You only have to ogle a shot of Steve McQueen casually sat astride his old Triumph Scrambler to realise that there is something inherently cool about off-road motorcycles.
Perhaps it is the bad boy image of tearing up a trail that probably isn’t supposed to be torn up, or maybe it is the nonchalant way man and machine takes on nature in a noisy show of bravado.
Whatever it is, Triumph knows there is money to be made from delving into its rich heritage and offering some of this vintage cool for today’s McQueen wannabes.
That is all well and good, but so far the chaps from Hinckley have failed to concoct anything that combines the achingly hip throwback image with technology that can take on the likes of KTM’s Adventure bikes or Honda’s formidable Africa Twin… until now.
Step forward the Triumph Bonneville Scrambler 1200 XE: a bike that takes plenty of styling cues from popular Bonny Street Scrambler but injects a healthy dose of off-road equipment to ensure it won’t wither when the road runs out.
At the heart of this new machine is a slightly lighter version of the punchy 1200cc high-performance engine that is found in the Thruxton, but it has been tuned to offer the sweetest blend of on-road performance and off-road prowess.
Ignore the peak power figure (89bhp), because this lump is all about torque and the silky smooth way it delivers its 110Nm. First and second gear have been deliberately fettled for maximum grip on the slippery stuff, but it equates to some seriously rapid acceleration on the Tarmac, too.
This particular test bike came in XE flavour, which goes heavy on the ‘dual-purpose’ technology and includes the gorgeous Öhlins twin shocks at the rear, Showa upside-down forks at the front, side-laced rims and a massive Brembo M50 braking system.
It is a bit of a unit to behold and compared to the much lower and lighter 900cc Street Scrambler, it takes a fair amount of muscle work to heft around tight parking spaces.
The additional suspension travel also means the set-up is very tall and anyone under the 6ft mark will likely find a bit of embarrassing tippy-toe action will have to be embraced when traffic comes to a standstill.
That said, it is an absolute joy to ride once the wheels start turning, with a beautifully predictable torque-assist clutch and ride-by-wire throttle making low speed riding a breeze. Plus, high-speed handling feels precise, despite the 21-inch wheel at the front.
Approach a favoured B-road and the Scrambler 1200 just begs to be flicked through the turns, a generous six-stage traction control system allowing for plenty of ABS and TC adjustability and sticky Metzeler Tourance tyres offering bags of grip.
On top of this, a 16-litre fuel tank (you gotta love that Monza-style filling cap and tank fastener detailing) ensures there is around 150-miles of riding time between pit stops, even when sat at motorway speeds.
A week with the machine offered plenty of challenges, including a bum-numbing hack from the south coast to Heathrow airport and back. The Scrambler handled the mundane stuff well, with cruise control on this model coming in very handy indeed.
However, the upright seating position and lack of front screen meant most of the trouble was felt in the neck and chest, thanks to a massive amount of wind buffeting, while the relatively thin seat became slightly uncomfortable about 60-miles into the journey.
it is an absolute joy to ride once the wheels start turning
But then Triumph doesn’t really offer this as a tourer, instead highlighting its ability to hammer the high mileage and then master the mud when the mood for a spot of off-roading takes hold.
Even on our fairly limited stretch of local green lanes, the big Scrambler felt sure-footed and confident over the mix of sand, mud and gravel terrain. Mastering the numerous riding modes takes a bit of getting used to and on more than one occasion we reverted to hitting Off Road Pro, which essentially switches all of the electronic safety nets off.
Interaction with the bike is now through Triumph’s second-generation TFT instruments, which look absolutely stunning and work brilliantly out on the road. Scroll between various layouts and contrast options via a thumb stick, cycle the numerous traction control options and enjoy the ease of the marque’s keyless ignition system with minimal distraction from the route head.
There is also a USB charging slot, which we spent ages looking for but still couldn’t find, and Triumph claims this is the world’s first motorcycle to feature built-in GoPro control functionality via Bluetooth.
Probably handy if you like capturing clips for posterity, but we preferred the Google turn-by-turn navigation that can be beamed to the display when a bespoke Triumph smartphone app is tethered.
It is a formidable suite of technology that goes hand-in-hand with the Scrambler 1200 XE’s impressive ability to handle a multitude of situations.
Granted, lots of buyers are probably going to gravitate towards the XC for its slightly more comfortable road-going manners but the additional £800 for the fully equipped XE feels like a bargain.
At £12,300 on the road, it feels like a lot of bike for the money and more importantly, it finally feels like a proper scrambler. Mr McQueen would be proud.
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE
Engine Liquid-cooled, 8 valve, parallel twin
Power: 89bhp @7,400rpm
Torque: 110 Nm @ 3950rpm
Fuel economy: 58mpg
Tank size: 16-litres
Seat height: 870mm
Dry weight: 207kg