Having decided that Pegasus in Reading were to be my chosen victims, time for them to put their money where their mouth was, before I’d do likewise. So it’s a quick phone call — “Hi, remember me? – I’m the guy who got lost getting to you last week, turned up 2 minutes before you closed, parked on the pavement and kept you half an hour talking about Ducatis”. And rather than simply put the phone down and emigrate, they came back with “sure, and you’d now like a test ride, right? No problem, what would you like to try?”
Back to the sensibility versus desire thing — I’m a returning biker after many years layoff, so surely best to start with something at the sensible and less intimidating end of the range — a Monster? 900 or 750ss? Nah — been there, done that – want a faired bike and my old Pantah had pretty much the same engine in the early eighties. So that leaves the semi-sensible — the ST4 sports tourer and, of course, the insane — those design icons of the hypersports world, the 748 and 916.
Now the ST4 has the 916 engine and the 748 has essentially the same chassis as the 916, so the obvious thing to do was to test ride the ST4 and the 748 and if I liked the engine of one and the chassis of the other, then the answer would be a 916. Easy — Logic 101. But would they do it? “No problem — come along Saturday, and we’ll have PDI’d one of each for you to try”. Erk – so not only was I going to have to risk making a complete fool of myself in public but was going to have to do so on brand new machines with precisely no miles on their clocks — falling off would be double plus ungood.
So I turn up with shiny new helmet & gloves, plus my old motocross boots and baggy leather jacket (leathers not yet arrived), to the sight of two gleaming red machines parked by the roadside — the slightly anonymous bulk of the ST4 next to the greyhound litheness of the 748. Formalities complete (and fortunately they didn’t ask about recent riding experience — reckon they’d decided that they’d rather not know the awful truth), thought I’d take out the ST4 first — closest thing to a ‘normal’ riding position. Sit on the thing, start it up (no choke, just a fast idle button for the fuel injection) and warm up while peering dubiously through the highish screen. Final confidence booster, “Oh, and watch the tyres — they’re slippery as hell when new — we had two guys fall off brand new machines on the first bend last week…” Thankyou, exactly what I needed. Not.
Deep breath, slowly release clutch, wobble around that bend and accelerate gently towards the open road — wonderful torque, seamless power (roadtest cliché #47) and smoothness — this is more like it. Nip in front of a couple of contemptibly slow cars at the roundabout (London cycling keeps you in practice for this sort of thing) and head off in the general direction of Oxford. Traffic clearing, so time to wind it up a little — say about 5000rpm. Now look at speedo — I’m doing THAT speed?! really? gosh. grin. Maybe time to change into fourth? After twenty minutes or so, I’m really enjoying this — feeling the front go gently light on the throttle and the sureness of the handling — OK, so I hadn’t leant it more than a couple of degrees from vertical, but what matter, the general idea was there.
OK, Now for the 748. Sit on — God! this machine is tiny — reach forward and down for the bars. Find I’m now looking straight down at the top yoke. Crank neck into position where some semblance of forward vision is possible. They’re joking right? — Ducati secretly sponsored by national chiropractic association? Decide to give them the benefit of the doubt for the time being. That leaves the feet on the ground. OK, so who stole the footpegs? Whaddya mean, they’re up there? Just how gullible do I look? Oh, right. So head off again, still feeling that I’m on a comedy machine that can only be ridden by a clown doing a handstand over the front wheel. And I am that clown. First part through town and I’m in agony — wrists aching, lower back and neck wondering if I’ve fallen foul of the Spanish Inquisition — I really could do with the comfy chair right now. Wobble through the roundabout that I’d just scythed through on the ST4, the while deciding that this was just way too extreme for either the public road or an aging idiot who’s wrecked most of his joints over the years. Now to the first clear section of open winding road and…
?bloody hell, this needs a firm hand to turn it in — but then, sports Ducatis always did. Try again on next bend — countersteer it in and accelerate through. Wheee!! much better — this thing is on rails. Repeat. Repeat some more. Fade to red mist. Pain, what pain? Revs beautifully — definitely less torquey than the ST4, but way smoother. Eventually back to the Pegasus (the aches returning with the urban speed limit) and park next to the cooling ST. Step back and think. Tricky choice? I think not?