Motorcycle comparison highlights:
- The 2022 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC and XE are more expensive and heavier, but they have more features helpful on- and off-road
- The 2021 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled is a fun, simple way of exploring dirt trails and paved streets, but it gives up some ultimate off-road capability
- While the Desert Sled isn’t a bad bike by any means, Triumph has the more off-road-capable scrambler
Being at the intersection of heritage- and off-road-inspired design, scramblers enjoy a strong following these days. But while the first scrambler motorcycles were essentially proto dirt bikes, most modern examples tend to mimic the look and not also the capability. However, there are a few scramblers that can genuinely go off-road. And two of the most capable are the Triumph Scrambler 1200 and Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled. But while both can hit the dirt in style, which one is the better off-pavement companion?
|2022 Triumph Scrambler 1200||2021 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled|
|Engine||1200cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin||803cc air-cooled L-twin (90° V-twin)|
|Horsepower||89 hp||73 hp|
|Torque||81 lb-ft||49 lb-ft|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual with slipper-assist clutch||Six-speed manual with slipper-assist clutch|
|Front suspension and travel||XC: 45mm fully-adjustable Showa inverted forks; 7.9”|
XE: 47mm fully-adjustable Showa inverted forks; 9.8”
|46mm fully-adjustable inverted forks; 7.9”|
|Rear suspension and travel||Fully-adjustable Ohlins RSU twin shocks with piggy-back reservoirs; 7.9” (XC) and 9.8” (XE)||Preload- and rebound-adjustable Kayaba mono-shock; 7.9”|
|Seat height||XC: 33.1”|
33.0” (with accessory low seat)
|Curb weight||507 lbs (Cycle World)||461 lbs|
2022 Triumph Scrambler 1200
- Pros: One of the closest things to a naked adventure bike, plenty of commuting and off-road features, torquey and linear engine
- Cons: Expensive, heavier than the Ducati
Triumph may only just now be getting into motocross and enduro motorcycles, but the British brand has extensive off-roading experience. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, British motorcycles like the BSA Rocket Gold Star were often built into scramblers and flat-trackers. And Triumph’s bikes, such as the post-war TR models, were commonly seen sliding through the dirt. The modern Triumph Scrambler 1200, which debuted in 2019, is the heir to that legacy.
Or rather, heirs to that legacy, because the Triumph Scrambler 1200 is available in two regular-production forms: the XC and the XE. The XC is less off-road-focused than the XE, though slightly easier to ride around in urban environments, Cycle World explains. However, as detailed lower, both Scrambler 1200s offer solid performance and fun on both loose and paved surfaces.
And for 2022, Triumph gave the Scrambler 1200 lineup a few tweaks. The engine makes peak power a little higher in the rev range and peak torque a little lower, and it’s slightly more fuel-efficient. Triumph also repositioned the catalyst, which reduces heat throw, and added cruise control and an under-seat USB charging port.
2021 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled
- Pros: Less expensive than the Triumph, lighter and more approachable for newer riders, Mint 400 winner in near-stock form
- Cons: Doesn’t have as many features as the Triumph, less powerful, footpegs slippery even with rubber inserts removed, low exhaust limits ground clearance
The Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled is just one of several Scramblers that the Italian motorcycle company offers. But while the other models borrow scrambler style, the Desert Sled brings in genuine off-road capability, RevZilla reports. As a result, it’s arguably the ‘truest’ modern Ducati Scrambler.
That added dirt and gravel competency comes thanks to several upgrades over the standard Ducati Scrambler. The Desert Sled has upgraded suspension with more travel, a stronger frame and swingarm, extra ground clearance, different handlebars, spoked wheels, and off-road-rated Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires. Plus, a real metal skid plate, mudguards, and a fork stem protector.
Ducati last updated the Scrambler Desert Sled for 2021, so the 2022 model should be essentially identical. The 2021 MY updates were minimal, limited to a new livery and an anti-slip lining for the seat.
2022 Triumph Scrambler 1200 vs. 2021 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled: Trim levels and features
The 2021 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled offers all the same equipment as the other 803cc Scramblers. That means LED lighting, an LCD gauge with optional Ducati smartphone app connectivity, cornering ABS, and an under-seat storage compartment with a USB port. However, on top of the previously mentioned off-road features, the Desert Sled also has an extra riding mode specifically for off-roading. It disables the rear ABS for better traction and easier sliding.
Also, while the Desert Sled is a specific Ducati Scrambler trim, it has a variant version: the Fasthouse. It’s essentially a limited-edition graphics package to commemorate the Mint 400 win. So, it has the same features as the standard bike, only paired with some blacked-out trim, special livery, and a red frame.
As for the Triumph Scrambler 1200, the XE and XC differ in more ways than just their suspensions. For one, they have different geometries because of their different suspension setups, RevZilla explains. The XE also has a wider handlebar with a removable riser for better access while standing on the pegs. And it has several features that don’t come standard on the XC.
Besides the cruise control and USB port, the 2022 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC also has Brembo brakes with cornering ABS, LED lighting, and keyless ignition. It also has a folding brake pedal—helpful in off-road situations—five riding modes, adjustable clutch and brake levers, and optional Triumph app and GoPro connectivity. The 1200 XE, meanwhile, has an extra Off-Road Pro Mode, cornering traction control, heated grips, and aluminum-backed handguards. Plus, its brake pedal is adjustable, while its levers are more adjustable than the XC’s levers, RevZilla notes.
Like the Desert Sled, the Triumph Scrambler 1200 has some limited-edition graphics packages. The Steve McQueen Edition has some unique gold and silver decals and graphics, as well as a few extra aluminum accessories, such as a radiator guard. Meanwhile, as their name suggests, the Gold Line Editions have hand-painted gold pinstriping, as well as ‘Gold Line’ logos and brushed-foil kneepad graphics.
2022 Triumph Scrambler 1200 vs. 2021 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled: Riding
Being heavier than the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled, the Triumph Scrambler 1200 isn’t quite as nimble or agile. That being said, “it doesn’t feel unwieldy,” Cycle World says, and it’s significantly “nimbler and less clumsy” than an adventure bike, MCN notes.
On paved roads, the XC has the edge over the XE due to its narrower handlebars, lower seat, and different suspension setup, Cycle World reports. And its suspension soaks up bumps well, keeping the bike stable even at higher lean angles. Plus, the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC is easier to lean and turn into corners than the XC. Both trims, though, have the same excellent throttle response as well as the torquey and linear 1200cc parallel-twin.
That’s not to say that the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC is a bad road bike. But it is the more off-road-focused of the two trims. Its extra suspension travel is very beneficial, especially for those in the mood for jumps. And while its geometry and taller seat aren’t as conducive for easy on-road transitions, they do make the Scrambler 1200 XC more stable off-pavement. Plus, the Off-Road Pro Mode disables ABS and traction control, letting the rider explore more of the bike’s capabilities.
As for the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled, its Off-Road Mode only disables the rear ABS. However, that’s enough to get this fun and approachable motorcycle sliding, Cycle World says. The lack of power might be a downside for some, but the upshot is a controllable, predictable riding experience on- and off-road. And on paved roads, it’s just as relaxed as the Scrambler 1200, and arguably easier to manage due to the lower curb weight.
Going off-road on a Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled reinforces this bike’s “simple and effective” nature, Cycle World reports. Its wide handlebars, somewhat-slow steering, and well-calibrated throttle make slides a breeze. But with less-sophisticated suspension than the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC, and less travel than the XE, the Ducati doesn’t handle large obstacles and bumps as well. It’s still great fun on dirt and gravel roads—so much so, that you’re easily tempted to try more extreme terrain. But it’s more of a street bike than the Triumphs are.
2022 Triumph Scrambler 1200 advantages
Compared to the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled, the Triumph Scrambler 1200 has more standard features, torque, and horsepower. Its suspension is also higher-spec and more adjustable. Plus, while the Desert Sled won the Mint 400, the Triumph was James Bond’s chariot of choice. And Triumph placed fifth in its class at the 2019 NORRA Mexican 1000 with an essentially stock Scrambler 1200 XE.
That’s perhaps the biggest advantage the Triumph has over the Ducati. The Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled is essentially a street bike modified for better off-road capability. Meanwhile, the Scrambler 1200s were designed from the outset with off-roading in mind. They may have the same basic engine as a Bonneville, but they have their own unique frame, Cycle World notes.
2021 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled advantages
That’s not to say that the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled doesn’t have some advantages over the Triumphs. For one, it’s noticeably cheaper and lighter. Secondly, the accessory seat gives it a lower seat height than even the XC, so it’s even easier to put your foot down. All these things are boons for newer riders, especially shorter ones.
In addition, the Desert Sled comes standard with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires. They’re factory-approved equipment on the Scrambler 1200s, but they’re not standard. Also, being air-cooled rather than liquid-cooled, the Ducati Scrambler has fewer maintenance needs than the Triumph Scrambler.
Which scrambler motorcycle should you take off-roading?
Cycle World added both the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled and Triumph Scrambler 1200 to its ‘Top 5 Scramblers’ list in 2019. And it still recommends these bikes in 2021. So, you won’t really go wrong with riding either bike.
Picking between these bikes largely depends on personal comfort and where you plan on riding them. However, you genuinely want to scramble through dirt, gravel, and sand, the Triumph is the way to go. It might be heavier and more expensive than the Ducati, but its features and capability are worth the extra cash.
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