Ducati ST3 vs BMW K1200RS vs BMW K1200S...
Lets Get Reeeeady to Rrrrrumble..

With the recent demise of my dream to purchase an old Honda CBX (what was I thinking?!)(read the full weepy CBX story here or in the current issue of Backroads Magazine), I decided to go in a completely different (and sane) direction...Bought myself my first Ducati.

This article is in response to a few requests I've had to post a comparison between the new 2006 ST3 and the venerable BMW K1200RS (which I owned until about 6 months ago) or my 2006 BMW K1200S. As technically they are all 3 sport touring bikes, .. why not?? While this will almost be like comparing apples to oranges to nuclear weapons, I'll give it my best shot. I'll list all the categories that I think are worth mentioning with a brief overview explaining my rationale.. then list my own quasi-Godlike opinion as to the winner in a 1st, 2nd, 3rd place format.

Just a few weeks ago I purchased an ST3.. my first twin in 35 years of owning/riding motorcycles as I wanted a bike that Amber would be comfortable on and I kinda wanted/needed a light weight touring bike to fill a void in my harem...er.. stable. Amber can't or won't ride on either of the other bikes I own and I miss her riding with me.. For $4000 cheaper, I could have bought a used K1200RS, but after having the much lighter "S" bike, I simply did NOT want to go back to a heavy motorcycle. After a very pleasant test ride a few weeks ago on an ST3, I took Amber out for a follow-up test ride and she fell in love with it. Done deal.

I should preface this comparo by stating that IMHO.. as a production motorcycle, the BMW K1200S is light years ahead of virtually every motorcycle on the road including either the now discontinued RS or the Ducati so the following will be predominantly a head to head look at the RS vs the ST3 with only a peripheral comparison with the new S. The K1200S isn't the "best" in every category, but.. it does everything well. With that said, I am prepared to be slammed by those who disagree.. so bring it on! I'm you're huckleberry. I don't play favorites..I am NOT brand loyal. Those who know me know that I love all motorcycles. So.. without further adieu.. Lets get reeeeady to rrrrrumble..
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Handling:
There is no debate here.. The 493 lb Ducati ST3 rules this category with it's shorter wheel base, weight advantage, low center of gravity, and great ergos making cornering and changing directions effortless. If it had a better suspension (like the ST4 which comes with Ohlins instead of the Sachs on the ST3) the Duc would be on even turf with the best sport bikes on the planet on a tight twisty road. In tight twisties... the Ducati would dominate a K1200RS or K1200S with comparable riders.

In second place the 550 lb K1200S is a good handler for it's weight and Peterbuilt wheelbase, due in no small part to the all new Hossack front end. It is very capable in all but the tightest situations, rock solid.. but.. a distant 2nd.

The K1200RS is dead last with it's 650+ lard-ass Shelly Winters poundage. I should mention that when road surfaces turn to shit or the wind kicks up.. the RS tracks better than the others as if on rails. The RS will glide over rain grooves and road irregularities without noticing.. the Ducati will feel like it's on jello. My comparo for this section is based on the premise of perfect pavement.

1st Place: Ducati ST3
2nd Place: BMW K1200S
3rd Place: BMWK1200RS

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Power:
Obviously, the K1200S rules this category with an attitude and el grande cajones from a throne high on Mount Olympus. It looks like an ICBM. and it is!

Second place easily goes to the K1200RS which has, IMHO possibly the best designed engine of any motorcycle on the road. User friendly linear powerband, 130hp at your demonic disposal, loads of torque right off idle, bulletproof design all add up to an easy second. You can pull away from a stop light in 1st, second, and even third gear with almost no throttle.

The Ducati is so underpowered at barely 100hp that it's a distant 3rd place. I think you could possibly pass God on the K1200S by just rolling on the throttle. The same pass on the RS would take 1 downshift.. I have to downshift 2 full gears to pass some cars with the ST3.. Those who know and love me have probably never heard me mention the word "twin" without prefacing it with the word.. "sissy." Now that I'm a twin owner do you think I've changed my tune? Nope.. I'll admit it.. I'm a sissy twin owner.. If I want to ride something quick and powerful, I'll leave the Ducati home under it's cover. To be fair.. the Duc, once it gets going, is very fast with it's tall gearing.. It just takes a while to get there when compared to either of the powerful beemers and does it in a less than authoritative way. No surprises here.

1st Place: BMW K1200S
2nd Place: BMWK1200RS
3rd Place: Ducati ST3

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Smoothness:
Ahh.. the venerable K1200RS comes into it's own here and beats all comers like ugly, redheaded stepchildren with bad breath and acne. I can't think of any other motorcycle, except for perhaps an LT or Goldwing that is as smooth as the RS.. At virtually any speed the engine hums.. Many a time I remember being on interstates cruising at 85-90 and after many, many miles I'd look down and still be in 4th or 5th.. Doh! Amazing

The BMW K1200S is a distant 2nd. The bike is smooth for an in-line 4 but there are a few rough spots that may or may not go away as the miles go on and the engine is broken in. I have few complaints about the K1200S engine, but .. oh, how I miss the ethereal smoothness of my old RS. The K1200S is as far down on the 1-10 smoothness scale from the RS as the Ducati is from the S.

The Ducati's throbbing Italian twin, while relatively smooth at highway speeds, is simply outclassed by the more expensive German four cylinder powerplants. The new twin (and I know I'm gonna piss off a lot of people here..) seems primitive when compared to even the old K1200RS engine. Think I'm wrong?? Then you haven't ridden a K1200RS. The Duc throbs, it shakes, it stutters like Mel Tillis sitting on a block of ice in an earth quake. However..it's NOT as annoying as a BMW twin, a Guzzi, or a Harley, thank God, but enough to make it seem almost prehistoric by comparison.

The first day I took Amber for a ride, the first thing she said was.. "It feels like it's hitting a lick like my old 454 Chevelle." On the Duc you have to keep the revs up just to take off without stalling.. but .. it does so in a VERY predictable, user friendly manner. I grew up on in-line bikes with smooth massive handfuls of hp and my experience with this.. my first twin... has NOT been unpleasant... just different. It's VERY fun to ride, un-intimidating, and feels like an old friend as soon as you climb aboard. While I thought I'd NEVER own a twin, I now see the attraction, but.. if you want smooth.. forget about a twin.

1st Place: BMW K1200RS
2nd Place: BMW K1200S
3rd Place: Ducati ST3

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Brakes:
Yes.. ABS is the way of the future.. Yes.. in certain circumstances it could save your life.. Yes it keeps your insurance rates down...Yes it can give you longer lasting erections, but I hate both the feel (or lack thereof) and the complexity of ABS which is why I LOVE the non-ABS ST3 Ducati brakes... You can FEEL everything they are doing... You can do easy stoppies with it's wonderfully powerful Brembos and.. (listen up Germany)... the rear brake is also excellent unlike the useless rear grabbers on both the RS and the pathetic K1200S rear. The difference of the Ducati's brakes as opposed to the distant feel of the BMW's is like the difference of having sex without a condom.. and sex with. The Ducati ST3 binders are some of the best of any bike I've ever ridden..

The K1200S easily comes in second here, even with the useless rear brake, mostly due to it's weight advantage over the 100lb heavier predecessor.

The K1200RS brakes are capable but offer virtually no feedback unless steel braided lines are installed.

1st Place: Ducati ST3
2nd Place: BMWK1200S
3rd Place: BMW K1200RS
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Sound:
The Ducati makes music.. it sings.. it whispers sweet nothings in your ears like a $12,000 ho should. It sounds like a motorcycle should sound although I have nothing against the hi-pitched sound of a screaming in-line 4. There's just no comparison, but. this is subjective.

I should mention that the stock K1200S is one sweet sounding bike although the exhaust canister is a visual abomination.

The stock K1200RS sounds like a coffee grinder..GE model CG 23k .

1st Place: Ducati ST3
2nd Place: BMW K1200S
3rd Place: BMW K1200RS

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Looks:
Hmm..Again..this is just too subjective. I would NOT own an ugly motorcycle nor have I EVER owned an ugly motorcycle.. Like comparing women... how do you say Angelina Jolie is better looking than Nicole Kidman?..or a Charlize Theron? The question is.. do you turn around and look back as you are walking away? In that aspect.. all 3 of these bikes deliver.

At first I didn't like the looks of the angular S but now I love it, in spite of the worlds ugliest tail light. The K1200S now gives me wood just like my beloved 98 RS did, but I have made a few mods so that doesn't quite count..

That leaves the curvaceous K1200RS with flowing Botticelli lines and sensuous imagery... I'd have to give it the slight edge, but again.. this is so personal that I'll not even pit these 3 beauties against each other. In my opinion.. these all stimulate the salivary glands.

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Touring Capabilities:
This category is a dead tie between the Ducati and the K1200RS. Yes the shaft drive and lack of maintenance involved in owning the BMW is a major factor, but the Ducati has much more storage space with 2 full size saddlebags, and TWO large underseat storage compartments. The chain drive would be a hassle for long distance US touring, but chains are much better these days than a few years ago. The K1200RS needs almost ZERO care. You can virtually drive it for 50,000 miles without needing anything except tires and oil.

Not so with the Duc which has to be serviced and pampered like Paris Hilton every 10K. If you lived in Europe where the roads are twisty and "nimbleness" becomes so important, the Duc would become the steed of desire for almost any serious rider, but.. we ain't in Europe.. so..I can't choose a winner. I'll leave this one as a toss up.

The K1200S is dead last here with those criminally priced, smallish, foofoo, accordion bags. The Germans should be ashamed for even offering them... I fart in their general direction.

1st Place: Tie BMW K1200RS and Ducati ST3
3rd Place: BMWK1200S

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Ergos:
I'm 5' 7.5" tall with a 30" inseam and IMHO..the Ducati just barely wins here. The stock seat is superb for both rider and copilot and the pegs (both front and rear) are in the perfect position. High enough so you don't have to worry about dragging them, but low enough where even old knees like mine don't cramp up. This is the FIRST bike Amber has ridden on that she both loved the passenger accommodations AND said she had no need for a backrest. I think hell must have frozen over. The bars are about 1/2" taller and slightly wider than the very comfortable K1200S for a relaxed, sport touring feel.

My hands rarely go numb on the Duc like they occasionally do on my S, but otherwise.. the K1200S is just about perfect ergonomically right out of the box. This category was also a close call.. The cushy Ducati seat won this one.

The stock K1200RS' bars are just too far forward, at the wrong angle, and not enough rise unless you have ape-like arms. That's probably the reason we sell more RS barbacks than anything else.. I'd guess 80% of RS owners out there are using some type of barbacks on their K1200RS and/or peg lowering kits, although I like the position of the stock RS pegs.

1st Place: Ducati ST3
2nd Place: BMW K1200S
3rd Place: BMW K1200RS

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So there you have it.. Each bike does many things well.. Each offers something different than the others. As I said.. apples and oranges and nuclear weapons. I owned and loved my K1200RS for 5 years and put 40K trouble-free miles on her before selling her, but I'd never buy another after experiencing the power and lightness of the new S and/or the Duc. I have not missed the RS for a New York minute since I got my S.. The bike is THAT good. If the K1200S and K1200RS were sitting side by side in my garage and they had the EXACT same HP.. I'd still never throw a leg over the RS unless I was taking a long distance trip..

As for the Italian beauty... I'll throw out an analogy.. Riding the Ducati is akin to driving a 57 Chevy.. Yes it's fun, it sounds great when revved, it feels simple in a nostalgic way, and harks back to a bygone era before upside down forks, computer controlled engines, and hair loss, but after owning and riding modern era motorcycles like the tire shredding K1200S, the razor sharp MV Agusta F4, virtually any late model Japanese 4, and yes.. even an older smooth-as-glass RS, the Duc's shuddering engine just seems dated. But don't get me wrong..Not all modern feeling things are better.. The Ducati is an excellent motorcycle with all kinds of virtues besides being the best handing bike of the bunch with the best feeling brakes.. It has many hidden, subversive qualities that the German bikes do NOT possess..

For instance. I recently took off all the plastic on the Duc while installing a GPS and Valentine One. When I put the bike back together, the body panels just dropped into place as if by magic. No fighting them like you would with a BMW. All lined up perfectly! Stevie Wonder could reassemble the bike. All the Duc body fasteners are the same length which makes working on the bike a breeze. The inside of the body panels are padded... designed with sound-absorbing material.. How cool is that? The Duc comes with not one but TWO large storage compartments under the seat. And speaking of the seat.. it is not only easy to get off, but when you put it back on.. you just lay it on the bike and it virtually snaps into place, unlike either BMW which require a masters degree in engineering and at least 2 beers to get the seat locked into place. and there's more...! Under the Duc seat the Italians furnish a full size U-shaped Kryptonite lock AND a small cable helmet lock! You want more??!! The headlight on the Duc is adjusted electronically via buttons topside. Cool. Also... The first time you remove your saddlebags you'll almost toss them over your shoulder as they are so light compared to the heavy and poorly designed BMW bags..The Duc bags are literally 1/3rd the weight. It's in the details, my friends and the Italian beauty has lots of waaay cool details. This is one well thought out motorcycle.

Of course. there are some typically stupid Italian miscues as well. The Ducati instrument cluster is about as exciting as white bread and as easy to understand as the Rosetta stone. I've got hundreds of miles on mine now and except for the odometer, I still haven't figured out what the f%#* any of the other LED display icons mean. There are about 8-10 of them but they almost all look the same and the text out beside them is too small to read unless you possess Superman-like vision. Get this.. virtually every icon looks like a golf course-type flag with a rider riding away from it.. !? What Italian moron thought this up? I'm never sure if I'm averaging 35 mpg or shooting 6 over par. And I'm not done.. the gas gauge could have been designed by an ENRON executive.. It's anything but accurate... almost useless. I can fill the bike up and it never reads past 3/4 full. I NEVER know how much gas is in the tank.. NOT comforting.. Compared to the deadly accurate BMW gauges, the Duc's are down right prehistoric. O, well.. You can't have everything.. at least.. not on one bike.

Although the BMW K1200RS has been out of production for a couple of years now.. it's still waaaay superior to the antiquated Italian twin in most ways.. and cheaper. If only the Germans had seen fit to lower the weight on the hefty BMW I'd probably still own one.. They could have dropped a full 80-100 lbs if they had just made the frame out of aluminum instead of.. concrete.

Bottom line... I like my bikes like I like my women. Light, sexy, uncomplicated, and usually white. And like women, it's very hard to find all the qualities you long for in a single two-wheel package. All 3 of these bikes are fun to ride.. All 3 are VERY good bikes.. One is just leaps and bounds above the others.. and it's made in Germany.



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And that's all I've got to say about that... Pirate out...
Jerry D. Finley
Captain
/ Pirates' Lair