It's BIG on the 'SPORT' and it's a great
Road test by Adrian Percival
we mad? Picture the scene, the midlands in early January. Now it
had just stopped snowing and there we are two-up on our GSXR750
heading up the M40 to the middle of nowhere north of Coventry to
collect a brand new ST4S and a 999 for road tests over the coming
few weeks. Dressed like Michelin men we make 'reasonable progress'
up the motorways and 'A' roads in the cold wind and showers still
eagerly looking forward to the ride home on these two sensational
The gods smile on us, and about
half an hour after we arrive, the sun comes out and suddenly it
feels like spring. So its wets off and back to a more appropriate
full leathers look for riding these two icons of motorcycle art.
Incredible, the temperature climbs so quickly that all is forgotten
and the ride home surprisingly takes a lot longer as the route becomes
'A' roads then 'B' roads then back up them again just for fun! And
why not, after all we may not get weather like this for long, so
lets take advantage of it we say!
Having two Ducati's to choose
from is such a difficult task, so we decided to swap them both around
over the time we had them and do a fair test on each. The test on
the 999 is up separately with comments from me, and this test has
Simon's section later on.
Now on first impressions you might
be tempted to sneer at the ST4 and label it as a hotch-potch of
different parts from the back rooms of Ducati, but you’d be
wrong, very wrong indeed. The ST4S gets its motor from the 996 and
its chassis from just about any recent Ducati sports bike you’d
care to mention. It also gets things like USD Showa front end, Ohlins
rear end and Brembo gold series brakes. But despite the 'Who's Who'
list of parts it’s a bike in its own right, and it’s
a real blast to ride!
996 engine, straight out of the machine that redefined the modern
sports bike, might not seem the ideal choice for a sport-touring
role, after all, anyone lucky enough to have owned or ridden the
996 will know that it’s a no compromise sports engine that
loves to be ridden hard. No not really the blueprint for an everyday
bike or a grand tourer is it? But give the same 90 degree L-format
4 valve V-Twin engine a little extra tweaking here and there and
you’ve got the basis of an incredibly versatile power plant
that will cruise around country lanes fully loaded with passenger
and luggage, or blast into, and out of the same turns, knee dragging
and throttle pinned to the stop, this is one-bike that does it all!
The ST4 has the familiar steel
tube trellis frame that has graced the sports Ducati’s for
the past decade and is likely to continue through the next. It works,
it may not be a fashionable Japanese twin beam alloy frame, but
it’s light, very strong and when pushed to the limits it delivers
the goods, just ask any World Superbike Champion!
The ST4S produces 117bhp at 8750rpm
and 73ft-lb of torque to go with it. Yet despite the size of those
two huge pistons it’s just so smooth right up the rev-range.
You do have to get it up to around 3000rpm to avoid low-down transmission
snatch but above that it just keeps on coming all the way to redline!
Ducati have done a bit of reworking to make the 996 motor fit its
new role. This included lowering the head in the exhaust area to
allow it to be tilted further forward in the chassis to help with
weight distribution. The computer controlled fuel injection system
is worthy of comment here as you hardly notice it’s there.
Without looking closer you may be fooled into thinking this bike
is carburetted as there is absolutely no stutter or hunting at small
throttle openings like on some other big twin sport tourers I have
ridden! Yes Ducati making a touring bike that’s more rideable
than a BMW, whatever next!
A ride out on the ST4S is a pleasure,
especially as you get the unexpected bonus of 160mph superbike performance
(even with a cat), supreme handling, stunning brakes and an extra
of a permanent grin under your helmet as you totally and unexpectedly
embarrass the rice-rocket brigade on your favourite roads! This
bike works very well indeed, it’ll handle track days with
just as much ease and you can carry enough luggage to do a tour
on the way there. So if you are up for a weekend away at say the
Nürburgring, pack it up and just go, you will get there in
complete comfort, no sore wrists, arms or neck, and you can play
with the big boys!
The Brembo brakes cope well with
the added weight of the touring gear and luggage, and the seat and
riding position lend themselves to long trips. The standard suspension
settings are great for normal roads and give the ST4S exceptional
road holding. For the track you will have to stiffen them a bit
but not as much as you might expect. I found the 996 modified engine
characteristics very confidence inspiring, the motor is comfortable
with any style of riding from softly-softly touring and town riding
style to wide open out of the turns. This combined with the very
capable chassis and steering makes the ST4 a bike I wouldn’t
hesitate to recommend to anyone.
Just for the record I just
can't understand why in a recent mainstream Motorcycle magazine
issue they slated the ST4S as an 'Ill handling piece of ****'
In my mind they must have been riding the wrong bike, or not at
all as the case may be!
the comfort stakes the saddle, which is well padded enough for long
rides is also cleverly sculptured. It has generous padding located
just where it counts then it narrows down to meet the tank. On some
so-called touring bikes this is not he case and you end up with
sore thighs from having to ride with your legs spread too far. This
is very important if you’re a shorter rider trying to balance
a fully laden tourer in traffic or trying to park up somewhere!
Taller riders will be pleased to know that the foot pegs, even though
they are high for a tourer aren’t placed so high that your
knees will be screaming in agony after 50 miles. To finish it all
off there are alloy bars mounted above the yokes adding to the comfort
factor and ensuring that the ST4 is a genuine all-day ride.
Ducati have done the impossible
with the ST4S. They’ve taken the basics of one of the best
sportsbikes in the world and moulded it into a genuine sports tourer.
There are some compromises but they work well. This bike really
couldn't be happier playing both roles and will provide any owner
with many thousands of miles of riding pleasure, regardless of the
use it gets put it to. And not only that but it looks fantastic
too, Ducati didn’t forget styling when they put the ST4 together,
it's yet another Italian bike that definitely turns heads. The ST4,
like the long line of World Superbike racers it is derived from,
is real a winner.