Review: Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE, the bike that will make SA go “hey?”


The long-awaited release of the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE is here and Triumph celebrated with a launch near Hartbeespoort. Donovan went along to see what all the fuss was about.

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Story: Donovan Fourie
Pics: Joe Fleming from Bonafide Moto Co.
Triumph is seriously screwing with South Africans’ minds here. In 2006, Triumph was the first manufacturer to release the modern interpretation of a scrambler, and it made every South African go “hey?”

The problem was a loss in translation because, to South Africans, a scrambler was still a motocross bike. It was made of plastic, it had number boards, huge suspension, massive knobbly wheels and spent its time flying through the air on dirt circuits. This bike definitely wasn’t one of those.

In Europe, the word “scrambler” had nearly disappeared into oblivion. It was what old boys did in the 1960s when proper plastic bikes didn’t yet exist, so people took a hacksaw and a welder to road bikes and made them sort-of off-road capable. They would then bounce around deserts and mountain roads like maniacs, waiting for bits to break off.

When the actual plastic bikes were invented in the 70s, they were either called enduro or motocross; the word scrambler no longer applied. Therefore, when Triumph released the first modern scrambler in 2006 that was all about styling and not so much actual off-road, Europeans went “awww, look at that – just like what grandad used to ride”. 

South Africans have finally started cottoning on to this idea that a modern scrambler is nothing more than a funky style for cruising around cafes and being groovy. Then Triumph released the Scrambler 1200XE that is loaded with off-road goodness, and once more South Africans are going “hey?”

Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE – all the bits

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The Scrambler 1200 ticks all the retro boxes – an old-school tank with classic paint jobs and a brushed aluminium Monza fuel cap, a single round headlight, dual back shocks, a finned engine, a long leather single seat, swept up scrambler-styles twin exhausts, a single rounded dash and a chrome grab bar. It’s everything you want in a retro machine.

That’s where the retro part ends. From here on it is a thoroughbred off-road machine with all the latest bells and whistles.

The suspension is fully-adjustable Showa in the front with fully-adjustable Öhlins twin shocks in the rear both sporting a giddy 250mm of travel. The front wheel is a spoked 21-inch – a first in this class – accompanied by Brembo M50 Monobloc callipers attached to dual 320mm discs.

The motor is a 1200cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin based on the one in the Bonneville T120 except with the performance boosted to 89hp and 110Nm of torque. The power is aided by six riding modes – including one called Off-Road Pro – plus cornering ABS and traction control spurred on by an IMU.

The single rounded dash might look retro from afar, but actually supports Triumph’s latest TFT display. We have a theory that Triumph designers try a different kind of drug every time they design a TFT dash, for example, the person who put together the one on the Street Triple was clearly hallucinating at the time, and therefore we assume had just dropped some LSD. The one on the Tigers was designed while snarfing coke, and for the Scrambler 1200, they had just toked a massive spliff.

All this is not a criticism – seriously, the dashes on Triumphs are spectacular – and while the one on the Scrambler might not be as psychedelic as the others, it has a more laid-back charm. There a two options – one that concentrates on the speedo with the rev counter sitting vertically in one of the side screens, and a better one that displays an old-school analogue rev counter but as a digital display in the centre screen. More so, the rider can choose a day or night contrast instead of the bike deciding automatically. The night one looks better. Stick with that one, methinks.


There’s connectivity too, as the TFT dash connects to your cellphone via an app, and will soon also feature navigation.

Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE – all the road

To sit on it’s just like any other retro motorcycle except taller . . . a good deal taller. South Africa is receiving only the more off-roady XE version, mostly because South Africans are drawn to the more rugged and that’s what tends to sell. The only downside is that the XE version has a seat height of 870mm, but this isn’t the Everest of problems, as my short stature was still able to tip-toe sufficiently enough to avoid the odd topple-over, although the very short in stature may prefer the 900 Scrambler.

The venue was on the Hennops River before Hartbeespoort, and the ride was 87 km of both tar and dirt. The seat is a little hard at first but, weirdly, you soon start forgetting about that, while there is plenty of space between the rider, the handlebars and the footpegs, especially with that long seat.  

What is impressive is the difference in feel among the parallel-twin motors. Everyone seems to produce one these days, and Triumph was one of the first to popularise this so, as you can imagine, they have become rather good at it. The irregular firing order gives it more of a V-twin appeal, and in this case, it is remarkably similar to the liquid-cooled Indian V-twins that have always had a way of being both smooth while also full of character. The 1200 Scrambler is a motorcycle that will happily rev to the limiter, yet there is no real need as it turns joyfully in the midrange, offering both torque and character.

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During a stint on the Satellite Road, I took a moment to let the group go off a bit, changed down to second gear and opened up, feeling the motor surge through the revs, clicking through the gears and building speed. At first, the speedo climbs like a mountain goat after snorting some of the dash designer’s cocaine, but as you get above 160 km/h, the pressures of having aerodynamics in tune with a brick take their toll, and as you click the sixth gear, the acceleration slows. I eventually saw a laboured 186 km/h before the group, trundling along at 100 km/h, got in the way. I suspect that 190 km/h will not be too far out of reach with more space, and a smaller rider with a sea-level air supply might clock over 200 km/h. There certainly was a lot of revs left over to do so.

Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE –all the off-road

Then we hit our first bit of dirt, and this changed everything, especially at the beginning. Until now, we had been cruising along tar roads, enjoying the luxury spirit of a groovy retro machine, the thought of any off-road prowess having escaped our minds completely. Then we turned a corner and found The Dakar Rally in front of us. 

The immediate thought was “oh crap, we are on a retro machine, and now we are descending into dirt hell! Must slow down! Must to avoid destruction!”

Except we were not on an ordinary retro machine. The Scrambler 1200 is a thoroughbred off-roader, and that soon became apparent when very little death happens. The first road was narrow, rutted and bumpy, yet the 21-inch front wheel ate it all up like a spoked Pac Man, while the suspension did a great job of not bottoming out, and that’s strange. Usually on big adventure bikes, even the ones with long travel suspension, the settings are so soft that a semi-sized bump will cause a worrying clunk sound as the shocks and forks hit their bump stops. 

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The Scrambler 1200 is the opposite. If anything, it is set up too hard, meaning the ride isn’t the most plush you have ever felt, but on the plus side, you can hit the bumps as hard as you like. There’s a mass of 21-inch wheel and 250mm to take care of the strain.

On the smoother sections, we learnt that this is a small motorcycle; not compared to little enduro machines, but to other 1200cc off-road bikes that are all exclusively large adventure bikes. The motor churns out torque by the truckload so the rear wheel will happily step out in a controlled and polite manner, and to keep it there is a doddle. The reason, we assume, is because there is far less motorcycle, especially high up, so it’s like a two-wheeled go-cart. It’s fun for days as we swung through the North West dirt twisties, the bike giving us more credit than we probably deserve. 

The lack of screen, or any form of anything wind-related, might be a hindrance for high speed touring comfort, but on the dirt sections it opens up a new world of panoramic scenery. That, and it is easier to see the road before you, so the technical parts are far more manageable. If by some unfortunate circumstance you do manage to fall over, there is far less plastic stuff to get hurt, and there’s a big piece of metal under the bike that will stop bits of the engine getting smashed.

Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE – all the conclusion

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The Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE has annoyed new-world South Africans by being precisely what old-world South Africans have always presumed is a scrambler. It has the looks that give it an old-school charm, the equipment to make it a pukka off-road machine and the technology that puts it up there with all the modern greats.

It’s sort-of everything, and at R205,000, it’s the cheapest big off-road bike money can buy.

Triumph contact details:
Tel: 011 444 4441
Address:  Cnr South & Dartfield rds Eastgate Ext 13, 2031

Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE gallery – click to enlarge: