~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Feeling Retro-Grouchy


I've written positive things in the past about the new Triumph Scrambler and interestingly those blog entries are amongst the most "hit" pages in the blog and have garnered the most e-mail. From what I've read Triumph is pleased with the sales success of the Scrambler, it's one of their top sellers for 2006. That is no surprise to me, really. I suspect guys like me are the target market. We are someplace past 40…or 50…have some disposable income, and believe in our heart of hearts if we bought a Scrambler, put on a blue 3/4 helmet and some Uvex goggles, we'd likely be mistaken for Steve McQueen himself as we roll into our local Dairy Queen.

Some in the mainstream motorcycle press has been less enthusiastic about the Scrambler pronouncing "This is not a machine for taking any farther off-road than the end of your driveway" and "let’s be brutally honest here – despite its name, you’d have to be brave to take this 205kg bike very far from the Tarmac." You can almost hear the writer's "sniff" as they make their comments. Peter Egan at Cycle World was more complimentary but then Egan's an old fahrt like me and "gets it" when it comes to the Scrambler.

Whenever I read the lukewarm reviews of the Scrambler I finding myself wondering that if the bike is so mediocre, how is that anyone toured the world on the original Triumphs 40+ years ago? Those bikes had less horsepower, poorer suspension, kick starters only, Amal carburetors, Lucas "Prince of Darkness" electrics, and assorted bits likely made from melted down war surplus army tanks. And yet people did tour the world on those old bikes. And people raced the International Six Days Trials and the great desert races of the American southwest. The bikes were amongst the best of their time but they were poor beyond belief compared to a modern Triumph twin. Perhaps riders then were stout fellows compared to the "girlie men" of today? As Egan noted, the new Triumph is about 100 lbs heavier than the original versions, but hey, what's a hundred pounds extra amongst friends?

Some twenty years ago a colleague of mine, while working for a few weeks here in Arizona, scarfed up a very nice low mileage 1966 Triumph Bonneville. Frank asked if I could keep it in my garage until we could smuggle it back to Michigan in a company vehicle. I was happy to store the bike since I was the one who talked him into buying it. Of course I also stored it with the proviso that I be allowed to ride it a bit. When time allowed I'd hopped on the old Bonnie and take it for a spin. It was tricky to start, wretchedly stiff in the suspension, and vibrated like an old…well…old British vertical twin. I was astonished at how bad the bike felt compared to any modern machine. And yet the Bonneville, as a model, was and is a legend, a bike legitimately famous for more racing and riding accomplishments than anyone could list.

So why the knock by the press on the new Triumph Scrambler? Why do even bike some rank -and-file bike enthusiasts pronounce the Scrambler a sled? I believe it is because modern riders, and especially press people, are getting spoiled. Many press people are courted with a freebie press fleet bikes, trips to famous places to ride them and to be wined and dined to the point that they dare not admit that anything less than the ne plus ultra of modern motorcycle technology is acceptable.

I admit to being a little spoiled myself. Hey, I'm not buying anything these days that doesn't have an electric starter unless it's a vintage bike of some sort. We've all grown accustomed to plush suspension and electronic fuel injection, if not heated seats, but many riders seem to have grown so accustomed to having their bikes pamper them that they apparently cannot make an objective analysis of what a bike is really supposed to be: Fun. Are we all so spoiled and jaded now that if a bike doesn't have 100 HP, plush suspension, ABS, and all-weather wind protection we dare not set our finely tuned fannies on the seat for anything more than a trip to the corner market? Triumph probably should have at least included a goose down pillow with each Scrambler test bike so the modern testers would feel more at home.

The KLR 650 fanatics seem to do well with a bike that is hardly state-of-the-art so I'm guessing that the Scrambler will work fine for those who willing to travel at a more sedate pace on less-than-intense trails. At least in the case of the Triumph Scrambler you're getting some style to offset the less-than-perfect off road capabilities. Too many moto-techno-snobs seem to have forgotten how to have fun with less than the most elite of rides under them. Folks, grab your pudding bowl helmet, waxed cotton Belstaff jacket and go have some fun.

By the way, I'm shopping for a new bike again. No, I'm not selling my Honda ST1300, I'm just looking for a fun bike to ride when I don't feel like dealing with 750lbs of modern technology. Take a gander at the pictures below. I'll bet you can hardly even tell which one is Steve McQueen and which one is me. I know I can't.





If I were on a BMW F650 or Suzuki V-Strom 650 I'm sure I'd be having just as much fun as on the Triumph but I probably wouldn't be mistaken for Steve McQueen either. Decisions, decisions.

10 comments:

petebam said...

Funny you mentioned the F650, the "Wee-Strom" and the modern Bonnie all in the same post. I considered each before opting for the Bonnie.

Unlike most Bonnie buyers (I presume), it is my first bike. I bought it just about two years ago right after the MSF course. It's got 15,000 miles on it now and I have enjoyed every one. Of course I don't have anything else to compare it to, but I think it is a great bike. Although I am looking forward to adding to my riding stable, I wouldn't trade a minute of the time I've spent on the Bonnie.

Adam said...

Funny you should write again about the Scrambler. I first came to your site after doing a google search on the bikes which I found unbelievably cool looking, along with the Thruxton cafe racers. I am a newbie rider myself, and although I have looked at a number of bikes I am seriously considering the Scrambler for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because I just think it plain ol' looks cool. I suppose I am bucking the trend a bit by not buying something bleeding edge, with all the bells and whistles 100HP, etc. and because at 33 I'm supposed to be riding a fancy sport bike.

As much as I like the idea of an ultra tricked out speedy bike, I am more concerned with just riding a bike that is fun. I mean, isn't that what riding a motorcycle is supposed to be all about?

If you decide on the Scrambler, I'd love to hear more about what you think (or anyone else that may have one for that matter). Thanks for the great website.
adam
san francisco, ca

Doug K. said...

I think both you guys (Pete & Adam) show remarkably good judgement in not letting yourselves be seduced by the need very latest motorcycle wizardry. It's way more important to be having fun riding than to be reveling in having the very latest superbike, the performance of which, is largely unusable in the real world anyway.

Doug

subcontinental said...

I had a Kawasaki W650 (the Japanese answer to the Bonneville--we'll just copy it, thank you very much!) for a few years and loved it... the kick start, the thump of an in-line engine, the lean profile--all really provided for some memorable rides.
I rode an F650 as well as a loaner bike and found it a bit less thrilling.
I must say the Scrambler is beautiful and that does count for something in a purely emotional way. I agree wholeheartedly with your take on the biker mentality... the individual, self-reliant, resourceful rider is not as common as it used to be (God knows I have a long way to go in that field as well.) You have to be true to yourself (and whatever bike that may ensue!)

P.S. A wise man told me once that there is no perfect bike, just as there is no perfect woman(!)

Christine said...

If I saw you ride one of those babies, I'd think you were Steve McQueen *grins*...

Doug K. said...

Ah, Christine, you are a woman with a keen eye!

gunny said...

Your so right on track about the Triumph ! I loved my old Bonnie, wish I still had it. I can really relate, I ride KLR 650 everyday I can, and am planning a major road trip next spring out to Moab Utah to ride the desert there. Keep it on 2 wheels and have fun

Nobody said...

Yeehaw,
Just finished my MSF course, let the fun begin. Although I cannot aford a new bike for $7K at the moment, one day I would like to ride a Scrambler.. Just stoked I finally got around to learn to ride. It took me 29 years, now I am ready for it.
Thank you for the nice storys you provide on your blog, not just the ones about the Scrambler.
Somebody

Nobody said...

Hello it's me again,
although it's nothing like a Triumph Scrambler, I just got myself a used Kawasaki Super Sherpa. I was defenitly inspired by the element of having fun and the "taking it anywhere attitude" from the Triumph. It's not as pretty but heck, it's a lot of fun and being new to two motorized wheels I feel comfortably hooked on this little bike.
I cannot wait for tomorrow when I will take it out on some trails. As I am living on Maui there are no interstates here, so no need for speed...
All the best ,
Rob

Doug K. said...

Rob,

Congrats on completing your MSF course and picking the Super Sherpa. The bike is well thought of by experience riders and an excellent choice for learning the ropes off-road. You can make the Scrambler your second bike!

Doug K.

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