Wendell Phillips always seems to have a gleam in his eye. Could be he's just thinking about his fantastically successful aftermarket company, Lockhart Phillips, an enterprise that for a sportbike nut like Phillips must be akin to inheriting the See's empire (as in See's Famous Old Time Candies, registered trademark and all). Lately, though, we're fairly sure Phillips's faraway look has something to do with this bike--a mutated Ducati ST4s that packs just about one of everything from the telephone-book-thick Lockhart Phillips catalog--and then some.
Phillips's motivation for building this pazzo motocicletta goes beyond pimping his wares. The ex-racer wanted a fast, capable motorcycle he could take places. Something with a humane riding position and at least the option of hard luggage. He sought the do-it-all motorcycle: a ride he could take touring but also use on track days to humiliate riders on supposedly better equipment. (Phillips admits to turning a few laps with the bags in place, just to teach the squids a lesson.)
At first glance, the Phillips ST4s looks like any of a number of Ducatis that have been put through the aftermarket ringer: carbon fiber here, titanium bits there, the usual kind of motojewelry that sets purists' teeth on edge. And there are plenty of cosmetic improvements: From Ducati Performance you'll see carbon-fiber bits adorning the gas cap, front tank trim, as well as replacing the stock rear fender and dual mufflers. Carbon clutch and countershaft covers come from European Cycle Specialties. Phillips's own Lockhart Phillips USA Carbon Works provides the lower fairings and tank buckle guard. The carbon-look frame sliders are also a Lockhart Phillips item. The stock Brembo wheels and axle adjuster plates are powdercoated black, while various aluminum bits and pieces--the rearsets and footpegs, for example--are black-anodized. To continue the theme, most of the fasteners are zinc-coated black.
Phillips is a smart guy, so his ST4s got more than just a cosmetic makeover. (This part of the project was handled by the California Speed Shop in Costa Mesa, California.) The engine retains its stock 996cc displacement and original internals but gets a host of external modifications, including the aforementioned Ducati Performance slip-on mufflers. (Judging by the severe grinding they've received from Phillips, a high-mount system must be in the works. At the least, you can expect the ST4s' replacement to have a high, central pipe like the 999 and Multistrada.) Evoluzione Cycle Sports provides an ignition amplifier, high-flow air filter and new EPROM for the fuel-injection computer. These modifications coerce 110.8 horsepower (at 9250 rpm) and 67.0 foot-pounds of torque (at 7250 rpm) from the desmoquattro mill. Compare that with the last ST4s we tested: 107.8 hp at 8750 rpm and 66.7 foot-pounds at 7250 rpm. Better yet, the modded ST4s' torque curve hovers over the stocker at every test point. On the road, the Phillips ST4s is a beast, bellowing through the dual exhaust, popping and farting on the overrun while constantly testing your self control with a seemingly limitless amount of torque and flexibility.
Such a setup would be serious enough for any sane businessman/enthusiast, so the next modification might cast doubt on Phillips's judgment. Discreetly bolted under the seat is a bottle of nitrous oxide, just one component of the Nitrous Express NX kit. (Nitrous is your basic oxidizer, creating a much more dense air charge for the engine. As the system injects N2O to the engine, it also sends a veritable torrent of fuel in a circuit separate from the regular injection scheme. More air plus more fuel equals more power.) Open the regulator on the tank, arm the system with a hidden-in-plain-sight switch on the dash and you're ready. Because big twins are big twins, the ST4s doesn't tolerate sucking nitrous below 3500 rpm; it'll chuff, buck and act all surlylike. So find a straight bit of pavement and whack the throttle wide open above 3500 rpm. The ST4s surges ahead under perfect control, making just a bit more of its basso profundo. It feels like what it is: 13.6 more horses in the stable. The nitrous system works automatically when you reach full throttle, but in this installation continues to deliver fuel and oxidizer for a second after you close the throttle, creating a delay before the power drops back. Don't leave your braking too late, eh?
Other driveline modifications include a #520 chain conversion (using a Regina chain and AFAM 15/40 sprockets that result in shorter-than-stock overall gearing), a billet-hub STM dry clutch and a reverse-shift kit from Ducati Performance. To go with the race-pattern shifting--maybe a critical accessory if you're too used to a street pattern--is the Translogic electronic shifter. Simply hold the throttle wide open, nudge the shift lever down for the next gear and bang! The Translogic interrupts the ignition just long enough to unload the transmission and complete the shift. Works like a dream.
More than 124 horsepower for a sport-touring chassis might seem like a questionable idea, but Phillips worked to protect handling. Lockhart Phillips recently became a distributor for Penske shocks, so this bike has a fully adjustable unit out back, set up firmly and boasting a titanium spring from Renton Coil Springs. The Penske comes with all-way damping adjustments, plus fiddleable ride height; the bike is raised 25mm in the rear, in part to improve cornering clearance. (To the same end, the stock centerstand was removed.) Race Tech fettled the Showa fork, and it too is clearly set up for severe track use. The suspension is firm but never harsh, even over some of Southern California's worst concrete-block freeways. Overall, this calibration makes the stock ST4s seem positively marshmallowlike.
Because Phillips's ST4s can go really hard, it was his intention that it stop equally hard. To that end, the standard front-end braking components have been supplanted by Ferodo Brake Tech rotors clenched by four-pad Brembo calipers operated by a Brembo radial-mount master cylinder with the help of Goodridge braided-steel lines. (Phew.) Let's just say the new generation of radial-mount brakes has nothing on this setup. The ST4s' front brake is brutally powerful, yet easy to modulate and seemingly unaffected by temperature. A similar radial master cylinder on the left side operates the clutch through an Evoluzione billet slave cylinder; despite the stouter clutch, the effort is considerably lower than stock. Good show.
Ultimately, Phillips managed the nearly impossible: He made an already excellent bike better without ruining it. There's a joke in the industry that any modification program ends up being a series of "hop downs." Not this time. Everything we love about the ST4s--the sporty but comfortable riding position, decent luggage, low vibration levels, adequate weather protection, delightful steering and signature V-twin lunge--remains, only with substantially increased performance. You probably don't want to know that the modifications more than double the cost of the bike, do you? We're sorry about that. But you can bet that every time Wendell Phillips blows past a 998 on the racetrack, he isn't.
And you thought Ducati sport-tourers were for poseurs?
Resplendent in the afternoon light, Uncle Wendell's touring folly reflects a ton of work a
Translogic electronic shifter interrupts the ignition as you poke at the shift lever, maki
Pay no attention to the man in black. He can't help the wheelies. Right: High-end brakes,
A one-off project meant to dethrone the ST4s
Oh, how the fur did fly. If you can, recall the January 2002 Motorcyclist. Therein we pitted Ducati's new-for-'02 ST4s against the still-fresh Aprilia RST1000 Futura, and tossed a BMW K1200RS and Triumph Sprint ST into the comparison just to see what would happen. (They got creamed.) Based on its stirring engine, superior suspension and much-improved build quality, the Ducati prevailed--but not without considerable kvetching from a dingy corner office that the game was rigged. How stupid could we be? The Aprilia was clearly a better sport-touring bike. (We stand by our conclusion that the Ducati is the better sport-touring bike.) Above the din, we sensed static all the way from Atlanta emanating from Aprilia's enthusiastic marketing guy, Robert Pandya. But Pandya, more content to do than complain, decided to create Aprilia's version of the ST4s--an RST with high-spec suspension, a tweaked engine, and various other bits and pieces intended to close the gap between it and the suddenly golden Ducati.
This is that motorcycle. Do not be deceived by its out-of-the-crate appearance. It was Pandya's desire to create a Q-ship, a subtle bit of one-upmanship. This RST has fangs.
The boost starts with the engine, as it always seems to. A Taylor Made exhaust system takes over after the stock head pipes and underbelly catalyst stop. Despite the sound-killing nature of the catcon, the twin pipes bellow a delicious tune. At idle, the RST sounds like a big-block motorboat idling at the dock, but at speed the 60-degree V-twin sends out a characteristic but just-quiet-enough growl. It doesn't sound quite like a Ducati, but the expulsary product is more interesting than, say, a V-Rod's effluence or the flatulence of a flat twin. And there be horsepower here: With no other changes besides the pipe, the jet-black RST lays down 107.5 peak horsepower and 68.6 foot-pounds of torque. Compare that with a totally stock (i.e. restricted) RST at 92.3 horses and 57.6 foot-pounds or a stock-exhaust, derestricted-intake RST at 101.8 hp and 63.4 foot-pounds.
That's a healthy power boost, and it comes with no side effects. Despite leaving the stock Sagem fuel injection alone, the RST runs beautifully. Surely there's more peak power to be had by tailoring the fuel/air ratios, but the stock setup works well.
As we rode it, the suspension is less successful, mostly due to lack of development. Oehlins supplies the multiadjustable shock, and while there's no doubt it affords better wheel control than the stock Sachs item, it, like the stocker, is softly sprung. Fortunately, there are plenty of tuning opportunities in the aftermarket. And by increasing the length of the shock, it's possible to raise the Futura's rear ride height, improving steering feel and cornering clearance, especially with heavier riders aboard. Up front, the bike wears an unmodified fork--whose harshness is magnified by the smooth ride of the Oehlins out back--and Spiegler eight-piston calipers gripping ductile-iron rotors. They're amazing: powerful yet predictable, every bit as good as the new four-pad Brembo brakes appearing on high-end sportbikes. In addition, the bike has Spiegler billet master cylinders for the brake and clutch, which feel creamy and light.
No doubt you're wondering if the modified Futura is the equal of the ST4s. In the form we sampled, no...not quite.
But the potential is most definitely there.
The twin snorkels of the Taylor Made ($645; 818/781-8123, www.racetaylormade.com) slip-on