable for my 6ft frame.

Triumph Scrambler 400 X at a café

Finally, I much prefer the look of the off-road pretender Scrambler, and that’s sort of the point of a ‘modern retro’. The improvement in handling isn’t enough to outweigh the drawbacks in my book, it’s only at the extremes that you notice the difference, and the Scrambler is genuinely capable of scraping its pegs, if you so wish.

It’s a close run thing, but the Scrambler 400 X comes out on top for me. The Speed almost turned my head, but not quite.