Touring on a Ducati is a contradiction in terms for most bikers. The Italian machines are renowned for many things, but bimbling along admiring the scenery isn’t usually top of the list.
So, the ST2 sports-touring model was a bold step for the Bologna company. With a 944cc V-twin engine, fettled for torquey mid-range performance and water cooled.
The ST2 offered a slightly softer ride than the sporty Dukes, with the added bonus of optional hard panniers for those who needed to carry stuff around Europe.
Not the fastest Italian bike ever made, but probably one of the nicest to ride all day long.
“The ST2 Sport Turismo has been conceived and designed for travel on road,” the neat little launch presentation booklet had announced. “But it is capable of being ridden on a track because its essence is Ducati.”
Looking down the pit straight as a scarlet V-twin flashed past to start another lap of the Jerez grand prix circuit that sentiment was easy to understand. A day at speed on the track had shown that the Bologna firm has given its new sports-tourer plenty of traditional Ducati character, along with enough power, handling, grip and ground clearance to hold its own in fast company.
But the ST2 is a distinctly different machine to Ducati´s singleminded sports bikes, and its introduction marked an important phase in the company´s history. Backed by a huge cash investment from its management, the American-based Texas Pacific Group, Ducati is attempting to improve build quality, broaden its customer base and increase production sharply. The decision to hold this bike´s launch on foreign soil, a first for Ducati, was, as well as a guarantee of good weather, a way of announcing: We´re back!
The ST2, shaped as much for practicality as for style, cannot approach the visual impact of the streamlined 916. But the Sport Turismo, designed by Monster creator Miguel Angel Galluzzi, looks good and is recognisably a Ducati, notably in its broad-topped fuel tank, 900SS-style rear end, and the steel ladder frame that is visible behind a fairly tall and protective full fairing finished in red, silver or black.
Its engine is a development of Ducati´s familiar SOHC, two-valves-per-cylinder unit (hence the ST2 name; an eight-valve ST4 is due next year). Boring-out the 90-degree V-twin by 2mm gives dimensions of 94 x 68mm and a capacity of 944cc. The motor is liquid-cooled, like the 907ie rather than the oil/aircooled 900SS. It´s fed by a Marelli fuel-injection system, and produces a claimed maximum of 83bhp at 8500rpm.
The chassis combines elements of several previous models, pivoting its twin-sided swing-arm on the engine in 900SS fashion, but using a 916-type rising rate linkage that is modified to give a more progressive action. Ducati say they developed two prototypes, one sporty and the other more of a tourer, before combining the best of both for the final model. The ST2´s geometry suggests more of the former: its wheelbase is 1430mm, 20mm longer than the 916´s, but the sports-tourer´s 24 degree steering angle matches that of many sportsters.
In other respects the ST2 is built for distance rather than speed, with features such as a fairly tall screen, comprehensive instrumentation (a digital panel below the clocks includes a fuel gauge and clock), large 21-litre fuel tank, centre-stand, and optional colour-matched panniers. When you fire up the engine there´s a familiar V-twin rumble, but the riding position is fairly roomy and relaxed, with a gentle lean forward from the rather tall seat to slightly raised bars.
Predictably the bike was more at home on the roads of southern Spain than on the track. Its motor is tuned for midrange rather than top-end horsepower, and is at its best between 5000 and 7000rpm, when a flick of the light-action throttle is enough to send the Ducati surging forward with enough instant oomph to rocket past a line of traffic without a down-change. The six-speed box was generally good, although neutral was hard to find and the gearlever was too short for my (admittedly oversized) left boot.
The big V-twin´s ability to pull smoothly from as low as 3000rpm makes for impressively fast and relaxed top-gear travel. But the softly tuned motor starts running out of breath by about 8000rpm, and there´s very little to be gained by revving it as high as nine grand (there´s no redline). Some vibration starts coming through the bars from about 6000rpm, but that equates to 100mph in top gear so you´d have to be cruising pretty fast to be troubled by it. Best I saw on the clock was just over 130mph with a bit to come, so Ducati´s top speed estimate of 140mph is not far out.
Like its engine, the Ducati´s chassis is better suited to fast road riding than to a racetrack, where its relatively long-travel suspension (130mm travel front, 148mm rear) means the twin lacks the handling finesse of a hard-´n´-fast sportster. But the ST2 still cut a mean dash though Jerez´s twists and turns. The bike is fairly light, at 212kg dry, and its steering is reasonably quick. Yet it remained stable during rapid direction changes, and was also rock-solid when hitting bumps at high speed on the road next day.
Showa´s multi-adjustable 43mm upside-down forks and the rear shock did a good job of blending roadgoing comfort with racetrack control. The front end gave a reasonable amount of feedback, and didn´t dive too much even when provoked by the superbly powerful front stoppers (a blend of 320mm discs and new-generation Brembo four-pot calipers). The shock could have used a touch more rebound damping at Jerez, but never threatened to get seriously out of shape.
This bike can carve corners with serious opposition, too. Ground clearance is excellent, thanks to silencers whose twin mounting points allow them to be set low when the panniers are in place, or high when luggage and rider´s brain have been removed. Only the right footrest and sidestand scraped on the track. The 17-inch wheels come fitted with Metzeler´s new MEZ4 sports-touring radials (120/70 front, 170/60 rear), which gave heaps of grip and wore so well that one set lasted all day at Jerez.
Speed and cornering ability are all very well, but ergonomics and details are equally vital to a sports-tourer, and the ST2´s are good enough to suggest that it will make a useful long-haul companion. The fuel tank holds 21 litres, which should be enough for over 150 miles at a reasonable cruising pace, and the seat is wide and well padded enough to suggest that the rider would last just as long. A pillion is well catered for, too, with plenty of leg-room and a solid grab-rail.
The fairing gives plenty of protection, and the wide-spaced mirrors have split lenses for a broad field of vision – a first for bikes. I was less impressed by the lipped screen, which generated a fair amount of wind turbulence (in fairness I´m very tall, and average height riders had no complaints). The spring-loaded sidestand was hard to use without getting off the bike, and the Ducati also lacks the tailpiece luggage hooks that are a handy feature even of many sports bikes.
But Ducati´s owners insist that the ST2 marks the start of a new era for the company, and such is their confidence and determination (not to mention their willingness to invest money) that it´s hard not to believe them. Maybe the ST2 is a V-twin to respect rather than, like the 916, to fall madly in love with. But it´s a fast, fine-handling bike that promises practical and comfortable long-distance travel, and its essence is definitely Ducati.
Get Ducati motorcycle insurance for the ducati st2.
Engine Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin
Claimed power (bhp) 83bhp at 8500rpm.
Compression ratio 10.2:1
Transmission 6 speed
Carburation Marelli fuel-injection
Clutch Dry multiplate
Front suspension 43mm inverted telescopic Showa, 130mm (5.1in) travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension One damper, 148mm (5.8in) wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake 2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Double-action Brembo caliper, 245mm disc
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Rear wheel 5.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Front tire 120/70 x 17in Metzeler MEZ4 radial
Rear tire 170/60 x 17in Metzeler MEZ4 radial
Rake/trail 24 degrees/102mm (4.0in)
Wheelbase 1430mm (56.3in)
Seat height 820mm (32.3in)
Dry weight 212kg (466lb)
Top speed 140mph
Fuel capacity 21 litres