Time travel is one of those concepts that holds universal appeal. Who wouldn’t want to rewind the clock to alter history for the greater good, avoid making big mistakes or just order cheese enchiladas instead of the taco salad – oh, the places a mind will wander! Science fiction usually depicts time travel with awe-inspiring vehicles navigating the temporal plane. True time travel may be pure fantasy, but a motorcycle like the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE comes pretty close.
Few manufacturers were immune to the scrambler craze that hit a fever pitch over the past few years. Offerings have spanned the spectrum from warmed-over retro rehashes to hotted-up beasts ready for action. What many missed is an authentic and tangible connection to the past, which the XE has in spades.
Triumph considers itself to a humble steward of the scrambler genre, which is fitting since the brand is intimately tied to its origins. Many of the scramblers prowling American deserts or trails in the late 1960s were modified Triumph Bonnevilles, bestowed with high pipes, knobby tires and heavy-duty suspension. Those homebrewed steeds were the forefathers of today’s dual-sport and adventure motorcycles, and they weren’t for the fainthearted.
The modern Bonneville T120 has become Triumph’s two-wheeled version of the ever-versatile Mr. Potato Head, a platform that is the basis for the Bobber and Scrambler 1200. Pop in the “high power” version of the 1,200cc parallel-twin engine, add a purpose-built frame and an aluminum swingarm, bolt on long-travel suspension and voila! The Scrambler 1200 is available in two styles, the off-road focused XE and the street-biased XC.
Triumph has done well to maintain the old-school feeling of tuning up a Bonneville, leaving the tarmac and heading for the hills, even if it does have modern electronics like riding modes, cornering ABS and traction control. A full-color TFT dash has all the contemporary fixings, and an add-on Bluetooth module provides turn-by-turn navigation and GoPro integration. Conveniences aside, the XE is raucous and undeniably capable, with enough panache to make the legendary Harvey Mushman jealous.
Sitting at the heart of the Scrambler 1200’s tubular-steel frame is a torque-rich twin with a 270-degree crank that emits a soul-satisfying blast out of the sculpted high pipes. The sound is as sweet at idle as it is echoing off canyon walls while clicking through the smooth 6-speed gearbox. Those lovely pipes have heat shielding, but my right thigh still got roasted when wringing out the Triumph. The twin’s bottom-end grunt is richer than your nana’s famous pound cake, and its torque curve is flatter than the plate she’d serve it on. Strapped to the Jett Tuning dyno, the 1200 XE put up a respectable 76.2 horsepower at 7,100 rpm and 69.5 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm.
The Triumph’s get-up-and-go is as exciting as it is controllable, allowing effortless launches out of corners on pavement and long drifts of the rear on dirt. Dedicated off-road ABS and traction control settings allow you to do your best “On Any Sunday” impression without too much risk. Those with the chops can disable all of the nannies and select Off-Road Pro mode.
I’m of two minds when covering the Scrambler 1200 XE in a thick layer of dust. It feels like a sin to get such a good-looking bike so dirty. The idea of scuffing the classic Triumph teardrop fuel tank and a bevy of brushed aluminum finishes is almost too much to bear. Some motorcycles may be art, but this one is built to be ridden hard. Any sense of worry about its appearance is quickly replaced with pure, unfiltered joy once you start hooning around on the XE. With nearly 10 inches of travel and a premium, fully adjustable Showa fork paired with Öhlins dual shocks, the suspension is nothing short of amazing. Same goes for the high-caliber Brembo brakes. If this chassis existed in the ’60s, it would have topped the podium at the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix.
Those indulging in off-highway riding will enjoy the aid of the side-laced 21- and 17-inch wheels, which are shod with your choice of tubeless Metzeler Tourance or Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires. Our test unit was equipped with 90/10 Tourance rubber, which accommodates modest off-tarmac excursions and provides more than decent grip on-road. Once you’ve found your way back to the pavement, it’s reassuring to have a machine that is just as balanced and poised as it is in low-grip situations. Handling isn’t lightning quick but it is remarkably stable, and when you do need to flip-flop through a mountain chicane, the wide handlebar provides ample leverage.
With a seat height over 34 inches, there’s no denying that the XE is a tall drink of petrol. However, its slim chassis offers reprieve and allows my 32-inch inseam to reach the deck well. Toss in the adjustable-height handlebar, and you’re left with a neutral riding position that’s equally good for long days in its comfy saddle, standing on the pegs while exploring the backwoods or bopping around town. The accessory flyscreen bolted onto our test bike provides a little extra style and wind protection.
The whole affair has a back-to-basics aura about it, uncluttered by a big windscreen, a bulging fairing and bulky panniers. Yes, most ADV machines offer more range and more wind protection, but they don’t make me instinctively stick my elbows out and grin ear-to-ear with every whack of the throttle like the XE does. Give me a backpack with the essentials, a bedroll and I’ll go where the road takes me. But I wouldn’t have to rough it too much thanks to the cruise control and heated grips.
Connections to the past rarely follow a linear path, which is as true about motorcycles as it is about life. I was born too late to experience the golden age of scramblers, a simpler time when there were fewer people around and fewer restrictions on where you could ride. But some things transcend time and space, and the Scrambler 1200 XE is one of them.
Helmet: Shoei RF-1400
Jacket: Spidi Clubber
Pants: Spidi J&Dyneema
Gloves: Spidi Ranger
Boots: TCX X-Blend WP
2021 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE Specs:
Base Price: $15,400
Price as Tested: $15,534 (flyscreen)
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Website: Triumph Motorcycles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin
Bore x Stroke: 97.6 x 80mm
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Valve Train: SOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Adj. Interval: 20,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: Electronic fuel injection & throttle-by-wire
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 4.0-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated assist-and-slipper wet clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Ignition: Digital inductive
Charging Output: 396 watts max.
Battery: 12V 8.6Ah
Frame: Tubular steel w/ aluminum cradles
Wheelbase: 61.8 in.
Rake/Trail: 26.9 degrees/5.1 in.
Seat Height: 34.25 in.
Suspension, Front: 47mm USD fork, fully adj., 9.8 in. travel
Rear: Dual shocks, fully adj., 9.8 in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm discs w/ radial-mount opposed 4-piston calipers, radial-pump master cylinder, switchable ABS
Rear: Single 255mm disc w/ 2-piston floating caliper, switchable ABS
Wheels, Front: Spoked aluminum, 2.15 x 21 in.
Rear: Spoked aluminum, 4.25 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 90/90-21 tubeless
Rear: 150/70-17 tubeless
Wet Weight: 505 lbs.
Load Capacity: 458 lbs.
GVWR: 963 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 40.5 mpg
Estimated Range: 170.1 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,200