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Review of the 2003 Ducati ST4:
Bought new in August 2004
Author: C.H. Luke, 2004-09-22|
Outstanding suspension that is fully adjustable takes this wicked canyon bike with saddlebags to another level of SPORT touring.
Want something you can ride hard, tour with a passenger, enjoy thoroughly and NOT see on every street corner? With typical charismatic Italian-styling this 996 superbike platform has a surprising level of comfort for two when properly equipped with a couple of key after-market items.|
Being a little bit older than most guys that I see on the road with sport bikes I have never been one to be self-conscious of my age when it comes to what I ride. The problem was finding anyone else to ride with when you live in rural Minnesota and your bike is an RC51. Too many Harleys and guys that want to trailer them any where.
With the Badlands of South Dakota and some of the best roads in America in the Black Hills just 5 hours away it was sort of frustrating not to have someone to partner up with to enjoy the sights and roads with. No one wanted to go with the ´crotch-rocket´.
Fortunately for me the wife still had the fortitude and confidence to be up for sharing some saddle time now that the kids are about grown up. While she is looking for her own bike for next spring she encouraged finding another machine that would accomodate a passenger and some luggage.
With nearly 30 years of riding experience, 14 years of being a dealer in my past and a preference for lighter weight, broad powerbands and superior handling my search quickly lead me to a Ducati shop about 150 miles from home. We sized it up for ergonomics in the showroom and I took a 10 mile test ride on a 2003 demo. I was hooked - particularly by the handling and suspension.
The new 2004 ST3 was also there and on another trip to the dealer about two weeks later I rode tried it. Very torquey with its lower gearing, better windshield coverage,a much better seat and less than 12 grand. Two things stopped me from buying it on the spot- they didn´t have any red ones left (why have a silver Duc?) and I really liked the look of the 2003 better with its slightly narrower upper fairing.
Since then I have learned to appreciate the fact that the 2004 ST3 and ST4 models have no need to replace the seat and the headlights work much, much better. Dollars 1000 later for a Corbin seat with detachable backrest pad for mom along with a Ducati Designs headlight unit (literally like night and day) and there is nothing really left to quibble about.
With 3000 miles already on the clock and the Black Hills trip already under our belts my face still hurts from smiling so much! With the banked curves and up and down sweepers and absolutely gnarly twisties now behind us we really had an opportunity to ride this bike in its element.
Here are some highlights.
As the motor starts to loosen up around 2000 miles your first inkling that things are changing is when the front tire starts skating a few inches off the ground (the Duc-walk) as you ´mildly´ accelerate off a turn. The stock aluminum exhaust sounds wonderful though I may consider adding about 99 decibel carbons, especially for solo riding. The pipes adjust up for better ground clearance when you have the bags off and look just a little bit better that way.
Brakes are smooth and powerful - smooth because they haul you down from speeds you didn´t realize you were doing without drama. They could use a little better feel but I understand that´s the nature of the ABS-equipped model. Some squealing off the rear but that´s probably due to my light-footed use of them during break-in - you need to get them good and hot and stand on them a couple times to seat them in well.
This suspension is truly incredible! With 17 years of off-road racing and 25 years of literally hundreds of different street bikes I can honestly say nothing can approach this bike for suspension. Top quality components right off the 996 Super Bike of a few years ago with every kind of adjustment at your fingertips.
Smoothness without wallow - even before I figured out the pre-loads on both ends were set at the minimum and took 15 minutes to make the adjustments to the factory recommended levels for pre-load, rebound and compression. After the adjustments I was stunned - it was way better yet!
There is a rear ride height adjustment and let me tell you this little baby can change your bike from a very fun, very competent high speed sport touring bike in to a razor-sharp corner scalpel. Just make your adjustments incrementally - move it a milimeter then ride it a week to see what you think.
The stock tires work great. The huge rear meat has a ´soft´ profile to it that allows you to easily move the bike from side to side in the switchbacks but still gives you increased confidence and feel when you start cranking it over. When they wear out I´m thinking replacing them with the same thing.
Ergos are great. That is for me coming off an RC51. You are not folded over like a pretzel but you can still ride nicely supported by the wind. Zero Gravity has a sport touring shield about three inches higher than stock. It works great and fitment is perfect. The passenger knee to hip joint angle is actually greater than 90 degrees, allowing far better circulation then what you would expect on a sporting Ducati.
The Corbin saddle is still a little harder than I expected but not bad. At my height (5´10´) the back of the driver´s ´bucket´ is too far back to be useful for support but gives me plenty of roam solo to slide back and get down on the tank. The passenger is very happy though and Corbin does offer a configuration that moves the bucket up much closer to the rider and gives probably too much space to the passenger - there is a better compromise guys!
The saddlebag detachment/ attachment is a little bit quirky but you get used to them. Fitment on mine is perfect - no wobble and they look great on the bike, sort of blending in to the bike to where you need to look twice to recognize they are even there.
While it´s geared for the stratosphere with 6th gear being impractical on any kind of slope at less than 70-75 miles per hour. You pick up quite of bit more top gear roll-on easily with the ST3´s 42-tooth rear sprocket over the ST4´s 38-toother - of course you need a new chain then too.
The bike has plenty of flexible power down low though and it´s a pleasure to go so rapidly through curves and turns and rocket down the straights while the engine sounds like it´s still half-asleep. Well that´s because it is. Things start really cooking at about 6500-7000 rpm and you are on a completely different beast up to the 10,000 rpm that I´ve pushed it too.
No - it´s not as fast as an RC51 - but it is still one seriously quick machine when you want it to be without all the ´skittish´ nervous handling of the Honda. With far more conservative steering geometry this thing is an absolute confidence builder in the corners. Lean it in easily or suddenly, make mid-corner adjustments, use too much trailing brake - and it just won´t get upset or dance under you. Tracks right where you point it effortlessly.
The ultimate question: would I buy another one. You bet! Right now I´m still on the new bike honeymoon but the 2003 ST4S has proven the perfect match for me and has reinvigorated my long time love for this wonderful sport. Let me close with one piece of advice that I picked up from one of the many Ducatisti you find on the internet boards:
´It´s a Ducati - buy it you´ll love it. Just hide your wallet.´
It ain´t cheap but if think you deserve it then just go do it!
This review of the 2003 Ducati ST4 was posted by a visitor on Bikez.com and does not necessarily reflect facts, truth or Bikez.com's opinions.
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