Ducati ST4s ABS

Quick, comfortable and confident describes Ducati's sportiest, ABS-equipped ST

During our recent trip to Barcelona, Spain, to attend the world release of Ducati's new ST3 sport-tourer, we also had the opportunity to ride the similarly freshened ST4s ABS. Built with the same frame and bodywork as the ST3, the $16,295 ST4s ABS (subtract $1000 for the non-ABS version) is distinguished by its more powerful, four-valve Desmoquattro engine, uprated suspension and Brembo-built antilock braking system.

The ST4s' 996cc V-twin, essentially unchanged from last year, produces 117 horsepower and 72 foot-pounds of torque (both claimed). This ferocious, quick-revving motor is an adrenaline factory on fast, open roads, pulling with authority well into double-digit revs. As fun as it is at speed, however, a slight off-idle stumble and general low-rev snatchiness (a common Desmoquattro complaint) make it less than ideal for stop-and-go duty. Suspension, on the other hand, is faultless. Pairing a fully adjustable, inverted 43mm Showa fork with titanium-nitrided sliders and a similarly adjustable Oehlins rear shock, suspension is suitably taut for the hyper speeds that the eight-valver encourages, and offers excellent absorption of both high- and low-speed bumps. Everything as you'd expect on a bike with a price tag north of $15,000.

Conditions during the first half of our day-long ride through the Guilleries Mountains were excellent, but the skies opened during lunch and a steady rain continued throughout the afternoon--perfect conditions, it turned out, for evaluating the ST4s' ABS system. Brembo's electronic antilock system is described as a "noninvasive" ABS, meaning that the antilock algorithm only activates when the wheel is on the verge of lock-up. Practically speaking, noninvasive ABS is significantly less likely to engage or interfere during the course of normal riding. In addition, a manual override button on the left handlebar switch allows the rider to completely disengage the ABS if desired.

In practice (i.e., stabbing the brakes in a wet parking lot), it takes a surprisingly aggressive input at the lever to lock the wheel and activate the ABS. It's not an overly sensitive system, making it perfect for such a sport-oriented motorcycle. Once the ABS is engaged, except for "electronic jackhammer" sounds emanating from under the seat, sensations are minimal--just a slight vibration through the chassis as the bike brakes straight and true to a (slightly longer than usual) stop.

The only downside to checking the ABS option box is a notable decline in brake feel at the lever. The ABS control unit is hidden beneath the saddle, so the brake lines, which feed into this unit, are significantly longer than on the non-ABS bike. Even with hard steel tubes replacing flexible lines along the chassis, feel at the lever is still sponge city. There is much to be said, though, for the spike of confidence that reliable ABS provides --especially when riding at a spirited pace on wet, twisty, foreign roads. This alone will justify the extra $1000 expense for many riders. --Aaron P. Frank

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