Jerry Maguire might have said, “Show me the money”, but I reckon if the Ducati ST3 could talk it would say, “Show me the kilometres”!
I’d been looking forward to riding the Ducati ST3. I’d sat on one a few times and found it quite comfortable; and road tests were high in their praise of it’s ability as a sports-tourer. And also, well, it’s a Ducati isn’t it! It wouldn’t be the first Ducati I’d ridden, but it promised to be the most exciting!
Sitting on the bike re-affirmed my opinion of it as a comfortable bike. The seat is quite plush and comfortable, and the riding position has about the right amount of lean-forward for a sports-tourer. My only complaint was the clip-on style handle-bars, which were angled down a bit too much for my liking. This didn’t concern me to begin with, and it’s probably just a matter of getting used to it, but it seemed to put the weight on the thumb side of my hand; to the extent that towards the end of the ride I found both hands getting sore at the base of the thumb. The bars are adjustable for height through a range of 20mm, so raising them a bit might help; although it was the angle rather than the height that seemed to be the problem. Apart from that though, it was very comfortable.
It’s a good-looking bike too; or at least I think it is! It’s purposeful and sleek. Still very much a "tourer", but with a “sporty” nature underneath! (I just wish they’d leave the internet address off the thing! All Ducatis have that, and it’s daggy!).
Also suiting the sports-tourer role are the standard panniers. They look good, they’re lockable of course, and appear to be high-quality items. Even with these, weight is a very reasonable 203kg.
There are other things that impress; even little things that give it character and make it seem "special" somehow. Like the "Ducati" name embossed on the seat.
The cockpit is a bit plain; containing a large round analogue tacho (with no red-line?), and on the left of this a digital panel that contains the speedo and other displays for such things as clock and fuel-level. Other info, like fuel-consumption and range-to-empty, are available at the push of buttons (which I didn't bother trying).
Start the engine and there is the unmistakable throb of the Italian V-twin. And the “noise-police” don’t seem to have been as tough on this as the others; it isn’t as quiet, which allows you to hear and enjoy that Ducati sound! You do feel the vibes from the big twin, especially at low revs or when it’s working harder at highway speeds. It’s not unpleasant (in fact it’s part of the bike’s character!), just not as smooth as the others. Capacity is 992cc, and it develops 78kw and98Nm of torque.
The idle seems very low (about 1,000rpm), and you almost expect it to stall when you click it into gear, but there’s no clutch drag and the revs don’t change at all.
So, now to take it for a ride. The dealer had a test-route they suggested you take. Suggested fairly strongly that you take, in fact! They were happy for you to go around twice if you wanted, but they preferred you stick to that route. Reason being (so they said) was that if you didn’t come back, they'd know where to come looking for you. (Makes you wonder what they thought most likely – that the bike might break-down or that you’d fall off?). The route was a pretty good one anyway, consisting of suburban traffic for a while, a winding hilly section, and then some expressway, before leading back into the suburbs again. So off I went.
Well, actually it took a while to get going; because the hazard-lights were flashing. At first I thought it was the blinkers (there is only one dashboard light for both indicators and hazards), but after pushing the indicator switch repeatedly I peered over the front and found both sides were flashing. I must've bumped the hazard-light switch, and somehow the movement of the switch to turn it off seemed opposite to what I would've expected. I pushed it back and forth a few times before I finally worked out which way was "off". Adding to my embarrassment was the fact that every time I pushed it into gear the thing cut out. Press the starter and nothing happened. Put it back in neutral, fire it up, snick it into gear and – it stopped again! Yes, that’s right, in all the fuss over trying to stop the lights from flashing I’d forgotten to lift the side-stand! (But why? That’s always the first thing I do when I get on a bike - lean right and flick the stand up!). So now feeling even more embarrassed, (and with the salesman probably starting to think that the flashing hazard-lights was the bike somehow showing it’s opinion of the old bloke sitting on it!), I took off.
First impression is that the bike feels quite high-geared. And it is. 1st gear runs about 10kph / 1,000rpm. But I didn’t stall it; and never felt I was going to. The big twin’s torque pulls it away quite easily. It’ll pull from around 2,500rpm quite cleanly, although there’s a bit of vibe through the bike. From 3,000rpm it’s smooth and easy. At low revs through the traffic it is a bit snatchy, on and off the throttle.
The gear-change is a bit clunky. It’s positive enough (although I did have trouble finding neutral at one stage), but just a bit more “mechanical” than it might ideally be.
Through the suburbs the steering felt very heavy. Maybe it was an overly-stiff steering-damper, I don’t know, but it felt like the front tyre was flat; so much so that I actually stopped to check it was okay! Consequently, it didn’t turn in to corners easily. Adding to this was an exaggerated tendency to stand up and run wide if you accelerated in a corner.
I knew that the test-route was mostly fairly smooth road, so I turned down a side-street and went looking for a few patched-bitumen sections to try out the ride. And at these around-town speeds the ride was a little jiggly. Suspension is very sophisticated, having upside-down Showa forks and a Sachs unit at the rear. Front is adjustable for pre-load, while the rear is fully adjustable. So maybe a bit of fiddling could improve it a bit.
So, around town it wasn’t the most pleasant thing to be on. But once I cleared the traffic and hit the open road, suddenly it all made sense! This bike was made for the open road; and that's where it wants to be! The bike becomes very smooth and easy to ride. The handling lightens up and that heavy feel at the front disappears. Get up to 100kph and the handling is light, positive and secure. And as speed increases it feels great on the road; solid and positive.
The ride too is smooth and comfortable, and you forget the jiggly feel around town. (Although, as I mentioned, the road surface out here was pretty smooth).
Acceleration is good; twist the throttle at any speed and the bike surges forward, as you feel the big twin cylinder engine thumping harder beneath you. Even on steep hills the bike accelerates well, the power and torque combining to give good performance from almost any speed.
The high gearing soon has the bike up into the speed it wants to travel at. Wind it out a bit in 2nd and you’re doing 100kph almost before you’ve had time to look down at the speedo. Top gear (of 6) pulls 28kph / 1,000rpm, so cruising is very relaxed; or very fast! At 110kph the tacho is just getting to 4,000.
Cruising speed on my ride was restricted by speed-limits. The expressway was 100kph, and the Ducati was just getting into it’s stride at that. I tried to keep it within license-preserving speeds, but it drifted up to around 130 a couple of times; and loved it! When it’s cruising at high speed it’s obviously in it’s element! With the high gearing, smooth feel, great handling and good performance, you just want to point it at the open road and let it eat up the kilometres!
As I reached the end of the expressway section, I intentionally missed the turn-off back into the city and got in a little more expressway before turning around and heading back. (They didn’t seem to mind when I told them!).
The brakes are fabulous! Especially the front, which grabs the discs harder than any bike I’ve ridden! And I suppose they should be, the calipers being Brembo units with braided lines as standard.
It was a hot day, but it wasn’t hot on the bike. The exposed exhausts (rather than enclosing them under the seat, as is the style with some other bikes today) allows the heat to escape. The fairing must do a reasonable job of dissipating the heat too. And speaking of the fairing, the fairing and screen also do a good job of keeping the wind off, which adds to the comfort of the high-speed cruising.
At $18,495, plus the usual on-road costs, it’s at the expensive end of bikes in this class. But Ducati does throw in free 24-hour road-side assistance for the first year. Of course, if you’re looking for cheap transport you wouldn’t be looking at the Duke! Cost of servicing, which has been a bit of a sore-point with Ducati, has been reduced (Ducati claim that current models are up to 50% cheaper to service than their predecessors), but as with most Europeans, you know it’s going to cost more to own than a Japanese bike!
So, over-all, it's a kind of mixed-bag. At low speeds and around town it was disappointing. Where it wants to be is out on the open road with a long day’s ride infront of it. (Or maybe it just needs a faster rider on it!). Under 100kph it’s a bit awkward and unpleasant; but over that it’s smooth and fast and great to ride. But that’s not where it’s always going to be is it! Well not with me anyway. For the riding I do, there are a lot of places (not just around town, but winding mountain roads etc) where the speed is under 100kph; and I don’t think I’d enjoy the Ducati in those situations. But on the right roads (which is anywhere that isn’t slow) it’s a great sports-tourer! And it is a Ducati!
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