First Ride: Triumph Scrambler

No barbed wire fences to jump, so Whitham sticks to the roads on Triumph's Scrambler and gets nostalgic

You know how it is when you hear an old song on the radio and, even though you haven't heard it for years, you can remember every word of it? Well that's how I am with the film The Great Escape.

I know everything about that masterpiece of cinematography. I know the Wermacht preferred Triumphs to BMWs or Zündapps. I know that if you dig a long tunnel your bed will probably collapse. I know that if a thin bloke wearing small round glasses and a long leather coat turns up at your house, you're in the shit. I know that if an enemy officer wishes you 'good luck' while you're on the run, you don't say 'thank you'. And I know that as soon as I saw a picture of the Triumph Scrambler last summer, I wanted one.

Most bike manufacturers have realised there's a market for retro-style bikes. And nobody, for my money, is doing a better job of satisfying that craving than Triumph.

The look of the Scrambler is spot-on. Its spoked wheels, fork gaiters, two-tone tank, rear pegs bolted onto the swing-arm and twin exhausts send you back to a time when nobody locked their doors and pop stars could play their own instruments.

Out on the road (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) the Scrambler wasn't as much of a disappointment as I was expecting it to be. I don't mean that in a bad way. It's just that when you've been looking forward to riding a bike  for ages, nothing usually lives up to your expectations.

The seating position was just right, and would be especially welcome to anyone who's more used to a sportsbike. Thanks to its combination of low-ish seat height, low centre of gravity, good steering lock and wide bars, slow speed manoeuvring is always likely to be un-embarrassing.

The front brake was better than I thought it was going to be, too. We're so used to being told we need huge discs, radial six-pot calipers and exotic pads that you can't imagine a set-up involving one disc and a spindly looking caliper is actually going to arrest your progress before the end of the decade. But it does, and adequately for the riding you're going to do on this type of bike. The rear even seemed almost too good.

The motor is the well-tried 865cc parallel twin unit found in other Triumph retros, but set up to fire at 270º rather than 360º to give it a slightly rougher edge and different feel to the other bikes in the line-up. Despite this it still feels smooth and balanced. The Scrambler has slightly less power (a claimed 54bhp) than the Thruxton, but more torque. This makes it as much at home bobbing down a country lane or cruising up the avenue with your shades on. No dramas either from the five-speed gearbox - both its ratios and operation feel exactly right.

I'm not so sure it would be up to a 50-foot leap over a barbed-wire fence, but the geometry and suspension were more than capable when zinging along down country lanes or pitching the Scrambler through roundabouts. There was a little bit of vagueness about the steering if you hit a bump mid-corner, probably caused by the forks being slightly under-damped. But this is a small gripe and you'd only feel it on the bumpiest of roads. It didn't spoil the fun.

The only real issue I had with the bike was the feeling it lacked a bit of character. Maybe the engine was a little bit too smooth; perhaps a louder exhaust note would help. Or maybe it's just me being a bit picky. You could go out and buy a restored original Bonnie or Commando, but then you'd have to learn how to use a kick-start again, not to mention upgrading your breakdown cover.

All in all the Scrambler is a cool-looking and capable Sunday morning jaunt bike or practical commuter that will have you peeping sideways at yourself in shop windows just to see how good you look. My dream garage would definitely have one in, with an open-faced lid and a pair of RAF Mk 8 goggles hanging off the grips just for when the mood took me. Well, let's face it, it's the closest I'm gonna get to Steve McQueen now.


For a Sunday morning bike or commuter it looks great, but lacks a bit of the charm of the old bikes whose style it apes. However, what it loses in character it makes up for in absence of oil leaks.