Giving Ducati's newest machine the legs it deserves
Panache, built to a price
Ducati has hit a home run with the Scrambler. It's a lightweight, comfortable, inexpensive and fun machine that will tackle just about anything you'd want a motorcycle to do, from trackday ripping to unpaved back road exploring. On top of all that, it's really pretty! As awesome as this little brawler is though, it was built to a tight budget. For Ducati to price it under 10K, concessions had to be made. The merely adequate suspension on this machine is its least attractive feature, which leaves room for some serious upgrades.
The right man for the job
Suspension tuner Ken Hall has been working to make bikes handle better since the early 1990's. He's been the owner/operator of Superbike Suspension for nearly two decades. When he's not at the shop taking care of his Midwest racing and trackday clientele, you can find Ken working for Ohlins at MotoAmerica events across the country, building and tuning suspension for America's fastest professional racers. A longtime Ducatisti, Hall fell in love with the Scrambler concept as soon as it was announced. Well before they were available, he placed his deposit with Motoworks Chicago, an iconic downtown dealership. Ken told us, "I wanted a Scrambler from the moment that I saw the first prerelease photos but after one look at the spec sheet, I knew it would take a lot of effort to make it handle properly."
The 'stock' situation
As it comes from the factory, the Scrambler has a fork which offers no provisions for adjusting spring preload, compression damping or rebound damping. Shouldn't we have said "forks?" Nope, because while you'll find a simple, low performance cartridge in the right fork leg, the one on the left is a dummy unit that contributes nothing to suspension control. The situation is nearly as dismal out back, where the OEM shock offers only a preload adjuster. To compound the problem, that decidedly average shock is wrapped with a progressive spring which varies in rate from 450lb to 900lb. Ken told us, "This spring starts out being not enough, so the rider over-compresses the rear suspension just by climbing aboard. Now the bike is sitting low in the rear and doesn't want to turn, because it's raked like a chopper. Then you start hitting bumps and that progressive spring rate gets way too hard, way too fast. In a bumpy corner exit, the rear suspension simply can't absorb larger pavement irregularities, to the detriment of tire traction. When ridden aggressively down a curvy back road or at the racetrack, the bike resists initial turn-in and then wants to highside on the way out. With no damping adjusters on the forks or shock, you can't even try to mitigate any of this with tuning." Hall further points out, "The Scrambler, as delivered, comes with a less high-tech suspension system than a Suzuki SV650. This is something that most owners will want to address immediately."
The OEM forks and shock of the Scrambler were newly created for this model, so there is no chance of "parts bin engineering" a solution by pirating stock or aftermarket components from previous Ducati models. Scrambler-specific components would have to be created. Drawing on relationships he's developed over twenty years in the suspension business, Hall approached GP Suspension regarding the forks and JRI Shocks for some help out back.
Up front, Ken was looking for full adjustability, along with compression and rebound damping which would provide control over the Scrambler's entire range of travel. Hall laid out a design for dual 25mm cartridges, one for each side, to fit inside the Scrambler's
OEM fork legs. The valves chosen for this application were specified very carefully, as Scramblers feature suspension travel suitable for road use, yet adventurous riders will want to take it off-pavement as well. You want to be able to effectively use the entire range of motion in off-road situations, while for sportbike duty, the bottom two-thirds of the stroke becomes critical. Once GP Suspension had created the prototype cartridges to Ken's design, he fitted them to his new Ducati and expended many hours of testing and experimentation to get the valve tuning just right.
Out back, things were even more difficult. There was no point in trying to work with the OEM shock. Ken's goals for the new unit were to provide full
adjustability, increased fade resistance, and to supply damping knobs which the rider could access while still in the saddle. To accomplish this, Hall decided that the shock would need to be flipped upside down from the way Ducati had installed it and also
that the unit would need to be equipped with a remote reservoir which attached to the motorcycle's frame. The configuration of this planned new shock was like nothing else in the JRI inventory, which meant that there was no existing model for the Scrambler unit to be based on. In order to make Ken's design a reality, the entire assembly had to be created from scratch.
A motorcycle of many personalities
The Scrambler is a unique motorcycle, in that its intended mission includes so many different disciplines. A sportbike requires taught, precisely controlled suspension to keep its tires on the ground during high speed cornering, while a general purpose road bike must be comfortable enough to let you enjoy a day in the saddle without beating you to death. Off-pavement, you have to expect fork-flattening bumps and deep holes, with perhaps even a bit of light airborne duty should the rider be so bold. In this environment, the suspension needs to be very compliant across its entire travel, while maintaining sufficient damping to keep the machine from turning into a pogo stick.
Making it work in the real world
Getting one set of suspension to do all of the above to perfection is, in truth, impossible.
At its core, the Scrambler is a street motorcycle and that's where Hall's SB Suspension Scrambler Package works best. With similar suspension travel at his disposal to would be found on most road bikes, Ken was able to create damping curves which absorb pavement imperfections far better than as delivered, resulting in a motorcycle comfortable enough for long distance touring. The readily accessible damping controls on the JRI-manufactured shock allow the rider to pause at the entrance of an unpaved stretch and firm things up without even having to get off the motorcycle. When the off-pavement fun ends, simply twisting the knobs back to the rider's preferred road setting makes the trip home an enjoyable one.
Some of us favor one style of riding above all others. Hall's modified suspension allows each of us to choose a setup that matches the Scrambler to our personal tastes. Are you a road rider who likes to play in the loose stuff occasionally? Go with compliant springs and choose dual-purpose tires which are biased toward pavement. A canyon carver who wants something comfy for the trip to and from the twisties? Firmer springs and a set of sticky, dual-compound street tires will be just the thing. Are those grey, unnamed squiggles on the map what get your heart racing? Opt for firmer springs and less damping, then choose road-legal tires that are aimed more toward the off-road end of the spectrum. The beauty of this aftermarket suspension is that however you decide to spec it out, it will allow your machine to work very well for what you like most and still be pretty darn good at everything else. In truth, isn't that why you wanted a Scrambler in the first place?
As you'd expect, the SB Suspension Scrambler Package isn't cheap. The SB Shock by JRI costs $995. The SB/GP Suspension Fork Cartridge Kit comes in at $1200. If you're not already a card carrying member of the big money suspension club, these prices might cause you a bit of sticker shock but in truth, they are actually quite competitive for components of this quality. The price is especially impressive when you realize that there are no other options available for modifying a Scrambler's suspension to this level of performance. Often, exclusive products will command an exorbitant price, but in this case, SB Suspension, JRI Shocks and GP Suspension have decided to keep the cost in line with what you'd spend to similarly equip any other bike.
For more info about this machine and its modifications, visit the SB Suspension website: http://www.sbsuspension.com/home/
751 Frontenac Rd #103, Naperville, 60563 United States