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2003 Ducati ST4S sport-touring

It's BIG on the 'SPORT' and it's a great tourer to!

Road test by Adrian Percival

Are 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 bikes.

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!

The 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!

In 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.

Verdict

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.

 

Read external Ducati ST4S 2003 reviews on Ciao.

 

 


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