The Termignoni burble menacingly to themselves, the dry clutch issues its rattle, and while others hear a cacophony, a Ducatista hears a very special opus. That sentence in itself could be used to describe any number of bikes in the Ducati line, but this is special. First it’s a used Ducati ST3 with a mere 4500kms on it, complete with bags and topbox, and that makes it a rare value.
Second it is a sport-tourer, the comfortable alternative for the practical man or woman who wants to take in the world and travel in comfort. This is the rational Ducati, one that grew up, put on a sensible suit went out to meet a track-free reality… Why then in this guise of “common sense” does it sound so mean, so snarlingly sporty?
From a sport-touring perspective the Ducati ST3 gets it all so very right. The bars are set wide and high, with near to no weight burdening your wrists. The windscreen is high and shielding, surpassing the airflow created by the VFR’s miniscule offering in both a lack of turbulence and weather protection. The seat is supportive and wide, offering what one could genuinely dub all day comfort. You could calmly idle along at 5,000RPM, or just about anywhere in the smooth tuned, tri-valved twin and that would be fine. Except this is a Ducati, and as such it has a job to do, give you something to confess.
The roads are cold, it’s a mere 12C out as we hit the first of the twisties. The Termignoni soundtrack picks up tempo as do the roads. Soon hot in, hard out of the twists is the norm, and the ST3 proves to be a Ducati thru and thru. Pushed hard even on cold rubber there is less drama here than after-Church tea with Grandma, and more fun than is found in a lot of sportier offerings.
It’s quick turning, flickable, and gives excellent road feel while balancing all the fun with a natural, neutral stability. After 20 minutes in the saddle, I’m sure I could leave myself on my long-termer VFR 800 ABS in the dust, despite my familiarity with the Viffer. It’s confounding; the ST3 comes off feeling both more sporty and more comfortable than the VFR, and that’s a trick.
The non-adjustable front forks walk the fine line between ride comfort and rule of the road, and only become flustered into a dive under a hard pull of the lever, mastering golden Brembos with their superb bite, power and accuracy. Out back the rear shock is fully adjustable and, even though set on the soft side for the OWD romp, refuses to be troubled or harried by rough roads. Only the worst of compression bumps while in full lean give it a bit of wallow. Under less extreme circumstances, such as not giving it the berries in an attempt to triple a 50kph marked corner, the suspension inspires without seeming a compromise. Under that party gown of a fairing is the soul of a track bike.
In the pass, you simply flow mercurial through traffic, cocooned in the airflow. The 992cc L-twin’s power is immaculately controlled by responsive and predicable fuelling, allowing one to lay down the torque viscerally thru the rear Pilot Road. The pull is smooth and clean throughout the range. Power is a sandwich with a little bit of white-bread fluff at either end of the tach barely containing a huge meaty helping of mid-range. The engine is versatile, responding to the pass as effectively as to a Sunday cruise. Only a minimum of vibe showing through the bars at steady throttle in the latter situation, enough to let you know the ST3 is alive, kicking, and willing to do so much more.
In town the bliss is moderately downgraded to happiness as the exhaust note announces itself to traffic and you wrestle the dry clutch. It’s a workout, but there is something appealing about the rattle and moan of a “true Ducati clutch”. At one stop, a man runs over to take a picture of the ST3. You can hear the question without it being asked. “Is it supposed to sound like that?” “Yes, that is a true soundtrack from Bologna” If you are inclined to more silent running then the 2005 or later is your fare, but with the aftermarket exhaust fitted, this silver ST3 has gone from quiet gentleman to its raucous A-Lister Party boy secret identity out to take down the sportbikes in a road party. Earplugs then would be highly recommended.
There is something purer about the ST3 than other current era sport-tourers OWD has sampled. It seems less encumbered by the garnish of touring technologies, and less weighted down by the onus of having to do all things for all people all of the times. In not worrying so much about the touring trappings, Ducati has produced, even in the ’04 iteration, a sport tourer that meets all the marks of the class, and delivered a bit more. There is soul here, and it’s finding a operatic voice through the Termignoni, announcing a civilized bike with a thundering pompone heart.
Thanks to Jeremy Townsend of John Valk Ducati BMW for providing our tester.