First Ride: Year 2000 Ducati ST4

A Comfy 916?


"Whatcha ridin'?" A guy riding a black ST4 wanted to know.

The Rock Store parking lot on Saturday afternoons, particularly beneath the large shade tree at the west end of the lot, is replete with shiny Harleys and other assorted well- and over-chromed American customs. Hardcore sport bikers segregate themselves toward the sun-drenched east side. In between the "tweener" bikes reside -- a Buell X1, a Bandit 1200, an old Triumph Bonneville, a few Japanese cruisers, Beemers and the above-mentioned gentleman's Ducati ST4. My ride is parked out of place, in the shade among the Harleys, next to a Titan owned by one of those anonymous "B" level T.V. actors whose faces populate cheap, syndicated action and detective shows found on cable outlets such as the USA Network.

"Um, I'm riding an ST4 too." I squint, trying to locate the bike through the thick, chrome-laden glare. "The red one over there, next to the Titan."

"Oh yeah," says the ST4 man. "You know, that chromed-out Titan is owned by that T.V. actor."

"What show was he on again?"

"I don't remember but I know I saw him once. I think it was on one of those Silk Stalkings-type shows that come late Friday nights. I think he was also on an episode of V.I.P. ..."

"Hey, which V.I.P. babe do you think is hottest?"

The ST4 man ignored my query. He had other, more important things on his mind. The ST4 man has clearly has a bone to pick with motorcycle journalists, and he feels that the best venue, of course, in which to raise his complaints is over MO's ST4.

"You guys have not been fair with this bike," he said with righteous indignation, laying his hands upon the fuel tank and suddenly resembling the faith healers and snake handlers of the Appalachians.

I tell him that MO, has been more than fair. We have never written a review about the ST4 nor uttered a discouraging word.

"Well, maybe not MO, but you guys have not been fair."

The motorcycle press does not speak with one voice, although at times it sounds like we do. We don't remember reading any reputable magazine or web site disliking the ST4, although some reviews were lukewarm. Perhaps it's because the ST4 is essentially a civilized and refined motorcycle made by a manufacturer that is not known for the civilized and refined. After all, who does Ducati think they are, Honda?

Another reason may have to do with Moto-Journalist Syndrome (MJS). When you have the opportunity to ride most all of the latest and greatest motorcycles, everyday considerations like comfort and practicality sometimes are thrown aside in favor of all-out, uncompromising performance. After all, why drive Celicas and Mustangs when you have Porsches and Ferraris at your disposal. The ST4 is basically a "tweener" bike, a stock 916 superbike engine mounted in a sport-touring chassis. As a result, while the ST4 possesses performance attributes, it does represent a compromise of sorts, favoring comfort over ultra-high performance, and one symptom of MJS is a general aversion to compromise, real or perceived.

Whatever the reason, the ST4 never received bad reviews. It is an excellent street bike with ample grunt and horsepower. The riding position is relaxed and the wind protection isn't bad, although, oddly enough, we felt that the Kawasaki ZX-9R offered better wind protection. The ST4 also lacks the harsh 996 and 900SS suspension. The inverted 43mm front forks with 130mm of travel and adjustable mono shock with 148mm of travel do an excellent job of keeping the chassis tight while soaking up most expansion joints, bumps and nicks. While it's not exactly set-up for track days, that's not the ST4's prime directive.

The ST4 is designed to go from Point A to point B, maybe 50 miles apart via the super slab but almost 150 miles away over the long and winding roads. Afterwards chow down then find a place to stay for the night, hop aboard the next morning and do it again. The service manual might as well read: "Ride. Sleep. Repeat."

'The engine is smooth and strong and acceleration is excellent while not overpowering.'

The heart of the ST4 is the DOHC four-valve, 916cc engine that in a previous life existed as the platform for Ducati's superbike effort. While Ducati has pumped up the 916 engine 80cc for superbike duty, 1999 saw the 996 powerplant produced for the consumer, and the stock 916 engine was assigned new responsibilities as a sport touring motor. The power figures are impressive: About 99.5 hp at 9000 rpm and 58.9 ft-lbs of torque at 8750 rpm are more than respectable, and we doubt that the BMW R1100S -- the ST4's primary competition, at least in terms of price -- can come close to these figures. But then true performance is measured on the road, not on a dyno chart.

The ST4 pulls from all over the rev range, and most all of the power it makes is put straight to the ground. The engine is smooth and strong and acceleration is excellent while not overpowering. Need that quick burst to make it into the passing lane? No problem, you'll have all the power you need without having to worry about shaking the front end if you grab too much throttle. The ST4 is a very well-behaved Ducati.

Just about everything else on the ST4 is the same as on the ST2. The suspension and chassis are identical while providing for a ride that is plush and comfortable. The ST4 handles like a Ducati: solid. This bike isn't upset easily. The ST4 also has a slightly larger rear tire than the ST2, 180 Metzler MEZ4s compared to the 170 MEZ4s on the ST2.

Other than different colors and a $2000.00 USD price difference, there isn't much difference between the ST4 and the ST2. One staffer who rode both motorcycles, although not back-to-back, thought the brakes felt softer on the ST4. However, both motorcycles are equipped with the same 320mm floating rotors with Brembo, 4-piston calipers up front and a 245 mm disc out back, although the ST4 front rotors are also equipped with an aluminum flange. The only explanation we could surmise is that the more powerful ST4 engine requires more input into the progressive brakes in order to slow the bike down because of the ST4's stronger acceleration. That said, another evaluator who rode both bikes, again not back-to-back, didn't notice a difference.

In fact, there might not be that much of a difference between the ST4 and the ST2 other than the engine. If money really isn't that much of an object, then why not equip your sport tourer with a kick-ass engine? However, a 1998 ST2 we dynoed measured 57.3 ft-lbs at 6500 rpm and the 2000 ST4 produced 58.9 ft-lbs at 8750 rpm. The main difference is at the top-end where the ST4 made 99.5 peak horsepower compared to the ST2's 76 ponies. So, is 20 more horsepower at the top-end enough to justify a $2000.00 price difference? Maybe, but since neither the ST4 nor the ST2 will see much time on a race track other than the occasional track school, it's hard to say whether the $2000.00 price difference is worth it. Even so, buy what feels right and ride the hell out of it.

We a bone of contention with the ST4 and it has to do with the new side stand. The good news is that Ducati has ditched the infamous spring-loaded side stand. The bad news is that the bike won't idle in neutral with the side stand down. This makes things like warming up the bike while putting on helmet and gloves and closing the garage door somewhat of a hassle. True, we did get used to it but we still didn't like it.

In the next few months we plan to run the ST4 side by side against the BMW1100S, the Buell S3T and the Honda VFR. The major concern with the ST4 is maintenance. Is the ST4 reliable enough as an everyday motorcycle or a long distance sport tourer, or is it just a comfy 916? After 1600 miles our ST4's idle needs adjustment and the clutch is beginning to stick. While these aren't necessarily fatal design flaws, it will be interesting to see how the ST4 stacks up over the long haul against the competition. Stay tuned...

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