For the last decade and a half, the production motorcycle market has been increasingly influenced by the new wave customs scene. The massive influx in popularity of one-off cafe racers ultimately resulted in the introduction of numerous cafe’d production models, before the same phenomenon — albeit for a shorter time — took hold with bobbers. But the latest custom craze to permeate the production world is undoubtedly that of the scrambler. These vintage off-road-themed machines are now offered by the majority of today’s manufacturers, with some marques basing entire product ranges on the retro-inspired runners.
With more-than-satisfactory sales figures to prove it, the continued interest in the scrambler genre has afforded motorcyclists with a wide array of different scrambler options currently on the market. Despite the fact this slew of aforementioned models all fall under the scrambler umbrella, their attributes, performance prowess, features, and build quality can all vary greatly. So, to help you figure out which is the right scrambler for you, we’ve put together this guide to the best scrambler motorcycles that you can buy. And while this list isn’t limited to models that are currently in production, it is confined to late-model scramblers that are still readily available on showroom floors from prior model year holdovers.
- The Best Scrambler Motorcycles Rundown
- What To Look For When Buying A New Scrambler Motorcycle
- The History & Origins Of The Scrambler
- The Rise Of The Motocross Machines
- What Exactly Is A Scrambler Motorcycle?
- How Did Scramblers Become So Popular?
- The Intended Application Of Modern Scrambler Motorcycles
The Best Scrambler Motorcycles Rundown
Best Scrambler For Beginners
SWM SIX6 500
Best Value Scrambler
Mash X-Ride Classic 650
Best Commuter Bike
Best Italian Bike
Moto Morini Seiemmezzo SCR
Best Modern Scrambler
Brixton Crossfire 500 XC
Fantic Caballero 500 Rally
Best Overall Pick
Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled
Best Street Scrambler
BMW R nineT Urban GS
Best Vintage-Inspired Pick
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE
Best Premium Pick
Brough Superior Pendine Sand Racer
- Show more
What To Look For When Buying A New Scrambler Motorcycle
Now that you’re up to speed on the origins and history of scramblers, let’s get you caught up on the most crucial areas to think about before pulling the trigger on your purchase. Below, we’ve briefly outlined five of the most pivotal factors to take into account when buying a new scrambler motorcycle.
Engine: As the heart and soul of any motorcycle, the engine is always of utmost importance when buying a scrambler. Almost always of the single-cylinder or parallel-twin variety, scrambler engines need to produce a decent amount of low-end torque for powering through dirt, sand, or mud — and for blasting off the line when riding on the road. On top of displacement (i.e. engine size), it’s also important to review a motor’s configuration/layout and cooling system. Additionally, on top of the transmission, an engine comes mated to, it’s also worth looking into whether or not a given engine benefits from any modern electronic rider aides such as engine braking control or traction control.
Power: When coupled with a motorcycle’s weight (and gearing), an engine’s horsepower and torque output play a major role in determining its most important performance characteristics — namely acceleration and top speed. As generally spartan and lightweight machines, scramblers don’t tend to produce enormous power figures, though are still sufficient for basic on-road and off-road riding duties.
Running Gear: A motorcycle’s running gear (i.e. components such as braking and suspension hardware) is always extremely important, as it will determine factors such as stopping power and cornering abilities. With that said, this area is even more crucial when it comes to scrambler motorcycles, as many of these bikes have been outfitted with long-travel suspension setups that afford markedly more vertical travel than your average street bike.
Off-Road Elements: Scrambler motorcycles usually come loaded with a host of off-road-focused componentry such as skid plates, fork and hand guards, engine crash bars, high-mounted fenders, side number plates, and spoked wheels — all key hallmarks of a scrambler motorcycle. Almost all of these items can also be purchased as aftermarket upgrades, should you wish to further ready a scrambler for go-anywhere applications.
Style: As a whole, scrambler motorcycles tend to be modeled after retro machines from decades past. Despite this, scrambler bikes are still produced in a myriad of different styles, from the more genuine old-school replicas to thoroughly modern takes on the genre. Because of the popularity of scramblers, there’s also a wide array of aftermarket items available for further personalizing or customizing a stock bike.
SWM SIX6 500
- Inspired by vintage ISDE bikes
- Boasts classic appearance
- 445cc single is forgiving but offers room for growth
- Comes standard w/ high-mount exhaust, front fender, & skid plate
- Antiquated, somewhat underpowered engine
Best Scrambler For Beginners: Taking inspiration from the vintage machines used to compete at the International Six Days Enduro — or ISDE — the SWM SIX6 500 is an Italian-made bike powered by an air-cooled 450cc single. Brimming with scrambler hallmark design cues, the SIX6 500 sports a high-mount front fender, a cowl-equipped headlight, a ribbed two-up-friendly saddle, a set of side number plates, and a protected header that feeds into an exhaust that culminates in a pair of high-mounted under-tail mufflers. At the heart of the bike is an air-cooled 445.3cc thumper that generates just under 30hp. Equipped with a 33.26” seat height, the bike also features hydraulic brakes, spoked wheels, and an adjustable boot-equipped 43mm fork. The SWM’s rear shocks are also adjustable.
Engine: Air-Cooled 445.3cc Single-Cylinder
Mash X-Ride Classic 650
- Inspired by vintage Yamaha DT bikes
- Boasts decent off-roading abilities
- Offers fantastic value
- Affordable alternative to Ducati Desert Sled
- Not sold in U.S. market
Best Value Scrambler: A beautifully-designed, French-built motorcycle that takes blatant inspiration from Yamaha’s old DT models, this big single sports a wide array of elements evoking the spirit of the machines of yesteryear such as its gold-anodized rims, blacked-out powertrain, and Monza gas cap. The thing also boasts a myriad of thoroughly modern pieces including LED lighting throughout and a dual-silencer exhaust. With high-fenders, wide bars, spoked rims, knobby rubber, and skid plate, the X-Ride Classic 650 looks to be reasonably confident in the dirt. As the newest entry on this list, the model has yet to roll into showrooms and pricing still hasn’t been announced, though it’s expected to be priced similarly to Mash Motor’s other existing 650 models which would place it around the $6K mark.
Engine: Air-Cooled 643.7cc Single-Cylinder
Power: 40HP & 34FT-LBs
- Modern addition to Honda’s CL lineup
- Based on Rebel 500 platform
- Backed by Honda’s bulletproof reliability
- Scrambler in looks only, not off-road capable
Best Commuter Bike: In the ‘60s, Honda began producing scrambler versions of several of its existing road bikes with high-mounted exhausts, knobby tires, and reinforced handlebars. And while the company pulled the plug on its original CL lineup in the mid-‘70s, it’s now opted to deliver a modern incarnation of the scrambled CB with the new Honda CL500. Using the same chassis and engine platform as Honda’s Rebel 500 mid-sized urban cruiser model, the CL500 sports a similar tank and headlight arrangement, however, sees its subframe capped off with a scrambler-inspired seat before being outfitted with a high-mounted exhaust. What’s more, compared to the Rebel, the new CL model has been tweaked to allow for improved off-road riding capabilities, though it’s still worth noting that the CL500 was not designed for hardcore off-road use.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 471cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 45.6HP & 32FT-LBs
Moto Morini Seiemmezzo SCR
- Made by boutique Italian brand
- Features full suite of tech, rider aids, & TFT display
- Great style & build quality
- Also offered in non-scrambler STR version
- Fairly heavy at over 440lbs
Best Italian Bike: Produced by a boutique Italian company, the Moto Morini Seiemmezzo SCR (or “Seiemmezzo Scrambler”) is another thoroughly modern interpretation of a scrambler bike. Tipping the scales at just a tad over 440lbs, the SCR-spec Seiemmezzo is kicked along by a liquid-cooled 649cc twin that makes 61hp and just below 40ft-lbs of torque. Pushing its squarely into scrambler territory is the model’s high-mount front fender, pad-equipped, knee-dented tank, spoked wheels, tuck-and-roll saddle, and rear fender. The bike doesn’t skimp on tech either, gaining a host of rider aids as well as a TFT display. Moto Morini also produces a more road-focused cafe-inspired version of this model known as the Seiemmezzo STR.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 649cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 61HP & 39.8FT-LBs
Brixton Crossfire 500 XC
- Super modern & unique take on a scrambler motorcycle
- Features X-shaped tank & headlight
- Boasts some light off-roading capabilities
- Not sold in U.S. market
Best Modern Scrambler: The Brixton Crossfire 500 XC is a thoroughly modern take on a scrambler motorcycle that boasts genuine off-roading capabilities. This is owed not only to new off-road-focused geometry, but also thanks to the addition of long-travel KYB suspension, an MX-style front fender, a protected headlight, decent ground clearance, a skid plate, tank pads, a radiator grille, optional engine crash bars, and a spoked 19” front, 17” rear wheel-set wrapped in knobby Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires. Side number plates, a custom-inspired exhaust, a hooped subframe, and a thin scrambler-style seat complete this impressive — and affordably priced — package. And, while it might not be the fastest bike, the roughly 100-mph top speed that its twin-cylinder engine allows for is more than sufficient for most commuting and urban riding duties.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 486cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 47.6HP & 31.7FT-LBs
Fantic Caballero 500 Rally
- Modern dual-sport dressed in retro styling
- Uses adjustable FANTIC FRS suspension
- Has 7.87” of travel fore & aft
- Offered w/ huge range of available factory upgrades
- Lackluster stock brakes
Best Off-Roader: The 500 Rally is one of the lesser-known models in the scrambler world, which is a real shame because it has a lot going for it. On top of boasting a genuinely attractive appearance that wonderfully blends retro and modern designs, the bike is loaded with components from top-shelf companies including Tommaselli, Domino, Brembo (technically ByBre), and Arrow — the latter of which is responsible for the 500’s stellar dual-silencer setup. The thing also gets a CrMo Steel central tube frame, FRS 41mm inverted forks, and a mono-shock, both of which are adjustable and offer around two-thirds the travel of a late-model 450 dirt bike — with 7.87” of travel fore and aft. With power figures also on par with today’s latest and greatest MXers, this motorcycle is without a doubt one of the most off-road-capable scramblers currently in production.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 449cc Single-Cylinder
Power: 40HP & 31.7FT-LBs
Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled
- Fantastic modern take on a scrambler bike
- Offers solid off-roading abilities
- Loaded w/ tech including TFT display, quick-shifter, & suite of rider aids
- Safety features include cornering ABS, traction control, & multiple ride modes
- Has extended 7,500-mile service intervals
- Finicky clutch/transmission
Best Overall Pick: Ducati’s original scrambler lineup dates back approximately six-decades when the Bologna firm produced 125-450cc single-powered models under the same name from ’62 through ’74. So, when the Italian brand was looking to tap into a younger, hipper demographic, it opted to revive the Scrambler name for its new range of modern retros. The Scrambler Ducati lineup now encompasses a variety of different style bikes ranging from tracker-inspired models to classic standards to a cafe racer model. But the model most true to the scrambler name is undoubtedly the Scrambler Desert Sled. With its extra suspension travel (7.87” front and rear), skid plate and headlight guard, MX bars, spoked rims, and knobby tires, it’s one of the few modern “scrambler” models that are actually capable of performing competently in the dirt. It also delivers on style in the same manner as you’d expect from an elite Italian marque like Ducati.
Engine: Air-Cooled 803cc L-Twin
Power: 73HP & 49FT-LBs
BMW R nineT Urban GS
- Based on BMW’s ultra-modular R9T platform
- Inspired by BMW’s ‘80s era Dakar-winning R80G/S
- Huge variety of available factory accessories, aftermarket parts, & bolt-on kits
- Protruding cylinder heads make for a very wide bike
Best Street Scrambler: Our favorite member of the BMW Motorrad’s Heritage lineup, the R nineT Urban GS is an R80/GS-themed version of the Bavarian brand’s highly-modular R9T range, sporting a number of visual nods to the iconic Dakar-winning Beemer like the red saddle, white and blue bodywork, headlight shroud. As the moniker suggests: this model is primarily intended to be a city-going sled draped in vintage off-road visual themes. And though BMW does produce an actual R9T Scrambler variant, we’d argue the Urban GS — at least when fitted with the optional spoked wheels — is actually better suited to scrambling duties. The clever engineering and overall versatility of the R9T platform also make this bike ideal for further customization.
Engine: Air & Oil-Cooled 1,170cc Boxer-Twin
Power: 110HP & 85.6FT-LBs
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE
- Go-anywhere bike based on Bonneville platform
- Features off-road-specific frame & suspension
- Fantastic style
- Great build quality & fit & finish
- Offers outstanding off-roading chops
- Expensive price
Best Vintage-Inspired Pick: Triumph is largely responsible for sparking the trend that’s resulted in today’s slew of scrambler models when it rolled out the bike that started it all in 2006. And though the company offered several scrambler models, they were pretty much just regular Bonneville machines that’d been outfitted with high-pipes and knobbies and the like. So, for its latest scrambled offering, the iconic British marque decided to go all out, engineering a new model from the ground up that wouldn’t just look the part, but could actually hold its own in the dirt. The result was the plainly-named Scrambler 1200 XC and XE, with the latter of the two variants being the top-shelf model. And by all accounts, Triumph absolutely nailed it, delivering on a machine that’s genuinely worthy of the scrambler title, visually evoking the spirit of old McQueen-era British scramblers while simultaneously affording true scrambling capabilities off-road. Spoked wheels, hand-guards, fork guards, a skid plate, and 7.87” of travel front and rear make the 1200 XE more than ready to take on the rough stuff.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,200cc Parallel-Twin
Power: 89HP & 81.1FT-LBs
Brough Superior Pendine Sand Racer
- Powered by 102-HP proprietary liquid-cooled V-Twin
- Limited to 200 units globally
- Made by hand
- Unparalleled build quality & craftsmanship
- Features super premium components
- Very expensive price
Best Premium Pick: Taking its name from the Welsh beach utilized by the British brand as a testing ground during its heyday, the Brough Superior Pendine Sand Racer is an insanely top-shelf take on a modern scrambler that’s handmade in France on a custom, made-to-order basis. Crafted around a custom chassis that’s machined from titanium billet, the Pendine Sand Racer sports a custom-machined Fior-style fork and a mono-shocked rear-end. At the heart of the motorcycle is a proprietary liquid-cooled 997cc 88° V-Twin that makes 102hp and 64ft-lbs of torque. Rolling on custom-machined aluminum wheels shod in Conti Attack 3 tires, the bike also features top-shelf Beringer brakes, a perfect 50/50 weight distribution, a high-mount dual-pipe exhaust, and a cowl-equipped monoposto tail. The Pendine Sand Racer is also limited to only 200 units worldwide.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 997cc V-Twin
Power: 102HP & 64FT-LBs
The History & Origins Of The Scrambler
While it’s hard to nail down an exact time or place, pretty much everyone agrees that scramblers can be traced back to pre-depression-era England. At this time (roughly 1920s), motorcycles had only been around for a few decades and were just starting to become custom-engineered machines, purpose-built from the ground up, rather than bicycles that had been fitted with a primitive engine and then lightly modified. The concept of a purpose-built off-road production motorcycle was still almost half-a-century off in the horizon, though early riders nonetheless were eager to get off the road and tackle some dirt and off-road riding.
Enthusiasts organized early off-road races that, rather than following along a given trail or route, would instead give competitors a starting point, a bearing, and a finishing point. How the rider chose to get there or how they opted to negotiate the obstacles and terrain along the way was entirely up to them. To compete in these events, riders had to use production models that were built for road use as, again, there really wasn’t an alternative at the time. In order to make their rides more conducive to off-road performance, riders would strip their bikes down to the bare essentials, and often fortify the things to better withstand the abuse and rigors of off-roading.
Initially, these machines were largely constructed in the garages and sheds of amateur and hobby builders without any help or backing from manufacturers. Eventually, these “scrambler” bikes and the local-level races they competed in took off in popularity, catching the eye of various big-name companies including manufacturers, aftermarket parts companies, and chassis and engineering outfits.
By the 1960s, manufacturers started introducing production scrambler models that were marketed for their off-road abilities while still being suited to regular street riding. And while right off the showroom floor, these models were more competent in off-road situations, the reality is that they were still, for all intents and purposes, road-bikes that had been lightly modified for dirt use, though they were still pretty lackluster in that department, especially when compared to the purpose-built machines that followed.
By the 1960s, it became common for manufacturers to release scrambler variants of their existing models. For example, Honda introduced a handful of iconic scrambled versions of its bikes, though instead of being marketed under the road-going CB (or “City Bike”) designation, these Japanese models took on the “CL” moniker, with semi-off-road-appropriate bikes ranging in displacement from 450cc’s, down to 49cc’s. And while they did sport high-mounted pipes and wide bars and whatnot, these were still heavy machines that didn’t lend themselves particularly well to hardcore off-road riding.
The Rise Of The Motocross Machines
It didn’t take too long for the point A to point B races being held in the UK to transform into closed-circuit off-road trails and hare scrambles courses. And though this limited the types of terrain riders wold experience in off-road racing, it also gave bike builders and manufacturers a better sense of what off-road models would be facing. Desert racing in California was also exploding in popularity around this time, and as a result, a number of specialist companies started building increasingly capable, purpose-built frame kits, such as the iconic Rickman Métisse scramblers.
From there, actual motorcycle manufacturers began experimenting with increasingly purpose-built bikes for off-road riding themselves, releasing ever-more-competent machines. In 1966, everything changed however, when a Swedish-born, four-time 250cc MX world champion by the name of Torsten Hallman flew over to the US with a brand new Husqvarna off-road model. Hallman proceeded to absolutely dominate every single race he entered that year — at times lapping the entire field — and in the process, he introduced the US to the term “motocross,” which described a new, lightweight style of off-road motorbike.
From this point forward, scramblers were on a downward trend, steadily being replaced by increasingly modern, increasingly capable machines with better power, less weight, nimbler handling, markedly superior suspension, and an overall improved rideability. With purpose-built production off-road models now available at dealerships, there was no longer a need to modify road-bikes for off-road use, and thus, the original scrambler models died out.
What Exactly Is A Scrambler Motorcycle?
Like the original shed-built scrambler bikes from mid-century England, today’s scrambler bikes are essentially stripped down scoots that have been rid of any and all superfluous components and then bestowed with a variety of hardware and upgrades to make them more conducive to off-road performance.
Scramblers also have a distinct appearance that’s largely due to their purpose-built nature and intended use. Because these machines were typically ridden in short bursts during competition and weren’t being made for long-hauls in the saddle, scramblers tend to sport relatively small fuel cells, often slightly knee-dented or fitted with rubber knee pads. Because the rider needs to be able to freely slide around the bike while throwing it into corners and the like, scrambler boast idiosyncratic, thin, flat seats that often culminate in a hooped subframe.
The intended off-road use is also what gives scrambler bikes their long-travel suspension, lower-gearing, upright seating position, high-mounted fenders, spoked rims, knobby tires, wider bars, and hand, engine, and headlight guards, as well as their exhaust systems and pipes, which are positioned on the bike high off the ground, where they’re safe from rocks, logs, or other obstacles that could prove detrimental to a low-ganging hanging muffler. The side (and sometimes front) number plates on these bikes stem from the fact they were widely used in competition. These bikes are almost always powered by , as well.
Another classic hallmark of scrambler motorcycles is their use of relatively simple single-cylinder and twin-cylinder engines. On top of already being spartan and fairly-stripped down, these bikes were designed to take on rugged terrain and were routinely put in highly-demanding riding situations. Consequently, riders preferred a bike that was simple and straight-forward. Easy to wrench on (mid-race if need be), and with minimal parts that could possibly fail, break, or get damaged.
As a result, pretty much all of the scramblers of yesteryear utilize air-cooled engines that are almost exclusively of the single or twin-cylinder variety. And though multi-cylinder engines have become markedly more commonplace on production models today, the lion’s share of the contemporary scramblers being produced continue to be powered by — primarily air-cooled — thumpers and twins.
How Did Scramblers Become So Popular?
While the first wave of scrambler motorcycles went extinct in the 1970s, the segment experienced a major resurgence in the mid-aughts. Not long after reviving its wildly-iconic Bonneville range, Triumph followed up the rebirth with the release of a scrambled Bonnie variant, complete with high-pipes, longer-travel suspenders, spoked hoops, knobby rubber, and an overall design that included several blatant nods to earlier Triumph scramblers, including Steve McQueen’s famous customized TR6 racer. The smashing success of this new Bonneville prompted other major manufacturers to follow suit. Over the next decade, more and more motorcycle companies began introducing their own respective scrambler models, sometimes as scrambled versions of existing offerings and sometimes as purpose-engineered products.
The Intended Application Of Modern Scrambler Motorcycles
By definition, scrambler motorcycles are built to look like off-road capable bikes. The reality is that while all of them appear to be off-road-oriented, many, if not most, aren’t all that proficient of machines once they get off the tarmac. Because each model is different, the best way to figure out how capable a given scrambler is in the off-road department is to review a handful of specific areas, namely: weight; suspension travel; overall protection (skid-plates, high-mount exhaust, headlight grille); engine type; and power — though torque trumps horsepower when you’re judging a scrambler (or any off-road-focused bike).