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Bike Profile - Posted 12th April 2010

Ducati ST2
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Simon Lock was looking for an affordable exotic motorcycle. He took a chance on a non-running Ducati V-Twin...

I ditched classic British bikes (for a bit), feeling they were too much hassle, too badly braked and just too expensive to keep on the road in decent condition. I enjoyed a year or so of Japanese reliability on my FJ1200. Then, of course, its characterlessness began to make me hanker after something different: something Sunday morning-ish; something that would be a bit flash; something like my very pretty but excruciatingly uncomfortable Ducati 900SS - a bike that lasted just 60 miles in my ownership before I felt some more lithe and less vertically enhanced personage could take on the pleasures of neck-extension and wrist-torsion therapy that it provided so well.

Naturally the exotic Sunday morning toy I hankered after was a Le Mans MkI - before sundry amused types on the RC message board pointed out that it would do the same things for my neck as the 900SS. Oh well... I vaguely scanned my local free-ads in search of an MV Agusta, for a grand, but with surprisingly little joy. I did spot a Ducati ST2 for 750 which seemed a bit of a steal and so I rang up - only to discover that it was a non-runner that had stood outside for six months. It had been abandoned with a flat battery by its owner - in favour of a Kawasaki ZXR750.

'A non-running Ducati, stood outside for six months? No chance...' Ducati ST2

Mmm. A non-running Ducati, stood outside for six months? No chance. I doubted if much of it would be left after a bit of rain. So, I looked on for another month and spotted nothing.

The memory of a mate's ST2 did gradually come to haunt me - fine machine, characterful, fast, good brakes, fine handling and the right name on the tank for Sunday exotica status. The 944cc DOHC liquid-cooled ST2 was introduced in 1997 but can trace its history back via the Paso all the way to the air-cooled Pantah range of engines. A touring type of sportster, it was joined by the higher performance ST4 (which used the 916 motor) for a couple of years, then both were phased out from 2003.

So, eventually I rang again to see if the ST2 was still available - it was and off I went for a look. It really was quite a surprise. An almost immaculate ST2 greeted my eyes. The outside storage had been under a cover, in an underground car-park. The chain had rusted badly, there were a few spots on the swinging arm but the paint was perfect, the bodywork too, it had heated grips, colour matched luggage and recent tyres. But no go! Now what should one do?

Is this luggage the most valuable part of the bike? No chance... Ducati ST2

My intimate knowledge of ST2s (ahem!) meant that I knew the luggage alone was worth quite a bit and so I reasoned that, if all else failed and it had actually gone bang rather than just had a knackered battery, then I could break it and get my money back. So I offered 500. The vendor quickly refused and we agreed on 550 at which point he produced the paperwork to show a full service history. Aha! It was a happy bunny who collected it that evening.

I managed to start it just once using the battery from my car - it ran for long enough to establish that everything worked and that the starter motor had some sort of horrible problem - it graunched in the most painful sounding manner and clanged like mad as the engine came to a stop. After that when pressing the starter there were some nice quiet whirrs but no engagement of the motor, no clangs and no graunches.

'That'll be the starter clutch gone awol,' I mused... 'Wonder how much they are?'

Turning to the internet I began some research prior to breaking out the breaking toolkit and auctioning it off in bits to recoup my dosh. After a few days I found the Ducatisti forum and noticed a profusion of posts on the sprag clutches of Dukes. It seems that starter clutches are Ducati's version of Honda camchain tensioners - they all break in short order. But cunning owners had spotted that the sprag clutch can be repaired, actually upgraded in fact, for free, and with just a little dismantling. Free repair eh? Got to be worth a try.

With this in mind my next decision was what to do - a quick repair and sell it on? That seemed foolish given that I could become the owner of a fine superbike for the price of a Superdream but to make it really worthwhile would mean a full service including the timing belts and expensive oil. Gotta be worth a try I felt - if the sprag could be fixed the rest couldn't really be a challenge, and so I began.

There's a proper Ducati underneath.... Ducati ST2 - Naked!

First up the fairing came off in about 30 minutes, most of them due to the need to drill out a couple of rusted fasteners. 20 purchased a full set of stainless fairing bolts acquired to stop such reluctance in the future. Now the whole fairing can be removed in ten minutes... that's rather faster than a CBR600F, I can tell you!

Not elegant, but it worked.... Ducati ST2 - Extractor tool

The next afternoon I made an extractor tool modelled on the factory one to enable me to pull off the alternator cover and then I had to buy a clutch locking tool and two-inch extension bar to remove the alternator nut. In short order the flywheel was off and the sprag out. The sprag is a large bush with rollers inside. The rollers are held in by a long circumferential spring that is famous for stretching - at which point the starter fails to engage, graunches and then clangs. Just like mine. Luckily the spring can be removed, undone, shortened, replaced and the whole caboodle then works better than new. And mine did. Wonderful. I later heard that some owners use a large O-ring instead of a spring which I'll try next time, if I need to.

Shorten and replace - simple.... Ducati ST2 - Over-stretched sprag clutch spring

Next I moved onto the belts: the 'daunting' job on 'Rubber Ducks' and one that makes a lot of dosh for dealers. It took me 20 minutes from start to finish. Now, surely I'd done something wrong? 20 minutes? I couldn't be that easy could it? It could, and was. I was beginning to rather like this.

Chain and sprockets were next. Did you know that on the ST2 you can fit an endless chain without removing the swinging arm? No, nor did I until I did it. I removed the heated grips for my winter mount -- the Jawa combo -- fixed the new battery on, changed the oil and filter, cleaned out the sump gauze and raced to a finished job.

Upon riding the beast I discovered another Duke characteristic - clutch vibes if you pull off in a hurry. Apparently it's not worth replacing the silly dry clutch basket until the clutch actually slips, or so I was advised by a very honest dealer. MoT was passed and off I went.

I'd noticed a funny vibe on the way to the MoT station but wasn't worried as it passed the test with flying colours, so I was surprised to discover the most knackered wheel bearings I've ever seen when I investigated the noise. Mm. New tester next year methinks.

The Ducati is a joy to ride and has plenty of character. It's still in 'shakedown' after its long rest and one or two problems have reared their head but nothing awful.

The best has been the time I'd gone for a 20 mile spin after tightening the right-hand switch cluster, which was rotating a bit on the bars. When I stopped and pulled the key out, the starter motor was still running. Oh dear -- it had been running all the time because the starter switch had jammed in as a consequence of the silly plastic switch cluster distorting.

I prised out the button and the starter continued to turn. I needed to get to the solenoid in a hurry... on a fully faired bike! Luckily, a handy opening in the plastic enabled me to tap the solenoid which stopped the starter motor.

Ducati ST bits on Right Now......

Dismantling revealed a sticking solenoid piston. A secondhand one is 30 to you sir. Mine got dismantled with the time-honoured method of chisel and hammer on the casing, the piston chamber drilled out 0.5mm and mastic applied on reassembly to produce a good-as-new item.

Since then it's been well behaved. So, if you fancy an 'exotic' superbike, fully serviced, MoT'd, taxed and ready to go I can recommend a very cheap ST2. Mine came in at just over a 1100 after all the work - my time not counted, as it's great to learn about new bikes!

And the best discovery? Rumours of tricky Ducati mechanics and arcane service methods are just that - rumours. Get stuck in and they are easier to deal with than a Jap four, and more fun into the bargain. 1100? Might just buy you a Bantam at current asking prices!


Classic Dukes on Right Now...


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