Ducati ST2 Bike Review-MotorPoint
Sport Tourer, or Just Practical Sportbike?
With Ducati’s 916-engined ST4 on its way, we thought that we should first take a look at the ST2 before we test that latest version of Ducati’s sport touring machine. Reports tell us that both of the bikes will be available throughout the year and that some riders might even find the ST2 to be more desirable than the ST4. It all depends on what a rider is looking for. The ST2 was introduced just a year ago and it immediately established itself as the first sport touring bike to give serious competition to the BMW R1100RS. There are a number of bikes that are fine touring machines but the ST2 and the R1100RS each stand at the top of the touring crowd while also standing out as competent sportbikes. Testing the ST2 last year on the expressways and in the canyons of Southern California showed the bike to be a near perfect compromise between a sportbike and a touring bike yet without any annoying tradeoffs in either direction. For touring, the ST2 offers comfortable seating for two, a clock, meaningful wind protection, lots of low-end grunt, a smooth running engine, light steering, and a set of hard bags that can hold two helmets and are easy to use and great looking.
On the sporting side the ST2 offers good ground clearance, a 944 cc thundering twin power plant, light steering, a fully adjustable suspension, dual front rotors with a set of twin piston Brembos, and a semi-aggressive riding position.
The engine in the ST2 is based on the 900 Supersport two-valve twin. It has an increased bore to 944 cc and a flywheel of increased weight to help smooth out any vibrations that could become bothersome on long trips. The engine is tuned to have lots of torque so that the bike can be mustered around town easily with two up. That grunt also provides for lots of fun on the twisty roads because the rider doesn’t have to keep looking for gears and can usually just rev the bike up and down through a high gear going in and out of corners.
The ST2 uses fuel injection by Marelli, which has shown itself over the last year to be efficient and trouble free. The bike carburets well at any rpm and doesn’t exhibit any touchiness which is probably somewhat a result of the inertia generated by the giant flywheel.
The suspension of the ST2 has a broad enough adjustability to take care of most touring and sporting needs. Basically, a big load on the bike for touring or big loads put into the suspension from riding hard each require a stiffening of the suspension so it isn’t really any big deal to meet both sporting and touring needs with a suspension’s adjustability. The main difference is that a load in the seat requires more spring whereas a load caused from braking and accelerating requires more dampening. Generally speaking that is.
The ST2′s chassis differs from all the other Ducati chassis and it has 0.5 degrees less rake, 5 mm more trail, and is 20 mm longer than the 916. The bike is longer primarily because of its design goal of carrying two people while maintaining an acceptable weight distribution. Ducatis are generally longer than most other bikes from the steeringhead to the swingarm pivot, which is what makes the 916′s handling so unique. The changes of the rake and trail of the ST2 were done to make the bike lighter steering and easier to get through turns with its increased length and payload. Well, actually it’s lighter steering than a 916 even if your load doesn’t pay.
The operator accommodations of the ST2 are excellent. The seating position is not too touring nor too sporting and it is a nice compromise that works well in both situations. The windscreen provides good protection and if the rider tucks in behind the thing to get out of the cold the clear screen offers good vision with little distortion. The gauges are easy to read with the tach in the more centered position, which is where it should be. Under the gauges is a liquid-crystal window that displays fuel level in a cool bar graph, engine liquid temperature, and best of all — time. After you hit reserve the clock is gone and is replaced with a distance-to-empty count down. This is accompanied by an amber low-fuel light to help wake you up. If you’re anything like me, it’s almost enough. I’ve lost track of how many bikes I’ve run out of gas.
Sticking out either side of the fairing upper are two of the nicest mirrors in the business –and this is from the company that gave us the Paso kneecap viewers. The mirrors aren’t ungainly big but they provide a great rearward view. Even if you aren’t in the market for an ST2 you should check out the mirrors to see the little dotted line running vertically across the face, two thirds of the way out as if to say, “30% more viewing, free!”
The other big news about the ST2 is the bags. They are stock and standard equipment, not a pricey come on. To remove the bags all it takes is one turn of the key, lift the handle, and walk away. To open the bags without removing them the key just needs to be turned to another position and the bag falls open. Once you use hard bags you’ll find it very hard to go without them. They provide real room for packing for a trip or for a night on the town. They provide a place to stow a helmet and jacket that is as secure as any car trunk. If a rider doesn’t want to carry the ST2 bags around when not traveling the things can be left at home. For the complete sporting look the bag mounts can also be removed in about 20 minutes which includes installation of the replacement “bag-free” rear blinkers and raising of the rear pipe mounts for more ground clearance. The centerstand rests against the bottom of the left pipe so raising the pipe helps with ground clearance for the stand too.
That reminds me, did I mention that the ST2 comes with a centerstand? Centerstands are handy devices that used to come on sportbikes instead of sidestands but now that’s all reversed and centerstands are usually only found on touring machines today. I guess that’s why the ST2 has one.
The ST2 also has a sidestand and it features Ducati’s patented, spring loaded safety return that ensures that a rider never rides away with the thing down. As much as everyone (including me) has complained about what a pain in the ass these things are, I as yet know of no one who has dropped a Ducati because of the stand snapping back just as the rider let go of the bike. Plenty have been scared, yes. But I do know of at least one rider who installed the don’t-swing-back conversion kit and then on that very same day drove away with the stand down and totaled his 916.
Like I said, I first rode the ST2 at the intro in SoCal and then around the area a bunch more last year. It showed itself to be a true sportbike in every way except for the reduced ground clearance caused by the bags. The nagging problem with that reduced clearance is that the pegs are not the first thing to touch down so there is no warning prior to dragging something that doesn’t flex. On the left side the centerstand touches first and on the right side the pipe hits. Stiffening the suspension or raising the pipes helps this but the best cure is to also leave the centerstand at home. Late this summer I had a chance to ride the ST2 on the track at Pocono during one of the Suzuki Advanced Riding Schools. If you get Speedvision you may have seen the little bike review we did of the bike on the Formula USA MCTV show. If you listen closely you can hear the stand dragging in one of the action shots. Unfortunately the ST2 I rode at Pocono had a bit of air in the brake lines that created a few startling moments while entering turns. This happened to a few of the early test bikes too but it is simply a matter of preparation, not a matter of the bike having faulty brakes. Properly bled, the ST2′s Brembo system is actually one of the best. Out on the track the ST2 felt a little heavier than I had expected but some of that was due to running out of time to set up the bike. Any bike that isn’t doing exactly what the rider wants it to do always tends to feel heavy. And it’s only fair to Ducati to remember that this is a sport touring machine not a sportbike. The adjustability of the suspension was clearly adequate because I went from too soft to too stiff in my haste to find just right. Somewhere in the middle I would have been very happy. New for ’99 the ST2 has lighter wheels that lost all of their weight from the rims, not from the spokes. This results in significant reduction in the inertial forces of the wheels making the bike even lighter steering. Also for ’99 the ST2 has a three phase, 520 watt alternator that supplies more power and also has the ability of charging the battery at a much lower rpm. With the ST4 hitting the showrooms right now it will be interesting to see how the two bikes sell next to each other. When word came that Ducati was putting the 916 engine in this bike’s chassis to create the ST4 some thought that it meant that Ducati was going to use this chassis on the racetrack and quit competing with their 916. That’s very doubtful but it will be interesting to see if the 916′s engine makes the bike just that much sportier. Right now the ST2 is a dependable, sporting package that works better than any other sport touring bike when the emphasis is put on sport. Will too much sport spoil its character?
I’m especially interested to see how the ST2 and ST4 compare because the ST2 is one of my favorite bikes. It is the most practical sportbike out there while also having all the character of a Ducati. It romps, it grunts, it carries two, it has a clock, it’s sexy. The ST2 will be remembered as the motorcycle that inspired all of the manufacturers to put hard bags on trier sportbikes.
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