Harley, Ducati and Guzzi’s entry-level machines battle to capture the attention of the capital’s most fashion-conscious critics
hese bikes provide an entry into three of the coolest brands in biking. But for all their kerbside appeal, are they actually rewarding to ride, or are they just design statements that are impractical as everyday bikes?
2015 Ducati Scrambler Icon £7250 (red)
The 75bhp Scrambler is one of the most talked about bikes of 2015. Stylish, light and easy to ride, you don’t need to have turn-ups in your jeans to appreciate its qualities.
Power 75bhp @ 8200rpm
Torque 50.2ftlb @ 5700rpm
Engine 803cc (88 x 66mm) V-twin
Weight 186kg (kerb)
Suspension Kayaba 41mm upside down forks. Single rear shock.
Brake Single 330mm disc with four piston radial caliper
Seat height 790mm
Fuel capacity 13.5l
Harley-Davidson 883 Iron £7495
Harley’s smallest air-cooled entry-level bike comes with revised suspension for 2016, a new seat and lighter wheels. It’s the heaviest bike on test but has the lowest seat.
Power 53bhp @ 5700rpm
Torque 52ftlb @ 3700rpm
Engine 883cc (76.2 x 96.8mm) V-twin
Weight 256kg (kerb)
Suspension 39mm Showa forks. Twin rear shock.
Brake Single 300mm disc with duel piston radial caliper
Seat height 653mm
Fuel capacity 12.5l
Moto Guzzi V7 Stone £7134
The stylish transverse V-twin was revamped at the start of 2015 with new ABS and traction control as standard. The V7 is the only bike on test that is A2-licence compatible without any restrictions.
Power 47bhp @ 6250rpm
Torque 44ftlb @ 3000rpm
Engine 744cc (80 x 74mm) V-Twin
Suspension 40mm forks. Twin rear shock
Brake Single 320mm discs with four piston caliper
Seat height 790mm
Fuel capacity 22l
Adam Child, 39
Senior Road Tester
Height 5ft 6in
Has covered over 500,000 miles in the last 13 years of testing.
Michael Neeves, 45
Senior Road Tester
Tested every new motorcycle over the past 15 years.
Justin Hayzelden, 44
Height 5ft 11in
Recently toured the USA on a Harley, loves the new hipster class.
e’re in Hoxton Square in Shoreditch, slap-bang in the middle of hipster central. Yet even though this is the heartland of fashionable London, you don’t necessarily have to be hip to appreciate any of these bikes.
In fact the appetite for these machines is as broad as it is huge, and seemingly growing by the minute. The Guzzi V7 Stone is A2-licence friendly as standard (A2 kits are available for the other two) so appeals to complete novices while, at the other end of the scale, sportsbike owners looking for something less radical and easier to live with are eyeing up the new Ducati Scrambler. And whatever your view on the hipster scene there’s no arguing that it has helped fuel the creation of a bunch of stunning looking bikes.
The 883 Iron is the latest air-cooled Harley to receive a few design tweaks and upgrades. Its exhaust is now black, not chrome, and along with new wheels is supposed to give the Iron a mean personality. I’m not sure about that, but unlike some 883s of the recent past it certainly doesn’t have the appearance of a bike priced at under £7500. Its integrated indicators and brake lights are a nice touch and the paintwork is lovely, too. To the capital’s non-motorcyclists it looks exotic and expensive; people instantly recognise that it belongs to one of the strongest brands in the world.
Ducati, meanwhile, have tried to create a separate identity for their entry-level twin. The Scrambler brand comes with a big way-of-life and even bigger accessory catalogue attached. They’ve grabbed hold of the hipster express with both hands, and it’s worked because the Scrambler has been a huge sales success for Ducati and picked up awards along the way. It looks at home in its natural habitat in Shoreditch; it’s stunning to look at.
Its styling is essentially sporty with Brembo brakes, more plastic and less metal. The Scrambler looks light and agile while the other two look like they’ve been carved out of stone, which some may prefer.
Moto Guzzi have arguably the coolest brand and image of all three bikes. You feel part of a specialist club when you own one. When the V7 was revamped for 2015 Guzzi didn’t really play around with its classic styling, instead looking at comfort, moving the motor further forward, the pegs and seat lower and adding traction control and ABS. I’m glad they’ve not played with the styling; this is a cool-looking bike, the most retro of the bunch and, even though it’s a 2016 model, the cheapest of the three.
Lifting the Guzzi from its sidestand, you expect it to feel heavy – those two protruding cylinder heads either side of the sculpted 22-litre fuel tank give the impression of bulk. But the Guzzi is lighter than it looks - lighter than Suzuki’s SV650 – and with every blip of throttle comes a charismatic rock from the transverse V-twin and even the odd pop from the twin exhausts.
It’s magic. You instantly feel at home on the Guzzi, especially as it’s superbly manoeuvrable, with a tight turning circle. The ergonomics feel natural and I love the wide bars, big plush seat and low pegs. The ornate clocks are easy on the eye, the mirrors are helpful and, of course, there’s shaft drive so you never have to worry about adjusting the chain. The V7 makes light work of heavy London traffic, and when you get onto the cobbled streets of Shoreditch it’s reassuring to you know you have ABS and traction control in reserve.
It’s hard not to like the Guzzi. It’s never going to be a greyhound (top speed is an indicated 110mph) but it’s fun and enjoyable to be with. Certainly there’s room for improvement; the brakes require a good squeeze when you have the extra weight of a pillion; the motor is a little fluffy low down, and the gear position doesn’t feel natural.
Jumping from the Guzzi to the Harley couldn’t be more different. If the Guzzi is an armchair, the Harley is one of those fashionable bar stools you see in pubs that you can never sit on quite right. It’s not uncomfortable like similar bikes in this range, just not natural. The bars are very close together, designed for a T-Rex perhaps, and the seat is extra low – brilliant for short riders but there’s not a huge amount of room between your feet and your arse.
The seat itself is comfortable and looks great, but the riding position is a little awkward. Then you have the self-cancelling indicators, left indicator on the left bar and right on the right, a set-up I hate. The mirrors, which are located just above the grips, aren’t big enough and don’t protrude out far enough, but you do get excellent views of your knuckles.
Some dislike keyless ignition but I like it because it saves having to mess around with keys at the filling station, especially when the filler cap isn’t lockable - just twist and release. Harley have also upgraded the clocks, which means you can scroll through the informative display from a button on the left bar, and even has a gear position indicator.
On the move you can’t help feel a little short-changed by the lack of exhaust tone - it’s like listening to AC/DC quietly. But you will be impressed by the fuelling, which is near perfect with no snatch low down, and makes the Iron feel smooth, composed and easy to ride. Torque is almost instant and, as its mass is carried low down, it’s a doddle to ride at low speed and very learner friendly.
Yes, it’s brilliant around town. The narrow bars enable you to dart into gaps between black cabs before the Scrambler pilot has even seen them. The brakes aren’t the strongest but they are adequate for city speeds and are backed up by ABS. On the Harley you always seem to manage to wrestle your way to the front of any traffic in time to check your reflection out in the nearest shop window.
But the Harley does have its drawbacks. The air-cooled motor has enough poke around town but runs out of puff above 70mph. It’s hard to believe such a big motor can have so little power and even the A2-licence compatible Guzzi could show it a clean pair of heels. Above 75mph comfort becomes a major issue, and while you can ride into the sunset on a Harley Iron, you can’t do so for long as the fuel tank only accepts 12 litres. Out of town on twisty roads ground clearance can become an issue, and in the wet it’s hard to feel how much grip is still available from the 19in front tyre.
Jumping from the Harley to the Ducati is like going from driving a well-sorted classic car to a modern hot hatchback. The Scrambler may appear retro but it isn’t. You have to make compromises with the other two, but you don’t on the Duke because the air-cooled 803cc motor, which is based on the old 796 Monster engine, revs quick and hard and delivers way more power.
The difference in power is as obvious as a horn on a unicorn. It makes the Scrambler alive and involving to ride. The wide bars, supermoto stance and lightness of steering emphasise this further and help turn London into a supermoto playground. You end up popping the front wheel up over speed humps, racing couriers from the traffic lights and darting past traffic with power in reserve.
On the Scrambler press launch earlier this year I suggested that the motor might need a few more ponies for anyone down-scaling from a sportsbike to the Scrambler but next to the Harley and Guzzi it’s a rocketship.
It’s so light and manageable, and the single 330mm disc brake is the strongest of the bunch, and progressive too. Brake heavily and you do get noticeable fork dive because the Scrambler suspension is much softer than the others.
The bars are wide, you have to ‘row’ the bars in between the mirrors of stationary traffic, and you now have to be conscious of speed cameras as it’s too easy to speed.
The Scrambler’s ace card is its ability to be used as an everyday bike. It will even take on 100-mile trips or longer in comfort, even two-up. It’s just as happy darting down a bumpy B-road as it is commuting up and down the A1 at 80mph or more. As as we prepare to leave London and head back up the A1 to the MCN office in Peterborough everyone makes a beeline for the Ducati key.
The Harley 883 Iron looks great and the low seat makes it ideal for short riders. The motor may be wheezy, but it’s still the best 883 to date.
The Guzzi V7 Stone is like a classic bike that handles and goes. Good around town, A2-licence compatible, it also has traction control and ABS. The looks are superb and, arguably, it has more character than the rest. If you never ride a Scrambler, you’ll love it.
But the Scrambler comes out on top. Perhaps it lacks the wow factor of the Harley or the character of the Guzzi, but it’s a better bike than the others in every way. You can have your cake and eat it.
Photos: Jason Critchell