2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport first ride review: Nostalgia isn't overrated

As a brand, Ducati has this reputation for always being on the bleeding edge of technology, sacrificing almost anything in the name of speed and performance. So why, then, would it take an engine that it stopped using in 2013, spend a bunch of money making it noise- and emissions-legal for 2018 and throw it in a new production motorcycle? Because sometimes, nostalgia sells.

The Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport is a motorcycle that, on the surface, doesn't make a ton of sense. It's really expensive at around $15,000, and relatively underpowered, producing just 86 horsepower at 7,500 rpm. But the second you throw a leg over it and thumb the starter lever, you're forced to forget all of that. The Scrambler 1100 was designed to do one thing really well: make you feel good.

Everything about the bike is shaped to tug at your heartstrings and make you feel like the coolest person in your postal code. With its matte black paint and yellow accents, gold forks, big underseat mufflers and round headlight, the 1100 Sport looks like the kind of motorcycle on which your ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend would pick her up. It looks mean without trying too hard.

Its engine -- the 1,079-cc, two-valve, air/oil-cooled, 90-degree L-twin from the Monster 1100 Evo -- has effectively been turned into a dinosaur by the high-revving, water-cooled multivalve superbikes of today. But nothing else that Ducati makes today has the same charm as that big, finned lump of aluminum. It's been tweaked slightly, with a single throttle body and twin spark plugs, but the old Monster character is still there.

When coaxed into life (somewhat reluctantly if it's cold out), the engine burbles and pops with a basso profundo that surprises at first, leaving me to wonder if these are indeed standard exhaust cans. But once you give the throttle a few exploratory twists and the idle evens out, it really starts to sound like a Ducati. This is a proper 90-degree twin, friend, no Harley-esque potato-potato noises to be found.

While the Scrambler's engine comes almost straight out of 2013, the gearbox and clutch are fully modern units. Unlike Ducati transmissions of old, the gearbox doesn't require that you kick the hell out of it up or down to get a positive shift. It's slick and easy to use and I have no problem finding neutral or getting any false neutrals. The clutch is a hydraulic, wet, multiplate unit with a superlight pull at the lever and nice smooth engagement. My only lament is that you don't get the classic Ducati dry clutch rattle, but some things are perhaps better left in the past.

2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport

Beautiful build quality and a big, booming engine make the Scrambler 1100 Sport a total sweetheart to ride.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Throwing a leg over the bike reveals a reasonable seat height even if you're not tall (I'm 6 feet, 4 inches, for reference). The bike feels light, comfortable and immediately natural. It wants to be your friend. The handlebars are upright and wide, and the foot pegs are high enough for ground clearance but low enough not to feel cramped. The seat is huge and looks cushier than it is, but since it is relatively flat, moving around front to back is easy and shouldn't create any problems on longer rides. Overall, finishes and materials are super high-quality. This is an expensive, premium motorcycle and it feels like it with few exceptions (some of the plastics used on the switch clusters are kind of meh, but this is a minor gripe).

The instrumentation on the 1100 Sport represents a considerable step forward from the previous models in the Scrambler line. You still get the offset round LCD display with the ring of colored warning lights and the odd backward tachometer, but you also get a little oval that comes off of it at the 10 o'clock position that gives you more information like speed and gear position indicator. It's clearly legible, and I'm a fan.

While the Scrambler 1100 is unabashedly a retro-inspired motorcycle, it has a veritable crap-ton of safety technology, most of which is available for the first time on a bike in the Scrambler line. The big news comes in the form of lean-angle sensitive traction control and antilock brakes, which is huge, because it takes even more guesswork out of emergency situations. For example, you're riding with friends on a curvy mountain road, and you have your bike cranked over in a corner, when you come across a big rock or tree branch in your path and clamp down on your brakes. On an older, dumber bike you'd grab a handful of brake, and the wheel might not lock entirely, but you have reduced traction available for braking while on the edge of your tire and standard ABS won't account for that, so you'd still stand a good chance of losing control and crashing. Lean-sensitive ABS knows how far the bike is leaned over and can modulate its pulses to be gentler, allowing you to more safely bring it down from speed and avoid hitting that stick.

The earlier, smaller Scramblers had a simpler instrument setup but the 1100 has all the bells and whistles packed into a relatively small space.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

It's technology like this that helps make the Scrambler 1100's price tag a lot easier to swallow. The Scrambler's closest competition in the cool, retro-bike category is the BMW R NineT, and that has basic ABS and only optional, non-lean-sensitive traction control.

The standard suspension on the Scrambler 1100 and 1100 Special is okay, but if you pony up for the Sport, you get Öhlins forks and shocks, and while stiff, the damping's adjustability and quality are excellent. Plus it's all cool and gold and... yeah, I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff.

The brakes on the 1100 are also excellent. The front four-piston calipers come from Brembo and clamp down on 320-millimeter discs. The rear is a single-piston Brembo caliper that grabs onto a 245 mm disc. They have plenty of bite, and never lack feedback.

Once underway, the Scrambler 1100 proves to be staggeringly easy to ride. Its throttle response is excellent, and not at all snatchy or jerky. The big twin's torque is blissful around town, lugging me out of corners and away from lights when I'm too lazy to drop a gear. The relative narrowness of the bike combined with its nimble handling makes splitting lanes easy, as well. I regularly grab a handful of throttle and rocket away from traffic, giggling maniacally in my helmet as the big twin booms away underneath me.

The rear brake is a petite single-pot Brembo unit that works well and looks great.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Of course, old bike technology, while charming, comes with some old-bike issues. First and foremost is heat. This thing puts out a lot of it. The air-cooled nature of the bike, coupled with the way the exhaust is routed, means that you're going to be cooking your lower half at stoplights. Riding this bike without at least some kind of Kevlar-lined riding jeans would be a bummer.

Secondly, the mirrors suck. They look cool, but most of my height's in my torso, and I can't adjust them in a way where I can see anything useful. If they tilted up more, they'd be fine.

The 1100 has a big motor, and because of that, it's not the most frugal thing on two wheels. You won't be skipping a ton of gas stations, but thankfully you get a fuel gauge on this beastie, so you probably won't get stranded anywhere, either.

2018 Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport

Despite the dirt-worthy-looking tires, this bike is built for the streets.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Finally, don't forget, there's the cost of ownership. Yes, it will likely cost you more to service a Ducati than it will a Yamaha or a Honda, but that's just part of the experience. The thing to know is that the catastrophically expensive maintenance schedules that plagued Ducatis of old aren't really a thing anymore. The dreaded Desmo service -- which involves removing the timing belt, ripping apart a ton of the bike to access both cylinder heads and adjusting the opening and closing rocker arms -- only happens every 15,000 miles, and Ducati says it will only take around five hours to complete. You're going to change oil every 7,500 miles, which is in line with most other manufacturers' guidelines.

Still, that's pretty fitting for a bike that is shameless about its reason for existence. The Scrambler 1100 Sport makes no pretense about race tracks or MotoGP; it's just there to be fun and to make the person riding it feel super cool. It's flawed and expensive, but at the end of the day, I absolutely want one.

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