Jenna Genio / Kelvin Christian Go | July 21, 2017 16:05
So much more than mere looks
We pulled in front of the Starbucks at Molito Alabang to indulge in one of the most hedonistic, guiltiest pleasures of riders. From the dealership, we fueled up on gas and, you guessed it… Coffee. We had our drinks while staring at the bikes.
“We’re at the World Motorcycle Headquarters, Starbucks,” I regurgitated the old joke to gal pal Gaki Azurin (moto vlogger GakiMoto) holding the camera. The image of yuppies parking their retro rides at coffee shops is ironic. Cafe racers are current tributes to the lightweight bikes of English “rocker” gangs of the ‘50s and ‘60s — modified to speed between one coffee shop to the next. They were budget-friendly DIY projects that resembled GP and TT motorcycles, garage-modified by a disaffected and rowdy youth — naked instead of faired and shedding all things unnecessary. Cafe racers were basically the weapons-of-choice of illegal street racers back then. Nowadays, they’re usually just favored by the Pinterest generation for their vintage looks.
The good folks at Ducati Philippines brought a Ducati Scrambler Café Racer to their Alabang branch for tests, and my friend, Gaki, and I jumped on the opportunity. We made a day of it, with cafe racers old and new. She and I switched between my early ’80s Honda GB400 “Stubbin the sake racer” and reviewing the 2017 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer, as I led Gaki around my stomping grounds and beyond.
After shooting the bikes at Molito and mainlining caffeine into our bloodstreams, I took Gaki on a short tour around my neighborhood, then we hit the Skyway. It must have been the first time I’ve really ridden around with a 'Moto Sister,' let alone on another cafe racer. Frankly, it was glorious… And whether she was on the Scram' Café or the GB, the sight always made me smile. “Saw you guys speeding down Country Club (Drive) this morning. Very cool,” A friend later told me. I get it. Riding empowers me. Doing it with another like-minded girl multiplies that good feeling.
Ducati got everything right with the aesthetics of the bike. The line from headlamp and tank to the seat and tail has the sporty straightness of a retro racer. The dark color “Black Coffee” dominates the profile throughout the body work, frame, engine, and even the inverted forks. Up-marketed pale gold accents can be found on the tank’s pinstriping and light aluminum alloy wheels for some injected luxury. Meanwhile, the lower handlebars and bar-end mirrors put the proverbial icing on the cafe racer cake. Beside the old GB, which Honda released as an ‘80s tribute to the English road racers of the ’60s, the Ducati looked like it rightfully belonged. Every time I looked beside me to see Gaki pilot the Café, I approved so hard.
In case you’re wondering, the number 54 is a tribute to motorcycle racer Bruno Spaggiari — whose experience contributed to the development of the vintage Scrambler’s chassis. He campaigned several of the desmodromic single-cylinders, tricked out engines derived from those found in Ducati’s road bikes (including the Scrambler). A black-and-white photo of him circa 1968 getting some air on his #54 Desmo race bike has become iconic for Ducati history buffs — taken at the Cesenatico Circuit of the Mototemporada Romagnola road races.
The Ducati Scrambler is marketed for the retro millennial crowd, and built for easy customization. The Café Racer is drop dead gorgeous (and pricey) enough to postpone alteration… Except for the Scrambler logo on the tank. If the full name of the bike (Ducati Scrambler Café Racer) sounds weird, that’s because it should. That’s what you get for naming a shared platform (or sub-brand) after a genre. Only thing I’d do is replace the jarring word “Scrambler” with any old school Ducati logo. On another note, “Café Racer” is such a lazy name, compared to the likes of “Full Throttle” and “Desert Sled”. I would probably fight the urge to do a tank swap and debate on whether to opt for classic wire spokes, because the stock 10-spoked wheels look mighty fine in that pale gold — a testament to modernity.
The mount of 803 mm is a tad higher than the 790 mm standard trims, but shorter than the 860 mm Desert Sled. The clip-on style handlebars are mounted at the top for the aggressive stance of clubman height, without the crazy crouch of traditional clip-ons or full-fledged race bikes. Owning that old Honda GB400, this was something I was most comfortable with and greatly appreciated. Gaki, on the other hand, didn’t find it so practical. Clutch was super beginner-friendly and foot pegs were right under the crotch zone (would’ve been cool if they were moved back a bit). The single round digital gauge was lackluster with a fuel warning light and no gear shift indicator — again, something I’m used to. I hardly paid any attention to it.
There are several tweaks that make the Scram Café an amazing machine. The air and oil-cooled 803cc L-twin makes 73 PS at 8,250 rpm and 67 Nm of torque at 5,750 rpm — identical to past variants on paper, but significantly improved. To make it Euro-4 compliant, Ducati fiddled with the throttle settings for smoother power delivery. At launch and in low revs, compared to the older models, the difference was a huge relief. Ducati fixed the awkward, slow gargle and stutter. Well done! Any other tiny, negligible lurch I attributed to quirky character.
The Café Racer has distinctly different suspension geometry too. Ducati reigned in the rake and trail. The other roadsters had 24° and 112 mm respectively, while the Café’s was decreased at 21.8° and 93.9 mm. The 44 mm Kayaba inverted front forks and Kayaba rear mono shock with the banana-slash-boomerang shaped swingarm handle deteriorating roads nicely. The front isn’t adjustable, but the preload in the back is. Heavyset riders or aggressive corner-diving speed demons may find the ride a bit soft, but as a casual featherweight I was very happy. I took some sections of road and even a curve I knew would’ve caused a subtle jitter on stiffer stems, but as a Scrambler the Café buttered that up.
The context of going to and from the modern classic and the brand new road bike afforded a fun perspective. It gave off the same nostalgic vibe, without some of the crude hassles and headaches of an old machine. One of the guys at Ducati asked which of the two were better, the old GB or the Scram' Café. Obviously it was the latter. Cylinders and displacement aside, technology has come a long way. I had ridden a couple of the other previous Scramblers too, and the Café Racer didn’t just feel like yet another variant; it felt like a brand new motorcycle… Much more hawkish, more maneuverable, and more likely to trigger mischief.
The bike is a real deal, modern cafe racer just like it claims. It was modified for sporting jaunts… And everything from the shorter wheelbase, riding position, and happier engine felt purposeful. The relatively tall gearing worked well weaving through cars on the highway, and it inspired confidence while cornering — due especially to the grippy Pirelli Diablo Rosso II rubber, paired with good brakes and effective ABS. My only complaint was about the heat radiating from the cylinder and simmering the inner thighs. It was intense at stops and while parking. I have no idea how moto “babes” manage wearing booty shorts on the thing (I’ve seen pics). Also, as wonderful as the Termignoni silencers are, they don’t really do much to help the bike’s singing voice… Still, better cleaner emissions than a louder megaphone. It would’ve been nice to achieve both.
I don’t know why… Maybe it was because I’m petite and the Café was built low and compact for short people. Maybe Ducati did a holistic slam dunk with a perfect combination of factors… But it felt like a natural fit — allowing me to push further without intimidation — like it was on rails, oh so stable at high-speed straights and carving curves. I know it’d be fun taking it on twisties and judging from the comments of friends, it’d be easy to appreciate at all skill levels. It may not be a track bike, but it’s great for bedeviling the street. Good job on the Café Racer, Ducati. You finally made a Scrambler that could actually be your true entry-level before the Monster… In-line with your real brand identity of red-hot Italian performance. It could be the caffeine and middle-weight endorphins talking, but I think I’m in love.