Triumph Scrambler 900
‘See if you can get a patch for the other eye as well.’ The publisher cryptically suggested as I walked out of his office, charged with yet another Kiwi Rider Magazine Triumph test to write up.
The road to his barb began 25 years ago as I chased the Co-pilot across the West Island. I sold a hotted up XS1100 for bus fare and rent, packed up my worldly possessions into 2 overnight bags and set off in pursuit of ‘the’ girl.
We subsequently spent our first 12 months living together on a used T140 Bonneville that I paid cash for, not long after arriving in the Golden West.
That bike took us on our first rides with Harleys, made friends with some serious hard-arses on BSAs and took us to the BEARS only party in the car park of the Scarborough Hotel every Sunday ‘Session’.
It laid the platform for us hangin’ out together on motorbikes for a very long time since. Halcyon days. So yeah, I like Triumphs. We got history.
It was exactly the same bike as Gere rode in ‘Officer and Gentleman’ (sans extended forks), the brand Dirty Harry rode and Steve McQueen was racing. It was just cool. Way cool. I couldn’t stop it leaking oil, I couldn’t find the fault in the electrics, but we loved the way it handled and hammered.
That big old 750 parallel twin had an enormous sweet spot and a way of tipping in - and pulling out - of corners that just made us grin.
So I admit it - I just have to look at the new Triumph Scrambler and I get that grin. To sit on one makes me feel good. A portal to a bunch of fond memories.
Fortunately the Hinckley Triumph Bonnevilles stand up to any scrutiny on their own merits - regardless of the reminiscences of misty-eyed old coots.
By the same token it’s only the bad things – like the oil leaks – that have changed ‘that’ much and the Scrambler does a pretty fair job of tipping its lid to a different time. Even the way the big twin still hammers out of the corners.
The test bike supplied by Triumph NZ is beautifully kitted out from Triumph’s ever growing optional extras catalogue - and it looks stunning.
Non-bikers are wont to ask if you ‘did the restoration yourself?’ the period look of the 60’s icon is so effective.
To the basic model, a tacho, flyscreen, headlight grille, single seat and rack assembly have been fitted, a bash plate has been added plus Triumph’s ‘race’ exhausts – and boy! It sounds fantastic.
Performance is not far removed from the way the old banger went either.
That is the main point of conjecture around the KR office and with many people who just walk up and start talking to you about the bike.
I say ‘Don’t ride the specifications sheet – ride the bike’ when they point to the modest power output of 54 ponies and 205kg of dry ‘Gingerbread’. (Refer 1969 Triumph brochure).
The naysayers point out that the McQueen’s Scramblers of the 60’s were the dominant force in their type of racing - and the 2006 version is not the same fire-breathing monster that it was back then - or the way they want it to be, comparatively, now.
But the 60’s machine didn’t have the creature comforts we’re used to these days. A big alternator, huge 12v battery, electric starter, a radiator like oil cooler, Euro 3 emission requirements and…well…mufflers - to begin with.
1960’s Competition Bonnevilles were without many of features that are mandatory on a road going motorcycle today.
To that end, the 2006 Scrambler is pure ‘pleasure bike’ – and what a push-button-start-every-time pleasure we found it. (He said – remembering tickling Amal carbs and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking)
Well mannered and chuck-able on the road, it will handle anything the big ‘Adventure’ Bikes can do off it. The Scrambler is quite capable of mixing it up with the large Trailies and Adventure bikes off road too.
You couldn’t ask for a better Test of the Scrambler’s mettle than the hammering the KR crew handed it on the 2006 Capital Coast Adventure Ride.
1 day, 150 players, 200km around Wellington, 50% on road, 50% off road, Freeway, twisty back roads, tortuous rock beaches, dozens of water crossings, kilometres of steep mountain trails – and the Scrambler handled all of it with sure footed ease.
It’s not a race, but I overtook a dozen bikes on the first ascent and kept up with the pros reasonably well.
‘Stretch’ hopped aboard and punted it through the difficult (REALLY difficult!) Challenge loops and came out beaming.
‘Oscar’ had a belt through the river crossings section and came away saying ‘ I love this bike’.
Even the publisher pushed his W650 patch to one side and huffed ‘yeah…it’s not too bad.’
I had it for most of the road and mountain trail sections and I loved it too.
It doesn’t matter that it only has 54 horses – the motor is so smooth and punchy and the purr of the unrestricted pipes so intoxicating that you just wring its neck a bit harder and let it pull a bit longer before you up-shift - and all of a sudden it’s doing a pretty fair clip.
With its narrow and chuck-able frame, it’s actually a really rewarding way to ride – to have to make the motor work a bit – before you hit the speed limit. Then working to keep it ‘on song’ is great, grinning-like-an-idiot fun at 100kph.
We all found the bike very comfortable in all variety of terrain. The bars are wide and the seating position neutral. Both the stock and the optional single seats are the thinnest and by far the best standard offering of any Hinckley Bonneville so far. It has a sort of ‘drag bars’ feel to the riding position that goes with the note of the engine.
Once you have it wound up on the back roads the ‘blap’ pulling out of the bends is pure 1976.
The Scrambler’s 865cc, DOHC, eight-valve, air-cooled engine uses a 270° crank firing interval for a particularly smooth and torquey power delivery (for a twin). It’s a different feel to the 360° unit of the standard Bonne and it is particularly well suited to off-roading and maintaining traction.
Bore and stroke is 90x68mm and compression ratio of 9.2:1 is fed by twin carbs. Peak power of 54hp arrives at 7,000rpm and maximum torque is 69Nm available at 5,000rpm, all fed to the rear wheel via a sweet and definite five-speed gearbox and chain final drive.
At one point on the Adventure Ride we took a wrong turn and suddenly there were 4 (four!) big Beemers on their sides all around me as I was seriously wrestling the Scrambler to keep it from sliding backwards down the incline.
Imagining the look on (local importer) Ian Beckhaus’s face if I dropped it gave me the strength to keep it upright – as did the fact that the bike’s weight is very well balanced and the centre of gravity low enough to make it pretty easy to manhandle through some tough terrain.
The standard knobby tyres are sure footed on the tarmac and do a good job off road as well. Steering is solid and the 19” front wheel works well in the dirt and at highway speeds. In fact, it did everything we asked of it, remarkably, grin-inducingly well.
It’s one of those ‘feel good’ motorcycles.
When the Adventure ride headed out onto the open, hilly, coastal grasslands I was sure I saw a cool ghost on a Triumph jump a barbed wire fence with some Germans chasing him. At various stages during the day somehow Stretch up ahead on that KTM resembled David Soul charging around an old Aircraft carrier on a Police bike.
As Oscar and I were comparing post-test notes he surmised:
“This Scrambler is more than the sum of its parts, you look at the spec sheet and the performance of individual components - brakes or suspension or motor - in isolation - and think ‘I shouldn’t like this bike as much as I do – but geez, it’s good fun’”.
Nostalgic ramblings aside, the fact is that the Triumph Scrambler is a modern, mid power, vertical twin from a manufacturer with only tenuous links to a past its marketing embraces.
The bike is solid and detuned enough to suspect they will prove quite bulletproof. Nicely finished, set up for a cool jaunt down track, trail or highway, and presented in an individual style. There is even a new range of complementary retro accessories and riding gear to suit.
Overall the Scrambler is a great looking, rewarding to ride, all round package for someone who doesn’t necessarily want to go ‘balls out’ everywhere, but enjoys a spot of off-the-main-roads exploring and even the occasional Adventure.
Now excuse me while I go and adjust the eye patch, polish the tank badge, and imagine next Sunday’s ‘Great Escape.’
Kiwi Rider Magazine: http://www.kiwirider.co.nz