Buell's S3T vs. Ducati's ST2By Motorcycle Online Staff
LOS ANGELES, April, 1998 -- The good people in the
marketing departments of your favorite motorcycle manufacturers have tried
to make it easy for consumers to find the bike of their dreams. In North
America, the epicenter of consumer culture, there are three primary
street-only motorcycle categories: Custom/cruisers, sportbikes, and
tourers. Each category represents, in a nice, neat package, what
manufacturers believe consumers expect from their bikes. The
custom/cruiser category seems to say, "Hey, look at me." The sportbike
category shouts, "Hey, look at me wad." The touring category declares,
"Hey, you can't help but look at me because my bike is bigger than yours."
these three main categories come hybrids, and this is where marketing
departments have taken a few liberties. Dual-sport motorcycles, for
example, are not sportbikes but standards that can be ridden, for the most
part, on dirt and gravel roads. Then there are sport-touring motorcycles,
a category created for the middle-aged rider who prefers a more aggressive
bike than a cruiser or full dresser, yet is either intimidated by hardcore
sportbikes like GSX-Rs and 916s, or after riding one for a few miles,
finds it necessary to make an appointment with a chiropractor. An easy way
to tell if a manufacturer intends a bike to fall within the sport-tourer
category is to look for an "S" or a "T" somewhere in the bike's
But being geeks conditioned to a world of precise commands and codes,
the staff at MO tends to have very literal minds. To us, words have
specific, precise meanings, so when we hear "sport-touring motorcycle,"
bikes come to mind: Honda's ST1100 and BMW's R1100RS, for example. Quick,
comfortable, touring bikes that handle relatively well -- touring
motorcycles with sporty capabilities.
When we were dreaming up shootouts, we wanted to take some long rides,
so we immediately penciled into our editorial schedule, "Sport-Tourer
Shootout." Searching for any excuse to flee Los Angeles, we scheduled a
couple of runs up north, and with the introduction of Buell's S3T
Thunderbolt and Ducati's ST2 Sport Turismo, there were now enough "S" or
"T" bikes on the market for perhaps two or three northerly excursions.
First, we would compare the twin-cylinder sport-tourers, the Buell and Duc
along with BMW's R1100RS. Later, we'll test the multi-cylinder bikes.
a few miles on the tight mountain roads between Gorman and Paso Robles, we
noticed that the Ducati and the Buell felt at home while the R1100RS, so
comfortable on the freeways and highways, had a very hard time keeping up.
Sitting in a Paso Robles motel room drinking Coronas and mutilating limes
with a butter knife we'd lifted from the Denny's across the street, it
dawned on us, between burps, that we might have stumbled upon yet another
hybrid class of motorcycle.
ST2 and the S3T are not so much sport-tourers, as touring sports. What's
the difference, you say? Well, in "sport-tourers", "sport" modifies
"tourer." Thus, a "sport-tourer" is essentially an aggressive touring
bike, like the BMW R1100RS. However, flip-flop the words, where "touring"
modifies "sport", you have a completely different concept -- a sportbike
with touring features. It seems as though we are splitting semantic hairs,
but we feel the difference looms large. This is how we see the Ducati ST2
and the Buell S3T Thunderbolt -- sportbikes set up for touring duty.
especially overnight runs through your favorite backroads, is something
both these bikes do well. The stock seats on both aren't bad, they're just
not great. Seating positions and overall rider ergonomics are good. Where
one bike is comfortable, the other isn't and vica-versa. The Ducati is
more hardcore sport. Lower bars place the rider farther over the front
wheel than on the Buell, and the pegs are swept a little farther back. The
Duc's fairing managed windblast well at high speeds and helped keep weight
off the rider's wrists, but at speeds below 70 mph the ST2's more
aggressive, forward riding position was uncomfortable for long-distance
freeway riding. The Buell's more upright position felt great in the city
and at low and medium speeds. Conversely, it was at high speeds, over 85
mph, that windblast became bothersome.
straight, wide-open road will not make these bikes happy. Like their
sportbike cousins, the ST2 and the S3T are at home on tight, twisting
roads. In the slower, tighter corners, the Buell has the decided advantage
with its smaller wheelbase and wide handlebars that offer greater
leverage. In the fast corners both bikes handled very well. However, we
were surprised that the ST2 is a relatively "heavy" turning bike. "Light"
and "quick turning" are descriptives generally associated with Ducs, yet
the Buell turned quicker. In designing the ST2, Ducati opted for more
ST2's chassis sports a tubular trestle frame similar to the 916 in
torsional rigidity and lightness. Weight distribution of the Ducati is
spread out between the front and rear a little more evenly than the Buell,
which exhibits a rear-weight bias. Accordingly, the Buell doesn't always
want to keep its front end on the ground, and it can be slightly twitchy
in high speed corner transitions. However, its excellent chassis and stiff
suspension helped keep the S3T very stable over fast, rough roads.
the braking on the Buell was better than on the Ducati. The Nissin
six-piston caliper and sintered metal pad bind with amazing force. In
fact, the initial bite is so strong that you can't simply "grab a
handful," despite having only a single front rotor. The Ducati is equipped
with twin 320 mm floating Brembo discs and four-piston calipers in the
front and a single 245 mm disc with a twin-piston caliper at the rear.
Initial bite was a bit soft, thus a bit more forgiving. Still, perhaps
because of the forward position of the rider, the Ducati suffered from
greater brake dive than the Buell.
One area in which the Ducati clearly had the advantage over the Buell
is ground clearance. The Ducati's narrow footpegs are set higher and
farther back than the Buell's lower and more comfortable pegs. Also,
the saddlebags off, the Ducati's muffler can be raised for even more
ground clearance. A very trick feature.
The Buell S3T (and the S3 as well) is powered by the same engine we
raved about in our review of the S1 White
Lightning, pumping out 88 horsepower at the rear wheel and 76 ft-lbs
of torque. Suprisingly, all that power came at a relatively low cost. The
S3T averaged 43 miles per gallon. The Ducati is powered by a new version
of its 90-degree, liquid-cooled V-twin engine, enlarged to 944cc for
touring duty. SOHC, 2-valve desmo heads similar to Ducati's early Paso
models, are employed. The ST2 averaged 39 miles per gallon. The
ThunderStorm is clearly the more powerful engine, and the only complaint
we have stems from the familiar heat from the right side pipes and the
trademark vibration at idle that all but disappears when the engine revs
over 3000 rpm. The Ducati was clearly smoother at idle and low speeds, but
we did note some mirror distortion at a higher clip on the freeway. Clutch
and shifting play were very similar, both having a heavy feel and pull.
the end, both the Ducati and the Buell were in a virtual tie. However,
what tipped the balance in favor of the Ducati was the ST2's overall fit
and finish. We liked the easy-to-read instrument panel, and the digital
odometer and water temperature gauge. Buell's minimalist instrument panel,
which works well with the naked Cyclone and Lightning, is lacking on a
touring sport. Ducati has excellent, easy-to-open-and-remove hardbags,
similar to the BMW's popular and functional system. On the other hand, the
Buell's bags aren't designed to be removed unless they are open and empty
(though, to Buell's credit, the bags do come with a nice set of removable
bag liners). In fact, we couldn't open the right side bag at all due to an
early production glitch that Buell has since corrected.
The Ducati ST2's sleek and
stylish design reminds us of BMW and their meticulous attention to detail.
Aesthetically, from headlight to taillight, the ST2 is nearly flawless.
Although the Buell creates a striking profile, we do have some issues.
While the lower fairing does an adequate job in protecting the rider from
the elements, it is ugly. Also, the right side fairing cracked at the
mounting joint on the engine case. Common to all S3s and S3Ts, the
windscreen is crooked. Don't get us wrong, both bikes are very cool.
However, it's policy at Motorcycle Online to declare a winner for
each shootout, and, in a very close contest, we choose Ducati's ST2 as the
winner in our Twin Touring Sport Shootout.
1. Mark Hammond, Managing EditorWhen I announced I was riding the Ducati
to Vegas, the staff asked me if I were on crack. Ducatis aren't exactly
known for their reliability, and the staff had vision of me stuck in
Baker, home to what seems like as many fast-food joints as people, as well
as a three-story thermometer, but then the negative lead bolt on the Buell
fell out on Billy at 1:00 a.m. in Echo Park, not a particularly choice
place to be stranded either. Besides, this is supposed to be Ducati's
long-distance touring bike. If it couldn't make a trip from L.A. to Vegas
-- a 550 mile round trip -- then what good is it?
The ST2 made the trip easily. In fact, the ST2 served us well for the
entire time we had it -- almost 9 weeks -- with nary a complaint. Except
for the negative lead snafu, the Buell also performed well, and I might
have picked the Buell number one if it had easily removable bags, a
straight windscreen, and lost the ugly lower fairing that ruined the lines
of a very good looking bike. While I would have preferred the Duc with a
little more power, the ST2 did everything well, from performance to
profile. The Buell is cool, but the Ducati is a little more refined.
Bartels, Associate EditorNo question in my mind, the Ducati ST2
is the winner here. If you're not a racer like Chuck, you're not going to
be compliaining about slow steering and a lack of power. This puppy could
waste almost anything with or without saddlebags down Highway 58 (one of
the Central California roads we tested on). It looks great, the fairing
just works, and it has that cool offset headlight like on the 916. This
bike is pure sex.
The Buell, just like all Buells, is a cool bike, it just needs a few
things fixed. You want to get over the front end of this bike to keep the
front wheel more firmly planted on the ground, but the seat tapers off to
the size of a postage stamp at the front. That's great if you want to do
wheelies, but not if you want to tear up a canyon. Also, the detail wasn't
there like it was on the Ducati. The minimallist approach that works so
well on the Lightning, needs a little refinement in sport-tourer trim, or
touring-sport, or whatever...
3. Chuck Graves, Contributing Editor & Racer The Ducati was
fine. The steering was a little slow and it could use a little more
top-end in the twisties. Sure, it's stable, but it's a Ducati. Where's the
I took the Buell up to Malibu with Clint, my mechanic, and tooled
around. He could barely keep up on his CBR600F3. The S3T steers quickly,
is very comfortable, and has a killer 90hp motor. The Buell rules.
Go to Motorcycle Online
© 1998 Motorcycle Online, Inc.
Buell S3T Thunderbolt
||Point the S3T at a twisty road: The twistier the better.|
|The bags are spacious, but not well-designed. They stick out too far
(the Duc's were recessed, caught less bugs and pushed less wind), the
latch broke, and the latching mechanism is quirky, to say the least.
||However, the removable bag liner is sweet.|
|Buell added an analog clock to the minimalist dash.
||Monster torque and the quick turn-ins made the Buell scream in the
tight stuff. The only problem were the comfortable, but low
|A nice touch: Fairing bags tucked beside the instrument panel.
||The negative battery bolt (shown here) fell out during a trip through
downtown LA at 1:00 a.m. Fortunately, a friend with insomnia and a
ready-to-be-cannibalized Magna in his back yard came to the rescue. |
|In fast sweepers the Buell experienced slight headshakes in corner
||Some complained about the strong bite of the new Nissin calipers,
while others thought it cool as hell. Altogether, braking on the Buell was
far better than on the Ducati.|
|The lower fairing doesn't do a great job of blocking the wind, and it
looks god-awful as well. The lower right-side fairing cracked from
||The Thunderbolt's oddly tapered seat, while fine for an upright trip
down the interstate, didn't lend itself to scooting forward and hanging
off the saddle. |
|The Buell throws a striking profile, but the lack of attention to
small details, in particular the crooked, sloped windscreen, landed it in
Manufacturer: Buell American Motorcycle Co.
Model: S3T Thunderbolt Sport Touring
Price: $12,799.00 USD
Engine: Air-cooled, four-stroke,
45 degree V-Twin
Bore and Stroke: 3.5 x 3.8 in
Displacement: 1203 cc
Carburetion: 40 mm Keihin CV
Transmission: Five-speed, wet clutch
Wheelbase: 55.0 in/1379 mm
Seat Height: 29.5 in/749 mm
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gal (.6 gal reserve)/
20.8 L (2.3 L reserve)
Claimed Dry Weight: 465 lbs/193 kg
Measured Wet Weight: 520 lbs/236 kg
Peak Measured Torque: 75.9 ft-lbs @ 5500 rpm
Peak Measured HP: 87.2 hp @ 6250 rpm
Ducati ST2 Sport Turismo
||The ST2's not-quite-attractive saddlebag mounts are a snap to use.
Check out the empty hole just above the muffler. For even more ground
clearance raise the exhaust when the bags are off.|
|A good view of the very-progressive shock and the back half of the
trellis frame. Look closer for a cool view of the ocean from the Santa
Monica Mountains above Malibu.
||A hacked-together view of the Ducati's ride-height adjustment
|The ST2 was slower steering than the Buell, but rock-solid stability
made it a joy to toss around the curves.
||A view of the Sport Turismo's toolkit (the Buell doesn't have one),
rebound adjuster, and fuel-injection brain.|
|The Brembo brakes didn't have the authority of the Nissin units on the
||A picture of a Duc pilot happily tearing up some backroads...|
|...and another. The adjustable pipe was there to use, but we never hit
bottom on the ST2.
||Something about the cool, super-bright headlight and the helmet stuck
on top a post to mark your territory.|
|An attractive dash with digital readouts greets the ST2's pilot.
||Besides cash, the arrvial of Texas Pacific brought a new logo.|
|The rewards of the aggressive ergonomics are felt on twisty roads.
||Another beautiful view of Malibu.|
|A centerstand allows you to park this Ducati just about anywhere...
||... but the sidestand is a joke. Ducati's spring-loaded,
auto-retracting kickstand system sucks.|
|The throw on the shifter lever was a bit shorter than we would have
liked, but we hear an M900 lever will bolt right on.
||No matter what the angle, the ST2 strikes a gorgeous profile.|
Model: 1998 ST2 Sport Turismo
Price: $12,495.00 USD
Engine: 4 stroke 90 degree V-Twin
Bore and Stroke: 94 mm x 68 mm
Displacement: 944 cc
Carburetion: Weber-Marelli electronic
Transmission: Six-speed, dry, multi-plate clutch
Wheelbase: 56.3 in/1430 mm
Seat Height: 32.3 in/820 mm
Fuel Capacity: 6 gal (1 gal reserve)/
23 L (4 L reserve)
Claimed Dry Weight: 466 lbs/212 kg
Measured Wet Weight: 540 lbs/245 kg
Peak Measured Torque: 57.3 ft-lbs @ 6500 rpm
Peak Measured HP: 76.0 hp @ 8250 rpm
All stats recorded on a DynoJet Model 150 at Bartels Performance Products.
Bike Torque @ RPM
Buell S3T 75.9 @ 5500
Ducati ST2 57.3 @ 6500
Bike Horsepower @ RPM
Buell S3T 87.2 @ 6250
Ducati ST2 76.0 @ 8250