2004 Ducati ST4s ABS

OK, OK -

The last one was only two years old with less than 12,000 miles, so why a new one? Well, firstly the ABS. I've fancied it on a bike since I first heard it was available on cars (a long time ago).

Yes, I know BMW has offered it on bikes for ages, but I've never felt old enough for a Beemer. Second reason was that the warranty was up and I'd not got to the bottom of the intermittent brake judder, and final, clincher, was the new stuff - it's good! Ducati have done a lot of work on the front of the ST4: yup, I know it looks a bit like a VFR but the new headlight really works well (after-dark progress was a major weakness on the old model). That headlamp, by the way, is electric... well, electrically adjustable anyway - hold down both buttons as you turn the key, then press one for up the other for down, and a little servo whirrs away moving the beam - well handy if you're taking luggage or pillions on or off. And weather protection is noticeably better (when I drove it the first time, back to back from my old one, I seriously thought the speedo was over-reading - 50mph felt like 30mph on the old one but I checked it and the speedo is spot on).

The dash is also much neater (I just love that white faced tacho!) and the computer has some magic toys (Errr... shurely "unobtrusively leverages complex and ultimately detailed real-world IT functionality into a user-friendly, stylistic yet fashionable visionary experience for the committed, iconoclastic voyager"? Ed). Cough... er, yes. Stuff like instant/average fuel consumption, fuel range remaining, average speed (though it's dangerous to display this one - the temptation to try and push it up is irresistible). And you can easily convert it to run in kph, again a boon if you use the bike in Europe (and these days it's hard to enjoy it to the full in the UK). The only issue I had was that my ECU didn't work when when I got the bike (see the start of my European dash for details). But once working it's great - the only extra I'd like to see would be a top speed indicator, as you get on some Aprilias.

What else? New seat is much more comfortable (140+ miles) and the engine, though unchanged, feels smoother - possibly something to do with the catalyser (also new)? And I've fitted heated grips - what a marvellous idea. There's even a connector for it (AMP Superseal), hidden under the fairing just above the headlamp and switched via the ignition, so no worries about accidentally leaving them switched on. I had to source a three pin male AMP connector and solder it to my Oxford grips, a right pain but worth it.

They've removed the light switch, though, along with most other manufacturers - it's the law in bits of Europe so Ducati's standardised on always on. Having said that the ECU's clever enough to turn off the lights as the starter cranks or if the ignition's on without the engine for more than a minute, so it's not a design disaster.

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Back of the bike is unchanged from the last model (except the hugger's no longer carbon fibre, boo!), meaning as a part of the deal I could get the dealer to swap my pannier mounts from the old one to the the new one, saving a few hundred quid.

And, of course, she goes well - I've seen 235kph fully laden with tank bag and panniers, and 245kph without the luggage. Impressive. So what about stopping? Well, this is the best braked bike I've ridden, better even than my R1. I've tried to make the front ABS kick in on a dry surface from about 70mph and succeeded only in scaring myself. At about 30mph I tried again and did a stoppie. The rear won't lock no matter what I do, and although I can't feel any pulsing through the lever it definitely does work - turn the ABS off and you can lock up the rear as easily as on every other ST4 I've ridden.

I've had the ABS unexpectedly cut in once, when I braked on gravel, and the effect was of the bike seeming to lunge forward - very strange, but better than a locked wheel. I've subsequently discovered that Ducati bill their ABS as being 'Sports Rider' oriented, meaning it doesn't cut in until the wheel's got to a genuine tad before locking, rather than cutting in when it thinks a wheel may possibly be about to lock sometime roughly about now (apparently how other manufacturers' systems work). And it works in different modes according to whether the road surface is dry, slippery or dreadful, allegedly by comparing relative wheel speeds - cute! Plus it activates in two steps - the first just stops braking pressure increasing by closing a servo/valve between the lever and the brakes, the second actually reduces pressure in the brake lines. And (even more!) as you brake, if it does cut in, the ECU remembers the ABS activation pressure and re-applies it during 'that braking event' (which translates as 'that pull on the brake'). I guess that could increase braking distances if it activates on gravel then you move off it. Jury out that one.

So do I like her? Well, she goes like stink, handles and stops superbly, and there's toys as well - what is there not to like?!