Triumph Scrambler 900 Adventure Ride: The Last Chocolate Malt

Antelope Valley.

A longtime friend who follows my various test rides via Relive videos I send her asked me an unexpected question: “Do you plan these rides out in advance?”

In most cases, I plan my ride in my head before I leave the driveway. I know what bike I’m on and how I want to test it, so I go where I can best accomplish that goal. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Southern California roads, paved and unpaved, making it easy to concoct a ride of a couple of hundred miles in my head and then execute it without GPS or a map. That’s not to say I don’t deviate once I get out, but I pretty much know where I’m going and go there.

Triumph Scrambler 900 dash.

In the case of my ride on the newly named Triumph Scrambler 900, I left my house without any idea of where I was going to go—not sure why the deviation from the norm.

Heading north from my San Fernando Valley home, I hopped on Sierra Highway. It’s a road I love, as it has a long history and a variety of terrain. Originally El Camino Sierra, it has been a highway for over 110 years, and a trail dating back to the 19th century. It was part of U.S. Route 6, an epic road between Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Long Beach, California. These days, U.S. Route 6 terminates inauspiciously in Bishop, California.

Sierra Highway has been truncated by California State Route 14. Sierra Highway’s northern terminus is now in Mojave, with its southern starting point in the Newhall Pass, under the iconic interchange of the Golden State and Antelope Valley Freeways, just inside the Los Angeles city limits.

Heading north from Sierra Highway’s start at The Old Road, which is old U.S. Route 99, I’m greeted with some high-speed sweepers on the wide highway. That leads to a slog through Santa Clarita, which the Triumph Scrambler 900 manages to make enjoyable despite the traffic and faceless suburban sprawl. Mercifully, after a few miles, the four-lane suburban Sierra Highway reverts to a rural two-lane road.

At this point, I decide I will do one of my favorite rides—Sierra Highway from end to end. However, I have no idea where I’m headed after Mojave. I loathe to retrace my steps, so I’ll have to come up with something else. The weather is warm and wonderful, allowing me to enjoy the ride and continue after dark, if that’s how it turns out.

Sierra Highway guides me past my favorite landmarks—the rustic Halfway House Cafe, The Madonna Tree (a roadside memorial honoring the Virgin Mary), the entrance to Rowher Flat OHV Area, Le Chène (a French restaurant I’ve never eaten at), Agua Dulce’s various wineries, and Grizzly Bear’s Burger (originally a faux In-N-Out).

The 2023 Triumph Scrambler 900 is a wonderful traveling companion. It has plenty of power for the constantly sweeping two-lane highway, with enough left over for passing dawdling four-wheelers. The natural seating position makes me only want to stop riding to refill the relatively small tank.

Once at the entrance to the Antelope Valley, Sierra Highway is subsumed for about a mile by wonderfully named Pearblossom Highway. On a different day, I’d head east on Pearblossom Highway, but today, it’s a left-hand turn back onto Sierra Highway toward the conjoined cities of Palmdale and Lancaster.

Sierra Highway spreads back out to four lanes as it parallels the railroad tracks at Lake Palmdale. Although a major throughway, Sierra Highway avoids much of the traffic in the two cities. There are plenty of stretches with old buildings, so there’s usually something interesting to look at along the nearly ruler-straight road. The purely upright seating position of the Scrambler 900 is perfect for desert town sightseeing.

Triumph Scrambler 900

Once clear of Lancaster, it’s out into largely undeveloped desert terrain for the run to Rosamond, home of Willow Springs International Raceway, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year.

Rosamond is a growing suburban desert community, with many of its working 20,000+ residents supporting the thriving aerospace industry 13 minutes away in Mojave. However, coming into Rosamond from the south on Sierra Highway paints a dismal picture with a ubiquitous Dollar General, rundown lodging and housing, and no shortage of places to legally buy marijuana.

Once across the main drag of Rosamond Boulevard, it doesn’t take long to be out in the open Mojave Desert. Sierra Highway returns to two lanes, and that’s all it needs. Still running alongside the railroad tracks, this is a stretch of highway with seemingly no controlling legal authority.

I can spin the Triumph Scrambler 900’s liquid-cooled vertical twin up to whatever speed suits me. That, of course, is limited by the torque-focused motor and wind-collecting seating position. There is a sweeping lefthander along the way that doesn’t require backing off the throttle, so good time is made.

Silver Queen Road above California Highway 14.

Sierra Highway comes to an ignoble northern end at Silver Queen Road, which, oddly enough, will take you to Golden Queen Mining, with a history dating back a century.

Hopping on California State Route 14, officially known as Aerospace Highway in recognition of Mojave Air & Space Port, takes me into the unincorporated community of Mojave (population <4000).

Trioumph Scrambler 900.
Mojave Air & Space Port.

There’s not much to see on the main drag, unless you like gas stations or chain fast-food restaurants (there are a few exceptions). However, sneak over a block to the east, and you’ll see the nearly abandoned Old Town Mojave and some interesting desert architecture. It feels like an art colony waiting to be developed; there’s some unrealized potential there.

At this point, I have to finally decide what’s next. I can head west to Tehachapi and maybe Lake Isabella. Or, take off to the east towards Barstow.

Then it struck me. I remembered that the Randsburg General Store was soon to be closing. It’s a favorite stop a mile or so off U.S. Highway 395 in the historic mining town of Randsburg. It’s also a Mecca for OHVers of all sorts.

Triumph Scrambler 900
Randsburg General Store.

The Randsburg General Store was a gathering point in town. It was a legitimate general store, souvenir shop, and a small restaurant with a soda fountain that dated back to 1904. In addition to making excellent sodas, you could get one of my favorite treats—a chocolate malt in a fluted glass. Many people like shakes, but a shake can’t hold a candle to a malt.

So, my mind was made up. I would make a 50ish-mile run up to Randsburg for a final chocolate shake before it closed. Being a modern representative of a desert sled, I knew the Triumph Scrambler 900 would be up for it.

I continued on California Highway 14 and turned right on California City Boulevard on my way to Randsburg Mojave Road—my intended route to a waiting chocolate shake.

Riding through California City always reminds me of its strange origins. Incorporated in 1958 and covering 203 square miles, the founding fathers intended it to be home to 400,000 people. Countless miles of roads were graded in the Mojave Desert to the northeast of downtown California City.

Disappointingly, the population of California City ten years later was just 1300 people. The dream never materialized.

California City
Outskirts of California City.

Fast forward to 2023—the unemployment rate is double the national average, and job growth over the next decade is expected to lag far behind the national rate. In a state with a housing shortage, nearly one in five dwellings in California City is unoccupied. Although the population has grown to around 15,000 people, the graded roads crisscrossing miles of desert have never been developed, though they are named.

On the upside, California City is bullish on off-road recreation and turned the undeveloped land into a vast OHV park. Activity centers around Borax Bill Substation, where there are restrooms, showers, and covered staging areas. To give you an idea of how much California City likes OHVs, there is an 11-mile trail between Borax Bill Park and the California City Business District for dirt bikes, SxSs, ATVs, and anything else with two wheels.

Triumph Scrambler 900.
At a California City crossroads.

Randsburg Mojave Road starts innocently enough at California City Boulevard at the east end of town. It’s a divided highway for a mile before narrowing to a two-lane desert road. At a Y, bearing left keeps you on Randsburg Mojave Road, which becomes a dirt road at that point. Bear right, and you’re on 20 Mule Team Parkway as you pass California City Correctional Facility (a state prison) on your way to Borax Bill’s.

As the Triumph Scrambler 900 is inspired by the desert sleds of the 1960s, it made sense to take the dirt road to Randsburg—right?

I was riding solo—yes, I know you’re not supposed to ride off-road alone. But, hey, Randsburg Mojave Road is a road—it’s just not paved. Also, even though Borax Bill Park is in a desolate area, cell service is generally available. Also, groups of recreational vehicles camp within eyeshot, no matter where you’re at, and people are always anxious to help. With that in mind, I headed down the road, ready to take on the nearly straight 20-mile shot northeast to Randsburg.

It didn’t take long for me to question my decision. The sandy sections of the road that I regularly fly through WFO on dirt bikes with low-pressure knobby tires were lying in wait for a goofball on a 492-pound scrambler-style motorcycle with high-pressure street-biased Metzeler Tourance ADV tires.

Triumph Scrambler 900
20 Mule Team Parkway.

Riding through every sandy section was a challenge, and not one that was fun or satisfying. Hitting another patch of sand, I determined that a route change was in order. 20 Mule Team Parkway would guide me to U.S. Route 395, and from there, it was a 10-mile high-speed paved ride to the Randsburg General Store and my much-anticipated chocolate malt.

I turned around to take one of the north/south dirt streets back to 20 Mule Team Parkway. As I approached the next street, I noticed a diagonal shortcut, allowing me to avoid going the extra 50 yards or so to the intersection.

All was well until it wasn’t. Out of nowhere, I was in whoops and deep sand—nothing like the sand-on-hardpack of Randsburg Mojave Road. I was in trouble. The Triumph Scrambler’s rear wheel was spinning, and my speed decreasing. While I was in Off-Road Mode, which turns off traction control and ABS, the traction just wasn’t there.

I jumped off the Scrambler and started pushing, throttle wide open, up and over each whoop, all the while calculating how far the walk would be to the nearest impromptu RV gathering. Somehow, with plenty of throttle, flying sand, and hard pushing (thanks, Built 45), I cleared the whoops and got to harder terra firma. Whew!

Triumph Scrambler 900
Randsburg, California.

However, some people never learn. After heading east for a few miles on 20 Mule Team Parkway, I got the not-so-brilliant idea that I would cut back north to Randsburg Mojave Road. I turned left at Galileo Hill and made my way through what passes for a California City suburb—there’s actually a paved road!

Soon, my hopes were dashed. Recent storms had wreaked havoc, so getting through to Randsburg Mojave Road on the box-stock Triumph Scrambler 900 wasn’t going to happen.

I sheepishly returned to 20 Mule Team Parkway and made my way to the 395. As it turns out, the Parkway has suffered some damage, so it wasn’t a paved cakewalk. There were potholes galore and some sandy sections through dips. It was certainly challenging enough to keep me interested.

The ride up 395 was uneventful, and I found a parking spot in front of Randsburg General Store—not much of a challenge.

Inside the Randsburg General Store.

Inside, the store was as welcoming as it always is. The staff is friendly, the locals affable, and other desert rats of all ages give a knowing nod or thumbs up. It’s just a cool place, and one that seemingly no one wanted to see close.

I cozied up to the counter and ordered a cheeseburger, a bag of Lay’s potato chips, and the prized chocolate malt. As you can tell from the photograph, the cheeseburger and chips are serviceable—they put food in my stomach. As always, though, the chocolate malt was the nectar of the gods and well worth the 100+ miles one-way ride. I savored every drop, knowing it would be my last brush with this greatness—a genuinely bittersweet moment.

Cheeseburger ordered plain, with Lay’s.

It’s worth noting that the people who ran Randsburg General Store have moved down the street to The Vault. Although the historic soda fountain did not go with them, the new location has a history of its own—The Vault was storage for dynamite used by the Yellow Aster Mine over a century ago. The menu is the same, and features a 35-year-old chili recipe—I’ll have to order that next time. Unfortunately, every time I’ve ridden by after the move, it has been at the wrong time, and The Vault is locked up tight.

So, satisfied with the dining experience at the Randsburg General Store, my next order of business was getting home. The typical method is the quickest way home. Many travel stories I read and edit consist of a detailed account of getting to the destination followed by “and then I rode home” to finish it up. I get that, as I’m often guilty of that exact same thing. With that in mind, I formulated a route.

Randsburg General Store chocolate malt
The Last Chocolate Malt.

I hopped on the roller coaster that is Redrock Randsburg Road and headed back to California Highway 14. The undulating road can be hair-raising on a motorcycle or in my truck, and you wonder if the front wheel will become airborne unexpectedly. The Triumph Scrambler 900 handled the road nicely, and the lightly patrolled stretch of pavement encourages testing the 900’s top speed, which is 100ish—plenty for a scrambler.

Triumph Scrambler 900
Redrock Randsburg Road.

One thing Randsburg lacks is a gas station, and I hadn’t gotten fuel since California City. So, just after hopping on the 14, I pulled over to fill up at Jawbone Canyon Store, which is at the entrance of Jawbone Canyon OHV Area. The store has a single 92-octane fuel pump famous for its high price—usually about $2 a gallon over the going rate. Despite that, I always fill up when passing by on a motorcycle, as I want to keep the option open—it’s a long way to the next station. In this case, a $10 bill got me 1.492 gallons of high-test, which topped up the Scrambler’s 3.17-gallon tank.

Jawbone Canyon Store
Jawbone Canyon Store gas pump.

As simple as it would have been to take the 14 home, the perfect weather insisted otherwise. I rarely ride California City Boulevard west of the 14, so that’s exactly what I did. It’s not much more than a shortcut to California Highway 58 west, but any lightly traveled pavement is worth an occasional ride.

California Highway 58 is a long uphill from the Mojave Desert toward Tehachapi, and the Scrambler 900 proved its worthiness at high speeds. While there’s a strong wind blast, the motor keeps up, so the ride isn’t too fatiguing. Still, if you plan on putting lots of highway-speed miles on the 900, a windshield might be in order—they’re available from plenty of companies in a wide range of sizes.

About halfway up the hill, I darted off at Cameron Canyon Road. This rural route is a bit of a secret, and a pure pleasure to ride. It has plenty of elevation changes and corners of varying radii—perfect for sport riding, with little traffic and generally good sight lines. The Scrambler 900 seemed to love it as much as I did.

Tehachapi Pass wind farm
Tehachapi Pass wind farm.

Cameron Canyon Road ends at Tehachapi Willow Springs Road—yes, that Willow Springs. You’re right in the middle of Tehachapi Pass wind farm—a vast forest of turbines harvesting wind energy. The turbines are at once an eyesore and a fascination—depending on your point of view and mood. I like them, and always enjoy a ride through.

The ride down Tehachapi Willow Springs Road into the Antelope Valley is fast and often windy, making it better suited to sport-tourers or big ADV bikes. Still, the Triumph Scrambler 900 holds its own—all I have to do is hold on. The road passes by the Windswept Ranch Petting Zoo. I’ve thought about taking my niece there to meet the reindeer, camels, zebra, emu, and other creatures you don’t expect to see in California. However, I don’t think she would appreciate the drive from the San Fernando Valley as much as I would.

The slog across the Antelope Valley is the least enjoyable part of the ride. It’s about 30 miles of straight and flat across the valley floor. Eventually, I’m rewarded with a turn onto Godde Hill Road (does anyone out there know how to pronounce “Godde”?), which takes me across the California Aqueduct—one of our best excuses for a river. Godde Hill Road is newly paved, so it’s akin to a two-mile racetrack over the hill to Elizabeth Lake Road in the City Ranch neighborhood of Palmdale.

California Aqueduct.
California Aqueduct.

I finish the ride off with a rip-roarin’ downhill attack on twisty and scenic Bouquet Canyon Road. It’s a reminder that the Metzeler Tourance tires are quite good on the pavement, and the single disc on each wheel is up for the job. As I head into the planned suburbia that is Santa Clarita, my mission of a day’s thorough test of the Triumph Scrambler 900 is in my pocket, with more urban and rural testing to follow.


So, do I plan these rides out in advance? Yes, but not this time, and I was generously rewarded for my spontaneity. I’ve got to see if I can do that more often, and I have to check The Vault’s hours and make a plan. Hmmm, a Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition in the Ultimate Motorcycling garage likes that idea.