In the original days of the scramblers back in the late 1960’s-70’s they were rough and ready bikes, often modified street bikes used to race offroad tracks. They may have died out in the 1970’s when the more modern motocross and enduro styled bikes took over but they’ve enjoyed a come-back in the past decade as manufacturers respond to a market that seems to love a retro style – but not necessarily demanding offroad or racing capability.
Most manufacturers were beaten to the punch by Triumph when they launched their Scrambler in 2006. Ducati launched theirs last year and now BMW have taken their R nineT and with more than just a few changes have transformed it into the R nineT Scrambler, part of their Heritage line.
Whether you see the latest scramblers are experiments in styling or the next big thing in bikes they have opened up a whole new market for many manufacturers that have been regurgitating the same old bikes with minor tweeks for too long now.
Amongst the more noticeable changes is the pair of four-piston axial-mounted Brembo’s up front with 320mm discs. The Scrambler also gets steel braided brake lines and adjustable levers that all bring the bike to a stop with ease. Helping out with the whole stopping process is BMW’s ABS which is switchable for those times you want to slide the rear end to a halt.
With the Karoo 3 tyres fitted to the test bike sliding the back end on sand and gravel tracks brought back those teenage memories of throwing a push-bike around (and hopefully staying on top of it to impress the girls). Handling with the Karoo’s can take a bit of getting used to and they do account for some of the initial loose feeling you might have under heavy braking and tight handling.
So do you go for the Karoo 3’s of the street tyres? Let’s take a quick look at both. I know the Karoo 3’ very well and have been using them on adventure bikes for the past few years. These are dual use tyres with an 80/20 split in favour of offroad capability. On-road handling from the Karoo 3’s can feel a little skittish until you get used to them. Lean into a corner for the first time and the front feels like its diving away from you but they hold the line perfectly. Their deep curved tread gives excellent grip on tracks and in sand. Possibly more importantly if it's the looks you’re going for, they do make the Scrambler look much more aggressive!
The street tyres will give much more limited offroad capability but won’t give the slight vibration that chunky dual-use tyres give you. Grip and stability with the street tyres is going to be better on the roads that the Karoo 3’s.
So, for me it's the Karoo 3’s if you’re looking some offroad capability, and that more aggressive style, and or the street tyres if you’re sticking to the roads and think you’re cool enough already.
Showa non-adjustable telescopic front forks and rear Sachs shock adjustment only for preload are geared soak up the bumps but have their limitations for offroad excursions. There is more travel in the suspension that the R nineT and is about 75mm less travel that an F800GS so you’re going to need some protection under the engine to make sure you’re not damaging vital parts if it does bottom out.
Other changes include the Scrambler paint scheme as well. As BMW said during their launch in October "you can get it in any color you want, as long as it's Monolith metallic matte gray." There are many other little changes. The Scrambler weighs 2kg, has a slightly longer wheelbase than the R nineT.
Powering the Scrambler is the same 1170cc boxer engine putting out 110hp and 85.6ft-lb of torque. It’s as smooth as you’d expect any BMW motor to be and pulls in all gears at all speeds. Framing the motor the newly redesigned Akrapovic high-mount mufflers not only look the part but sound great.
Don’t expect the full range of extras most BMW’s come with. This is still a retro styled bike and does go back to that era as far as technology is concerned. There’s no tachometer or fuel gauge and frankly you don’t need them although they can be added as an optional extra.
The bike we tested was also outfitted with switchable traction control. It kicked in a few times on the roads due to slippery surfaces and switching off for hitting the dirt is as simple as pressing the same button that cancels the ABS.
The riding position is very comfortable. Foot pegs have been lowered from the R nineT and the bars are slightly higher. The seat echoing back to retro style is comfortable enough for a full day in the saddle. It’s not R1200RT comfortable but it gets the job done and looks the part.
This is a Scrambler by name so you’d expect it to be able to get out there in the dirt and dust and it can. Traction control and ABS both off, the Scrambler held its own on hard packed tracks, loose gravel and sand.
Even with the lowered pegs and higher bars the traditional stand-up riding position on the Scrambler isn’t as easy as with a regular dirt or adventure bike but that’s not the league that one is playing in. That said, standing is comfortable but the sort of riding you’d do offroad on this bike isn’t going to need long periods of that.
What the Scrambler gives you that a dirt or adventure bike can’t is an aura of retro cool that even Steve McQueen would envy.
Although it tracing its heritage to dirt riding the Scrambler is going to spend most of its life on the roads. Blasting around town or on the highway the Scrambler was at home. I’m used to the peculiarities of the Karoo 3 tyres and although they can take a bit of getting used to, particularly if this is your first bike with offroad tyres, the ride and comfort isn’t compromised, neither is the cool factor!
On the streets it's a BMW through and through. Steady, smooth and has all the power you’re ever going to need. It’s riding face in the wind, retro styled but with a modern BMW twist.
BMW may have been late to the Scrambler party but they’ve put their unending build quality into the bike. It hasn’t got all the bells and whistles you’d expect on a BMW but that’s the whole point of the bike. It’s got retro flair and a cool factor off the charts.
If I had to choose between the three modern Scramblers I’ve ridden, the BMW, Triumph and Ducati (I haven’t tried the Moto Guzzi or Yamaha models), I would have to place my money on the BMW. That may not sit well with those that perceive themselves at retro purists and see Triumph as having led the way, but the fact is that the BMW is just a better all round bike.
Next in BMW’s Heritage lineup are the ‘Racer’ and ‘Pure’. Keep an eye out for more news on them through 2017.
Video: Vosloo Vision