FIRST RIDE | 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE brings out your inner Steve McQueen
Triumph adventure bike combines retro-cool with real off-road ability
Late actor Steve McQueen was the silver screen’s king of cool in the 1960s and 1970s. Apart from taking part in one of the most iconic car-chase scenes in Hollywood history (a hair-raising dice through the streets of San Francisco in the movie Bullitt), McQueen was also real-life cool by being an avid car and motorcycle racer.
One of his favourite bike brands was Triumph, and the British firm capitalised on the star’s cred by launching a Steve McQueen-edition motorcycle a few years back.
The Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE isn’t that bike, but it does have a distinctly “1960s cool” flavour with its retro styling.
It’s a dual-purpose adventure bike for on- and off-road use, powered by the Bonneville’s twin-cylinder 1,200cc with outputs of 66kW and 110Nm. It sells in a single version priced at R205,000.
While its styling is a throwback to a bygone era, the technology’s right up to date and includes ABS brakes, traction control, LED daytime running light, and several riding modes (Road, Rain, Sport, Off-Road and Rider-Configurable). It also has cruise control, a trip computer and a USB charger.
The hardware is all top-shelf stuff, including adjustable suspension from Ohlins and powerful disc brakes by Brembo.
The all-digital instrument panel is a hi-tech piece of kit, and the display interface can be configured to different themes. The Scrambler also features keyless operation, with the fob staying in your pocket as it wirelessly communicates with the bike.
The whole “old meets new” vibe is perfectly summed up in the digital rendering of a skeleton watch on the instrument panel.
The Triumph Scrambler is a large and heavy bike, weighing 207kg dry. I’m six feet tall and I could just barely straddle it with my feet flat on the road. Shorter riders will need to be on tippy toes as there’s apparently no way to adjust the seat height.
However, as soon as you start moving, this 1,200cc feels a lot lighter and nimbler than its heftiness suggests. The first time I rode it on gravel I felt instantly comfortable with its general dirt-munching feel, and confident enough to power-slide it around corners like an enduro bike.
It felt so capable on the dirt that I decided to take it for a real test: the steep and rocky Breedt’s Nek pass over the Magaliesburg, and it fared very impressively.
This isn’t just a poseur’s cafe racer. It’s a proper adventure bike with a large 21-inch spoked front wheel, long-travel suspension, good ground clearance, a belly pan to protect the undersides and a suite of electronic modes to switch it between road and off-road settings.
There’s an Offroad Pro mode, which completely disables both the ABS and the traction control, where motocross-wannabes can slide it around to their hearts’ content.
Then there’s the Road mode where the ABS and traction control are fully active, which isn’t ideal for slippery gravel as the electronics become overrestrictive.
I found the best balance on dirt to be the intermediate Off Road setting. The traction control lets the bike slide around a bit but still saves your hide if you push things too far. It also disables the ABS so you can lock up the rear wheel — the fastest way to come to a stop on dirt.
The trouble with all these modern gizmos is that riders can sometimes get quite distracted by them, but the Triumph’s different riding modes are relatively easy to access without taking your eyes off the road for too long.
Ergonomically, the bike is suited to its gravel-munching role with its upright seating position, and the bars are high enough to grasp when you adopt the essential standing-up position for dirt riding.
The pipes running on the side of the bike are all very retro chic, but they do cause some uncomfortable heating of the inside of your leg when travelling at low speeds, even with their protective covers. Not quite living up to the cool theme.
The Scrambler is reasonably fast and will probably get to about 200km/h but your neck muscles won’t thank you if you try to stay at that speed very long as there’s no wind protection. If you want a more comfy long-distance cruiser, at the risk of losing some of that minimalistic styling appeal, you’ll have to cough up extra for a small fairing from Triumph’s options catalogue.
This bike’s all about low-rev torque, and there’s heaps of the stuff. There’s no need to rev the bike to its low 7,000rpm red line; just stick it into a high gear, surf that big torque wave, and bring out your inner Steve McQueen as you head for roads less travelled.