The Ducati ST4 in Italy!
By Greg Sarni

With plans to attend the Gran Prix of San Marino at Imola, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the village of Montefalcione. From these rural hills in Southern Italy my Grandparents migrated to Boston exactly one hundred years ago. Being a proud Ducati owner, I thought of how appropriate it would be to return to the Old World aboard a New World Ducati. Ducati Motor provided the 4-valve bright yellow Sport Tourer that would return me to the family homeland. The following is an analysis of the motorcycle and the company that is leaving present day Italy in the past.

The Company

The Ducati ST4 kindly provided by Ducati Motor Spa.

Founded by Antonio Cavalieri Ducati and his three sons on July 4, 1926 the company was among the first to manufacture wireless radios. After moving to the outskirts of Bologna in 1935, the company was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II and leveled by Allied Forces. The factory was rebuilt after the war, manufacturing a number of items including movie projectors and refrigeration compressors. Ducati first started to enjoy success from production of power driven bicycles. This first model, the Cucciolo with its four stroke 48cc engine, can be seen at the Ducati Museo. The Italian government operated Ducati from 1946 - 1984. During this time, Fabio Taglioni introduced his unique Desmodromic valve gear, which is still used on all present day Ducatis.

Ducati has won eight of the last ten World Superbike Championships and has also enjoyed global success with their Ducati Stores marketing strategy. The stores number 53 worldwide and offer everything the sophisticated Ducatisti demand, including Ducati Gear apparel, accessories and special parts from Ducati Performance. This new division of the company was formed through the acquisition of Gio.Ca.Moto International. Their latest financial reports demonstrate the company is on track and enjoying excellent fiscal strength. Between 140 - 180 motorcycles are produced in Bologna each day. For the14th consecutive quarter, the company has just announced record revenue growth and for the first quarter of 2000, total revenues increased 47.3%. Ducati is treading uncharted waters for a brand known more for performance than comfort.

With over 900 dealers worldwide the three categories of bikes break down in sales figures according to the following segments:

Product category sales by unit for first 9 months 1999:
Sport Segment 39%
Monster 52%
Sport Touring 9%

The following is a breakdown of where the bikes are headed when they leave the Bologna based Ducati factory. Unit sales by geographical area for first 9 months 1999:
Europe 79%
Japan 3%
Rest of World 3%

Model Description

The Ducati ST4 is their top of the line Sport Touring model, its motor straight out of the legendary 916. What a place to start! It should be noted that the readers of Motorrad Reisen & Sport, one of Germany's leading motorcycle magazines, voted the Ducati 916 as the "Bike of the Century". Four valve heads, liquid cooling and 105 horsepower explain why the model is named ST and not TS. After all, spirited sportriding and racing is where the heart of Ducati beats.

Hauling this speed down are 320mm Brembo front disc brakes with Brembo P4 30-34 front calipers. A new for 2000, PSC 16 master cylinder actuates the 4 pistons through steel braided lines. Gone is the annoying automatic side stand return, but as I found out, the ST4 is equipped with a side stand anti engine start-up sensor. An indication of its race heritage is the fat 180/55 17 inch rear tire. The bike doesn't start to make serious power until it comes on with abundance above 5,000 rpm, peaking at 9,000 with a safety cut-out at 10,000. Claimed top speed is 153 mph. You get the feeling that nobody on the Autostrada would mind if you proved it. On the contrary, local custom would consider it a crime to not utilize the prodigious power provided within this Italian work of art.

Riding Impressions

Understanding 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.


The Ducati ST4 kindly provided by Ducati Motor Spa.

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.

With 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.

Getting 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.

With 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.

The 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.

European 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.

return to top
Copyright 2001-2012 Greg Sarni, USA