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Hello from sunny SoCal, where we are about to go ride the new KTM 790 Duke, which is finally coming to the United States as an early 2019 model.

The first of KTM’s parallel-twin middleweights, the new Duke packs a lot of features into an affordable body, with promises of being a potent streetfighter.

To test that theory, the Austrian brand has brought us near its base of operations in the United States, and today we will tackle the roads along the Oceanside coast, and then head up to the famous Palomar mountain for some twisty fun.







The KTM 790 Duke has been on our short-list of bikes we have wanted to swing a leg over, ever since we saw the concept for the machine debut two years ago at EICMA.







Today, I am going to share with you a look behind the curtain - a look at several sides of the motorcycle industry that you don't usually get to see. Our story concerns the Indian FTR1200 street tracker motorcycle, which just debuted in Cologne, Germany at the INTERMOT show...but really, this story started three months ago, back in the United States.

It starts with a leaked photo of the Indian FTR1200, taken from a production event in Los Angeles, which was then sent to Asphalt & Rubber by a loyal reader. This turned into A&R finding its way to Minnesota to ride a prototype of the FTR1200, and us being amongst the first to ride this highly anticipated motorcycle.

An exclusive media event, Indian's plan was to have the largest publication from each critical market present, to give an early evaluation of this ground-breaking machine for the American brand.

While there were sole-representatives from the UK, Italy, Germany, Australia, Asia, etc - because of our efforts, from the United States there would now be two publications. Sorry for partying.

I have no doubt that the coverage from these other publications will read like initial reviews, part critique and part marketing pieces for the Indian Motorcycle Company. That's not a slight to my colleagues, that is just the reality of the situation. How do you evaluate a prototype motorcycle?

"I have no idea what they are talking about," I told an Indian staff member, while our post-ride video reviews/debriefs were being filmed. We had just ridden for a half a day on a motorcycle that we knew nothing about, and now we were expected to stand in front of a camera, and espouse our impressions of it.

Because of the looming weather, our tech briefing was after the ride, which is a frustrating thing when it comes to evaluating a motorcycle. As such, our impressions would be limited and relative. The power felt "good"...the brakes were "ok"...this exhaust looks like the work of a drunk plumber.

With no specs, no prices, no production volumes, no set list of features...what were these journalists talking about in their videos? I still don't know.At $9,000, the FTR1200 could be one of the best motorcycles on the market, but at $20,000 Indian would have clearly missed the mark.

I'm still not sure how I feel about the $13,000 / $15,000 price points for the base and S models, respectively. It feels high...but we will get to that in a minute.

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“How many axes does the IMU use?…And who makes it? Bosch?” asked a journalist during our press launch briefing for the new Honda Monkey. That journalist was yours truly. I am that guy at the Monkey launch.

To be fair, my curiosity was mostly personal. After all, one of the cheapest motorcycles in Honda’s arsenal comes available with IMU-assisted ABS, while more than a few of Big Red’s full-on sport bikes in the lineup do not…how weird is that? Please tell me more, Honda.

But, the question strikes a larger tone when it comes to bikes like the Honda Monkey: the tech specs don’t really matter. No one cares. The appropriate measuring stick for a bike like the Honda Monkey isn’t an objective one that is found on spec-sheets and lap times, which is a tough pill to swallow for a detail-oriented motorcycle journalist.







To that end, I am not sure if the Honda Monkey is a good motorcycle. But more importantly, I am not sure that it matters. Let me explain.







Hello from Santa Catalina Island, where we are about to go ride the new Honda Monkey mini-moto. A play on Honda’s past, the Monkey is built off the modern Honda Grom platform, but uses styling that is more at home in the 1970s.

A retro-modern approach to the mini-bike craze, the Honda Monkey is trying to rekindle some of those “you meet the nicest people on a Honda” feelings, which launched the Japanese brand into the public mainstream almost 50 years ago.

As such, we will be spending the day on this popular Californian destination to see how the Honda Monkey handles not only from a technical perspective on the road, but also we want to see what “je ne sais quoi” of two-wheeled fun the Monkey brings to the table.







With cars largely verboten on Catalina, bikes like Honda’s old Trail 70 and Trail 110 are popular choices here (as are golf carts, but that is an entirely different story), which makes the island a smart pick for this press launch.

Per our new review format, I will be giving you a live assessment of the Honda Monkey right here in this article (down in the comments section), and I will try to answer any questions you might have about this unique motorcycle.

So, here is your chance to learn what it’s like to ride the Honda Monkey, before even my own proper review is posted. As always, if I don’t know an answer, I will try to get a response from the Honda personnel. So, pepper away.







You can follow our thoughts on the bike live via FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and you can see what our colleagues are posting on social media by looking for the hashtags #HondaMonkey, #POWERofNICE #RideRed.







Where do you begin about the 2019 Honda CRF450L? You can start with the dearth of 450cc dual-sport motorcycles for the American market, for one. You can talk about Honda’s new 450cc dirt bike lineup, which has spawned five separate models for the 2019 model year.

We of course have to mention the domination of the market by a certain European manufacturer, which prefers the color orange. And naturally, we should give a nod to the resurgence of the American off-road scene, and how Big Red wants to be part of that growing movement.

The truth is, all of these points are realities when it comes to the new Honda CRF450L – a dirt bike that is street-legal from the factory, for all 50 states of the Union. The United States is the target market for the 2019 Honda CRF450L, and for good reason. Honda sees a real opportunity for a 450cc dual-sport in the USA, one that can slot in between the woefully old Suzuki DRZ-400S and the “race bike with lights” KTM 450 EXC-F (sold in the US only as its kitted-out “Six Days” variant).







Among the first in the world to ride the 2019 Honda CRF450L, American Honda brought Asphalt & Rubber out to our own backyard, and let us loose on the CRF450L in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Providing a mix of gravel roads, single-track, double-track, and proper street use, we spent over 100 miles getting to see how well the Honda CRF450L plays on both the dirt and asphalt. In short? Very, very well.







For once, the motorcycle industry comes to us, as Asphalt & Rubber is up the road from our usual haunts, setting up camp in Washington state near Mt. Rainer, about we are about to ride the 2019 Honda CRF450L.

Sibling to the Honda CRF450X enduro, and cousin to the class-leading Honda CRF450R motocross bike, the Honda CRF450L is Big Red’s answer for those looking for a street legal 450cc  dirt bike.

It has been a long time since we have seen a proper 450cc dual-sport from a Japanese brand, and Honda is finally taking up the charge to take on the competition from KTM and Husqvarna. As such, the Honda CRF450L provides a crucial stepping stone for riders looking to upgrade from a CRF250L (the top-selling dual-sport in the market), and it provides an option to those who want to ride from trail-to-trail with a plated dirt bike.







Per our new review format, I would be giving you a live assessment of the2019 Honda CRF450L right here in this article (down in the comments section), but American Honda has imposed an embargo until next week for ride reviews and critiques. So while we won’t be able to talk immediately about our riding impressions of the new CRF450L until Monday (not cool), we will still be able to field questions from our eager readers, which Honda can try and answer. Show them no mercy!

You can follow our thoughts on the bike live via FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and you can see what our colleagues are posting on social media by looking for the hashtags #CRF450L #RideRed #DualSport.

Spec-Sheet Comparison of Relevant Models to the Honda CRF450L:







  Honda CRF450L KTM 450 EXC-F Alta Redshift EXR
Horsepower ~40hp 62 hp 50 hp
Torque 42 lbs•ft
Weight 289 lbs (curb) 255 lbs (curb) 273 lbs
Fuel Tank 2 gallons 2.3 gallons 5.8 kWh
Price $10,400 $11,700 $12,500

 
Photos of the 2019 Honda CRF450L:







When I was a new rider, I cut my teeth on Pirelli Corsa tires (and later on the Pirelli Corsa III), and as I got into doing track days, the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa became my tire of choice, both as a track tire and also as a street tire.

Almost as grippy as “the good stuff” and considerably cheaper than track-focused tires of the time, the Diablo Rosso Corsa hit that sweet spot of performance and price that my relatively unexperienced two-wheeled-self required.

Best of all, after a few track days, I could swap-out the rubber on my track bike for road duty, and thus had a nice supply of new rubber for my street biking needs.







As Asphalt & Rubber became a larger part of my life, this tire strategy had to give way to trying other brands and other tires, but I was recently intrigued when Pirelli told me that they were updating this stalwart in their sport bike tire lineup, as there isn’t a lineage of tire that I am more familiar with on the market.

Creating the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corse II tire for the 2018 model year, the Italian brand first invited A&R out to South Africa to see if this new incarnation of the Corsa lived up to the high-water mark its predecessor left behind. In short, it did.

But, only a couple days with a new tire can be tough to use to form an opinion. Not content to be so easily swayed, I have since spent a considerable amount of time on this new Pirelli.







Riding three more trackdays (on three different tracks), trying six bikes in total, and plowing down a thousand street miles later, I can honestly say that the Pirelli Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corse II might be the best sport bike tire on the market. Let me explain.







The only motorcycle in MV Agusta’s lineup with a tall windscreen, bags, and a passenger seat designed for a human, it would be easy to call the Turismo Veloce 800 Lusso a sport-tourer or an adventure-sport, and indeed we do.

But for the Italian brand, the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 Lusso is treated like a sport bike…a sport bike that one can ride all day, with bags and a pillion, if you so choose. 

It seems like a fine distinction, or perhaps even splitting hairs, but in reality it is a subtle nuance that shows how MV Agusta thinks of its business, what sort of motorcycles it wants to produce, and for which riders it has in mind when it produces them.







Riding the Turismo Veloce 800 Lusso near MV Agusta’s factory in Varese, Italy, Asphalt & Rubber got to see first-hand how this “sport bike with bags” works in the real world. 

And while the motorcycle looks no different from the last time we saw it, at the base model’s press launch in the South of France, there have been subtle changes to refine the Turismo Veloce, and to make it compliant with Euro4 regulations.

Getting now to see the premium “Lusso” trim level, as well as MV Agusta’s new “Smart Clutch System”, there was plenty to try on this motorcycle, and while we have a few criticisms, the result with the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 Lusso is an ideal machine, if you could only own one motorcycle in your garage. Let me explain.













Out riding bikes, because that’s what we do, for this edition of “Gone Riding” it is the last three letters of the name “MV Agusta Turismo Veloce Lusso 800 SCS” that you want to pay most attention to.

Those three letters stand for “smart clutch system” and they represent the new semi-auto clutch technology that MV Agusta has developed with Rekluse for its street-going motorcycles, and it is the main reason that we are in Varese today, riding the Italian brand’s up-spec sport-tourer.

The Lusso line of the Turismo Veloce 800 features integrated panniers and semi-active suspension over the base model, and of course the SCS in the name adds the new clutch design, with its attractive clear clutch cover. The special clutch also adds €700 to the price tag, over the regular Lusso.







We have already had some seat time on the base model, a few years ago, and found the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 to be a capable and fun sport bike that was comfortable for longer trips, though we would have liked a few more ponies coming out of the three-cylinder engine.

Getting to see this motorcycle again, our focus today will be on the changes that have been made with the new clutch and the move to Euro4 emission standards, as well as the more premium elements that come with the Lusso name.

Per our new review format, I will be giving you a live assessment of the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800 SCS right here in this article (down in the comments section), and there he will try to answer any questions you might have.







So, here is your chance to learn what it’s like to ride the Turismo Veloce 800 Lusso SCS, before even my own proper review is posted. As always, if I don’t know an answer, I will try to get a response from the MV Agusta personnel on-hand. So, pepper away.

You can follow our thoughts on the bike live via FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and you can see what our colleagues are posting on social media by looking for the hashtags #TurismoVeloceSCS







“Ride the Revolution.” That’s Yamaha’s tag line for its latest sci-fi powersport creation— the three-wheel equipped NIKEN.

But the NIKEN is more than just a Transformer-esque motorcycle equipped with an extra wheel, instead, its engineered specifically to increase cornering grip, while maintaining an authentic leaning experience that only a motorcycle can provide.

Easier said than done, right? Well, after spending a day riding high in the Austrian Alps, we can see merit in Yamaha’s latest production concept.













Some loyal A&R readers may already disappointingly know that Yamaha Motor USA has blacklisted Asphalt & Rubber from Yamaha events, which is a dumb decision in its own right, but when it comes to press launches, Yamaha Motor USA proved this week that it truly has its head completely up its own ass.

This is because the American subsidiary of the Japanese brand has embargoed reviews for the new Niken three-wheeler until next week – a full seven days after American journalists were in the Austria alps on the leaning multi-wheel vehicle.

This wouldn’t be such a bad thing (worthy of mentioning at least), except the embargo is region by region, and other English-speaking publications have been allowed to post their reviews as they write them (check VisordownMCN…even the horrid MoreBikes has a short review up).







This means you won’t read a review on the Yamaha Niken by us, or any other US publication, until next Monday…if you even bother reading them at that point. It almost makes you wonder why Yamaha Motor USA even bothered sending journalists to Europe in the first place, but I digress.

Of course, everyone is very curious to know how the Yamaha Niken handles on the road.

So far from what I’ve read coming from Europe, the three-wheeler comes across as being a bit complex, and a little vague in the front-end. The bike (if we can call it that) loses grip in the rear too often, possibly because of the adventure-touring tires it has mounted, and suffers in general from a lack of power and braking ability.







The Niken makes up for those negatives though with a front-end that is solidly planted to the ground, a bulk that doesn’t feel like a nearly 600 lbs bike at speed, and which turns into a fun ride when carving at speed. The European price-point seems fairly affordable as well.

Surmising from our colleagues across the pond, the Niken sounds like a intriguing touring option, though it seems to miss the boat when it comes to being a sport-bike platform, which is unfortunately how Yamaha has pitched this unique vehicle.

Of course, what you really want to know is whether the Yamaha Niken can wheelie, like any god-fearing motorcycle should. Thankfully Adam Waheed was in Austria to answer that exact question.

You can read Adam’s in depth review next Monday, along with the rest of the American journalists, but until then you should enjoy his behind-the-scenes videos, if you haven’t already. The answer to your most burning question is in Part III, around the 3:19 mark.