by Troy Johnson
Let us assume that you have wanted a Ducati all of your adult life. Let us assume that after many years of socking away ten dollars here and twenty dollars there you wake up one morning with a savings passbook healthy enough to trade for a very red, very fast motorcycle.
Let us also assume that as you get out of bed that very morning your knees creak like a set of seized door hinges and you curse that new mattress for not curing your back ache. During your morning shave you catch a glimpse in the mirror of the framed photo hanging above the john. You study the picture– “916 with Rider.” The money is in the bank; the long wait is over, but you find yourself wondering if you can still “assume the position.” For the last few years the closest you have come to riding a sport bike is your trusty, old Kawasaki Concours.
No, you have not! Waiting for you on that dealer’s showroom floor is a brand-new Ducati ST2, Bologna’s “Gentleman’s Express” sport-tourer.
When you take a close look you will see a chassis that bears many similarities to that of a 916. In fact, the suspension components are the same. Everything else has been softened somewhat for improved touring capabilities. The ST2’s wheel base is about an inch longer than the 916’s, the frame is less ridged and the front end geometry has been relaxed a tad.
The ST2’s fuel-injected engine is not closely related to that in the 916. It appears to be a descendent of the engine used in Ducati’s first fuel-injected street bike, the 907ie (Paso). This mill is a two-valve-per-cylinder, water-cooled, 944cc desmo V-twin. The factory claims it makes 83 horsepower at the crank and after our day on the ST2, my estimate would be similar to that figure. That is plenty of livestock for most anyone but The Rocket Doctor and all eighty of those ponies are harnessed to the wagon throughout the rev range, delivering smooth, consistent power to the road.
This is a sport-tourer that gives up very little on the sport side of the compromise. Surprisingly, it gives up nothing of great importance on the touring side of the equation either. It has hard luggage. It has a fabulous seat which includes a comfy perch for your significant other. It has handlebars attempt to rise up and greet the rider. It has mirrors that work. The only thing it is missing is a great big weather-beating fairing and windshield–but then it would be giving up too much on the sporting side. Never mind.
The bike is nearly an effortless ride. It has no bad manners other than the typical rotten side stand found on most new bikes. The brakes on our test bike were perfectly competent, and the motorcycle felt absolutely stable under all riding conditions. It never surprises you and is probably the most seamlessly integrated blend of sport and touring
I have ever had the pleasure to ride. There are no funky German controls, no freaky Japanese power surges, and I have never seen an Italian motorcycle with this level of fit and finish. It is downright BMW-ish on the build quality scale.
At first glance the ST2 looks to be something of a Plain Jane. But upon watching another rider putting it through its paces you realize that with a warm, leather-clad body aboard, the ST2 is a fine looking machine. It places the rider in a confident looking position–neither too aggressive nor too upright.
Yes, gentle reader, your dream is still alive, and you do not feel a bit of pain as you trade your savings passbook for a set of keys. Better yet, you do not feel a bit of pain riding your very fast, very comfortable and very gray Ducati home. You hardly mind at all that it is not red.
The bottom line is that the category is called “sport-touring” not “touring sport”
Welcome to the 1998 Motorcycle Olympics. This month’s gold medal contender competes in the sport-touring category. This is perhaps the most competitive category in this year’s games. With this entrant we
turn to Italy and a not-so-small manufacturer named Ducati that has bred a whole new motorcycle known as the ST2. Driving the action is a liquid cooled desmo V-twin that puts its power to the pavement through a refined 916 derived trestle frame, 916 suspension and ZR rated tires.
What will it take to win the gold? First, it takes a sporting attitude. We are talking about a fist-full of power with suspension and performance to match from the ground up to match. The ST2 starts on a good foot by possessing all of these qualities. It stops on a good foot by possessing fine Brembo brakes.
It also takes stamina to bring the gold home, the touring side of the event. This category may be thought of as motorcycling’s “Iron Man” competition. To win, the muscle and performance must last all day long. The ST2 comes through with high performance pleasure that actually travels cross-country.
A true sport-touring contender can go anywhere. The ST2’s detachable hard saddle bags make touring a “snap” and a wide, soft, seat means comfort in both sport and touring mode. With bars and pegs located in the right spot, this sport bike gives you a good chance of survival in the Touring Zone.
The bottom line is that the category is called “sport-touring” not “touring sport,” one word in front of the other. This is why the Ducati wins the gold. I haven’t even mentioned the sound or sex appeal that comes with a Ducati. Those are just the ribbon on the medal.