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Top 10 best Scramblers to leave you with the biggest smiles

Light, frisky, capable and simply a riot to ride, Scramblers have endured in popularity for decades... but which will have you bearing the widest grin?

Indian FTR1200

There’s been a flurry of new bikes for 2021, partly due to the onset of Euro5 regulations.

But of them all it is the Scrambler class – retro-roadsters with distinguishing features as semi-knobbly tyres, high mudguards and exhausts, ribbed seats and motocross handlebars, all the echo the spirit of biking icon Steve McQueen in the 1960s – is arguably the busiest of all.

New Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC & XE 2021 Specs | Should you go for this over an adventure bike?

Triumph has recently unveiled not one, but TWO updated Scrambler models for 2021, there are new or updated versions from Ducati, tweaked luxury versions from the likes of BMW and Indian and, at the other extreme, even revised, bargain-priced, Chinese-built offerings which not only suit raw novices but are also within the wallet-range of all of us.

But which are the best? What do you get for your money and how much do they cost? To help you decide, here’s our pick of the 2021 class – in price ascending order…

WK Bikes 125 Scrambler (from £2199)

This British-based, Chinese built brand are no newcomers when it comes to affordable lightweights and learner bikes, having been around for almost 20 years. Its 125 Scrambler, first introduced in 2018, is one of its more popular models. It follows a familiar formula of using an old, Japanese-designed, air-cooled, SOHC single in a tubular steel twin shock frame with Scrambler features such as semi-knobbly tyres, but manages to rise above the run-of-the-mill by having better detailing and spec than most. Now, for 2021, it’s better still thanks to being made Euro5 compliant and gaining updated clocks, LED lights and more. It’s certainly not earth-shattering, top speed is a fairly marginal 60mph and its knobblies makes steering, er, ‘interesting’. But it’s also undeniably cute and well-specced and brilliant value – there’s no better entry point into the Scrambler category.

Fantic Caballero 500 (from £6399)

Italian brand Fantic made its name in the ‘70s and ‘80s both for stylish lightweight road bikes, including the famous Fantic 125 Chopper, and off-road motocross, enduro and trials machines, winning the trails world championship three times. It went bust in 1995 but was revived with an all-new family of classy and lively single cylinder retro bikes from 2017 with styling touches inspired by its off-road past. Available in 125, 250 and 500cc forms, the  Scrambler 500 is typical of its bikes, which mix Chinese value with European performance and heritage styling. Its liquid-cooled single produces a perky 43bhp, handling is as good – if not better – than any of these kind of bike, there’s plenty of nice detail touches and, although of limited practicality (you wouldn’t take on a motorway trip on one) there are few better or more fun, sunny Sunday ‘feel good’ machines. 

Yamaha XSR XTribute (from £8402)

Although Yamaha’s retro scrambler XSR family, which are basically restyled versions of its MT-07 and MT-09 roadsters, have little true Scrambler authenticity, being monoshocked, modern machines with liquid-cooled two and three-cylinder engines respectively, what they lack in ‘provenance’ they more than make up for with performance! The base MTs are already brilliant performers and such great value they’re also runaway best sellers. The XSRs build on that with 1975 Yamaha XT500 inspired styling touches (new tank cover, bench seat, round headlight etc while this new-for-2019 XTribute edition goes even further with trail-style handlebars, classic fork gaiters, new seat, gold rims and more. The result looks great, with a perky 75bhp and nimble handling it goes great and, at just over £8400, it also undercuts many so-called more authentic scramblers, too. If you want a great performer with a hint of scrambler style, this is the one.

Triumph Street Scrambler (from £9300)

The revived British firm is deservedly the market leader in retro bikes, it defined the scrambler class when it came out with its first Bonneville-based Scrambler in 2008 and it kept ahead of the pack when it brought out its affordable, entry-level Street Scrambler, based on it’s then all-new 900cc Street Twin Bonneville in 2016. That bike proved popular for its style, quality, retro authenticity and easy 54bhp performance, was updated to 64bhp with new switchable riding modes, instruments and more in 2019 and for 2021 has been updated again to meet Euro5, gaining subtle styling and spec updates along the way. There’s also an A2 licence-compliant version available. If you want an easy going scrambler with bags of classy authentic style and arguably the definitive badge on the tank – this is the one.

Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled (from £10,085)

Italian legends Ducati proved there was something to this revived scrambler style when it launched its first Scramblers in 2015 – but not just as one bike, but as a whole brand. Four variants were launched initially, with all powered by an easy, 803cc aircooled V-twin and intended as stylish, novice-friendly, customizable retros. The Desert Sled arrived in 2017, is arguably the best of the bunch and has been improved further for 2021. More off-road style with longer suspension and 1975 Yamaha XT500 inspired styling touches, it’s also taller, aimed at less novice riders and also more of an all-rounder – it even makes a half-decent trailie. It’s also been subtly updated repeatedly since and for 2021 is not just Euro5 compliant but also gains a new ‘Sparkling Blue’ colour option but also a neat mesh headlight guard, anti-slip seat lining and longer travel forks. 

Moto Guzzi V85 TT (from £11,200)

It’s not often we get excited about a new Moto Guzzi but that was definitely the case with the Italian firm’s V85 TT in 2019. Arguably more ‘retro adventure bike’ than true scrambler it uses the latest version of the historic marque’s traditional, signature transversely-mounted, shaft drive, air-cooled V-twin (producing a grunty 79bhp) but this time mounted in a tall, adventure bike style chassis including modern inverted forks, radial brakes and the latest colour TFT instrument display but then gives it a hefty dose of heritage styling. It all works brilliantly, too being great both commuting, around town, on Sunday blasts or even long distance two-up touring (if you tick the luggage options). In short: it’s got it all. A bike with retro scrambler style, a classy heritage badge yet plenty of modern adventure bike versatility? You’ll be wanting the V85 TT. Better still, for 2021 and to mark Moto Guzzi’s centenary, there’s a new ‘Centenario’ with exclusive vintage livery, for £11,400.

BMW RnineT Scrambler, from £11,595

Bavarian marque BMW have been at the forefront of the retro ‘scrambler’ class ever since its RnineT of 2014 – which was a heritage-style, limited edition version of its R1200R built to mark BMW’s 90th anniversary, hence the name – proved such a hit it not only became a mainstream model but also spawned a whole family of variants. The Scrambler version, with larger, 19in wire front wheel, trail style bars and upswept pipes, arrived in 2016 and, like all RnineTs, appeals for its brilliant blend of modern mechanicals and 110bhp performance, cool, retro-inspired styling and enviable badge. Like the ‘Pure’ variant, it lacks the premium spec of the original RnineT, such as its twin dials and inverted forks, but being a basic scrambler means that doesn’t seem to matter while also offering a decent saving on price.

Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC, from £11,800

Most of us thought Triumph had the scrambler genre pretty well covered by its 900cc Street Scrambler. That is, until the Hinckley marque brought out its more powerful, punchy and genuinely off-road capable Scrambler 1200 in 2019. Based on the larger Bonneville 1200 it produces a punchy 89bhp and has longer travel suspension, wide trail bars and more scrambler design details than you shake a long muddy stick at. But there’s also the XE version with even longer, pukka dirt bike suspension, more sophisticated electronic rider aids and more that’s the real ‘daddy’, is a genuinely capable dirt bike and is the one you imagine Steve McQueen would choose for a more successful stab at leaping over The Great Escape’s barbed wire fence…

Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport Pro, from £12,885

The arrival of Ducati’s original 800cc Scrambler family in 2015 proved such a popular success that the Italian firm swiftly followed it up with two extra, larger 1100cc versions in 2018 designed to appeal to more experienced riders and deliver the extra performance such riders expect. Then 2020 saw the introduction of the most extreme version yet, the Sport Pro. It features top quality Ohlins inverted forks and shock, quasi-race spec Brembo radial brakes and sophisticated electronics – hence the hefty price. And while its 84bhp isn’t quite the match of those performance cycle parts it is grunty, brisk and cultured – particularly so for a so-called ‘retro scrambler’!

Indian FTR1200, from £12,295

Here’s a slightly left-field ‘scrambler’– but also one so good it has to be included here. In truth, revived US brand Indian’s FTR isn’t, strictly speaking, a scrambler at all. Instead it’s the US version – a flat tracker (hence FTR) but seeing as it performs so well, is great fun to ride and has a fairly hefty dose of retro-inspired styling to boot, we had to include it here. It was initially launched in 2019 based on a performance, tuned, 118bhp version of the Scout cruiser’s V-twin engine, featured and all-new sporty/roadster chassis including Brembo radial brakes and Sachs suspension and was an absolute hoot to ride. Better still, an uprated S version got fully-adjustable forks, fancy TFT dash and uprated electronics. While for 2021 both have been improved further by switching to 17inch wheels (the original had a 19/18 combo), getting Euro5 compliant engine tweaks and other details changes. Not cheap, but it’s a brilliant performer (think American style Ducati Monster), more practical than you might imagine and as cool as anything – and isn’t that what a scrambler should be all about?