Aprilia RST Futura vs. Ducati ST4
Two Italian Hearts in the Heart of Gold Country
This road runs steeply down hill in sections, putting a great deal of emphasis on braking prowess over roads that can range from race track clean to drive way dirty over the course of just a handful of corners. Coming down from speed, it was the Ducati's front binders that had the most initial bite. After that first mating of pad to rotor, however, the Futura's binders required less force on the lever to get things slowed down and offered greater feedback in the process.
At the bottom of the run down into the canyon, passing by Lake McClure as the sun came over the mountain tops, we found ourselves still on the throttles, railing through sweepers into areas of speed where these bikes were designed to operate even if our beloved US Government has deemed it inappropriate to do so.
Both bikes were evenly matched up here, with the edge going to the Futura for it's ability to stay dead-nuts stable over nasty bits of road that would sometimes upset the Ducati's chassis. Just turn up the preload in the rear, you say? Well, on the Futura, this is done on-the-fly, thanks to that nifty little knob under your left ham-string. On the Ducati, you must first park the bike and extricate the under-seat tool kit.
Using the spanner wrench, we notched up the rear by two sections (it's a stepped collar) with only minor difficulty before setting back off towards breakfast in Angel's Camp, home of the Jumping Frog Jubilee. Things were looking up as we anticipated a morning biscuits, gravy and egg gut bomb, until the Futura's fuel light came on. Our ride up to Mariposa the previous evening saw us cruising up Highways 5 and 99 at an indicated 80 miles per hour, getting about 140 miles from the Aprilia before the fuel light came on, so we knew we needed to keep an eye on fuel levels.
The Ducati, by comparison, would easily manage over 170 miles at the same pace before warning lights did their business. Even going into the day's ride expecting to be watching mileage closely (closer than you should ever have to on a sport-tourer), we were surprised to see the warning light come on right at 120 miles.
"For those who can't forgive Aprilia this sin, the Ducati is still an extremely competent twin-cylinder sport-tourer that can do everything."
Though we thought it may have been a fluke, not having filled up all the way at the previous stop, further testing confirmed a thirsty motor. On one particularly spirited run, the Futura managed to make only 121 miles before one of our testers found a gas station after riding with the fuel light glowing for quite some time.
The thirsty bike took in 5.3 gallons of fuel, just two-tenths of a gallon shy of its total capacity - inexcusable and crippling on a bike of this nature. Having fueled up the bikes just outside of Sonora, and ourselves just a few minutes later in Angel's Camp, we started our climb over the Sonora pass. It would be the first of several passes we would cross in a day that would see us covering more than 800 miles in just under 13 hours of saddle time. In the rest of that time, and in rides that followed, we had ample opportunity to get comfortable with each bike's good and bad sides.
We rode them back to back alone and with various other bikes in and out of the sport-touring pantheon before we came to the conclusion that, as a machine, Aprilia's new RST Futura is the best sport-touring bike money can buy. It has power, brakes, bags, comfortable ergos, excellent wind protection, the best seat in the business and styling that's pure art and makes the Ducati ST4 look older than it really is. But before you run out and buy, keep in mind that one fatal flaw: even though this bike can do everything well, it's fuel range only lets you enjoy it for short stints at a time. If you're willing to occasionally plan your route depending on the location of filling stations, this won't be a problem.
For those who can't forgive Aprilia this sin, the Ducati is still an extremely competent twin-cylinder sport-tourer that can do everything. The only thing is, it's no longer the best twin cylinder sport-tourer you can buy.