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Moto Morini Scrambler: Off-road challenge

It’s big, it’s heavy, and it’s got a massive engine. Moto Morini calls it the Scrambler, so we check if it can counter the worst we can throw at it

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The burly, knobby-tyred Moto Morini Scrambler 1200 that sat pretty at the Vardenchi Motorcycles display was one of the highlights of the 2014 Auto Expo. Now, the Italian motorcycle manufacturer is here, thanks to a tie-up with the Mumbai-based custom bike-building outfit. The Scrambler 1200 is a bike like no other. Why? Because it weighs 200kg, and is powered by a 116bhp, 1,187cc V-twin. So, it is really powerful, and really heavy. Which isn’t the most ideal combination for some serious off-roading. And, in India, the Scrambler 1200 costs a colossal Rs 27 lakh (on-road, Mumbai). So, we came up with a pretty conventional challenge for this unconventional motorcycle – we wanted to see if it was actually capable of living up to its name, and proving itself in a slushy, rocky, rain-soaked environment.

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The Moto Morini Scrambler looks better in the flesh than in photographs. The round headlamp, with its riot-proof guard, the saucy bikini fairing that sits atop it, and the round mirrors up front give the Scrambler a ’70s look. The beautifully contoured matt-orange tank, front fairing, front and rear mudguard and side panels are standard carbon fibre trim, and exude fantastic fit and finish. However, I am surprised at the fairly simple part-analogue-part-digital instrument cluster. The analogue tacho is flanked by warning lights and a digital readout, with the latter looking rather mundane. Although the speedo might be the last thing you will look at when rumbling along off-road, the readout isn’t the best in wet conditions. The screen displays engine temp, odometer, time of day, and you can also toggle between average consumption, trip meter and lap times. Yes, that’s right, lap times. On a Scrambler.

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The palm grips aren’t very chunky and feel great to use, while the switchgear feels like it can withstand the worst of Mother Nature’s punishments. The seat looks stylish, and is quite comfortable. While the racing stripe that runs along the center of the Scrambler – from the front fender to the LED tail-lamp – hints at the bike’s brawn and performance, all those Moto Morini logos on the bike awakened the comic book nerd in me. Somehow, I could picture DC Comics possibly drawing inspiration for Wonder Woman’s logo from Moto Morini’s eagle.

The Scrambler is a tall bike. The seat stands 83cm off the ground, which is rather high even for yours truly, who is about 5ft 8-inches tall. My colleague Abhinav’s toes barely touched the ground. He looked like the Indian version of Dani Pedrosa attempting to mount the Honda RC213V for the first time. The route we had chalked out for our challenge involved a good 80km of highway riding, followed by a rocky incline in Peth, near Karjat.

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As soon as I hit the road, what immediately struck a sweet chord with me was the butter-smooth engine and the manner in which the multi-disc wet slipper clutch functioned. I had to assume a fairly upright riding position, with my arms stretched out to meet the flat handlebars.  

As with most litre-class bikes, the low end of the powerband was relatively weak compared to the meaty mid- and top-end. The first two gears spit out good amounts of torque after the 2,200rpm mark. The engine feels really meaty around 3,500rpm, and the mechanical exhaust note sounds gloriously violent as the needle nears the 8500rpm redline. The power delivery proves brilliantly linear, as I quickly confine the traffic that once lay ahead of me, into the retro-style mirrors. In the wet, I felt comfortable cruising at 60kph, at 3,000rpm, in third, and it required just a slight twist of the throttle to scurry past slower traffic. I rarely had the opportunity to shift into fifth, thanks to unfavourable road and traffic conditions. But, the virility of the engine, and the macho nature of the motorcycle was all too apparent. ‘Challenge accepted’ is what I thought I heard the Scrambler say.

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Although the clutch lever itself was a tad heavy, shifts through the six-speed gearbox were super-slick, but I wish they had been more precise. The gear shifts were so effortless that I accidentally hit neutral on a few occasions when testing engine braking and gearing. The tyres held up perfectly well on the highway, and the Brembos – 298mm double-disc (front) and 255mm mono-disc (rear) – had a nice, progressive bite to them. But there is no ABS or traction control on offer with the Scrambler, which means that although the lack of electronic nannies adds to the fun, I had to exercise caution when it came to braking on road so as to not leave a bad impression on the vehicles ahead. A rather strange exclusion for a motorcycle that is this expensive, methinks.

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The Scrambler felt very composed as I hit the bends at moderate speed, and I’m certain that if the bike was equipped with road tyres, the Scrambler would have been one mother of a street bike. By the time, we got to our off-road section, the heavens had opened up. The Scrambler was unperturbed by mud and gravel, and I felt confident on the bike. But, as I rode further up the steep incline and encountered a rocky surface with streams running across it, I was faced with problems. While the Scrambler has decent low-end grunt, anything below 15kph, without proper clutch control, will cause the bike to stall. Which was, of course, not a good thing, as the bike scrabbled for traction on the slippery surface. It was disconcerting, knowing that I could effectively place just one foot on the ground for support. If I were to lose balance, and if the bike were to fall over to knee-level, there would be absolutely no way I could possibly make this 200kg behemoth sit back up again.

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So, the lesson that came through was that the Moto Morini wasn’t a real scrambler in the strictest sense of the term. Agile, light and easy to fix it definitely isn’t. But, it can handle a fair bit of hostile terrain all the same. The best way to have fun on this beast was to keep the momentum going. And what fun it was! My confidence on the Scrambler grew with every passing moment, sliding through the slush puddles and roaring up muddy inclines.

The Marzocchi upside-down forks and the adjustable Öhlins monoshock at the back kept the Scrambler stable over all sorts of tricky surfaces. Some thumps did prove spine-tingling when I hit some deep potholes, but things never felt to be getting out of control.

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On this ride, the suspension was set up to be stiff, which meant the bike felt more at home on paved paths rather than dirt roads, but the Scrambler performed decently well over dirt and grime. It felt brilliant getting down and dirty, sending muck flying everywhere as water from puddles evaporated off the piping-hot mufflers. In fact, the high-tensile tubular steel trellis frame and tyres felt ready to handle much more than I could (confidently) throw at it. The Scrambler returned roughly 12.4kpl, after all that mud-plugging. To sum up, the Scrambler aims to be the Hublot King Power Oceanographic 4000 of the biking world. But, unlike the watch, which, too, costs a bomb, this bike doesn’t feel special. Certainly not Rs 27 lakh-special. The Scrambler is neither the best on the road, nor off it. In this challenge, the Scrambler came across as a jack of all trades, and although it was fun, it actually turned out to be a master of none.

(Words: Christopher Chaves, Photos: Rajeev Gaikwad)

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