2004 Ducati ST3

The ST3 was supposed to be a sort of a Ducati black sheep

I'm a Netscape guy at heart but every time my Mozilla based mailbox refuses to attach the files that I need to send to Sean, I turn to my good old Hotmail box for rescue.

On those occasions, Mr. Gates never misses the chance to force feed me half-decent trivia and generic tips for better living, through his MSN's homepage. What a nice chap. "Thanks, but no thanks, man" I usually mumble to myself before typing in my password. However, this time, a certain link rang struck a chord. "Women Like Cads for Sex, Dads for Mating". Hmmm, interesting.... that link pretty much summed-up my feelings after a few days in the ST3's company. Aren't we riders a bit like women?

Those uncomfortable, unforgiving and brash 180 hp rubber burners are what we lust for, spend sweaty hours with and then leave when the magic or our backsides are consumed. But when we really want to set up a true and long lasting relationship, we turn to two-wheeled dads like the: VFRs, VTRs, Beemers and Sprint RS'? Not that these dads can't supply some charged moments when they're in the mood, they have to be able to keep us interested, don't they? It's just that they are so damn easy to live with, so well behaved, educated and reliable. What a shame that these traits never sound like fun. What's it got to do with the new ST3? Lets let it all out, right here, right now. The ST3 is the easiest to live-with Ducati, since the 48cc Cucciolo first turned a wheel outside the Bologna factory in 1946.

Ok, a sport tourer is not the first Ducati that comes to mind when the Italian brand is mentioned, even if Ducati's first shot at sport touring wasn't a bad effort, quite far from it. A year and a half ago, I spent a few days Alpine touring aboard an ST2 and had a gas. With its racy frame, it could take whatever you could throw at it handling wise and it was only the engine department, that left a little something to be desired. The two-valve water-cooled 944-cc mill (used only on the now defunct ST2) was well behaved, but failed to leave a lasting impression. Ducati tried to pep-up the ST range in 99' with the ST4. By slotting a de-tuned 916 engine in the ST's frame, they hoped to lure those looking to have a relationship with a "Dad with Attitude". It's just that the hefty price penalty and high maintenance that accompany the racy four-cam power unit were a bit over the top for a sport tourer. Enter the new ST3. The good souls at Ducati decided to custom-tailor a dedicated engine for Sport Touring missions, so they crafted a new top end with three valves per pot. The idea being to create a mill that combines the tractability of the old two-valve, with the nice power bulge of the 916 four-valve (If not quite that of the current 996cc mill in the ST4s), while retaining the trademark desmo valve gear. Like in the new 1000cc air-cooled motors, these new cylinder heads are equipped with twin spark plugs and have large squish areas to enhance throttle response and fuel efficiency. Thanks to using a one cam per cylinder head, overall engine size remained small and much closer to that of the ST2 rather than to that of the bulky twin cam ST4.

Other major attention areas were design and ergonomics. Even Troy Bayliss would have to agree that the ST was never much of a head turner and by now, 6 years after its launch, it is starting to look quite dated, mainly from its front view. The intervention has been indeed limited to an all new fairing (gas tank and side panels are untouched) and the result is very fresh looking and much more aggressive than before.

The ample headlight is imposing and there is a pleasing Teutonic feel to the whole thing. A new seat and new adjustable handlebars are supposed to offer improved ergos and meaningful riding position regulation.

The two semi handlebars are clamped to the fork tubes and can be slid up or down by about an inch. The fairing side openings in the handlebar area are obviously designed to allow these handlebar adjustments without letting the hand levers foul the fairing at full lock. I enjoyed Ducati's push towards ergo-adjustability in the 999 and now, the ST3's system addresses a wishful thought of many a sport-touring rider, by offering the choice between an erect riding position that puts little strain on wrists for mile munching and a more aggressive one that shifts weight towards the front wheel for heated sporting jaunts. As I pick up the ST3 in Ducati's parking lot I can't help but to notice that with bars in the "high" position there was much less "preload" on my wrists than I remembered in the ST2.

While joining the highway late in the evening with temperatures just above freezing, I was happy to discover that at least I was going to be comfy and well protected by the new fairing. I fill up at the outskirts of Bologna and its WOT time for the next straight and boring 120 miles till Milan.

Naturally it's the new engine that gets my full attention and on the highway I have plenty of time to roll-on and off or just plain speed. It does indeed feel more powerful than the two-valve mill and just as strong through the midrange as an ST4, but it is the sheer fluidity of the three-valve unit that impresses most. Cracking the throttle from idle, there is a little bit of desmo twin roughness but as soon as the needle clears the 2,000Rpm mark the motor hits its very wide sweet spot. Power feels almost linear from 3,000 rpm to 9,000 and it will easily bump into the 9,700 rpm rev-limiter in the lower gears. I settle into a smooth 110-mph gallop and when traffic slows me down, the new mill snaps back from 50 to 100+mph in top gear in an amazingly satisfying way. At these speeds, the fairing does a really good job of protecting my helmet but I wish it was slightly wider, so my shoulders would be more covered. Shorter riders than my 6'4" stature should fare better though.

Under the cover of night, I stretch the ST3 legs and at 130 mph, where the old ST2 would be running out of steam, Ducati's new tourer keeps on gathering speed. Another new trait to the ST3 is what feels like quicker steering and slightly less stability at speed. The spec sheet says it shouldn't be so, maybe the higher handlebars cause this effect or maybe it's the cold that's killing any feedback from the tires. An hour and fifteen minutes after take off I am already home and quite impressed by the way the ST3 has pampered me through the cold winter night's flight.

Having the ST for a week, means that I can use it for my round trip to work and other errands. This is when I start to realize that the ST3 might be your best bet, for actually living with a Ducati. With its tall handlebars it's a doodle to handle at slow speeds, turning radius is better than other Ducs and general ease of operation is up there with oriental stuff.

The only item to spoil the party is the clutch lever that in typical Ducati fashion, still requires a remarkable effort to operate and ends up annoying you in stop and go traffic. With some daylight I also notice that somebody in Ducati is really paying attention to the small details that create a quality feel. The inner side of the fairing in the cockpit has a separate cover that morphs into the clock area, and the clocks themselves are informative, easily read and supply plenty of useful functions. The new saddle is covered with a fine textured fabric who oozes class and has a molded-in Ducati logo. Neat.

During town riding I am happy to discover that in case you start to get bored from this entire nice-guy attitude, you can always twist the throttle and smile. The ST3 might be a serious and responsible looking dude but with that torque pump down there, lofting the front wheel in the lower gears is just a matter of rolling the throttle quickly. I wouldn't be surprised, if the ST3 gets the "Best wheelying sport tourer" nomination at a coming MO comparo. Luckily, the weekend brings with it some serious sunshine and it's time to go sport touring. My girlfriend and I head north on the ST3 and with warmer tarmac and tires, none of the twitchiness I experienced on my night ride shows again, even when hitting some fast sweepers two-up. With tires getting into a good running temperature the ST3 is back to its super-stable self.

Actually, this is the first time I am able to put the whole package through its paces and I'm having a lot of fun. On a slow to medium speed mountain road, the ST3 just lets you ride fast and fluidly by virtue of that ultra responsive engine. Who cares that there are "only" 100 horsies down there? With such a fun and responsive midrange, the ST3 delivers all the thrust I need and surfing on those torque waves is utterly addictive and lets you concentrate on the twists and vistas. Another nice quality that surfaces in our mountain ride is the controllability of this power. As we climb up we find the roads covered with fine dust from the melted snow (just look at the shade of the tire treads in the pics), which drops available grip. I can't help but think that these are the conditions that would have you tiptoeing on a four or a triple, but with this V-twin it's just fun to keep on gassing it and feel the rear end step-out harmlessly every now and then. Yes, that's how trustful this Italian dad type is.

Just for kicks, I stop and lower the handlebars to the low position and proceed on alone. In their lower position the handlebars do their best to put you in an attack mode but with the slippery surface bellow, pushing is now a pointless exercise. Reaching the limits of the ST3 will have to wait for a ride on less slimy roads. However, on the roll angles I do reach, the ST3 remains steady and reassuring.

On the few clean corners that come our way, typical Ducati sure-footedness and roadholding shines through. It's not exactly "flickable" (then again, what sport tourer really is?) but when tilted over it's a great tool for corner carving. The braking department is solid enough, but requires a decisive squeeze to get the negative G forces. After a few hours in the saddle, other nice qualities such as the comfy seat emerge and my girlfriend has the same verdict regarding her portion of the saddle.

The suspension does its best to absorb the bumps, while still providing nice chassis control with the rear. The all-adjustable Boge shock gets extra high marks. Chalk-up suspension and comfort as another area where the ST3 stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Ducati range, Multistrada included. After my mountain ride, my only real complaint was a slight reluctance by the ST3 to turn-in in really tight hairpins. Perhaps some more preload on the rear shock would sharpen the steering some.

With a lineup mainly made out of bright red fire breathers, macho Monsters and the weird and wonderful Multistrada, the ST3 was supposed to be a sort of a Ducati black sheep. In reality, it turned out to be quite the opposite, it's really the one to spend some serious time with. With the new engine (which has been clocked in Italy at 95 Rwhp), it has the power to go head-to-head with the likes of the VFR and BMW boxers, while undercutting them and the Aprilia Futura by almost 10% in price, in Europe at least. (Grrrr... don't mention lopsided U.S. pricing, please. -Sean) Not a bad value, for such a fun and easy-to-live-with dad, who can also play hard when you feel the itch.

Information And Specs Provided By Ducati
2004 Ducati ST3
Frame Tubular steel trellis
Wheelbase 1430 mm / 56,3 in
Rake 24°
Front suspension Showa 43 mm adjustable preload upside-down fork
Front wheel travel 130 mm - 5,1 in
Front brake 2 x 320 mm semi-floating discs, 4-piston caliper
Front wheel 3-spoke light alloy, 3.50x17
Front tyre 120/70 ZR 17
Rear suspension Progressive linkage with fully adjustable Sachs monoshock
Rear wheel travel 148 mm - 5,8 in
Rear brake 245 mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Rear wheel 3-spoke light alloy 5.50x17
Rear tyre 180/55 ZR 17
Fuel tank capacity 21 l / 5,5 US gal (including 6 l / 1,5 US gal reserve)
Claimed Weight * 214 Kg / 467 lbs
Seat height 820 mm / 32,3 in
Instruments Electronic instrument pannel using CAN communication protocol with CPU: multifunctional digital display (including speedometer, clock, water temperature, fuel gauge, instant/average consumption, consumed fuel, rimanent autonomy), analogic rev counter, self adjusting pilot lights (depending on outdoor light), headlight angle adjustment, immobilizer system
Warranty 2 years unlimited mileage
Tank Colours Red, yellow, metallic light grey
Frame and Wheel colours Metallic grey
Type Type: L twin cylinder, 3 valve per cylinder Desmodromic; liquid cooled
Displacement 992 cc
Bore x Stroke 94x71.5 mm
Compression Ratio 11,3:1
Claimed Power 75 kW - 102 HP @ 8750 rpm
Claimed Torque 93 Nm - 9,5 kgm @ 7250 rpm
Fuel injection Marelli electronic fuel injection, 50 mm throttle body
Exhaust 2 aluminum mufflers with 3-way catalytic converter
Emissions Euro2
Gearbox 6 speed
Ratios 1st 37/15, 2nd 30/17, 3th 27/20, 4th 24/22, 5th 23/24, 6th 24/28
Primary drive Straight cut gears; ratio 1.84
Final drive Chain; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 42
Clutch Dry multiplate with hydraulic control
* = The weight includes battery, lubricants and, where applicable, cooling liquid.

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