The Italians, they’ve brought us Lamborghini, Ferrari, and well… Fiat. What they aren’t known for are their sensible four-door sedans, which when you get down to analogy is a bit what a sport-tourer is all about. A sport-tourer is sensible, comfortable, handles well enough, and goes quick enough to be fun… which brings us to the ST4s ABS, a bike that is sort of like duct taping your bedroom dresser to the back of a Ferrari and calling it a sedan.
Firing up the Duc it is loud, properly, disturbingly, frighteningly loud… Car alarms go off, children burst into tears, and dogs howl as the pipes set a deep, bassy, and strangely refined V-twin cadence. The backup band is the dry clutch, plates rattling like “a chronic masturbator with a pocked full of change” as a friend puts it – more like pockets full of pipe wrenches we’re thinking. And while it’s not an overture, the sound set by the big V-twin is music all of it’s own.
Italians have a word for it “pompone”, and on our tester it’s a stampede of 120 charging horses, footfalls all in V-twin rhythm through mellowing carbon fibre pipes. To me though, it has a stronger sense of percussion, more like 120 stout, shirtless and sweaty men drumming in time on large ancient bass kettles, thundering to a primordial mechanical beat. Every time you turn the throttle the beat picks up and speaks that much more to a passionate part of your inner being. Painters, on hearing the ST4s pass, have been known to weep wishing they were poets so as to express themselves. Then they stop, compose themselves, and ask if the clutch really is supposed to make that sound – sarcastic lot.
Luckily you can easily show them the rear tire. With the a chipset and carbon fibre pipes our tester developed around 120hp, not shabby, but then neither is the stock ST4s ABS as Thundering Desmoquattro twin drums pump out 117hp at 8750 RPM, and 66.7 lb-ft of torque at 7250 RPM according to specs. While developing that torque the engine, lifted from the 996 of Ducati Superbike fame, issues a growling induction snarl leaving you grinning in a primal way and cognisant of its race roots. Pull is from 3000 RPM through to 10000, it only fades off for the last 1000 RPM approaching the 11,000 redline. If you’re looking at the current crop of litre bikes the horses the Duc develops seem a pittance, until you consider this is a “bagger”… and for such a steed it’s fast and light.
At 542lbs wet (lighter with the pipes gone all carbon-y) the ST4s isn’t a feather weight by sport standards, but it’s a different story for the sport-touring set. The wet weight is only eight pounds up on the VTEC VFR, and at conservative estimate there’s more 20 hp at the rear tire. But those are just numbers, meaningless statistics meant to placate armchair riders and they really don’t do this bike justice, so lets just say it the ST4s ABS rides fast…
Sinfully fast, immorally fast, especially in the corners. You’re in a corner, smirking evil, and you just keep pouring throttle all the way to the red, then shift and do it some more. You don’t need to shift much though, the tall gearing ensures illegality by third, and chomping at the bit in traffic. It’s almost sad because the dry clutch lets you slip through the cogs with a delightful clattering ease. The taught trellis frame and suspension are up to cornering and laying down the power throughout the twists. It’s first-rate and you keep wondering to yourself “Is this really a sport tourer? Should I take it to a track… I mean just for the spectacle of riding like this with the bags on?” Of course you should, just give some quality time for the Michelin Sport-Pilots to do a slow warm-up before gripping properly.
Part of what’s working so well here is that Ducati doesn’t know the meaning of the word “skimp” when it comes to the suspension. Up front the ST4s ABS is sporting inverted 43mm Showa nitrided forks, fully adjustable for pre-load, compression and rebound damping. In the rear Ohlins are doing the duties and are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, along with remote pre-load adjustment. It all works decadently well, and gives you the nod to really get out there and corrupt some suggested corner speeds.
Devouring the twists like a fat kid on a Smartie, the handling isn’t “fast” or “nimble” but stable, confident, and maybe even a bit slow steering. But regardless of how you choose to pilot, be it counter-steer, weight shift, trail braking or any combination thereof, the bike is there. It’s not an effortless tip into the corners, but the ST4s ABS feels solid all the way. It’s a more rewarding sensation than the handling on a lot of track-bred bikes and in that sense perhaps the “s” is for satisfaction. The impeccable composure through the turns is almost a bit too much, it simply begs you to push, and push some more. A bit more throttle, more drum to the sound track, a bit more speed… and worse the ST4s lets you get away with it.
There was no moment when the thin grey Duc said, “Well, I’ve had enough, you’ve gotten on my nerves, pushed me too far; I’ll have to be killing you now.” Which is why I shouldn’t own one. I’d be without a license in my first week. This is a problem because as a sport tourer and first week out riding, puts me having to hitch hike home from… Vegas. And even if you have hit that point of “enough”, the ABS is there to comfort.
Admittedly, we didn’t have the opportunity to feel it pulse much, as our test ride became more focused on acceleration than its antonym. The braking system is the result of a joint effort by Ducati and Brembo resulting in an ABS that is tuned for sport, and “designed to only become active when either or both wheels are very close to a complete lock up – in keeping with the sporting nature of the bike.” Being thoughtful the Italians have provided a switch for those who want to defeat all the money spent on this option, a manual override allowing you to switch the ABS off. The system utilizes braided lines and hard pipes to maintain efficiency, though braking did feel like it lagged a bit despite the twin 320mm (with 4 piston callipers) Brembo’s giving good feel.
As a sport tourer, the bike is definitely on the sport side of things. The bags will fit a full face with a squeeze, but if you value your visor it’s not a comfortable fit. The wind protection is adequate, but for tall folk like myself the optional higher screen would be a must on long rides. Far as the ergos go, the ST4s ABS was surprisingly comfortable, perhaps even more kind to the elderly, infirm and girl scouts than my own VFR. The seat isn’t ample but nor is it the offensive plastic puck sported by the supersport side of the Ducati line. Luckily, the cushier ’04 models seat will fit the ’03 offering an easy touring upgrade. The thing I most liked about the ST4s initially, the booming exhaust, would over a longer ride become just deafening and riding without ear plugs simply isn’t an option if you hold onto any hope of ever hearing your neighbours complain about you starting the bike at 7:00 AM on the weekends. And if you’re looking for an ST1300 or FJR1300 style tourer, you’ll want to move on. The ST4s is not that kind of girl, she’ll go hell bent for leather, but she’s not silky smooth and she’s entirely too lick-able to take home to the wife.
For the distance the engine needs to twist around 4500 RPM to give you manageable levels of vibe and thrum… of course given that the mill will pull all the way through to a resonant 10,000 or so, staying in cruise mode is hard to do. Back to that losing the license issue, this bike just wants to go.
Likely you will be taking periodic breaks from the go-go-go of it all as the 21 litre fuel tank will probably be burned through every couple of hours while on the road. The ST4s isn’t a hard drinker, but she can hold her vino, at an estimated 39mpg (unverified). You get to watch it all go down via a cumbersome looking bar graph fuel gage, which oddly reminded us of the Macaroni Grill’s wine-by-the-measuring-stick. Under sane riding conditions you could get about 320km to a tank before ordering another round, and that’s fine as refuelling and rest stops give you time to sit and admire the ST4s.
Our tester from John Valk BMW/Ducati was in the grey, and while red is our Ducati colour of choice the darker hue grew on us. The red Marchesini alloy rims, gold Brembos, copper hued Showa coated forks, the Ohlins peeking from the heart of the bike, and sculpted well- integrate bags ensure that the ST4s ABS not only looks classically stylish, but is one hell of a label queen. Adding to it the soft and classic lines mean that the ST4s ABS doesn’t own a bad angle, which made our photographer’s job that much more difficult… 234 photos later he called it quits. That’s at a standstill, we were lacking in-motion shots. “Why?”, you ask?
Riding this bike I was having too way too much fun move at a photogenic speed – sexually stimulating designer drugs are not this passionate. A lot of bikes I’ve swung a leg over never captivated me like the ST4s did. Normally I can be riding along and making a mental note of “a flat spot in the power delivery at 5000”, “brakes a bit wooden”, “suspension a bit squishy in front”, and so on.
The ST4s is different, she made it difficult, drew me into riding to the exclusion of all else, she egged me on, and seduced me to ride with a passion that kept me from going all analytical and Spock-like. This bike rekindles the fire of riding… then adds more fuel. Even in the city I found myself blipping the throttle at stops, noticing the young men looking at the “Ducati” and the girls going funny all over inside as that base note hit them. And aside from the attention, it is simply one of the best bikes I’ve ever ridden.
The ST4s ABS is a bagger only in name and should be a mandatory prescription for anyone who dares slander “sport-tourers” based on a racier bias. As I got off of it, if the John Valk BMW/Ducati gang had the papers ready to sign, it would have all been over; a $20,000 CDN used bike on the Amex card and an insane grin on my face. I’ve ridden by the dealer since, but I’m scared to go back! Terrified of what I might do if I stop in.
Our test bike was 2003 Ducati ST4s ABS with:
– Ducati Carbon Fibre Pipes
– Chip Set
– Tank bag/protector
– 5000km on the ODO
Priced at: $20,000 CDN
Provided By John Valk Ducati BMW