“Let’s be real here,” Ernie Vigil says as he recalls riding the Scrambler 1200 to the finish at the challenging Mexican race. “It’s basically a stock bike. We barely made any changes and it not only made it to the finish but it beat out a bunch of smaller desert racers.”
“We were racing against purpose-built desert racing bikes. Everyone loves the look of the bike but didn’t see it in any way as being competitive against other purpose built desert racing bikes. It’s quite a bit bigger than the focused racing motorcycles used for this event – hence the doubt.”
It wasn’t long, however, before the Scrambler 1200 started to impress and win over the competition: “By the second day I was dicing with some of the top guys in the category and they’d remark on the speed and handling of the Triumph. Through the soft sand it’s pretty common for larger bikes to wash out, but the suspension is so good on this bike, I could simply open the throttle and power through.”
No matter how capable the motorcycle, the conditions in Mexico are far from easy: “There’s a lot of cliff edges and open road. On the bigger Scrambler it was more about slowing the bike down. The brakes are really out of this world – I could hammer on them and it would always slow me down.”
“I felt at home on the bike”
The Scrambler 1200 XE did well across the harsh and ever-changing landscape and was making incredible time in the big open sections. “People don’t always understand what the terrain is like. When you get down to Mexico, one section will be all sand, the next will be all rocks and the next will be all open road.”
Ernie prepared as best he could but suffered a broken ankle in the lead up to Baja 1000, which pushed the Scrambler’s debut to the equally gruelling Mexican 1000. Some sections were the first time Ernie had ever tackled some of the most challenging conditions.
“I hadn’t ridden the Scrambler in silt or big rocky terrain – but it is a very forgiving ride. By day three I felt at home on the bike. It had a lot of similarities to my smaller dirt bike. Handling wise, it was incredible.
When it comes to the modifications, they were pretty minimal
“My preparation was just long hours in the saddle and lots of cardio. I only got a couple of months of training going into this one. Thankfully, my ankle didn’t bother me and for some reason on the Scrambler I didn’t get as tired as I do on my dirt bike.”
It’s not uncommon for half the field to just not finish this race, so when Ernie says: “It had no real issues” it’s a big statement. He does confess that the wear and tear on him and the bike did take their toll.
“We had one deal when a rock came up and hit the belly pan. It pushed up hard and hit the oil pan.”
When it comes to the modifications, they were pretty minimal: “It had a dedicated engine MAP,” Ernie explains, “the team removed the catalytic convertor and we tailored the seat and lighting set up”
“A horse jumped out…”
Physically and mentally this race is a real challenge, but Ernie’s sheer love for riding pulled him through.
“I was on a straight section where you can let the bike power you along. There are a lot of stray dogs and I’d seen some earlier that day. I also had cows to watch out for and then a horse jumped out in front of me.
“Mentally, you have to be alert. You’re really focused on the road in front of you. All it takes is one giant boulder – or a horse – and that’s your day over. There were three guys who went off course in just one day, and one guy broke his leg.
“There was like eight or nine guys who didn’t finish. If you get stuck, you’re probably not going to complete the day. Other competitors will just ride by, unless you’re injured. They’re in a race after all.”
“Built really well”
Being on a 1200 was not the handicap the rest of the riders initially thought it would be. Flying through the days and eventually finishing an amazing fifth out of 13 was a huge achievement for Ernie in such an iconic and challenging desert race.
“We were literally the only non-motocross bike,” says Ernie. “When you ride the bike, you can tell it’s built really well, especially the brakes and suspension. You could really mash on the brakes and it was great. And the front brakes are adjustable.
“There’s not many things I had to change. The maintenance on it was minimal. Air filter and tyres were the main thing. Incredibly, it had no overheating problems at all which is unusual in this race.”
This bike really is ready for anything
The pressure of a race like this, and making sure the Scrambler isn’t sunk in quicksand or stuck under a boulder, would be stressful for most riders, yet Ernie seems to relish the opportunity.
“I was smiling from ear to ear the whole way. I would push the bike where I felt comfortable and I would push it really hard. For the most part I’m singing inside my helmet. There’s nothing else I could do that would make me even happier.
This bike really is ready for anything! Straight out the showroom both on the road and off. I can’t wait to line-up on it again – hopefully in the sand at Baja…
With both versions, the Scrambler XC and XE, in dealers now you can book a test ride and try it for yourself.