Last Updated on 08/04/2021
Classic Scramblers are increasing in popularity. They’re easy to restore and fix up and most importantly, they are still cheap. As an entry into vintage motorcycle ownership you would be hard pushed to beat any of the classic Scramblers listed here for you.
No-one can pinpoint exactly when the original scrambler came to be, or even when the name first came into use. An urban myth states that a British commentator described one particular race as “quite a scramble” and the name stuck.
Its origins however, can be traced back to 1920’s pre-depression England, when riders would organise off-road races that would not follow any specified track or trail.
They would be given a starting point, a bearing and a finish point, nothing else. How the riders would then negotiate the various terrain and obstacles they came across was entirely down to them and the capabilities of their bikes.
Modified road-going production models were used for these events as no manufacturers had built an off-road motorcycle at the time. Riders who took part in these “scrambles” did all the modifications themselves in a shed or garage at home, stripping the bikes down to remove any superfluous parts and replacing others to withstand the rough and tumble of riding off-road.
With the increase in popularity of these off road races manufacturers eventually started taking notice, and by the 1960s, many started offering production scrambler models to the public.
These classic scramblers were essentially road models that had been lightly modified for dirt use with a higher-than-standard ground clearance and suspension. Dual purpose tyres, wider handlebars and a higher exhaust mount were also employed.
The new scramblers certainly looked like off-road warriors. Yet as time went on, they would not prove robust enough to endure off-roading the same way that ‘shed-built’ bikes had. Nevertheless, this was the first step into the world of off-road production bikes for the motorcycle industry.
Greeves 20S Scrambles 197cc
Greeves Motorcycles, a British motorcycle manufacturer, was founded by Bert Greeves in 1953. Their main base of production was a purpose-built factory at Thundersley in Essex.
The company was initially created to diversify the offering of its parent company, Invacar, which produced invalid cars for the many post-war casualties.
The first Greeves motorcycle produced was the road going 20D De-Luxe 197cc Road that utilised the Villiers 8E engine. The innovative tubular frame had a cast-alloy beam and the suspension had rubber bushes with in-built dampers making the Greeves 20D 197cc unique in the market at the time.
These were successfully trialled both on the road and in the popular “scramble” competitions resulting in three new models appearing later on that year; the 20R Standard 197cc, 20T Trials 197cc and the 20S Scrambles 197cc. Many more would follow and today these classic Scramblers are very popular in the classic trials events.
With growing success in the European Motocross Championship, Manx Grand Prix, European Trials Championship, Scottish Six Days Trial, ISDT and more, Greeves decided to drop all road models in 1966 and focus solely on producing Trial and Scrambler machines.
At the height of production the majority of units were sold abroad, with most heading across the Atlantic to America.
In 1972, with the Japanese and other European brands producing more popular, superior machines, demand for Greeves bikes began to rapidly decline, putting the company in a difficult financial position.
This, coupled with a fire in 1977, pushed Bert Greeves to retire and close the company down. The final Greeves model to be produced from the Thundersley factory was the QUB Scrambler 380cc Greeves Type M65.
In May 1999, Richard Deal bought the rights to the Greeves name, reviving the business within Essex, not far from the original factory. The new Greeves Motorcycles now develop bikes with a classic look using modern techniques and materials.
Triumph TR6 Trophy
The original Desert Sled, the TR6 Trophy is probably one of the most commonly known motorcycles to ever be produced by Triumph. During the 1950s and 60s the American motorcycle market was crying out for larger-capacity bikes.
Being Triumph’s largest export market the company had to respond to the demand or risk falling behind the local motorcycle brand of Harley Davidson. Their response to this demand was the TR6 Trophy.
Introduced in 1956 as the TR6 Trophy-bird, a nod to the Thunderbird 650cc model, the TR6 Trophy was the successor to both the TR5 Trophy and T110 Tiger.
The bike used a modified engine from the T110 and pulled several features from the TR5 Trophy including a quick-detachable headlight. This proved to be extremely useful to those who would ride to competitions, race and then ride back home again.
Purposely built for the Californian desert racing scene, it won multiple competitions during its reign and was a firm favourite for actor Steve McQueen. In 1964, the American International Six Day Trial (ISDT) team travelled to East Germany to compete on the brand new TR6SC and T100SC models.
The team consisted of brothers Bud and Dave Ekins, Cliff Coleman and of course, Steve McQueen. Dave Ekins achieved fifth place in the 500cc class while Cliff Coleman pushed to third place in the up-to-750cc class.
Both Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen crashed out on the third day. This unofficial endorsement boosted both the popularity and sales of the TR6 Trophy, keeping Triumph firmly in the American market for years to follow.
The TR6 Trophy went through several variations of road and scrambler models after its launch in 1956. The name was changed from the original “Trophy-bird” to “Trophy” in 1961 and remained this way until it was discontinued in 1973 when it was replaced by the Triumph TR7V Tiger.
An example of one of these classic Scramblers for sale can be seen HERE. £9,995 with 3,295 miles.
Ducati Scrambler Classic
The original Ducati Scrambler classic was the brainchild not of Ducati themselves, but of Joseph Berliner of Berliner Motor Corporation, New York, a Ducati importer and distributor.
Sensing a gap in Ducati’s offering and having taken note of what the British manufacturers had been producing, Berliner pushed Ducati to create the Scrambler for the American market. Ducati obliged and the Scrambler was an instant hit.
The single cylinder, 2-valve engine produced enough power to keep experienced riders happy whilst still being manageable for newer riders. Ducati appeared to have hit the perfect balance.
With its launch in 1962, the Scrambler was first made available with either a 250cc or 350cc engine. Following a redesign in 1970, Ducati then offered the Scrambler with a wider range of engine sizes: 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 450cc.
Although the Scrambler was designed for the American market, Ducati also brought it to Europe where it was also greeted with enthusiasm.
In 1975 the 250cc and 350cc models were discontinued with the 450cc following shortly after in 1976.
The rebirth of the Ducati Scrambler in 2015 has invigorated the modern scrambler market akin to how its predecessor did back in 1962.
Example of a good second hand model for sale HERE. £4,747 with 7,500 km.
BSA B44 Victor Enduro 441cc
Following victories in the 1964 and 1965 500cc Motocross World Championships, BSA launched the off-road B44 Victor copy at the 1965 Earls Court show. This went into production in 1966 as the B44 Victor GP with only 500 being produced.
The B44 series used a 441cc version of the B40 single cylinder engine with the first models using a “round-barrel” cylinder head design.
This was changed in later models to a “square-barrel” design. The “round-barrel” models are now considered an extremely rare collectors item.
In 1966, the B44 Victor Enduro was produced using the same alloy tank as on the B44GP, but with a separate central oil tank instead of the earlier oil-in-frame. It also featured a large triangular air filter box on the left-hand side. The machines exported to America were named the Victor Special.
For the 1967 season, the name Enduro was dropped and, in both the UK and America, the new off-road version was named the B44 Victor Special. A road going version was also introduced in 1967. This was originally named the Victor Roadster (B44VR) in the UK and Shooting Star (B44SS) in America but later changed to the latter for both.
Both the B44VS and B44SS continued in production until the 1971 season when they were replaced by the B50 OIF models.
Example of the only second hand model I could find for sale HERE. £4,500 with 4,680 miles.
Yamaha DS6-C 250cc Street Scrambler
Released in 1969, the DS6-C was the scrambler variant of the road going DS6. Two-stroke engines were favoured for sporty bikes in the 1960s as they were reasonably powerful while being relatively inexpensive to produce. The DS6-C was also 9kg/20lbs lighter than its predecessor, the DS5, weighing just 136kg/304lbs.
The 246cc engine on both models was also directly associated with the Yamaha 250cc racing bike, the TD1, which had achieved good success over the past few years. Yamaha was extremely focused on racing at the time and was constantly looking to improve the TD1 to keep its riders winning.
Due to the correlation between the TD1 engine and that of the DS6, when the engineers improved the racer, they would go on to adapt these improvements for the street bike as well.
Interest grew in the DS6 and DS6-C when Yamaha advertised they would have 30.5bhp, an impressive figure for a 250cc machine in comparison to the 28.5bhp 305cc of its rival, the Honda CL77 .
With high exhausts running along both sides of the bike, the styling of the scrambler leant itself to being an off-road capable machine. The chassis design however, was much more favorable to the tarmac rather than the dirt, meaning its looks were more fashionable than functional.
This did not diminish the interest from the market at the time, ousting the fact that riders of the DS6-C were more conscious about appearing that they could tackle the rutted trials of the wilds rather than actually doing it.
The DS6 and DS6-C were replaced with the DS7 in 1972, itself only in production for a single year before the RD250 superseded it.
Finding any second hand model of the DS6 is extremely rare these days. The only model I could find online is HERE. £2,500 with 27,000 miles and in need of restoration. The perfect lockdown project?
Honda CL350 Scrambler
Honda’s first production scrambler, the 250cc CL72 was introduced in 1962 and was first seen in America when off-road racers Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson Jr. rode a pair 963 miles in 40 hours in a nonstop race against the clock from Tijuana to La Paz. Shortly after they began arriving into dealerships and sold well.
Shortly following the CL72, came the CL77 in 1965. This evolution of the popular CL72 came with only a few changes, notably a detuned version of the 305cc twin-cylinder engine from Honda’s CB77 Super Hawk road bike.
The American market did not warm to the new CL77 as they had to its predecessor, claiming it was too slow and heavy. As a result the Honda quickly ceased production in 1967.
With sales declining Honda had to think fast, with most of their engineering and financial assets being utilised in the development of the CB750, they had minimal resources to apply to the problem. However they redoubled their efforts and in 1969, two entirely new models launched; the CB350 Super Sport and CL350 Scrambler.
Despite their model designation they were not 350cc, but 324cc. The CB350 boasted 36bhp over the 32bhp of the CL350 due to different exhaust systems. The other differences between the two were a higher rear fender, a braced handlebar and a high mounted exhaust; changes that were more about off-road styling rather than functionality.
This was immediately noticed by the media and general public and the CL350 was dubbed a “street-scrambler” like the recently released Yamaha DS6-C.
As with the Yamahas, the scrambler variented CL350 would perform no better in the dirt than its road-orientated counterpart, the CB350. Yet both would go on to become incredibly successful over the 6 years of production selling over 600,000 between them.
Example of a good second hand model for sale HERE. £4,999 with 5,825 miles.
The XT500 was first exhibited in Japan and America during 1975 and later made its debut in Europe the following year. Moving the growing scrambler market into a more off-road focused direction, the XT500 immediately gained multiple followers on its release for those seeking adventure.
Shortly after its release Yamaha introduced the TT500, a competition version of the XT. Not to be outdone by it’s newer, specialised sibling, the XT500 went on to claim several victories and the overall titles of the 1977 and 1978 500cc Motocross World Championship.
It also took part in the inaugural Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979, taking both first and second place.
The XT500 would pave the way for later models such as the XT125, XT550, globally renowned XT660Z Tenere and the latest offering from Yamaha the XTZ690 Tenere 700.
The XT500 would eventually bow out of production in 1989.
Example of a good second hand model for sale HERE. £10,789 with 48 miles (rebuild)..
The XL500 was a single cylinder, four-stroke enduro motorcycle produced by Honda in response to Yamaha’s XT500. Launched three years later than the Yamaha, the XL500 came with 31bhp and weighed in at 131kg, almost matching the specifications of the XT500.
With the popularity of the Yamaha, the Honda XL500 rapidly made up for lost time and became a bestseller in America and Continental Europe. Even the proud British motorcyclists took a liking to Honda’s latest offering with Cycle World calling the XL500 “the closest-yet to the perfect on-off road machine.” Yet, despite this popularity it remained overshadowed by the Yamaha XT500.
Further development from Honda refined the XL500 with it adopting the more efficient disc brake system from Honda’s latest flagship model, the CB750. Its production life was a short one, just 5 years, before giving way to the new XL600 in 1984.
Example of a good second hand model for sale HERE. £5,495 with 26,255 miles.
Having a chance to delve into the history of the very first scramblers for this article has been immensely enjoyable and a blessing. Discovering the evolution, not just of the scramblers but of the dual-sport, enduro and adventure bikes only enhanced the experience, making this piece of writing feel more like a foray into my hobbies.
Many of the early pioneering scramblers were the predecessors and inspiration for today’s most loved adventure bikes, one example of this is how the Yamaha XT500 became the genesis for the current XTZ Tenere Range.
Coincidentally, the off-road world is where I am most happy when riding and as a result of writing this list I now have several more favourites to add my motorcycle “millionaire” list.
However, if I had only one to choose I would favour the Triumph TR6 Trophy. It became the “cool” bike to be seen on after being a firm favourite of Steve McQueen, it held its own while racing internationally and preceded all of the other European and Japanese models.
The TR6 is hugely appealing to me partly because of its rich history. It was an evolved version of the hugely popular TR5 Trophy, which has its own legacy, having evolved from the T100 Tiger. The T100 was the bike that took Ted Simon around the world back in 1973 and became the spark for what would explode in the motorcycle world decades later, Adventure Motorcycling.