If you appreciate motorbikes in a retro guise yet wish to see some semblance of touring or off-road capability, it’s likely that you’re leaning towards a scrambler motorcycle. Your options until recently were limited – but not so in 2021. The scrambler motorcycle trend shows no signs of abating. And here we’ve listed the best scrambler motorbikes you can buy in 2021.
Scrambler Motorcycle Yearnings
A couple of years ago, this writer took a road trip from his home in Wales UK, to Zurich Switzerland, via Biarritz France, for Wheels & Waves. A round-trip of circa 3,000 miles or so.
He did this with woefully inadequate trip-planning (which mostly amounted to affixing Malle London luggage), then pointing the bike in the general direction of mainland Europe. And, somewhat defiantly he completed the journey on Triumph Thruxton R.
It may not surprise you to know, that for some of those 3,000 miles (about 2,999-miles) fantasies of an upright scrambler bike or adventure motorcycle with wide handlebars abounded. (And definitely one with more wind protection.)
Clearly, within the modern adventure motorcycling segment, one finds better-suited touring motorcycles which have all of those things in abundance.
However, there’s just one problem: modern adventure bikes have a distinctly utilitarian aesthetic that’s unlikely to meet the needs of classic and retro riders. Yet there should be no concern for modern/classic riders, as these days most of the major motorcycle marques have a scrambler model in the lineup. And for such riders, scramblers are perfectly suitable stand-ins for touring motorbikes.
Scrambler Bikes, 2021 Onward
So with that in mind, you may be wondering ‘which is the best scrambler or retro style adventure bike?’ Truly, the answer to that question ultimately lies with the individual rider (obviously). A fantastic performing bike, which doesn’t meet your quality and aesthetic ideals, or vice versa (not going out on a limb here) is probably not the best bike for you.
Nonetheless, it’s with those considerations firmly in mind, that we’ve created this list – (as a starting point). Admittedly the list has the rather long title of: ‘Best Scramblers, Retro Enduro and Retro Adventure Bikes you can Buy in 2021 and beyond [in no particular order]‘.
And for good measure, you’ll also find a couple of retro adventure concepts that are highly likely to go into production below.
Modern Classic, Scrambler Motorcycles (Retro Adventure Bikes)
Let’s begin with the thoroughbred retro adventure motorbikes or more aptly scramblers. These bikes pay close adherence to classic motorcycle styling, yet, come replete with equipment and components found on modern motorcycles.
1. Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC / XE
First up is the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC and its meaner off-road-focused sibling, the 1200 XE. Launched in October of 2018, the Scrambler 1200 is a natural addition to Triumph’s ever-growing ‘Modern Classics‘ range – now numbering ten bikes. All of which have additional derivative sub-models, with varying specifications.
With a distinctive tear-drop tank, high-sided 2-into-2 exhaust and brushed aluminium components, the Scrambler 1200 radiates retro style. In fact, it’s probably the bike that immediately springs to mind if scrambler or retro enduro/adventure motorcycle happens to be mentioned in conversation. The emphasis on retro.
Triumph’s Scrambler 1200 channels McQueen cool. Specifically, the cool of the ‘Great Escape’ film. And that’s no accident. The marque’s marketing has successfully invoked heritage as its sales hook. In-turn, firmly tethering the bike to the Triumph TR6. The same model of Triumph that was used for the Bud Ekins jump in the film.
Just to ramp-up the marketing to 6th gear, road-racer and now broadcaster Guy Martin (with Triumph’s assistance), recently used a modified Scrambler 1200 to re-create that most famous of movie stunts.
On the Scrambler 1200, you’ll find a detuned version of the same twin 1200cc engine used on Triumph’s Thruxton. Or maybe, a tuned version of the Bonneville T120 – depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or half-empty rider.
The bike comes in two variations: the XC and XE. The XC is a street scrambler with off-road capability. The XE is the pure off-roader.
Both have a thoroughly modern TFT display to house instruments. Surprisingly, the TFT screen blends incredibly well into the retro styling. And just in case you want to film yourself taking a spill in the sand, Triumph has graciously integrated a GoPro control system. Allegedly, a world first.
You get five rider modes on the XC and an additional mode on the XE [‘Off-Road Pro’]. The pro-mode allows rider-control of ABS and traction control settings for maximum off-road feel.
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC
Anecdotally, the XC seems to be the most popular of the two models. Likely, this is due to its lower seat height which is 840 mm versus the XE at 870mm. And, more so its road-going prowess over the XE model.
The XC is probably the more sensible option for most riders. That’s to say it’ll handle the commute to work, a weekend ride, light off-roading and definitely a road-trip.
It’s available with two tank liveries ‘Jet Black/Matt Black’ and ‘Khaki Green/Brooklands Green’
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE
The 1200 XE is the taller of the two bikes and offers all the enhancements that you’d wish to see in an off-roader. Most importantly, front and rear suspension with greater travel. The suspension is provided in the form of Showa 47mm, fully adjustable upside-down forks with 250mm travel. At the rear, the XE‘s suspension also has an additional 50mm of travel over the XC model.
Seat height might put off less confident riders. However, that’s probably a secondary consideration for riders not intending to do much in the way of extreme off-roading.
Complaints about this bike are that at 207kg it’s too heavy and too torquey for off-roading. Those complaints are confined mainly to… you guessed it, those that haven’t ridden it. Besides, Triumph factory rider Ernie Vigil will most certainly disagree with that assessment. He finished 5th in the Ironman class of 2019’s Norra Mexican 1000.
The Scrambler 1200 is a looker. It’s bound to be a conversation starter when you pop up at a service station, in some distant country somewhere on your travels.
Believe it or not, the BMW R nineT was launched in 2013. Has it really been that long? With the power to rival modern roadsters, it was game-changer within retro motorcycle circles.
Finally, in October 2020 the retro boxer received its long-awaited Euro5 update, alongside other bikes within the R9T range.
And, just in time for the 40 year anniversary of the G/S line.
A neo-retro take on enduro bikes of yesteryear (meant for urban or inter-urban terrain) is how you can view the G/S.
With its rugged enduro looks, this motorbike is not easily ruled out.
As is the case with all retro motorcycles, a firm link to the past is required. For successful marketing that is. The Urban G/S (besides its boxer engine), achieves this through its livery. It’s a finish that plainly mirrors the blue-blue and red paint-scheme of ‘BMW Motorsports‘ of the eighties’ era.
And of course ‘G/S’ are letters that you might recognise from the marque’s original enduro bike – the 1980 R 80 G/S and its current crop of modern adventure bikes.
Solidifying it’s classic scrambler enduro/adventure credentials you’ll find a large 19‑inch wheel up-front, but cast in a thoroughly modern light alloy or for the standard model. Or, a traditional spoked wheel for the Option 719 and 40-year Anniversary edition
This flat-twin is capable of 110hp at 7,750 RPM. And it’s torquey too – with reported figures of 116Nm at 6,000rpm. No doubt, that power comes with the unmistakable and euphonious sound of an air/oil-cooled, Bavarian boxer-twin.
With all BMW motorcycles, the one thing you can be assured of is, build-quality. Beyond its looks, the Urban G/S’ shaft-drive combined with the above, may well make this bike more attractive for your long-distance road trip.
The first iteration of the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled was released back in 2017 – when modern retro scramblers were that in name only. Or to be kinder you could say, ‘street scramblers designed primarily for cafe hopping’. Unlike the majority of the bikes on this
list it wasn’t so much Dakar that was on the minds of Ducati designers when creating the Desert Sled. Rather, it was California. Specifically, the bikes [Sleds] built and raced by amateur bike builders in the Californian desert in the sixties and seventies.
Regardless, Ducati changed the modern scrambler landscape for all retro motorcycle manufacturers from that point. Deciding that it would no longer pay lip service to the scrambler moniker, it created a true offroader.
With it’s jacked up front-end, the Desert Sled is distinctive from other bikes in the Ducati Scrambler range which now numbers (a not so hard to believe) thirteen. The popularity of the range remains high – by October 2018 (according to Ducati) over 55,000 Scramblers had been sold worldwide. A mere four years after launch.
In 2018 Ducati updated the Desert Sled for the model-year 2019. Giving the tank meatier aluminium side panels, a new seat with colour-coordinated stitching and spoked wheels with black rims.
Aside from the aesthetic changes, the Sled has been upgraded with a reinforced frame, adjustable Kayaba suspension and an LED DRL (Daytime Running Light). Additionally, a new Off-Road Riding Mode allows ABS to be disengaged. Speaking of which, all Scramblers now come with ‘Bosch Cornering ABS‘ fitted as standard.
In terms of power, the 803cc engine generates 73 hp (54 kW) at 8250 rpm and churns out 49 lb-ft (67 Nm) at 5750 RPM. So, it’s not a powerful as some of the bikes that appear on this list but more than enough to cope with most types of riding likely to be experienced on a moto-adventure.
Henry Crew is testament to that. He rode the earlier version of the Desert Sled around the world, to become the youngest person to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe on a motorcycle. That hopefully means it should work for your summer tour.
And if the tarmac runs out, then this beauty will have no qualms taking a more arduous route.
You don’t immediately think of Moto Guzzi when you hear the words Enduro or Adventure. But you probably should. Moto Guzzi revealed the V85 TT Enduro/Adventure concept bike, in 2017 at EICMA and it went down a storm.
Received well by pundits and the riding public, the V85 plugged the adventure gap left by the Stelvio. That particular model was mothballed prior to the introduction of EURO4.
With respect to appearance, it could be argued that the Mandello marque never really stopped making retro motorcycles. Quite possibly that’s due to the distinctive transverse V-twin engine configuration. That’s remained a consistent design feature for the brand, throughout the decades.
In the creation of the V85, designers at Europe’s oldest motorcycle marque (in terms of continuous manufacture) was also inspired by the Paris-Dakar Rally.
Powered by Guzzi’s 850cc power plant, in the customary configuration, the V85 TT makes 79bhp at 7750rpm and churns out 59 lb.ft at 5000rpm. Relatively speaking, not massive amounts of power, but more than enough to get your travels.
March 2019 saw the official launch of the V85 TT with Ewan McGregor back in the saddle shortly after, as an official ambassador for the eagle marque.
More recently and once again at EIMCA, Guzzi unveiled the V85 TT Travel which is, in essence, a touring kit containing a host of features to aid lengthy road-trips.
Guzzi says, that with the V85 TT Travel you can expect “.. a higher Touring windshield, a pair of very spacious panniers, a set of heated handgrips, a pair of additional LED lights, and the Moto Guzzi MIA multimedia platform that allows a smartphone to be connected to the vehicle, extending the instrument cluster functions”
Like all Guzzi’s the V85 TT is shaft driven which of course means, no chain maintenance. And that’s a definite plus point, for a long road-trip.
In terms of finish, you have three solid colour options Grigio Atacama, Blu Atlante or Rosso Vulcano. Alternatively, opt for a more classic enduro look with the “Evocative Graphics” finish. With that, you’ll get the choice of either Giallo Sahara or Rosso Kalahari.
Conceived by CEO, Siddhartha Lal and launched in 2016 the Royal Enfield Himalayan was slightly ahead of the curve in retro adventure terms. While it’s direct competitors were still producing just street scramblers the designers and engineers at RE sought to create a bike that could tackle broken roads.
In fact, the goal was to create an affordable Adventure Tourer / dual-sport motorcycle that could even circumvent dilapidated roads entirely, if need be and ride across harsher terrain. It seems that Royal Enfield succeeded. More importantly, it’s produced a bike which is held in high affection.
The single-cylinder 411cc four-stroke, OHC engine makes just 24.5-hp and offers 23 ft-lb of torque which seemingly makes it underpowered. Nevertheless, if you want to know how that works in the real world and not just on paper look no further than Fuel Motorcycles.
Ultimately, Fuel rode the bike 3000kms on tracks through the Atlas Mountains and across the Moroccan desert without issue.
In typical Royal Enfield fashion, the Himalayan is currently available in three eccentrically named colour schemes. Sleet, Snow and Granite. That’s white, grey/white and black respectively.
At EICMA 2019 Royal Enfield announced new accessories including panniers and handlebar guards which will be made available for the Himalayan in 2020.
The marque will also add three equally eccentrically named dual-tone colour schemes: Rock Red, Lake Blue, and Gravel Grey. So, if those colours sound more appealing a small delay to handing over your deposit is required.
Likely, one of the most appealing aspects of the Himalayan other than it’s solid classic scrambler, enduro looks, is the price tag. You’ll be able to get going on your adventure at a price that seems positively retro in comparison to other bikes on this list.
In 2016 Moto Morini returned to the world stage at the Milan show with the launch of the Corsaro ZZ and a stunning one-off custom. More recently in 2018, the brand launched the Milano – a 1200 v-twin retro roadster. Off the success of that launch comes the Super Scrambler – a machine with unmistakable Italian good-looks.
You may not be as aware of Moto Morini as much as other Italian motorcycle makers. However, Moto Morini’s story is like that of many of Europe’s leading motorcycle marques. In short, iconic bikes, GP wins, numerous changes of ownership, bankruptcy and eventual resurrection by a backer with deep pockets and a passion to succeed.
Originally founded in Bologna, now headquartered in Milan, the marque that gave us the 3½ v-twin was sold in 2018 by Italian owner ‘Eagle Bikes’ to the large Chinese firm, Zhongneng to safeguard its future. Now, Moto Morini continues to build its bikes in Italy primarily using Italian components.
Its latest, the liquid-cooled Super Scrambler was announced at the Milan show in 2019 and uses the same Bialbero 1200 CorsaCorta, 87° v-twin engine as the Milano.
While specifications haven’t yet been disclosed – based on the Milano you can expect somewhere in the region of 116 CV (85.4 kW) at 8000 rpm and 108 Nm (11.0 Kgm) at 7000 rpm.
It’s fairly light too at 202kg (wet). That combination of figures likely will make the Super Scrambler one of the most powerful bikes on this list. And yet it’s not just power that may make this dark beauty alluring.
The Super Scrambler will come equipped with notable components including – switchable ABS,a 5” LCD dashboard, 320mm front discs with Brembo calipers, adjustable 46mm upside-down telescopic forks and rear adjustable monoshock.
We’re all familiar with Husqvarna’s off-roading prowess. Maybe even more so its parent company, KTM’s domination of the Paris-Dakar and MX recent years. And yet, in recent years one of this manufacturer’s missions appears to have been to disrupt street motorcycle market. It’s achieved that successfully, with the Svartpilen and Vitplien.
And, on the back of that success, Husqvarna has now introduced us to the Norden 901. This is the Austro-Swedish marque’s radical take on the scrambler, Enduro/Adventure motorcycle. A thoroughbred journey machine with futuristic looks inspired by the past.
The Norden 901 was revealed as a concept at EICMA 2019 and immediately captured the imagination of visitors to the show along with the wider motorcycle community. A mere couple of weeks passed before Husqvarna, announced its first-ever tour bike, would definitelygo into production.
In terms of specification – what we know so far about this bike is that, it’s powered by an 889.5cc parallel-twin engine, that looks to have come from the new 2020 KTM 890 Duke R.
Husqvarna has stated that the Norden’s engine has been “specifically tuned for adventure usage”. It’s also rumoured that the frame will be borne from KTM’s 790 with a confirmed 21” front wheel and 18” rear. That’s really about it.
Images of the Norden 901 concept naturally show upright handlebars, a relatively high front windshield. The latter should do a good job of deflecting turbulence as you thunder on your journey.
It’s a progressive vision of two-wheel adventure, finished in contemporary grey and black, with brushed aluminium accents. Highly appealing.
Equipment-wise WP suspension components are found upfront. There appears to be ample rack space on the rear. Additionally, on the front of the bike, you’ll find crash-bar/pannier rails – just in case you weren’t already sure of the purpose of this motorcycle. Suffice to say, excellent positioning for spare fuel cans, luggage or tools.
It’s likely that the production Norden 901, will look highly similar to the concept bike. That’s with the provision that Husky takes the same approach that it did with the Vitpilen and Svartpilen. The production models of those two bikes differ sparsely from their concept counterparts.
Importantly, it should be said, that the above is true, only on the condition that the previous approach is a reliable barometer of the extent to which changes will be made.
The appearance of this modern adventurer alone may persuade you to funnel your cash Husqvarna’s way, even without a sniff of a full specification sheet.
Our guess is, you should expect to see the Norden 901 in dealer’s showrooms, towards the back-end of 2020 if not the beginning of 2021.
If you prefer your modern classic motorcycles stylistically with a firmer focus on the future and a weaker grip on the past – the following selections should be right up your street.
8. Honda CRF1100 Africa Twin
The Africa Twin moniker was revived in 2016 through the CRF1000L. It’s a moniker synonymous with dual-sport, adventure motorcycles and rally. Without question, Honda’s rally pedigree is strong. And, on numerous occasions in the late eighties, bikes with the Africa Twin moniker (namely the NXR750), either won the Paris-Dakar Rally or placed in the top three.
Focusing in on the recent past – in 2019 Honda announced the launch of the CRF1100. A major evolution of the 2016 CRF1000. You’ll likely have guessed from the model designation, that the CRF1100 has a larger engine capacity than it’s predecessor.
Displacement is up from 998cc to 1,084cc, though the parallel-twin configuration remains unchanged. What has changed, is an increase in engine power.
Housed in a new frame with aluminium sub-frame, the new Euro5-compliant 1100cc parallel-twin engine sees in an increase in power and torque of 7% and 6% respectively. It now achieves top power of 75kW and maximum torque of 105Nm.
The riding experience can be adjusted to suit the road/terrain conditions and the rider. No less than six switchable riding modes are available, Tour, Urban, Gravel and Off-Road. Two for each scenario that you’ll likely to use this bike i.e. on and off-road. Additionally, there are two customisable modes which can be pre-set by the rider.
Honda Africa Twin 2020
The CRF1100 Africa Twin, is the standard model in the range, though there’s hardly anything standard about it. Nevertheless, it’s for riders who want the enduro/adventure looks and some off-road capability. The sort of rider that’s more likely to use it for hops to work, meetups and the occasional road-trip. So most riders then.
The standard Africa Twin is a capable journey machine, for a journey that doesn’t necessarily involve travelling across the harshest of terrain. As such you get less in the way of adventure equipment than with its more hardy sibling, the Adventure Sports. Despite this, it’s more than enough bike to meet the needs of most trips.
Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports 2020
Through its tricolour livery, the CRF1100L Africa Twin Adventure Sports is the XRV650 reborn. The bike channels the spirit of the original eighties’ Africa Twin. Rothmans’ anyone?
The Adventure Sports version of the Africa Twin is an even more robust version of the standard model. If you’re crossing desserts and grappling with gravel this is probably bike for you. If not, it’s overkill. However, the livery might just sway you, if you’ve got an extra grand or so, to spend.
Both Africa Twin versions have DCT versions – (Honda’s automated clutch and shift system). Opting for the ‘Plus’ bolt-on offers a host of adventure focused upgrades.
Electronic suspension is found on the Adventure Sports model which seems exceptionally trick, however incredibly useful in adjusting the bike for specific terrain, on the fly.
With its gargantuan 24.5 litres tank, the Africa Twin extends riding time between stops. On top of that, it ultimately offers the ability and the freedom to ride off the beaten path with confidence. This is a bike (especially in its Adventure Sports iteration) for the absolute adventurer.
Admittedly looks-wise, the Africa Twin is more neo than retro, so this bike makes the list for a nostalgic reason, namely, the suffix.
Yamaha’s rally pedigree is also undeniably compelling. So, it’s no surprise that Yahama Tenéré, echos the lines of many a Paris-Dakar rally bike. The Ténéré 700’s silhouette is unashamedly ‘rally’.
In many respects, its design is probably the most Dakar-esque of all the motorcycles on this list.
Yamaha’s been keen to draw a firm family line between the new Ténéré and one of the most admired motorcycles in its well-storied history, the XT 500. The 2019 XTZ700, is of course not the first bike to bear the Ténéré prefix. The first was the 1983 XT600Z – a motorcycle itself, derived from the iconic 1976 Yamaha XT 500. That’s the bike which was ridden by Cyril Neveu to win the inaugural Paris-Dakar rally, in 1979.
To say the new Ténéré was eagerly anticipated is the most enormous of understatements. It took around two years or so (following the T7 concept reveal at EICMA 2016) to get this bike from concept to production.
The order books (at least in the UK) opened in March 2019 and they’ve been super-healthy. Incidentally, this bike is outselling the BMW GS in Germany! Though more importantly, it seems to have been well-received by those who’ve ridden it.
While its lineage can be traced to past Dakar winning motorcycles, the new slim and compact Ténéré is a thoroughly modern two-wheel adventurer.
Since the reveal of the Rally Raid prototype in 2017, Yamaha says it’s undertaken, “extreme testing in hostile and severe climatic conditions”. As such you can expect that the Ténéré is going to be sturdy enough for most summer tours.
With all the adjustable parts, (mainly suspension) you’d want or need in an enduro, the Ténéré 700 is a credible on and off-roader. In fact, Yamaha bill this bike as a “… go-anywhere motorcycle” and weighing in at a relatively light 204 kg that’s a fair statement.
Its lightness comes from an all-new lightweight double cradle tubular steel frame which combines a low weight with immense strength. That means it’s suited to a variety of riding conditions.
The Ténéré’s 698cc, parallel-twin [CP2] engine achieves a maximum power of 54.0kW at 9,000 rpm and maximum torque of 68.0Nm at 6,500 rpm. But its lightness means those relatively low power figures don’t matter so much.
The Ténéré is available in three colours: Competition White (which is actually a red/white finish), Ceramic Ice (blue/silver) or Power Black which is simply black.
This bike probably represents the greatest value in terms of price versus features. And, by all accounts, it’s a capable and rugged adventure bike, retro-esque or not.
If haste to purchase a retro tourer is not strong, then holding out to the end of 2020 or early 2021 may yield beneficial return in the form of two new retro tourers.
Harley-Davidson is likely to target the European tour bike segment with its Pan America. Also with fingers crossed, Ducati’s out-and-out retro scrambler/enduro concept, Scrambler DesertX should go into production.
10. Harley-Davidson Pan America
Harley-Davidson, a brand sometimes accused by some of lacking in innovation, has in recent years seemingly sought to correct that perception. In 2018 the brand embarked on a new global strategy [More Roads to Harley-Davidson], driving innovation and widening its appeal to different types of riders.
The Pan America is just one piece of Harley’s bold new direction. For the first time in Harley’s history, it has an adventure tourer which has arguably been deliberately designed to appeal not only to riders in the States but capture European ADV market share.
Clearly, the Pan America is targetting those within the BMW G/S crowd – whom, despite riding very comfortable, capable and reliable machines, secretly desire something that’s well… not so utilitarian in aesthetic.
The Pan America is powered by Harley’s new liquid-cooled 1,250cc Revolution Max engine. That power unit also comes in a 975cc variation that will be used in the upcoming Bronx Streetfighter.
Harley bill this bike as “..our two-wheel multi-tool built to endure, designed to explore, and engineered for full-send”. That last part of the statement may not be entirely off the mark if the 145 hp and 90 pound-feet of torque figures become a reality.
Aside from the engine details, the only other confirmed specification/component are brakes. Harley’s been working in partnership with Brembo. The latter has created a radial Monoblock four-piston caliper especially for the Pan America and the Bronx Streetfighter.
Tyres will be provided by Michelin working in conjunction with Harley, to create an extra-durable touring rubber. R&D will no doubt be focused on producing a long-lasting tyre, in consideration of the immense power output of the Pan America.
Expect to see road tests of H-D’s ADV in late 2020 and hopefully the real thing at your local Harley-Davidson dealership by early 2021.
Including the Ducati Scrambler DesertX on this list is an indulgently hopeful punt. Ducati has made no overtures whatsoever about putting this concept into production.
However, if feedback from 2019’s EICMA show and the eager reception of this concept is the only requirement for production then this bike will be built.
Hopes were raised in early January 2020 when Ducati suggested it would make an announcement regarding the Scrambler range. Unfortunately, (with tongue-in-cheek), that turned out to be an update of the existing Scrambler 1100 range. The addition of two gorgeous new derivatives of the Scrambler 1100 – the Ducati Scrambler 1100 PRO and 1100 Sport PRO.
Speaking of the Scrambler 1100 – if the DesertX does indeed go into production it’s likely that it will use a modified version of the same Ducati 1079cc L-twin engine that powers the 1100 range.
So there you have it, a choice of sensible touring scrambler motorcycles, with modern classic or neo-retro looks. Your wanderlust can now be satisfied in true retro enduro style. Send us a postcard when you reach your destination.