the history of the brand allowed this rider a sharper focus of the product's performance
in relation to Ducatis of the past. Accepting delivery of the bike in Bologna
amidst a steady spring rain wasn't my idea of the optimum manner in which to become
acquainted with a bike with so much horsepower. The bright yellow bike was ridden
out to me, no instructions, no papers to sign. I was now well aware that I wasn't
in Kansas anymore. Add to this the uncertainty of my destination (somewhere near
Avellino) wet weather, an unknown bike on unknown roads and my stomach was in
a knot. After gearing up, leathers, boots, gloves, rainsuit and helmet, I hit
the starter. Nothing. Double check. Key on. Kill switch off. Clutch in. Kick stand
up - I thought. With that inauspicious start rectified, I let the fuel injected
V-Twin idle while a LCD readout blinked LOW. An indication of water temperature
not my brain function.
My mind flashed back eleven years when I accepted delivery of my Ducati 750F1S also in the rain, on an unknown bike. This boosted my confidence, a little. Past rides on Ducatis had
all been on 2 valve air-cooled machines, this would be a different experience
for me. The ST4 was unlike the Ducati that I knew, it is quiet and comfortable.
Although it is unfair to compare my race bred F1 of a dozen years ago to the ST4,
some of the breed's appeal came via its hard-edged demeanor. The F1 750 has about
half the horsepower but twice the terror. Don't be mistaken, you can still scare
yourself on a New World Ducati. The exception is now the fright comes on only
when you choose.
With my preoccupation
and worries of weather and destination it was a treat to not have to worry about
taming an unruly machine. The refinement and reliability were welcome on the A1
South out of Bologna. Fuel injection and liquid cooling are the two key features
that led to my peace of mind. The K & N filtered Del Orto carburetors on the F1
wouldn't have handled the moisture so kindly. Likewise, the Autostrada backup
around Firenze saw the water temperature rise to 100 degrees C, but didn't produce
the panic of an air-cooled machine while stationary. The bike usually cruises
at a water temperature of 69 degrees C.
Bologna and the butterflies in my stomach behind me, I was now able to think about
how terrific it was to be on such a stable machine. Blues vocalist Brian Templeton
was setting the pace ahead in a rented Fiat Punto. Punto in Italian means "Point"
and he certainly was my point man on this trip. With a little Fiat in front of
me and wet roads beneath me, there was no way that I would be able to explore
the further reaches of this machines capabilities. Somehow I thought that my mother
was behind this conspiracy. We ascended into the mountains and fog, through tunnels
and mist. It was 11 degrees Celsius, I was pretty sure that translated into cold
and wet on the Fahrenheit scale. Against my wishes we pulled into a servizzio,
I knew that if I stopped and took a chill, I would be shaking until I got into
a warm shower. As we left the rest area I spotted a black cat, I laughed until
the car pulling in next to me was a hearse, complete with dead body. The steady
nature of the ST4 allowed me the confidence to giggle and with a twist of the
wrist I left the omens behind.
back into a groove, the ST4 was as steady as the rain. We had discussed at our
last stop that I wasn't interested in stopping unless the weather dictated so.
Then it hit, torrential rain soaking right through my rainsuit. Pooling water,
zero visibility and only an occasional contact patch on the pavement dictated
our decision. We made it south of Rome to a little town named San Cesareo. Luckily
there was a hotel by the side of the Autostrada there. Soon I would be warm and
dry. With rain beating down again the next day we decided to leave the bike at
the Hotel, let my riding gear dry out for the day and continue to Montefalcione
in the Punto. I didn't have the benefit of the correct spelling on my Grandparents
village so I ended up in Montefalcone. The case of the missing "I"! Through the
kindness of strangers at the Town Offices, we got directions to the right village.
I lit two candles at St. Anthony's and right on cue the church bells pealed! We
found our way back to San Cesareo at 10:30.
all those twists and wrong turns I'm glad I wasn't on the bike. Now I was hoping
that the bike was still at the Hotel and we could get a room for the night. Two
out of three ain't bad. I'm just glad I didn't have any "splaining" to do. We
went to the next town of Frascati in search of lodging. One room one bed, "but
we have a friend that will come down and show you to his hotel." Only in Italy.
The guy shows up and of course he speaks no English. He looks at me like he has
seen a ghost and goes to make a phone call. He apparently thought that he had
to get on the back of the bike, which had him frightened beyond belief. Brian
explained that he could ride in his "machina" and everything was OK again. It
turns out that his brother had been killed on a Moto Guzzi one year ago and that
we were going to the Hotel Villa Giannetto which was named in his honor. When
we arrived it was beautiful. His other brother, Corrado greeted us and explained
about the accident. Giannetto's photo is on the registration desk. The hotel has
not even formerly opened, but if you are in the Rome area it is THE place to go.
Call them and they will come and get you. 03903476786757. They insisted that I
bring the bike into the lobby onto their brand new tile floors! Kissing my cheeks
and giving us Spumante, it is a warm memory of Italy that I will cherish.
next morning it was back to Bologna and of course the sunny day turned to downpours
once again. It wasn't steady or cold and I did get a chance to use some of that
105 hp. I even got to take off my rainsuit for the last 50 km! The trip wouldn't
have been complete with at least one run in with the Carbineri. We pulled into
the tolls in Bologna expecting to pay by credit card, which you can do at some
of the booths. Only this wasn't one of them. Lots of yelling, little understanding.
From what I can gather, they are sending a bill in the mail. What they don't know,
even though I wish it were so, is that I don't live at the Ducati factory in Bologna.
Union and relaxed trade barriers have taken away the hard brutality and unreliability
of the past and replaced it with a world class machine. To its credit Ducati has
combined sound financial direction, leading edge engineering and astute brand
marketing to set record growth. But in its quest for global market-share it has
sacrificed a piece of its Italian heritage. Swedish shocks, Japanese carburetors
and forks have replaced parts that formerly all ended in a vowel. Even though
I longed for a more passionate ride, I think that Ducati has moved forward in
the right direction with the ST4. Look for units sold of the ST4 to increase dramatically.
It is the perfect machine for the aging boy racer and I wouldn't have wanted to
make the trip on anything else. This machine may not belong on top of an Old World
village in Southern Italy, but it is the best way to get there.