The Bonneville and the Scrambler, probably two of the most iconic motorcycles ever made. And if you compare the two, it's like asking someone to choose between his heroes. But still we gave it a shot
“I really like the Triumph!” I told Abhay from under my helmet on an unusually cool summer’s early morning as we pulled alongside each other at a traffic light. “It’s difficult choosing between the two but I somehow prefer the Scrambler, especially with the Zard exhaust.” He was barely audible over the crackling and burbling from the tail pipe. I couldn’t keep myself from thinking that the Zard was just too loud; thankfully the stock pipe on the Scrambler is much quieter, much to the dismay of Mr Verma. His argument has always been no point in having a high capacity motorcycle if you can’t wake the neighbours. So there we were, only half an hour into our ride and like responsible motoring journalists, had already picked a side.
I did agree with him on the fact that it was difficult choosing between the two. Despite the two modern-day blasts from the past being two entirely different motorcycles, they share a common ground which is the main ingredient of their appeal – their heritage. Where the Bonneville was christened so, thanks to its speed feats at the Bonneville Salt Flats and further popularised by Steve McQueen, the Scrambler was more of a lifestyle icon of the Sixties and Seventies. Also, the Scrambler was an affordable motorcycle from one of the premier motorcycle makers in the world whereas it was the Bonneville that cemented Triumph’s position as a major motorcycle maker. Hence, both bikes appeal to different crowds.
There’s no doubt that looks are subjective and our disagreement on the aesthetics was testimony to that. I preferred the simplicity of the Street Twin’s design and Abhay couldn’t stop gushing over the funky yet minimalistic aesthetic approach of the Ducati.
“How can you not like the Scambler, dude?” asked Abhay. “It looks so cool. It’s well-designed and well-packaged. The yellow tank with its black tank insert looks pretty Seventies and the DRLs up front tell you that this is no ordinary bike; rather something special unlike the standard round headlamp on the Street. And have you seen the rear? It’s beautiful especially that LED tail lamp and the seat-integrated grab handles. Plus, it’s Italian!” He finished trying his best not sound too convincing.
“You missed the offset clock and the fact that you don’t have a fuel gauge.” I retorted when he mocked the Street Twin for not having a tacho.
“Don’t need one, it’s not that kind of a bike,” I said. “Plus, It’s not that I don’t like Scrambler, I just prefer the whole understated nature of the Bonnie. It looks simple and straight forward, has great attention to detail like these cast headlamp brackets and the name embossed on the gearbox casing. Everything from the beautiful red paintjob, the singular standalone LED tail lamp to the seat feels high quality. And you have to agree, it feels better built than the Scrambler. No ugly weld-marks, well-packaged engine, a great sounding Vance & Hines exhaust system and even a radiator – something you’ll dearly miss in about 50 minutes.”
We had been riding around the city of Delhi for quite a while now and headed towards the oldest part of town, Chandni Chowk. Don’t ask us the reason, we just thought it would be fun to take a throaty bike with an artillery gun for an exhaust through the crowded streets of Old Delhi – Mr Verma’s idea! Abhay clearly couldn’t wait to rev the pants off the Scrambler in the extremely narrow ‘Paranthewali Gali’ just to give the inhabitants of ‘Dilli 6’ an early wakeup call. I, however, had no such ambitions and was really enjoying my time on the Street Twin. The seat was immensely comfortable; so was the riding position. Yes, I agree the bike I was riding was significantly less powerful than the shouty yellow one and significantly heavier as well.
The Street Twin’s 900cc parallel twin makes just 55PS of max power compared to the Ducati’s 75PS and despite the 80Nm of peak torque compared to the Italian’s 68Nm, the Ducati was quicker off the line thanks to its lesser weight and that high-revving 803cc Desmodromic L-twin. But then we hit traffic and if I had to be on a high capacity motorcycle in peak hour Delhi traffic I wouldn’t be anywhere else except on the Bonnie. The low seat height of 750mm meant my feet could sit firmly on the ground with knees well away from the engine fins unlike Abhay who seemed to be constantly shifting his perch due to the updraft from the engine head right below the seat contour. But he assured me that he was fine and loving it. Don’t get me wrong here, the engine does get quite hot – it measures 900cc after all! But it is never uncomfortable as the cooling mechanism does a good job of dissipating heat away from the rider. Then there is the 5-speed gearbox; it’s smooth and precise as the cogs shift into position with a prominent click. There is very little play and despite it having one less gear than the Scrambler, it rarely ever feels inadequate. Combine that with a slipper clutch and you get a bike that is not only virtually idiot proof but makes all the power and torque accessible as well.
At our next photo-op stop near Jama Masjid, I again asked Abhay, how was the ride going with the air-cooled engine and he completely avoided the question. “The Scrambler does feel very flickable in traffic. Those high and wide handlebars are great for manoeuvring the bike through tight spaces. Then there’s the grip from the tyres and the sheer responsiveness of the thing; open the throttle and you overtake three cars instead of the two you were aiming for.” “And what about the heat?” I asked “It’s not that bad.” And after a moment’s silence, “Okay fine, this thing should’ve been liquid cooled. It gets too hot, too fast. But once you get moving its fine, honest.” With that he proceeded to shake down the walls in the by-lanes of Old Delhi on his Scrambler, I simply pretended not to know him.
I wasn’t convinced so we exchanged bikes to see what was it that we liked so much about each other’s rides for the day. And after Mr Verma was done waking up half the city, we exchanged our motorcycles.
I should’ve ridden the Scrambler first in the morning as, by this time, the temperature and traffic had risen to monumental levels. The first thing I noticed about the Scrambler was that it's much higher compared to the Bonnie and yet had a comfortable seating position. The seat, though, was much better and supportive on the Bonnie. The high handlebars do lend the bike its exceptional manoeuvrability. But you do have to be extremely gentle with the throttle as it is quite snappy. The Scrambler feels like an eager Rottweiler raring to go, frantically pulling at the end of its chain whereas the Bonnie feels much more docile. Once you find the space and let it off the chain, the Scrambler howls and roars as it surges forward with renewed purpose. However, those instances and opportunities are less in our daily commute or a ride in the city. Plus, the grunt is more towards the top so you have to constantly shift through the gears and you always get this nagging feeling that you’re never in the right gear. The feel, too, is less compared to the Street and the travel is also prominent. Then there is the seat which isn’t comfortable if you plan to ride for extended periods of time contrary to the Street Twin on which you can spend the entire day.
Finally, we stopped for a cold one (cold coffee, nothing else we swear) and sat down to discuss or notes for the day. Abhay seemed to have gained a liking towards the Bonnie by now.
“I’m beginning to see why you like the Bonnie so much. It is so comfortable to ride, especially the seat. And I have to admit that this thing has a phenomenal mid-range, you can practically leave the bike in third in the city and forget about it. But the brakes lack a bit in feel and they aren’t as progressive. The tyres, too, aren’t as grippy when you take a corner fast. They are good but do tend to go awry near the limit.”
“Yes and yes to both your points, Mr Verma! Acute observation, I must say,” I teased him half expecting a heavy bone china cup to come hurling towards my face. “The brakes could’ve done with a bit more bite and some feel and, yes, the tyres do feel nervous at the limit but you’re not supposed to be pulling knee-downs on them,” I contested. “And as far as your Scrambler goes, in traffic I had half a mind of parking it on the road and ‘scrambling’ for some chilled water for my thighs.” This comment was met with a raised eyebrow so I had to give credit where it was due. “Though kudos to Ducati for when given the space it goes like a stabbed rat. And I’ll also admit that it is the better handling of the two and just marginally more manoeuvrable in traffic. The chassis is balanced and you can really attack the corners but on the other hand it is too snappy for an everyday motorcycle. Plus, if you want to ride long distances, you have to swap out the seat. I agree with you that this is definitely the more exciting motorcycle of the two but it isn’t exactly easy to live with,” I concluded.
Abhay seemed to see the validity of my argument but went on to explain nonetheless: “What about the price? The Scrambler Icon retails for Rs 6.7 lakh and your beloved Triumph is 20k more expensive at Rs 6.9 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).”
“I’m glad you brought that up. For Rs 20,000 extra you get traction control and a liquid-cooled engine. All you get in the Ducati is ABS and the fear of burning your loins and the pillion’s fingers clean off after riding it too fast and too high,” I said.
Abhay saw the point in the argument but didn’t look convinced. He decided not to continue our debate further and strapped on his gear. And before I could tell him about my winner of the two, the red bike which offers the classic look with all the modern technology, safety features and clearly the one which is easy to live with and use every day, he put on his helmet, fired up the Scrambler and darted away with a loud roar and one wheel in the air. It was made quite clear to me that when it came to comfort vs utter lunacy no matter how customisable (beleive you me, you can customise both these bikes to no end), the house still stood divided.
A very special thank you to Riderz Planet for letting us borrow the Ducati Scrambler (We returned it in one piece, just saying)