2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE vs XC Test In Portugal
Portugal, despite its size, is one of the most diverse countries that I’ve been fortunate enough to explore. Rife with bustling cities, expansive farmlands, and plains, it can all quickly change, depending on where your dart lands on the map.
The Algarve region exemplifies that point, with its epic cliff-laden beaches, rolling green hills, and beautifully deserted landscape; it is an area that holds a slow, rhythmic meter on its drum in the winter months.
During the summer, Faro—the largest city in the Algarve region—becomes one of the most popular destinations for tourists. Its balmy weather and quaint lifestyle mates well with the prospect of sandals and an escape from the toils of work.
Yet, that is not why I was riding a coach from Lisbon, nor was it the pasteis de nata that would unquestionably be consumed from the moment my passport was stamped by Portuguese customs officials. No, I was there to spend two days riding the 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE and XC in and around the cobblestone roads of Faro.
The scrambler segment took the US and certain world motorcycle markets by storm in the 1960s, as it gave motorcyclists the opportunity to ride in uncharted territory without owning more than one machine. Scramblers were popularized by chiseled-jaw Hollywood heartthrobs of the era, who took to Southern California deserts aboard their Triumph Bonneville T120-TTs and Trophy TR6s.
In recent years, scramblers have seen a mighty resurgence with nearly every European and Japanese manufacturer trying a hand at it. Some have done better than others and, while these machines have all been competent, if not downright great standard bikes, they are scramblers in name only. Save for the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled, factory scramblers’ off-road prowess has been lacking.
It seems fitting, then, that one of the pioneers of the scrambler movement has swooped in like a Union Jack sporting superhero to remedy this dastardly shortcoming in two ways. The new 2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE is the top-spec, no-holds-barred offering in the lineup, equipped with refined electronics, long-travel suspension, additional ground clearance, wider handlebars, and a few other nifty bits to make it fit for duty in the dirt and on the street.
The XC edition takes a different approach, with geometry and suspension specifications that favor the asphalt, while still being up for more than what I’d consider being a playful romp in the mud. When it comes to extreme off-road duties, the XC acquiesces to the XE, while gaining clear advantages on the tarmac.
The Triumph Scrambler 1200 line partially earns its namesake from the peach of a motor sitting within its tubular steel cradle frame—the 1200cc High Power eight-valve, liquid-cooled, parallel-twin engine. Triumph has been getting some serious mileage out of this p-twin platform since it was launched with the full-revision of the Bonneville T120 and Thruxton lines in 2016. Variations now power the Bobber, Speedmaster, and Speed Twin models, as well.
Using the Thruxton R as a jumping off point, Triumph engineers made some key internal changes to the Thruxton R’s engine. First, engineers installed a lightweight crankshaft, lightweight alternator, mass-optimized counter balancer-shafts, and revised clutch assembly all in the name making the engine rev more freely, reducing weight, and teasing a hair more power out of this spitfire of a powerplant.
The secret sauce cooked up by the boys at Triumph’s Hinckley facility has two main ingredients—a unique Scrambler Tune and a new high-pipe exhaust system. The result is a 1200 flaunting a claimed 91 horsepower at 7400 rpm and 81 ft/lbs of torque at 3950 rpm. That’s around 12.5 percent more horsepower, and four percent more torque, than the Bonneville T120.
Poorly rested and jet-lagged, I settled into a two-hour bus ride up nausea-inducing canyon roads to a place that would make any motorcyclist giddy—the Wim Motors Academy in Boavista dos Pinheiros.
Wim Motors Academy is an off-road and rally-racing training facility for amateur riders and professionals alike, filled to the brim with flat tracks, trails, MX courses, and more. It was here that the initial tests would begin, but I quickly moved to the back roads to confirm my initial positive suspicions.
I’m quite familiar with the p-twin that Triumph has employed in the XE and XC, but the changes haven’t gone unnoticed. Whatever the techies at Triumph have done to this motor, it’s an improvement. The throttle response and sound of the 270-degree crank boom-box have taken it a few steps ahead of its predecessors.
The slick six-speed gearbox remains, along with the torque assist clutch, which only requires a light pull of the lever, as does the slipper clutch to reduce wheel-hop on downshifts.
The 1200cc motor spins up with soul and excitement. However, if you wish to sit back and soak in the tree line, it’s keen to oblige. In tighter areas, it will reward your laziness and smoothly lug up from the mid-2000 rpm range. If you give the grip a good twist, it’ll grab you by the short hairs until you’re beating against the 7500 rpm redline, all without a single misstep.
There are no bad vibrations here; the counterbalancers keep it ticking away drama-free. On the road or off, this motor shines. Tractability is its greatest strength; roll the throttle on, and you are rewarded with progressive, controllable power.
Equipped with ride-by-wire throttles to accommodate the latest in modern electronic wizardry, the XE and XC come standard with a full suite of rider aids— selectable ride modes, cruise control, as well as adjustable ABS and traction control, but with a price difference of $1400, the XC makes some concessions.
The XE boasts IMU-supported electronics, giving it cornering ABS and lean-angle-detecting traction control, whereas the XC relies on wheel-speed sensors. All nannies can be turned off, save for front ABS on the XC.
Both models feature four presets and one custom riding mode: Rain, Road, Sport, Off-Road, and the customizable Rider mode. The XE gets an additional mode of Off-Road Pro that disables all electronic aids—hence the ‘Pro’ designation.
Of course, each mode adjusts the throttle map, ABS, and TC level. They don’t radically alter the character of the 1200 engine; it is more accurately described as approaching the same personality from different directions.
Rain subdues the initial throttle response without cutting max power, and increases TC and ABS intervention across the board. On the rain-slicked Portuguese roads, its spot on. Yes, I saw the TC light flashing frantically and expected it to, but it didn’t make the bikes feel doggish.
Road is your standard street map, giving you a crisp throttle response with a happy medium regarding intervention—watchful, prudent, but not opposed to a laugh.
Sport is where things wick up a bit. Give the throttle a nice whack, and you’ll be able to loft the wheel on the streets without an issue. Meanwhile, traction control and ABS are more relaxed, even letting you spin the wheel just a hair on the exit, if ye be so bold.
But what we’re here for is the Off-Road setting. In Off-Road, the throttle map has a near perfect initial application on and off, letting you modulate it incredibly well. Also, an off-road ABS map is used in the front allowing good bite, while preventing one from over braking and tucking. ABS is killed in the rear, letting riders slide to their heart’s content. Coupling this throttle map with the superbly tractable motor curtailed my fears of being sent to the moon, though what truly helped was the off-road TC.
Triumph’s Off-Road TC is genuinely one of the most surprising things I’ve felt on a motorcycle to date. The Off-Road TC gives riders a whole lot of leeway, without ever fully letting go. In the dirt, that translates to a system that allows wheelspin to occur, but should you want more, you can continue twisting the grip, and the Scrambler continue spinning up, without ever fully let go. It’s the perfect setting for learning how the p-twin motor begins to break traction. If anything, it’s the mode you should be in if you’re new to the motorcycle, or new to off-road riding.
Off-Road Pro, which is exclusive to the XE, kills all rider aids. Now, that sounds intimidating given the bike’s weight and power, but with the ease of use bestowed on us from the 1200 motor, I was either turning off TC or using Off-Road Pro in no time. Once you have come to know its limits, it will make you feel like a motorcycling virtuoso, sending roosts into the air to an adoring crowd. I mean, that’s how non-motorcyclists see us, right?
Triumph made it quite clear with the spec-sheet that the XE and XC, while being remarkably similar to one another in appearance, have two well-defined roads that they’ll follow, and its best represented in their different geometries.
Both models share a bespoke steel-cradle frame with aluminum lower tubes, an engine, and countless other parts. However, the XE features a longer swingarm and increased rake for improved stability off-road. Triumph representatives promised “crossover” a levels of ability—a dubious claim for a retro scrambler, but one that I’ll now fully back.
Its ADV-comparable wheelbase of nearly 62 inches and relaxed rake just shy of 27-degrees, give the XE a long stance in the dirt. It also has a tall seat height of over 34 inches giving you a tall perch to inspect your lands from.
That’s all beneficial when you’re attacking the trail at speed, as the XE is virtually unflappable on the fire roads, staying steady and settling quickly over harsh sections. Better yet, the feedback is entirely transparent, allowing riders to keep the power on and continue stepping the wheel out.
On the road, those numbers translate to a machine that is slightly more poised in the corners. The XE isn’t slow handling by any stretch of the imagination, and its stability on the edge of the tire is to be commended as well. Not only that, it is less likely to grind footpegs with the increased cornering clearance.
The long-travel suspension is the most definitive characteristic of the XE, with its fully-adjustable 47mm Showa fork and twin Öhlins shocks, both featuring almost 10 inches of travel.
Initially, it almost seems stiff—not nearing that of a sport bike, though certainly nowhere close to as soft as other long-travel bikes on the market. Once you have hit the trail and begin making the stanchions run through the stroke, you are met with a plush and supremely controlled feel. In a word, the suspension is composed.
Tearing around the rocky mountain trails outside Ohols D’Agua, the XE dealt with high-speed and low-speed bumps perfectly, taking whatever the rain-rutted path had to offer while keeping the chassis balanced.
The only whimper I felt out of XE’s suspenders was on the MX track, where my MX skills were on full display. That is to say, I jumped over a tabletop, chopped the throttle, nosedived, and bottomed the fork out. The rear shocks didn’t flinch.
Triumph only quotes the dry weight of the XE at 456 pounds, and that’s unhelpful as ‘dry’ remains undefined. We can assume the Scrambler 1200 XE, with fluids and fuel, will tip the scales at somewhere near 500 pounds, if not more. Sailing 500 pounds is a big ask for any machine. So, anything short of lousy jumping and you should be alright.
The road is another high point for the XE, as it maintains its composure exceptionally well. That’s not something that we can say about many older dual-sport machines once they’ve hit street speeds. Those typically go through a disturbing metamorphosis from a competent dirt bike to Galloping Gertie’s two-wheeled cousin. The taut suspension and chassis translate a lot of the road into the rider, but it never becomes too much or rattling.
The XC shares many ride qualities with the XE, and that’s by design. Engineers wanted the two bikes to feel like one another. For example, they share spring rates, while the damping rates have been updated.
To give it a leg up in the civilized world, the XC sees a shorter swingarm and tighter rake, creating a wheelbase a fraction over 60 inches, over an inch shorter than the XE, and a rake coming in a hair less than 26 degrees, just over one-degree steeper.
Thanks to those numbers, the XC feels sprightlier on the road, apt to fly into the corners and drive out with stability on the exits. We didn’t say no to the trails, not in the least, and it’s no slouch in that regard. I wouldn’t say that I missed the XE’s prowess when in the dirt, but it was noticed.
The suspension changes point to a street orientation, as well. Up front, a fully adjustable 43mm Showa fork and the same twin Öhlins shocks feature nearly eight inches of travel, roughly two inches less than the XE.
What becomes apparent immediately is how much lower you are to the ground when in the 33-inch saddle, and it pays off in a few ways. Your boots hit the deck easier, and with a lower center of gravity, it can be a bit easier to control when the trail becomes technical, or you goosed the throttle and are trying to recover a slide.
Back in society, once the mud is kicked off the tires, the XC takes to the canyons quickly. Again, the suspension feels smooth, controlled, and well-balanced in on- and off-road settings.
Dual Brembo M50 calipers work in conjunction with dual 320mm rotors in the front, while a single dual-piston Brembo caliper clamps onto a 255mm rotor in the rear. Feel at the lever and stopping power is stellar, as you might expect from kit like the M50 calipers.
Each Triumph Scrambler 1200 has fully-adjustable levers, but the XE takes it another step with the Brembo MCS master cylinder which provides span and ratio adjustment, giving owners the ability to alter brake feel based on their preferences.
I was impressed with how the 21-inch and 17-inch wheels held up under my abuses. The Wim Motors Academy, with its groomed landscape, was kind to the aluminum wheels, but the farmlands were not. Many a rock was hit, and bump-jump hopped off of, leaving me quite happy with the wheelset.
Owners will have a choice to make when purchasing their Scrambler 1200. On-road focused, the Metzeler Tourance tires offer a commendable amount of dry and wet grip while being able to tackle a fire road or two. For those willing to get their Scrambler dirty, or just like the rugged look of big knobby tires, Triumph offers the option of Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires. In either case, the tire sizes remain the same with 90/90 fronts and 150/70 rears.
Ergonomics always have been favorable on Bonnevilles. As the Scramblers share lineage, much of that has been carried over. A neutral, upright riding position is found on either machine. I didn’t experience any excessive knee-bend with my 32-inch inseam.
The XE has a slightly wider handlebar which offers more leverage, and the handlebar position can be adjusted to suit your preferences – on either model. I found the stock bar position to be a perfect reach to the bars for someone of my 5’ 10’’ height.
While the high exhaust looks cool and is functional, I do have some quibbles. The high-pipe exhaust feels bulky when standing on the footpegs, making you bow your legs a bit. The heat that the exhaust system throws off at stops or low speeds will roast you.
Now, when it was raining, and the temperature sank during my mountain ride the next day, I was glad to have the heat source. In the Southern Californian summer, I won’t be giving it any praise.
Twin clocks may have fit the part better aesthetically, but the 2nd generation TFT display is more suited from a functional standpoint. Easy to read and navigate with the help of the all-new joystick-style controls on the left, you won’t require any instruction to start getting around the menu. There are two main themes to choose from, with three styles of each. Plus, the display has low and high contrast modes.
Should buyers want to spring for the accessory Bluetooth module, owners will be able to pair and operate their GoPro cameras from the bike’s controls. Also, you’ll also be able to use Google Maps and get turn-by-turn directions displayed on the dash. If you’re worried about eating up too much smartphone battery charge with navigation, you can pop your phone in the foam-lined box under the seat and make use of the powered USB port.
Triumph has led the way regarding fit-and-finish, not to mention style, with its Modern Classic line. There are several features, such as the sump guard or standard handguards on the XE are tasteful and useful, while the rest serve a more aesthetic purpose. Sure, it won’t help me go faster, but I certainly think the tank strap and other brass bits look the business. Yes, I’ll take the Triumph shirt, too, thank you. I do think the optional engine guards should be standard on the XE to support its off-road chops.
There is no doubting that the Scrambler 1200 XE and XC have accomplished their mission within their segment; they are easily at the top of the high-displacement scrambler class.
The XE, however, begins to peek into the ADV segment, as well. While other Adventure models may be confused as to what this essentially retro naked ADV is doing wandering into their well-dominated realm, the XE is certainly willing to be stacked against them.
There are obvious drawbacks that this machine has against a real ADV bike. For example, it lacks wind protection, cargo capacity, and the XE 4.2-gallon fuel tank that doesn’t offer the same kind of range as proper adventure motorcycles.
The XE’s wind protection issue can be marginally remedied with an optional windscreen, and there are several luggage options, though nothing quite on par the hard-cases found on most ADV bikes. I like the narrow chassis and looks of the Scrambler 1200 over any adventure bike on the market, so I’d be fine with packing light and taking it on the chin. Suffice to say, it is a scrambler with the off-road attributes of some adventure motorcycles.
My two-day trip through Algarve gave me a taste of what kind of diversity Portugal offers. It also highlighted something else—the Modern Classic line from Triumph is a whole lot more than the motorcycling world may have assumed it to be.
The new 2019 Triumph Scrambler XE and XC are more than capable off-road and have put the other manufacturers on notice—hitting the marks visually won’t cut it anymore; if you’re going to build a scrambler, it better scramble.
Photography by Kingdom Creative
- Helmet: Shoei VFX-Evo
- Goggles: Scott Split OTG LS
- Jacket: Spidi Metropole
- Gloves: Spidi Bora
- Jeans: Spidi J&Dyneema
- Boots: TCX X-Blend WP (street)
- Boots: Forma Adventure (off-road)
2019 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC and Scrambler XE Specs
|Type||Parallel twin w/ 270° crank|
|Bore x stroke||97.6 x 80.0mm|
|Maximum power||89 horsepower @ 7400 rpm|
|Maximum torque||81 ft/lbs @ 3950 rpm|
|Valve train||SOHC; 8 valves|
|Exhaust||Brushed 2-into-2 exhaust system w/ brushed silencers|
|Clutch||Wet, multi-plate assist clutch|
|Final drive||X-ring chain|
|Frame||Tubular steel w/ aluminum swingarm|
|Front suspension; travel||Fully adjustable Showa 45mm inverted fork; 7.9 inches||Fully adjustable Showa 47mm inverted fork; 9.8 inches (XE)|
|Rear suspension; travel||Fully adjustable Öhlins piggy-back reservoir shocks; 7.9 inches||Fully adjustable Öhlins piggyback reservoir shocks; 9.8 inches (XE)|
|Front wheel||21 x 2.15; tubeless 36-spoke aluminum rim|
|Rear wheel||17 x 4.25; tubeless 32-spoke aluminum rim|
|Front tire||90/90 x 21|
|Rear tire||150/70 x 17|
|Front brakes||320mm discs w/ Brembo M50 monoblock calipers and radial master cylinder; Switchable ABS.||320mm discs w/ Brembo M50 monoblock calipers and radial master cylinder; Switchable Cornering ABS (XE)|
|Rear brake||Single 255mm disc, Brembo 2-piston floating caliper. Switchable ABS.||Single 255mm disc, Brembo 2-piston floating caliper. Switchable Cornering ABS. (XE)|
|DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES|
|Wheelbase||60.2 inches||61.8 inches (XE)|
|Trail||4.8 inches||5.1 inches (XE)|
|Seat height||33.1 inches||34.3 inches (XE)|
|Fuel capacity||4.2 gallons|
|Estimated fuel consumption||58 mpg|
|Colors||Jet Black and Matt Black; Khaki Green and Brooklands Green
|Fusion White & Brooklands Green; Cobalt Blue & Jet Black (XE)|
|Prices||From $14,000 MSRP||From $15,400 MSRP (XE)|