In the same way Fiat revived its classic Cinquecento as the contemporary 500 and reincarnated the 124 Sport Spider, Ducati went back to the 1960s and brought back its plucky little Scrambler. Justus Visagie took the new 1100 cc version on a two-day Cape Peninsula tour.
With the retro and custom bike scene flaring up all over the world, Ducati wanted a piece of the action too. To do so, they had to bring a worthy rival to the BMW R nineT and a whole gang of Triumphs. So, the Bolognese created a sub-brand called Scrambler and created two Scrambler models: a 400 cc and an 800 cc. Buyers flocked to them, but their small frames and modest engines did not suit all riders, so the bigger Scrambler 1100 came into being. Now I find myself at the Cape Town office of Ducati to take one for a 125 km ride.
I pressed start and savoured the raucous response of the L-twin engine. I shot out of the car park and joined the N1 towards Cape Town. I noticed the handlebars are wide, but not enough to prohibit lane filtering between cars on the highway. I expected a racket from the straight-cut gears of the six-speed transmission, but there was none, just smooth and easy shifts. I also expected more power from an 1100 …
There are countless reasons to connect the dots of Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton, and the Camps Bay-strip by motorcycle, but today I had to slice them off the map by heading up Kloof Nek Road and on to Chapman’s Peak Drive. Above the peninsula, a celestial war waged between storm and sun and I would be on wet roads if Zeus won. That the 1100 has traction control was a reassuring thought when rain is on the riding menu, but you can adjust its level of intervention or switch it off completely. Still, I wanted to be in the Penguin Palace hotel as snug as a day-old chick before the heavens opened.
The M6 that links Camps Bay to Hout Bay gave me the first taste of the handling prowess of the Scrambler. The corners of the coastal road flow lazily, like zabaione, the runny custard treat of Bologna. Although this Duke wears the Scrambler name, its suspension is more Motard or naked bike and less dirt rooster. This harder, sportier suspension frame and engine hang low, giving it a fairly low centre of gravity.
Meanwhile, it appeared Mordor had relocated to Cape Point as purple clouds gathered on the mountain. But it was pretty, so ‘Mordor-light’, if you will. I reached Hout Bay and pulled over just before the start of Chappies, as Chapman’s Peak Drive is called by Capetonians. The digital signboard that usually tells road users if the pass is open or closed read “WINDY”.
Poise and balance
To me, the tricky bits of this glorious, winding road is where it starts and ends. I anticipated the first sharp curve and its sudden elevation, but the bike made it easy. The wide bars provided strong leverage and the bike leaned into the corners effortlessly, displaying good balance.
It seemed to transform under me, but it was just my perceptions being recalibrated. Instead of trying to make a drag racer out of it, I was going with the flow, from curve to curve, enjoying its easy, confident handling. Here, the strong Brembo brakes are of greater value than brutal acceleration would be.
Besides traction control that can rein in a spinning rear wheel, the Scrambler has cornering ABS. This prevents the front wheel from washing away if the rider brakes too hard in a corner. It will also keep the bike from standing up and going straight when the rider goes into a corner too fast, loses his nerve and grabs the brakes.
Between Chappies and Noordhoek small branches scurried across the road like insects, while trees waved their branches at me. The wind tugged at my riding gear and tried to push me around. On to the M6 I enjoyed the view of False Bay as I crested the hill and descended to sea level. I turned onto the M4 South and navigated up the steep residential roads above Simon’s Town to get to the Penguin Palace.
Although grand, it is not really a palace and it is not a penguin rehab centre either; rather a large, yet cosy and welcoming boutique guesthouse. I was shown to my room with an astonishing view of False Bay from the balcony. It was almost too much to take in. I could see Simon’s Town’s harbour with yachts mere flecks of white and my eyes could trace the coastline all the way to Muizenberg. In the distance, I could make out bits of Gordon’s Bay beyond the fog and cloud.
The Palace has a long dining room where you can perch yourself (like an eagle, not a penguin) as close to the view as you want. Over breakfast I plotted my return to Cape Town: Up Red Hill Road, on to Scarborough, past Ocean View, up and over Ou Kaapse Weg.
On a map Red Hill Road looks like messy squiggle where it sprouts from the M4 between Simons Town and Glencairn. In real life it is a slice of riding heaven. I was wary of wet patches on the road, especially where trees and cliffs block the sun. The tyres were still cold, but I piloted the bike with even more confidence than yesterday. The road straightened and I powered out of it, my brain most likely drenched in dopamine by now.
I pulled into The Hub, a fairly new café in Scarborough, to enjoy a perfectly crafted almond flat-white coffee. Then I kept going Northwest towards Misty Cliffs and Kommetjie. The road descended gently, and I could see three kite surfers in the water, revelling in the wind. The suspension of the Scrambler felt stiff on this choppy bit of road, but it is a surface that usually brings out the worst in the springs and dampers of a vehicle.
As I turned North to flank Ocean View, rain started to fall, but I felt elated. In the past 24 hours I have ridden one of the most beautiful roads in the world and I was going to end it off with one of my favourite stretches: Ou Kaapse Weg, with its 26 bends.
Compared to the BMW R nineT Scrambler (81 kW/116 Nm) and the Triumph Scrambler 1200 (66 kW/110 Nm) the performance of the Ducati Scrambler seems tepid. But what it lacks in shove, it makes up in exuberance the others cannot match …
Our bike: Ducati Scrambler 1100
Engine: 1,079 cc, L-Twin, Desmodromic, air cooled
Power: 63 kW @ 7,500 rpm
Torque: 88 Nm @ 4,750 rpm
Transmission: six-speed, chain drive, slipper clutch
Kerb weight: 206 kg (dry weight 189 kg)
Seat height: 810 mm
Consumption: five litres/100 km (claimed), 15-litre tank
CO2 emissions: 120 g/km, Euro 4
RoadTrip rating: 77%
We do like: The wide bars of the Scrambler, that provide strong leverage, it displays good balance and confident handling.
We do not like: It can do with more power, and the suspension feels stiff on certain road surfaces