The classical adventure bike owner’s dilemma is acute in the case of Triumph’s Scrambler 1200 XE. You know the problem: you’ve got a shiny new bike designed for both street and dirt, but you’re reluctant to take it off-road because it’s tall, heavy and you’re scared stiff of dropping it.
This is especially true of the Scrambler because as well as being exceedingly tall it is expensive and beautiful. Its long-legged look is pure Triumph and as Sixties as Twiggy; a delightfully crafted blend of rounded petrol tank and compact parallel-twin powerplant, backed up by neat details including the headlamp’s alloy bracket and the fuel tank’s stainless steel strap and classical Monza filler cap.
Whether the Scrambler is in the testbike’s green and white or the alternative blue and black, the prospect of getting it covered in dirt and dents seemed almost wrong. Luckily some riders are made of sterner stuff – notably Guy Martin, who recently jumped a 1200 XE over a towering Bavarian fence in a recreation of Steve McQueen’s famous leap in The Great Escape.
My off-road escapade on the Triumph was less dramatic but still fun: a canter along some local trails that thankfully were fairly firm. The Scrambler 1200 XE coped so effortlessly, floating over the bumps on its lanky suspension, and finding grip despite its road-biased Metzelers, that I had no need for accessory crash-bars.
Its ability was no surprise because the 1200 XE is the latest and best of a long line of scrambler-style Triumphs that stretches back to the TR6 Trophy ridden by McQueen and others in the Sixties. The XE and its slightly less high-tech and more road-biased sibling the 1200 XC are sophisticated, purpose-designed bikes powered by the 1200cc, liquid-cooled parallel twin engine from Triumph’s Bonneville roadster.
For the Scrambler the sohc, eight-valve engine is lightened, given a single throttle body instead of two, fitted with a high-level exhaust and retuned with the emphasis on low-rev torque. Despite that it still kicks out a healthy max of 89bhp at 7400rpm.
The steel-framed chassis was also very much built for the job. The suspension combination of Showa forks and similarly multi-adjustable Öhlins twin shocks gives a huge 250mm of travel at each end, along with a groin-straining seat height of 870mm. The wire-spoked front wheel is a dirt-friendly 21 inches in diameter.
The XE’s specification, like everything about it, is high. Its Brembo M50 monobloc front brake calipers could have been lifted from a superbike, and incorporate cornering ABS thanks to the IMU (inertial measurement unit) that also governs the traction control. The XE has six riding modes, a TFT instrument panel, keyless ignition and backlit switchgear.
For road use the alternative modes are rarely required because the Scrambler fuels so sweetly and pulls so strongly. It can be left in Sport, the most aggressive mode, most of the time because the flexible delivery isn’t compromised and the throttle response is smooth, punching the Triumph forward with authority from 3000rpm or below.
In town the Scrambler is superb, its commanding riding position, reasonably light weight (207kg dry) and responsive chassis making up for concerns about its height. Provided you can get a foot down at the lights, and ignore the gentle thigh-roasting from the exhaust. The clutch is light, the suspension floats over bumps and the front brake is powerful yet controllable.
That flexibility is equally useful on the open road, where the Scrambler is fun and demolishes traffic, aided by a smooth-shifting gearbox, albeit one with no quick-shifter. The motor has parallel twin character without much vibration, but the XE can’t match the thrilling punch of Triumph’s Speed Twin, and quickly runs out of enthusiasm at higher revs.
The Scrambler’s lack of wind protection means it soon gets tiring on faster roads, but it does at least stay pretty stable at speed. Inevitably there is dive from the lanky forks under hard braking, and squat from the shocks when the Triumph is accelerating hard out of turns. But the Tourance Next tyres grip well and the bike is fun on a twisty road.
Riders brave enough to challenge the 1200 XE to serious off-road action will enjoy it but would do well to fit those accessory crash-bars. At least handguards and an engine bash-plate come as standard. The Triumph’s controllability, balance and suspension quality are assets, along with the easily selectable off-road riding modes.
For such a cool and simple looking bike the XE is tolerably practical, too. Its tank holds only 16 litres but the engine’s economy allows a range of around 150 miles. The seat is thin but not notably uncomfortable, and there’s a handy pillion grab-rail. Accessories include a flyscreen, centre-stand and soft luggage.
For all its versatility the 1200 XE makes little sense for anyone planning to ride only on the road. The more street-focused Scrambler 1200 XC costs less than the XE (which is £12,500 in the UK), and the superb Speed Twin roadster is cheaper still. But if you want to tackle street and trail on a Sixties-style twin, the Scrambler 1200 XE is a spectacular and hugely entertaining way to go about it.
By Roland Brown @rolandbrown1
Photos by Triumph