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Riding The 2020 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer

Ducati goes old-school in the name of style as we lean in this review.

© Basem Wasef   Motorcyclist

By Basem Wasef, Motorcyclist

Remember the 1960s? Neither do we; I was but a glint in my parent’s eyes back in the psychedelic era. But I do have it on reliable sources that café racers of the day were quite the sensation because they epitomized edgy street racer culture and were capable of achieving—get this—a ton, or 100 mph.

© Basem Wasef   Motorcyclist

Nowadays triple-digit speeds can be achieved just past first gear, and a seemingly endless cascade of track-derived tech has made obscene speed a ubiquitous, easily attainable commodity. Ducati, the Italian speed merchant whose L-twin and V-4-powered superbikes have left few wanting for power, has tasked its Scrambler lineup with handling the more romantic task of covering genres like nostalgic desert racers of yore and, yep, café racers.

Of the 13 Scrambler variants at last count, the 2020 Ducati Scrambler Café is arguably the coolest. With its so-called silver ice matte graphics, bar-end mirrors, covered passenger saddle, and trim proportions, it speaks to the cleanly stylish aesthetics of the ’60s (perhaps with a touch of ’70s thrown in, thanks to the NASA logo-like font). The 2019 and onward model years get new 17-inch spoked wheels with Pirelli Diablo Rosso III rubber and a “54” number plate recalling Bruno Spaggiari who, if Wikipedia isn’t handy, was an Italian racer who won the first Grand Prix he entered, the 125cc Nations GP in 1958.

© Basem Wasef   Motorcyclist

It looks lean, mean, and frightfully speedy, and the Café Racer’s 803cc L-twin comes to life with a mechanically robust growl that seemingly supports that mission. But here’s the kicker: Climb aboard the 31.7-inch saddle, lift if off the stand, click into first, release the low-effort hydraulic clutch, and allow the engine to pull and the sensation is…surprisingly mild. In fact, the throttle response is a mechanical echo of the bike’s ergonomics: seemingly aggressive, but actually easy. Go ahead and crank that right grip with gusto, power delivery is gradual enough to feel like Rain mode in other bikes.

© Basem Wasef   Motorcyclist

Unlike some menu-intensive digital displays, Ducati’s single rounded LCD display depicts the basics—a bar graph-style tachometer and fuel level indicator—around the perimeter, while placing a digital speedo and gear position indicator inside the ring. A mode button on the left grip enables scrolling through items like ambient temperature and trip odometer, but surprisingly doesn’t enable ride mode changes to sharpen the throttle response.

The Café Racer rides like, well, anything but a high-strung racer. Sure, its silhouette is sleek and adorned with that number plate (you can have any digits, as long as they’re 54), but the claimed 73 hp (68 hp measured on the Cycle World dyno), 803cc L-twin is simply too chill to feel like it must be tamed the way, say, aggressively cammed and bored racers from the 1960s might have felt. Get on the gas and the power climbs, peaking in torque with 49 pound-feet at 5,750 rpm. Gears shift with a positive lever feel, though I encountered false neutrals more than once; a solid kick ensures the next cog is the one you want, not an embarrassingly revvy halfway point between hither and yon. There’s good stopping power from the radially mounted, four-piston caliper and 330mm disc, though the rear single-piston caliper and 245mm unit requires quite a bit of pedal effort to slow down the Scrambler’s 432 pounds of claimed mass. Handling is taut but not scalpel sharp, with an emphasis on stability over outright nimbleness.

© Basem Wasef   Motorcyclist

In the final analysis, the Ducati Scrambler Café Racer is a bike that digs deep into the stylistic, but not necessarily dynamic, characteristics of the retro machines that inspired it. Easy customizability comes in nice touches—the steel fuel tank’s side panels can be swapped out, as can the rounded headlight nacelle which shrouds the LED headlamps framed in a neat X design. Also thoughtful is the underseat storage area with a USB charger. But this particular Scrambler is more nostalgic than fire-breathing or thrusty, a task which is more easily satisfied by its 1,100cc spin-offs.

© Basem Wasef   Motorcyclist

Do we wish the Scrambler Café had an adjustable ride mode setting for more eye-opening throttle response? Sure we do. But all things considered, this retro ride sticks to its radiator-free air-cooled guns, and can still reach 100 mph easily enough—only with an ease of use, reliability, and leak-free operation that would put its forebears to shame. While we expect a whole lot out of modern motorcycles, nostalgia, as they say, ain’t what it used to be.


Gear Box

Helmet: AGV Pista GP R

Jacket: Aether Divide

Gloves: Alpinestars Oscar Rayburn Leather

Pant: Aether Divide

Boots: Alpinestars Oscar Rayburn Riding Shoe


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Automotive Magazine: Riding The 2020 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer
Riding The 2020 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer
Ducati goes old-school in the name of style as we lean in this review.
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