Here’s where I come full circle: I’m doing higher mileages and longer distances — over 400 mile plus days on a 748 are entirely doable, but my back, neck, knees and occasional passengers are starting to ask telling questions. The 748 is also building a highish mileage, so everything points towards it being time for a change. Reluctantly, as I’ve had a great time with this machine — It does need a new chain and sprockets, and the rear tyre is looking just a tad distressed. Apart from needing a bit of a freshen-up at its forthcoming 18000 mile service, it’s running beautifully.
So what to go for? The first intent — a 999, in standard or S form, has already been dealt with, on the grounds of comfort and cost. The Aprilia Futura looks good (yeah, my taste is weird like that), but is a little characterless; the BMW R1150GS is great, but doesn’t quite do it, and the new Honda VFR800 is a two-stroke reincarnate. So it’s a Ducati ST4s, that’s what. The ST4s: take a concept — that of a sports tourer, then hand the development over to a bunch of Italian engineers who can’t, under any circumstances, bring themselves to put the ‘tourer’ before the ‘sports’. They started by taking the 996 engine, retuning it slightly for more low-down torque and stuffing it into the ST frame. They then found that, with the less restrictive low-level exhausts, it puts out MORE power than the 996, not less. Thus inspired, they went to town on the suspension, with a very shiny remote pre-load Ohlins rear shock and Showa Titanium-nitrided forks, complemented by lightweight Marchesini 5-spoke wheels. That’s nice, then. All wrapped in the now-trad ST bodywork, with big tank, comfy dual set and pillion grabrail. Not to forget the pannier mounts. And a centre stand. So practical too. Continue reading
Brought to you by the Institute of Advanced Muppetry. Not the venerable IAM itself, you understand, but a number of its members. You what? OK, let’s rewind for a moment: start with a very good idea – to organise a track day for IAM-affiliated clubs, specifically for those people who’ve been put off track days by some of the on-track behaviour and the generally testosterone-soaked atmosphere around these events. Sounds good. Then pick an experienced organiser and book Cadwell Park, one of THE great bike circuits, anywhere. Sounds very good. In fact there’s about twenty people from WVAM going, which should make it a nice sociable occasion.
Now fast-forward to the day itself. [By this device I conveniently gloss over my hurling of toys from the group pram on the ride up — sorry, but 120 miles in four hours through 30/40mph limits on a 748 is going to do in anyone’s head (and in my case, their back). The journey improved though – the second, solo, 120 miles was over clear and wonderful roads and took an hour-and-a-half. Antisocial git that I am.]
There have already been more words written and opinions expressed on the Ducati 999 than on most machines of recent years — replacing something as iconic as the 916 design was never going to be less than contentious. Over the next few months we’ll all no doubt be reading test reports and comparisons on the 999 until terminal boredom sets in. We’ll see it being wheelied, stoppied, ridden knee down, elbow down and occasionally arse up, by road testers whose behaviour is entirely untempered by the need to pay for maintenance, tyres and damage. Good for them — we’ll enjoy the vicarious carnage.
Me, I’m neither particularly fast nor painfully slow, moderately competent on a good day and prone to the occasional braindead moment — pretty much like most of us, then. So this is the everyman opinion, albeit concocted over the course of a single hour-and-a-bit’s test ride. This test ride has been occasioned by the decision to change bikes — time to pension off the faithful 748 for something a little newer, perhaps a little quicker and possibly a little more comfortable — the old injuries are playing up.
So here are my very personal impressions of what is, in brief, dynamically the best motorcycle I have ever ridden; visually, one that I find to be something of a curate’s egg and which I found ergonomically, er, perplexing. Of course, your mileage may vary…