2020 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE

Text: Jesse Kiser • Photography: Neale Bayly, Jesse Kiser

Leaning over, throttling down, I sling the bike under me, light up the rear wheel, and carry a drift through the grass. When it bites, I’m full throttle. My cheeks are surged back as I rip through my half-acre backyard toward the end of the property line. I give the engine a final blip of power just to hear the Zard exhaust echo through the trees, before grabbing a handful of Brembo brakes. Oh yeah, this is good.

The Scrambler was born in the 1960s as a vehicle for cool guys. Sex symbols like Steve McQueen, with their blue jeans and dirt-covered grins, took bikes like the Bonneville T120 TT and TR6, added knobby tires and an upswept exhaust, and blasted them across Californian beaches and Mexican deserts. They won at Baja, set speed records, and jumped wire fences in Germany.

This concoction of sex appeal, style, and general badassery created the Scrambler motorcycle type—although Triumph didn’t officially use the term until 2006. I’m a member of ridiculous fan bases that love brands like Harley-Davidson and Triumph. We adore the motorcycle for its soul, rather than its spec sheet.

But victory defeated these brands before, as both Triumph and H-D took similar evolutionary paths. They provided great motorcycles in the ’60s, suffered stiff Japanese competition in the ‘70s and financial pitfalls in the ’80s, followed by mostly forgettable ‘90s. Now, they’re both back with vengeance, H-D with the Pan America (see our Aug ‘21 issue), and Triumph with this new Scrambler 1200 XE/XC. It makes me wonder, though—are they returning to reclaim their place at the top of their respective categories, or are they resting on their laurels hoping their loyal fanbase will help carry them to the future?

 

The Bike

The former Triumph Scrambler was based on the Bonneville. Now, the Scrambler XE/XC has its own chassis, suspension, and electronics package, introduced in 2019.

The 1,200cc parallel twin platform essentially hasn’t changed since 2006, but it got better with 12.5% more peak power in the Scrambler, mostly due to a new tune and, we’d assume, exhaust. Simply put, it’s one of the best motorcycle engines I’ve experienced.

Triumph’s oversquare-bore 1200cc twin (97.6mm/80mm, bore/stroke) produces around 90 hp at 7,400 rpm right before its 7,500 rpm redline. It reaches peak torque of 81 lb-ft at only 3,950 rpm. But peak numbers are a disservice to the engine’s torque curve. It has H-D-like torque, but happily revs past The Motor Company’s typical low redline.

The parallel twin platform is inertially torquey and smooth, and often unappreciated. It resembles the Kawasaki 650cc, another great, easy-to-handle, smooth, and fun platform. Just double its output and you have something like the Scrambler’s 1200 High Power twin. 

The engine is only bested by the transmission. Couple it with a buttery-smooth six-speed and I’m never searching for the right gear, because I’m always in it. The transmission has a positive, mechanical feel that’s easy to change thanks to Triumph’s torque-assist clutch, which utilizes the momentum of the gears to reduce clutch springs. This produces a quick and light clutch when shifting. Clicking into high gear on the highway makes for smooth-feeling 4,000 rpm at 80 mph. It’s a touring bike in Scrambler clothing.

 

The Electronics

It was only after several miles that I noticed the traction control (TC) lights on the dash. The Scrambler’s inertial measurement unit (IMU) takes into account roll, pitch, yaw, lean angle, and acceleration rates to vary how much the TC intrudes into your riding. Developed in collaboration with Continental, I first learned about the tech on the Kawasaki Ninja H2R back in 2015. That bike uses a Bosch system that accounts for the same factors. It’s big tech for a Scrambler. I never felt the TC was intrusive. I only saw the TC flash on the dash, but that just means it’s working the way it’s designed to. 

The off-road modes allow for more slip, depending on the throttle input. For instance, if you’re riding casually and the tires slip, the TC will be aggressive. If you stab the throttle and try to drift through a section, the TC won’t intervene nearly as much. There are six ride modes, with Off-Road Pro only available on the XE. According to Triumph, the XE features optimized cornering-ABS and cornering-TC too.

Lining up in my grassy, wet backyard, Road mode seemingly only gave me about a quarter of my throttle. It barely let me move with very little slip. The Off-Road mode allowed me to go fast, but limited the throttle when I spun the wheel. Off-Road Pro allowed me to spin the tire and step out the rear wheel.

The Scrambler features an easy-to-understand cruise control system, and the XE comes with heated grips and aggressively styled handguards. There’s a USB charger under the seat. Riding modes are easy to select with the left thumb switch, but the dash display gets a bit jumbled with all that info. 

Triumph claims the Scrambler XE is the first motorcycle with integrated GoPro controls—Triumph’s first turn-by-turn navigation system—and Bluetooth connectivity that’ll operate music and your phone. I’ve had limited experience with these features, but as with any Bluetooth feature, they are a bit finicky.

 

The Mechanics

The real highlights of the Scrambler are the mechanical bits, from the top quality Brembo twin M50 front calipers to the one-piece aluminum swing arm. We rode the XE model, whereas the XC has a slightly shorter swing arm (579mm vs. 547mm) and shorter travel suspension (250mm vs. 200mm). Most of the other components are the same.

The XE features 47mm (45mm on the XC) adjustable Showa USD forks with 250mm of travel, and adjustable Öhlins rear suspension with 250mm of travel. The suspension makes the XE slightly taller than the XC, raising the seat height from 33 to 34.25 inches. The XE also features a wider handlebar at 905mm vs. 840mm on the XC.

The wheels are high-spec, side-laced wheels that use a tubeless tire. The bike comes standard with dual-purpose Metzeler Tourance tires.

The Scrambler weighs 456.4 pounds and carries it well on the street. Off-road it can be a little intimidating, but the stiff suspension felt like the Scrambler means business off-road. It’s not there to toy around like a little bike—instead, it wants to plant you where you’re going. It takes strength to muscle the machine around tight sections or to back it into a dirt corner.

 

The Scrambler

The Scrambler’s premium quality makes it one of the nicest motorcycles I’ve had in my garage. From the heated grips, digital instruments, sculpted side panels with a brushed aluminum badge, and handguards with aluminum braces to the Brembo MCS levers—every piece accompanied the next in a purposeful way.

Despite it being such a premium motorcycle, the electronics occasionally had issues, with the TC and ABS not working without cause and a delay in the drive-by-wire throttle. Notorious British wiring? Maybe.

The on-road performance and smoothness of the Scrambler makes observing the speed limit difficult. We switched to the Continental TKC 80 tires after wearing out the stockers. My first corner with the Continentals felt jarring, as the transition to their sidewall isn’t very smooth. However, once accustomed to the bike’s movement and nimbleness, I feel the grippy tires are a great compromise for on/off-road use.  

The blocky tires are great off-road, but the Scrambler could benefit from some more aggressive road-centric tires. Therein lies my only significant gripe with the bike—it’s so close to being a perfect road bike, but it’s distracted by the any-road attitude.

It gets compared to the Ducati Scrambler, but a more apt competitor would be the Africa Twin.  The Africa Twin is the other side of the Triumph coin. It’s an off-road inspired (it’s the biggest in the CRF line of off-road bikes) high-revving 1100cc adventure bike compared to the torque-happy, road-inspired Triumph Scrambler.

The base model Scrambler is more expensive at $ 14,000 when compared to the Africa Twin’s $ 12,999 price tag (only considering base models). The Triumph Scrambler will be overlooked in ADV shootouts, but it shouldn’t be.

 

The Conclusion

The Triumph Scrambler is so close to being a phenomenal touring motorcycle. Add a windscreen, bags, a slightly lower seat height, and more seat cushioning, and it could top the market for a touring motorcycle. To me, the items that make it an off-road capable motorcycle take away from the bike’s on-road comfort and functionality. I’m avoiding saying performance here, as the Scrambler’s a strong on-road performer. 

It doesn’t feel like the Scramblers my grandfather sold as a Triumph and Yamaha dealer in the 1970s. It doesn’t feel like a Scrambler at all. But I can feel a new passion for motorcycling emerge from my gut like a phoenix. The Scrambler’s initial impressions were heavy and intimidating, but with every added mile it became more enjoyable. It’s just sheer fun, but isn’t that the point?

Triumph may have redefined the term they helped create a half century ago. They fortunately didn’t rest on their laurels—instead, they made it clear to us yet again what a Scrambler is. Fun. 

 

Zard Exhaust

The Zard twin X-pipe Scrambler exhaust is not boastful. It’s not jealous. It’s not self-seeking. It’s not proud. It perseveres. It never fails. The exhaust is love.

A twist of the wrist is uplifted by the blissful exhaust note. Let it whine out and you’ll be gifted with a surge of power and sound—like a backseat passenger whispering words of affirmation in your ear.

Within only a few months of owning the 2020 Triumph Scrambler XE, we decided to upgrade the bike’s most notable feature—its upswept Scrambler exhaust. Zard offers two complete kits, one being a low-mounted version with a 2-into-1 sportbike-style muffler and two tips. While we prefer the look of the high-mounted kit, the low-mounted kit would likely help with the awkwardness of the tall motorcycle. Stop lights were occasionally difficult, thanks to the 34.25-inch seat height, side pipes, and mid-mounted pegs.

We wanted to further emphasize the Tracker/Scrambler look, so we opted for this complete side-pipe kit, which immolates the path of the factory exhaust. This 2-into-1-into-2 features an X-style design and helps produce a smooth-flowing exhaust and less back pressure, along with a raspy tone.

You can run the exhaust with or without the original side covers, which are great for keeping the heat off your leg. They look good and perform well, which is why Zard doesn’t bother making new ones. Zard has seen a minor increase in power, but is identical to the OEM’s smooth torque curve.

The Zard creates a purposeful twin-cylinder sound that’s aggressive and confident. It’s not overly loud—in fact, it’s very quiet at idle—but smooth and determined.

Find out more at shop.officineitalianezard.it

 

SW-Motech Luggage

Outfitting the Scrambler with roadworthy luggage was the natural beginning, as the motorcycle’s on-road and off-road chops beg to be employed on multi-day trips. Shopping around made it clear that a luggage solution was needed that’s both functional and good-looking to complement the Triumph’s classic lines. That meant bulky side cases and a top case were out. We also didn’t want to take away from the right side with the high-flung Zard exhaust, which is why we opted for an asymmetric side bag. We could have gone with a nylon side bag and duffle, but the tankbag wouldn’t have matched as nicely. SW-Motech’s combo of coated canvas and synthetic leather also completed a retro-cool look. We ended up choosing the Black Edition line.

 

SLC Side Carrier with Legend Gear Side Bag LC2

The side carrier is the only part that needed wrenching to be installed. It took a whopping five minutes. The carrier itself is on the smaller side, flying under the radar when riding bagless. The black, powder-coated steel carrier adds about two pounds. Three mounting points secure the side bag. We opted for the 13.5-liter version, but there’s also a 9.8-liter side bag. 

MSRP: $ 100.95 (carrier), $ 185.95 (bag)

Part #: HTA.11.929.10000 (carrier), 

BC.HTA.00.402.10200L (bag)

 

Legend Gear Magnetic Tank Bag LT1

The 3-5.5-liter tankbag sits securely on the tank. Even riding over rocky terrain didn’t phase this small but handy container. It’s big enough for essentials like a camera, an extra pair of gloves, and sunglasses. There’s no interference with the gas cap.

MSRP: $ 104.95

Part #: BC.TRS.00.401.10100

 

Legend Gear Tail Bag LR1

This 17.5-liter tail bag is surprisingly large. We were able to fit in a minimalist camping setup with room to spare. It comes with a selection of mounting straps. We chose the loop straps and mounted it to the rails under the seat. The bag is not waterproof, but it comes with a rain cover. Off the bike, it can be used as a backpack.

MSRP: $ 145.95

Part #: BC.HTA.00.404.1000

 

Shop for SW-Motech accessories at www.sw-motech.us.

 

What’s in a Name?

Honestly, the previous generation Scrambler was truer to the definition of the term. Its standard, upright seating position and handlebar with knobby tires and upswept exhaust were the full extent of its off-road features. Triumph never officially used the term Scrambler until 2006, leaving room for opinions.

So much of what goes into a review is based on marketing. The Triumph Scrambler is from the brand that essentially invented the motorcycle type. For ,000, you get a bike with a metal tank, brushed-aluminum side covers, exposed engine side covers, and a flat leather seat. It’s too nice to take off-road. It’s good on the street, but the off-road aesthetic cuts into the on-road comfort. So where does it lie?

Triumph is a brand that tells its customers what they want. It’s part of their appeal. They’re like a fancy restaurant with a limited menu—instead of offering something for everyone, they do a few things with quality in mind.

But, for a Scrambler, I’d love to see Triumph produce a sub-600cc single with a six-speed transmission, flat seat, upright bars, and 21/18-inch spoke wheels. Something you can commute to work on if you live close by, and then thrash through trails on the weekend. Half the weight, half the height, and half the price. That would be a fun bike.