In a year when young, urbane specimens of homo erectus cross-shopped beard oils and mounted $400 axes to their office walls, Ducati took a buzzsaw to faux-ruggedness.

The all-new Scrambler is a real motorcycle, making real noise and kicking up real dirt. That it does these things without demanding herculean effort or skill, and at such an accessible price, makes it the most fascinating motorcycle of 2014.

Fascinating Cars of 2014

Editor Matthew Phenix and deputy editor Jonathan Schultz revisited the most fascinating cars of the year. Click here for more honorees.

Unlike other nostalgia-baiting bikes such as the Triumph Bonneville and Moto Guzzi V7, the Scrambler exudes an almost comical air of mischief, making its existence all the more perplexing. Ducati, of course, is synonymous with deadly serious machines that snap synapses and strain neck tendons to their breaking points. On the right road, the Italian manufacturer’s 1199 Panigale will outrun a 1,000-horsepower Bugatti Veyron. The Scrambler, in contrast, wants nothing more than to be guided to some light single-track, run up and down fire roads and receive a cursory wipe-down before a night on the town.

In essence, it’s a scrambler.

Ducati drew judiciously from its box of parts, specifying a 75hp 800cc V-twin engine that previously appeared on the Monster 796 sportbike. Riders can choose among four Scrambler builds – Icon, Urban Enduro, Classic and Full Throttle – each bearing cosmetic and hardware differentiators tailored to the micro-markets identified by Ducati’s corporate parent, Audi AG.

That is not to suggest the Scrambler is a niche product. Quite the contrary. At roughly $8,500 to start in the US, Ducati’s latest model is intended to spark lifelong – and at times torrid – romances that lead riders to Diavels, Hypomotards, Monsters and yes, Panigales down the road. Yet even if a Scrambler buyer never graduates to putting a knee down at 110mph at Imola, the joy of riding will always be there to savour, at the flick of a wrist.

Second Opinion: Bell & Ross B-Rocket

International cooperation is a beautiful thing. Exhibit A: the Bell & Ross B-Rocket, a one-off motorcycle commissioned by a French watchmaker and built by a British custom shop using an American donor bike. Unveiled in March, the heroic B-Rocket riffs on 1960s Bonneville speed-record bikes and experimental aircraft from the early days of the Jet Age. It is dazzlingly impractical, but undeniably functional, as witnessed by a gorgeous promotional video shot on the Utah salt flats. In a year that gave us the Ducati Scrambler, the Johammer J1 and the stupefying Midual Type 1, I maintain that nothing on two wheels sparked the imagination quite as well as this neo-retro, multinational, one-of-a-kind mechanical masterpiece. – Matthew Phenix

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