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In what has to be the shortest commute for an international press launch, our hometown of Portland, Oregon is playing host to the first riding of the Harley-Davidson Livewire.

This is our first press launch with the Bar & Shield brand, and it is a big one at that. The Livewire is a mammoth shift for the motorcycle industry, as Harley-Davidson becomes the first major manufacturer to debut a full-sized electric motorcycle for the street.

The Livewire is a big deal for the American brand as well, as Harley-Davidson is pivoting its business model towards new horizons, new markets, new riders, and most importantly for today’s purpose: new drivetrains.

The Harley-Davidson Livewire is a halo product from Milwaukee, but it shows how far the marque is willing to go in order to ensure its future. The question before us now though, is the bike any good?

It is here, finally. The Indian FTR1200 is arriving in dealerships in the next few weeks, which means that the motorcycle press can finally hop on this street tracker and talk about it.

But, we have already done that. Asphalt & Rubber was one of a few publications that got to ride a prototype of this machine back in October 2018, and since then we have seen countless outlets and social media darlings swing a leg over the Indian FTR1200.

Furthermore, racers already have the bike in their garages and are competing in the Super Hooligan National Championship series, and while the press launch for this bike was underway in Mexico, other outlets were busy getting exclusive tastes of the machine, including A&R.

So, while we are very excited to be the first to tell you how the new Indian FTR1200 does the business, this is very much a machine that has been in the sphere for quite a while, and thus is already a known quantity.

We didn’t let the hold us back too much, and I can confidently say that no other publication has spent more time in the saddle of the Indian FTR1200 S than us, getting to know every bit of this new motorcycle and where it takes the Indian Motorcycle brand. Let me explain.

Husqvarna is a sales-driven company. I know this because before our press ride, the (Austrian-owned) Swedish brand spent more time selling us on the company’s staggering sales growth rather than talking about the technical specifics on the new Husqvarna Svartpilen 701.

To that end, sales are good. Very good, in fact. For a point of reference, more Husqvarna motorcycles are being sold now than ever before in the brand’s extensive history, and some of that growth comes from the Husqvarna’s new entry into the street bike realm.

Don’t get me wrong, Husqvarna dirt bikes still out sell the brand’s street bikes by roughly 4:1 when we are talking raw numbers, but the revived company is knocking on close to 50,000 motorcycles sold a year now. That is impressive, no matter how you slice it.

The bike that they hope will push the brand over the 50k mark is the Husqvarna Svartpilen 701, which is the only new model from Husqvarna for the 2019 model year. The Svartpilen 701 is the counterpoint to the Vitpilen 701 that debuted last year, and it continues Husqvarna’s trend of releasing the mirror image machines in various sizes.

As such, the 701 series borrows its platform from the KTM 690 Duke, and its new single-cylinder engine that features dual balancing shafts (one at the crank, the other on the cam).

It is a motor we are quite fond of here at Asphalt & Rubber, so we were intrigued when Husqvarna invited us to Lisbon, Portugal to ride the new Svartpilen 701 – as we wanted to see if this motorcycle was just more than a re-skinned KTM.

The answer to that question is certainly a yes, but with an asterisk. Let me explain.

Imagine you have been given the opportunity to ride the iconic grand prix track at Mugello, and that you are going to do it on a superbike with well over 200hp at the crank. It has the latest technology, both in terms of electronic rider aids and physical aerodynamics. And oh, the Tuscan sun will be shining on you the whole day.

This is a sport rider’s dream. This is fat check mark on any two-wheeled enthusiast’s motorcycling bucket list. When the folks at Noale invited us to come ride the new Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory at the famed Italian race track in the Tuscany region, our affirmative reply didn’t take long to send.

I won’t lie and and try and pretend that the prospect of riding at Mugello hasn’t been high on my list of things to do before I die, but bucket-lists aside, I wanted to see where Aprilia was standing, now 10 years after the original debut of its RSV4 superbike.

What was really “new” about the decade-old machine? How did it compare to the new offerings in the industry? And, is all the hype about winglets really grounded in reality?

Well..I came back from Mugello overwhelmed, impressed, and befuddled. Let me explain.

I can only sympathize for the Moto Guzzi engineer that got the design brief on the new V85 TT adventure-touring model. It probably read like a list of impossibilities, and represented a gauntlet of technical challenges.

An ADV bike is already a tough space to tackle, and right now the middleweight segment is hotter than ever. Even with a blank-sheet design, it is hard to create a motorcycle that can compete in this space, but for Moto Guzzi, creating the V85 TT must have felt like fighting with one arm tied behind its back.

It is one thing to create a motorcycle with 80hp and 500 lbs of wet mass, and then make it capable of handling both road and dirt. Customers in this segment demand a bevy of electronic features as well, so those must be developed as well. And then, make it cheap…because no one wants to hock a $20,000 motorcycle into a forest of trees each weekend.

But for Moto Guzzi, and that intrepid engineer, the task is even more complicated. You are married to the Italian brand’s “transverse” 90° v-twin engine design, which has always been a heavy and bulbous proposition. Oh, and this new 853cc twin-cylinder engine is to be air-cooled…because, Moto Guzzi.

True to the brand’s image too, this new bike will play on vintage themes, all while balancing the modernity that the market demands.

Indeed, this is a design brief filled with unique challenges, and I don’t envy the team that had to meet these lofty goals. The moto-journalist’s burden is to ride the creation though, and as I have often said, we are the spoiled children of the motorcycle industry.

The Moto Guzzi V85 TT is quite easily going to be the best selling model in the company’s lineup for 2019 – that is a low bar to achieve right now – but they are doing it with a bullet. The V85 TT is a stout all-rounder, that punches well into its weight class, for a bargain price. Let me explain.

The 2019 BMW S1000RR is one of our most anticipated motorcycles for this model year, and for its media debut, BMW Motorrad set up a press launch at the esteemed Circuito Estoril in Portugal. Unfortunately, BMW Motorrad didn’t think to invite Asphalt & Rubber to this superbike’s press debut, but we showed up anyways.

This is because BMW Motorrad did invite our friend Jonathan Balsvik to the launch, despite his publication – Sweden’s Bike magazine – recently shutting its doors. With Jonathan looking for a place to publish, and us eager to share what this new S1000RR is all about, we bring you this ride review. Many thanks to Jonathan for helping us bring the good word of the “Double-R” to the sport-biking masses.

It should be noted though, that because of the heavy rains during the press launch, Jonathan’s review is a bit limited in what it can cover, both because of the rain-soaked track and because of BMW’s control riders, who slowed the pace of the track sessions quite considerably.

With these limitations in mind, we hope to bring you a follow-up review in the coming months, assuming BMW Motorrad USA can provide us with a bike to ride. -JB

Since 2008, there has been a unique motorcycle nestled into Ducati’s lineup, and it is called the Hypermotard.

Too big and heavy to be considered a proper supermoto, too tall to be considered a true sport bike, and too on-road focused to be considered a capable adventure-tourer, the Ducati Hypermotard has resided in its own category, with few direct competitors.

Instead, the Hypermotard gets compared to a large range of motorcycle models, likely because the Italians have positioned this maxi-moto to have attributes from a large cross-section of two-wheeled fun….and having fun is what the Hypermotard is all about.

The Hypermotard is a two-wheeled hooligan machine that was born to wheelie, jump, and slide, and throughout the model’s history, one maxim has remained true: if you are not having fun a Hypermotard, then you are probably doing it wrong.

And now, 2019 sees Ducati bringing a new iteration to the lineup, the Hypermotard 950. A clean-slate machine, virtually every part of the new Hypermotard has been changed from the pervious 939 model, making this the third generation of the Hypermotard line.

That being said though, the ethos of the Hypermotard 950 is an evolution, not a revolution over the outgoing Hypermotard 939. This is because Borgo Panigale has listened to its customer base while designing the Ducati Hypermotard 950, but also wisely kept the bike close to its roots.

The design is a modern riff on the original Terblanche design for the Hypermotard 1100; the package shares many attributes first seen on the 821/939 generation; and the overall fit and feel has been brought inline with the rest of the Ducati lineup.

All-in-all, when it comes to big liquid-cooled supermotos for the road, the Ducati Hypermotard 950 is at the top of the heap. In fact, it might just be the most fun you can have on the street with two wheels. Let me explain.

Hello from from the Canary Islands, where we have the curious reality of being in both Europe and Africa at the exact same time (the islands are politically part of Spain, and thus the European Union, but sit on the African continental shelf).

A winter retreat for Europeans, the archipelago provides a temperate climate for the elderly, and year-round riding for motorcyclists. As such, we are here to shred some tires, and we will be doing that the press launch for the new Ducati Hypermotard 950.

Ducati has for us a two-part program: a street ride and a half-day of riding on the track, which should help us to evaluate both the base model Hypermotard 950, as well as the up-spec Hypermotard 950 SP.

A motorcycle that is near and dear to this author’s heart, as the two previous models ended up in my garage as personal bikes, bought with my hard-earned blogging dollars, we will be especially keen to see if Ducati has retained the unique character of this plus-sized supermoto, while also refining some of its gremlins.

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.

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.