The Best Scrambler Motorcycle for an Off-Road Experience
Motorcycle racers in the early 20th century were both daring and innovative, often modifying their bikes to handle the rigors of early motorsport. At first, this meant improving a motorcycle for outright speed. However, as motorcycle racing took a turn toward the dirt, the changes made to standard street bikes became more geared toward this daring new style of racing. This off-road version of motorcycle racing would come to be called “scrambling”.
Reaching the height of its popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, scrambling demanded motorcycles that could handle the dramatically different surfaces that the races took place on. Modifications such as knobby tires, spoked wheels, and high exhaust pipes resulted in a distinctive style of bike that is known today as a scrambler.
As more dedicated off-road machines such as enduro and dirt bikes became more common, the modified scrambler bikes all but disappeared. Fortunately, retro is back in, and scramblers, much like bobbers, have made a comeback. The popularity of the retro aesthetic, however, has brought about a resurrection of this classic style of motorcycle, and today several companies now produce scrambler motorcycle that can be purchased right off the showroom floor.
We’ve taken a look at some of these stylish new bikes and found some models that really stand out over their competition. Marrying retro styling with modern technology and manufacturing, these are the very best scrambler motorcycles of 2023.
Table of Contents
Top Pick – Best Scrambler Motorcycle for an Off-Road Experience
Our pick for the best scrambler motorcycle of 2023 is the Triumph street scrambler 1200, a part of the brand’s “Modern Classics” lineup, and a true blend of classic scrambler styling and modern manufacturing. Available in multiple different trims that offer styling and performance options, this bike is a stylish and capable demonstration of why scrambler motorcycles have been rising in popularity.
The Best Scrambler Motorcycles Are
1. Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE Scrambler Motorcycle — Best Overall
Britain’s largest motorcycle manufacturer offers this modern rendition of the scrambler, powered by the capable Bonneville parallel twin engine tuned specifically for multipurpose riding and dripping with classic styling. Longtime Triumph enthusiasts will see the influence of legendary models such as the TR5 trophy, and the Desert Sled, brought into the 21st century with top quality technology and manufacturing.
This motorcycle offers 89 horsepower, fully adjustable front and rear suspension, and Brembo brakes for a fantastic riding experience with no compromises. The XE trim of the scrambler is designed to be fully capable both on and off-road, capable of competing with the most dedicated enduro motorcycles on the market without sacrificing any of the iconic styling that makes this bike stand out over all the rest.
- Liquid Cooled 8-valve 1200cc Parallel Twin SOHC Engine
- 89hp @ 7,250 rpm.
- 81.1 ft-lbs torque @ 4,500 rpm.
- 4.2 US Gallon Fuel Tank
- 452 lbs Dry Weight
- High power engine for top-of-the-line performance
- Fully adjustable suspension
- Adjustable Riding modes
- Factory equipped with ABS and traction control
- Available in XC, XE, and Chrome Line trim levels
- High entry cost
2. Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled
The Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled features designs meant specifically to call to mind the great enduro motorcycles of the 1980s while delivering reliable, modern performance to the most dedicated of off-road enthusiasts. The air cooled L-twin engine produces an excellent 73 hp, delivering exhilarating performance.
Ducati Scrambler has Adjustable Kayaba suspension, a reinforced chassis, and Pirelli Scorpion tires all feature prominently to ensure stable control of this bike, regardless of the terrain you ride in.
This mixture of style and substance in Ducati Desert Sled delivers on Ducati’s reputation as one of the top motorcycle brands across all segments, offering a motorcycle with top-notch performance that also doesn’t slack off on style.
- Air-cooled 4-valve 803cc L-Twin engine
- 73 hp @ 8,250 rpm
- 48.8 ft-lbs torque @ 5,750 rpm.
- 3.57 US Gallon fuel tank
- 425.5 lbs Dry Weight
- Strong 73 hp engine
- Includes interchangeable aluminum side tank panels
- Adjustable suspension
- Engine runs hot
3. BMW R NineT Scrambler
BMW R NineT Scrambler is a unique blend of modern, futuristic, and classic design offers top quality German engineering combined with decades of off-road expertise from BMW Motorrad.
Featuring a powerful 1,170cc boxer engine, shaft drive, and multiple ride modes, the R NineT is a refined example of a scrambler motorcycle brought into the modern age.
Leveraging BMW’s experience to the utmost, the R NineT makes no attempt to recreate the great enduro motorcycles of the 80s, but rather leverages modern technology such as BMW’s Ride Mode Pro to create a scrambler that looks forward.
The DNA of the classic R 80 G/S is clearly seen in the design, however this bike is designed to be competitive, even with the most advanced bikes of the 21st century.
- Air/Oil cooled 8 valve 1,170cc Flat-Twin engine
- 109 hp @ 7,250 rpm.
- 85 ft-lbs torque @ 6,000 rpm.
- 4.5 US Gallon fuel tank
- 492 lbs wet weight
- Top-quality rider assists and technology
- Outstanding power and torque
- 3 year, 36,000 mile warranty from BMW Motorrad
- Specialized technology has slightly higher upkeep cost.
4. Indian 1200 FTR Rally
Indian is a company well-known for their classic cruiser motorcycles. However, the 1200 FTR brings the brand to the world of off-road performance bikes, with the Rally kit transforming the bike into a functional and stylish scrambler from the US. Form follows function with the FTR, with every styling item adding to the performance and ergonomics of this truly outstanding machine.
This motorcycle is equipped with a powerful 1,203cc V-Twin engine that produces 120 hp. When coupled with the fully adjustable suspension, Brembo brakes, and Pirelli Scorpion tires, the result is a true off-road performer that can comfortably tackle any road surface.
An upright riding position provides a comfortable and controllable ride, although a higher seat position can be intimidating for some less experienced riders.
- Liquid-cooled 1,203cc V-Twin Engine
- Horsepower: 120 HP
- 83 ft-lbs Torque @ 6,000 rpm.
- 3.4 US Gallon Fuel Tank
- 488 lbs Dry Weight
- Powerful and responsive V-Twin engine
- Functional styling for maximum usability
- Fully adjustable suspension
- ABS and Cruise control are standard equipment
- 32.1” seat height can be intimidating for some riders.
- .Lack of rider assists such as traction control
5. Triumph Scrambler 900
Styled very much like its big brother, the 1200, but with a more urban attitude and tame 899cc power plant, the Triumph street Scrambler 900 is an updated nameplate for the popular Street Scrambler.
Equipped with the Bonneville 900 engine, this motorcycle delivers 64 horsepower and 59 ft-lbs of torque for respectable yet manageable performance. All of the scrambler styling is present here, including the iconic 2-into-2 tailpipe and upright riding position.
This bike is a fantastic option for riders looking for classic Triumph styling and performance, but not looking for the sort of price tag and highly specialized equipment of the Scrambler 1200 XE. However, the differences between the 900 and its sibling go beyond engine and power.
While the 900 is a modestly capable off-roader, its ability to tackle truly challenging trails is limited, and is a bit more at home in an urban environment than many of its competitors.
- Liquid-cooled, 8 valve 899cc Parallel Twin engine
- 64 hp @ 7,250 rpm.
- 59 ft-lbs torque @ 3,250 rpm.
- 3.2 US Gallon Fuel Tank
- 492 lbs Curb Weight
- Excellent Scrambler styling
- Proven, reliable Bonneville 900 engine
- Solid performance on and off-road
- Less capable off-road than many competitors
6. Royal Enfield Himalayan
Riders looking for the thrill of a true scrambler motorcycle without the extreme performance and cost of higher end models will especially enjoy the Himalayan from Royal Enfield.
This motorcycle offers the same extraordinary off-road handling expected of any scrambler with beginner friendly performance that any rider can get the most out of. It also known as the best beginner motorcycle.
Despite the modest price tag and horsepower, the Royal Enfield Himalaya is a strong performer, especially offroad, focusing on off-road capability, rather than simply producing performance numbers that look good on paper.
The result is a motorcycle that is accessible to any skill level while handling virtually any terrain on earth. All of this from a motorcycle with a significantly lower price tag than most of its competitors.
- Air-Cooled 411cc Single Cylinder Engine
- 24.3 hp @ 6,500 rpm.
- 23.6 ft-lbs Torque @ 4,000 rpm.
- 4 US Gallon Fuel tank
- 439 lbs Curb weight
- Affordable off-road performer
- Beginner-friendly power for all skill levels
- Excellent off-road handling
- Low power compared to major competitors
- Lack of advanced features and assists
7. Honda CL500
This brand new option from Honda is based off of the wildly popular Rebel 500 platform, and offers all of the reliability and performance that the brand is known for in a scrambler package.
Adapting the low-slung cruiser style of the Rebel to a high-riding off-road scrambler platform, the CL500 is an option for riders that are looking for a visually distinctive scrambler with good, usable performance.
The 471cc, liquid-cooled twin cylinder engine produces a respectable 46 horsepower that makes the bike fairly quick without becoming difficult to handle.
The compact frame and adjustable rear suspension also make this motorcycle a solid performer both off-road and around city streets for a truly versatile riding experience. However, riders in the United States will have to wait, as this motorcycle is not yet available in US markets.
- Liquid-cooled, 8 valve 471cc twin-cylinder engine
- 46 hp @ 8,500 rpm
- 32 ft-lbs torque @ 6,250 rpm.
- 3.2 US Gallon fuel tank
- 423 lbs dry weight
- Lightweight, maneuverable frame
- Tested and reliable 471cc parallel twin engine
- Versatile on and off-road performance
- Availability is currently limited to non-US markets
Factors to Consider When Buying a Scrambler Motorcycle
While modern scrambler motorcycles are designed to evoke the styling of classic off-road racers, not every scrambler is fully capable of handling off-road applications. It is important to remember that scramblers are now a separate segment of motorcycles designed around style, and general versatility. While some of these bikes can compete with more purpose-built modern adventure bikes, this isn’t always the case.
Scrambler motorcycles can also vary greatly in their performance, the technology that is available, and of course, price as well. Choosing the best scrambler for your specific wants and needs can be challenging if you’re not sure what factors to consider. Here are a few of the most critical things to be aware of when shopping for a motorcycle in this segment.
First and foremost, the size of a motorcycle’s engine will always have a major impact on its performance. As a general rule a higher displacement engine will produce more power, but will also weigh more as well.
Most scrambler motorcycles on the market will have engines of at least 800cc, however there are some lightweight exceptions as well.
The rougher the terrain a bike is expected to tackle, the stronger the engine will need to be. If you are looking for a powerful, high-performance motorcycle, then it is a good idea to go for a bike with a larger engine.
On the other hand, if you do most of your riding around town or along more moderate trails, then a smaller engine may be all you need.
Remember to be aware of your typical ride and skill level when considering the size and power of your chosen bike’s engine.
The Size of the Front Wheel
The front wheel of any off-road motorcycle is important, as it will have a profound effect on the handling of the bike. Wider diameter wheels equipped with off-road tires absorb more feedback from the road and can generally handle off-road conditions better. The vast majority of scrambler motorcycles will be equipped with 19” or 21” front wheels.
Scrambler motorcycles vary greatly in price, with some of the lowest end models being around $5,000 while high-end models can exceed $15,000. When considering how much you would like to spend on a scrambler, it is important to take into consideration exactly what you are buying the motorcycle for.
Less expensive motorcycles in this segment will typically feature less powerful engines or less specialized equipment, while the pricier bikes make use of advanced technology and stronger engines to handle off-road conditions more effectively.
As with any major vehicle purchase, you should carefully consider the purpose of the bike. For some riders, the higher power engines and off-road capability is the most important part of the motorcycle, while others simply prefer the style of a scrambler, and can compromise the performance of the bike and get by with a cheaper option.
While there is never a single answer for which motorcycle is the best fit, the information we’ve gone over here can help you find the best answer for your own unique situation. Whether you are looking for a city bike with classic styling, or you’re looking to recreate the golden age of off-road motorcycle racing, there is certain to be a modern scrambler that is a great fit.
From the top-of-the-line Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE, to the modest Norton Himalayan, these motorcycles are designed with style and functionality in mind, and with this handy buying guide you will have all the information you need to ensure that you choose the very best scrambler motorcycle for you.