Triumph’s Street Scrambler — the great pretender

CAPTION: Smoke and mirrors abound with the Triumph Street Scrambler, pretending to be old fashioned, pretending to be low-tech, and pretending to be off-road savvy. But it matters not a jot. It's a brilliant, modern, high-tech urban blaster.

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IT’S an entrenched part of the modern bike-buying process to start any pre-purchase diligence by researching a bike’s critical numbers. You know the stuff: how much power, what does it weigh, how big are the brakes, how fast does it go … questions that seem to be a perfectly sensible launchpad towards making a logical five-figure spending decision.

And yet, after spending a couple of weeks blasting across and around Perth on a new Triumph Street Scrambler, I find myself cheated by the numbers.

Sure, the Street Scrambler is precisely what it says on the box: it’s a scrambler-styled bike designed for use on the street. But its critical numbers tell a lie. Maximum power: a meek 54bhp. Front brake: a single, paltry 310mm disc. Dry weight: a rather porky 206kg. Top speed: A modest 180kmh.

It’s all true, but it’s all nonsense.

CAPTION: The Scrambler snuggled up to signage for the annual Harley Scramble at Noble Falls. This is as close to a scramble track as the Triumph should be allowed. But those upswept stainless steel pipes sure look way-cool, hey?

How does she go?

On the strength of its critical numbers, a prospective buyer would be excused for concluding the Scrambler would be sluggish. Yet it’s not. That 900cc parallel twin motor doesn’t have sports bike yee-hah, but it leaps like a big cat from low revs. And that makes it an absolute blast to ride in the suburbs.

I won’t go so far as to say the Scrambler has a narrow power band, but it has a definite fun-band. The bike is at its best doing those awesome low-rev big-cat leaps. Crank the ride-by-wire throttle wide open at 2700rpm and it pounces. Hold it for just a few seconds to about 4000rpm, shift up, and it pounces again.

Come to think of it, you make progress like a giant cane toad. A very fast giant cane toad. You leap, leap, and leap again. And you grin all the way.

While most of the big naked bikes out there (and pretty much any of the sports bikes) will blow the Scrambler away in a straight-line drag race down Tonkin Highway, they’ll do no such thing in the back streets of Bicton or the leafy lanes of Lesmurdie. Point-to-point between roundabouts and corners, staying within that narrow 2700-4000rpm fun-band, the Trumpy is a huge amount of fun and genuinely quick.

How does she stop?

CAPTION: Single-disc front brake looks lame on the specification sheet but does an excellent job.

Maybe it’s just because urban blasting doesn’t take you up to high speeds, but I was astounded at the effectiveness of that single front disc. With the added benefit of ABS, you can grab the front brake hard and the bike pulls up like a cane toad hitting a brick wall. Splat. It just stops.

Maybe the brakes would be found wanting down the bottom of the long back straight at Barbagallo (you do remember Barbagallo, don’t you?) but, hey, if you want to go screaming down the long back straight at Barbagallo on a Triumph we suggest you consider a Daytona 675.

Retro vs techno

Triumph does a brilliant job balancing retro-bike consumers’ wish for traditional styling with modern-day perks. On the retro side, the fuel tank could have been nicked straight off a 1960s Bonneville, while the high pipes, spoked wheels, round headlight, rubber fork gaiters, Lucas-style tail-light and single-dial dashboard maintain the old-world illusion.

And, visually, it works. I snuck the Scrambler into a meeting of Perth’s Classic Motorcycle Riders Club, parking it within roosting distance of a Laverda Jota, Z1000 Kawasaki, R90 BMW outfit and a bunch of K-series Honda Fours. No-one was fooled, of course, but they didn’t ask me to leave either. The Triumph must have felt like Katy Perry at a meeting of the Gnowangerup CWA.

CAPTION: The Triumph was the youngest bike in the Noble Falls Tavern carpark by almost 40 years. You wouldn’t pick it. (OK, maybe you would … but some people wouldn’t.)

But the retro styling really is an illusion. Modern technology abounds on the Scrambler including ABS brakes and traction control, both of which can be switched off if you need to pull some skids and power slides in the gravel to impress the neighbour’s wife. The engine is fuel-injected, of course, and you won’t find a throttle cable.

CAPTION: Single dial looks low-tech, but isn’t.

The single dial gives you a traditional-looking speedo plus a digital fuel gauge and gear indicator but, if you punch a little button with your left thumb you’ll also get a tacho, fuel consumption figures, two trip meters, distance to empty, and a clock. You don’t need any of them of course, but it’s remarkable how quickly you find yourself fiddling with them as you ride along in the rain.

The rain? Yes indeed. My first ride on the Scrambler was an hour-long Saturday morning freeway and highway haul from Rockingham to Kalamunda in torrential rain.

CAPTION: Mirrors reach for Mars and do an excellent job, even in heavy rain.

The roads were awash with flash-flood volumes of water, visibility was woeful (especially after I opened the visor just a little to clear the condensation, only to have my glasses sprayed with water), and traffic behaviour was downright spooky — some drivers slowed to a crawl while others kept the accelerator nailed like it was a glorious Springtime Perth morning. The only light relief was when I passed some poor schmuck on the side of Forrest Highway, changing his tyre in the sleet.

My Joe Rocket jacket proved to have all the waterproofing abilities of a colander. When I got home I looked like I’d been dipped in a bucket of water.

The Triumph’s digital dashboard gadgetry was no more than an amusing distraction in the wet conditions but, by golly, I sure was thankful for the ABS and traction control. Not crashing today.

Off road – really?

No.

I’ve seen some great photos of Triumph Scramblers going sideways at speed on salt flats, and punching through water courses (well, big puddles) but, honestly, you’d have to be a brave man.

The bars are high — high enough that you can stand full height on the pegs — the tyres are chunky semi-off road Metzelers, and there’s even a bash plate of sorts protecting the underside of the engine. But, just as the retro styling is an illusion, so too is the off-road vibe. The weight, ground clearance and suspension travel all tell you this is a street bike. And the bash plate is plastic.

Not that it matters in the slightest. Anyone who wants to own a Triumph and go play in the dirt will buy themselves an 800 Tiger and go chase GS Beemers until the frogs come home.

CAPTION: Riding position is slightly forward of upright. Dirt bike riders will feel at home.

Who should buy one?

The Triumph Street Scrambler reminds me of the first time I rode a big single. I’d been racing two-stroke motocrossers for a couple of years when a friend’s big brother let me go for a blast on his Honda XL500. It was heavy, the steering was slow until it shook fast, and I could scarcely believe people would ride one in the dirt. But the engine was so much fun. It stretched my arms, threw a big roost, and leapt forward at low revs, yep, like a giant cane toad. I bought myself an XR500 about six months later.

The Street Scrambler will appeal to anyone who spends most of their biking hours in the city, riding for fun. It would do a fine job carting you to work and back. You could blast out to York for lunch or down to the Jarrahdale Tavern to watch the footy in the blink of an eye. You could hit the highway and ride it further afield. And you could point it down a gravel road, even a bumpy one, if you kept the ground clearance and suspension limitations in mind. (Mind you, I once knew a guy who rode enduros on an R75 BMW. But he was nutty as a fruitcake …)

It’s dead-easy to ride, with a low first gear, modest seat height, and a silky smooth clutch and gearbox, so younger and more feminine folks will feel perfectly comfortable. Anyone stepping off a big single dirt bike would feel right at home and welcome the extra grunt and more civilised road manners.

A few weeks ago, a Bike Shed Times reader told me he loved the look of the little Italian-Chinese love child SWM Gran Milano 440 which we rode late last year. But he wished the little Swoomer had twice the engine capacity and an extra cylinder.

Well, dear reader, that heavyweight hypothetical urban blaster does exist. And it’s right here.

 The Pillion Report

By The Missus

It’s not very comfortable. With nothing to grab onto except the rider, I had to slide forward to put my arms around Peter. And that meant I was sitting on the junction between the seats.

When I convinced him to sit more upright and move back a bit, I found myself sitting on the rear seat strap. Neither was very pleasant, and the pillion seat padding was thin. The high exhaust was noticeable against my right leg and, while the warmth was almost pleasant leaping all cane-toad-like around the back roads of Bickley in July, it might not be so welcome waiting at city traffic lights in February.

On the upside, the footpegs were well positioned so I had ample leg room.

If your pillion friend is 40kg, 14 years old and has a firm bum, and you can distract her by scraping the footpegs or popping wheelies, you might get away with using a Scrambler for two-up duties.

Thanks all the same, but I’ll take the Jeep.

Also see:

The SWM 440 Gran Milano

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