By Chris Denison
Photos Courtesy of Husqvarna
Along with Husqvarna announcing their 2014 model line came the opportunity for Dirt Rider to swing a leg over each of these new machines at the recent world press launch in Sweden. For a more comprehensive breakdown of these motorcycles, click on the recently posted Husqvarna preview at http://www.dirtrider.com/features/2014-husqvarna-preview/. In a nutshell, though, here’s the skinny: there are ten bikes, five of which are two-strokes and five of which are four-strokes. The lineup is also split right down the middle, 50/50 off-road and motocross. There are obvious ties to KTMs and Husabergs, with the only major difference outside of the colorway and graphics being the polyamide rear subframe made famous by Husaberg. This three-piece, fiberglass-reinforced design offers what Husqvarna feels is the best balance of rigidity and flex, and its inclusion on the TC line marks the first time that a composite subframe has ever been offered on a production motocross bike.
The model range starts with an 85cc mini and extends all the way up to the big 501cc thumper. The TC 85 has a few differences from the larger models and many of the sweeping similarities of the ’14 Husky line do not apply to it. But as far as big bikes go, the other nine Husqvarnas all sport WP suspension on both ends, linkage suspension, single component cast swingarms, black D.I.D. rims, CNC triple clamps with four different handlebar mount positions, and hand guards. Here’s a look at how each of these motorcycles performed out in the dirt:
FE 250/ FE 350
Keihin electronic fuel injection, DDS/ Brembo clutches, built in radiator fans, and WP’s 4CS fork mark just some of the familiar features on these California green sticker—legal models. On the trail, the light overall weight of the FE250 is apparent. Weight transfer is excellent and the machine feels incredibly flickable on quick direction changes and in S-turns, with no top-heavy or weighty tendencies. When cornering, the front has a tendency to push through tight lines unless extra effort is made to really set up beforehand and arc outward for a less sharp corner entry. As with the other models, the WP4CS fork gave some harsh feedback on chop that was the result of it blowing through the initial part of the stroke and packing in the mid. Out back, the shock felt firm—though not stiff—and held up well.
Power-wise, this bike loves to be revved. The bottom-to-mid-range is soft in comparison to the top, though response is clean and the bike can still be lugged in the right conditions (when weighting the back end, mainly). A gearing swap or a heavier flywheel would help to reduce stalling under hard braking on tight trails, as the stock setup forces the rider to downshift quickly when entering nasty spots in a taller gear. The exhaust note is pleasant even when revving, and the electric start works exceptionally well when the bike is both cold and hot.
Built upon the same platform as the FE 250, the Husqvarna FE 350 also comes equipped with a DOHC engine that boasts titanium valves and DLC-coated finger followers. In contrast to the smaller four-stroke, the 350 has way more torque and does not need to be revved nearly as far. The power is smoother in tight terrain, and given the slick conditions of the intro this was probably my favorite bike out of everything in the off-road lineup. You don’t have to clutch the 350 a ton to make it work; shifting excessively is also not required, as the bike will pull in a variety of gears. The FE 350 is a total traction machine, the transmission is butter, the mid-range is solid, and the top-end doesn’t bang into the rev limiter when you stretch it out a little. Weight-wise, the FE 350 is tad more top-heavy than the FE 250, and it takes an increased amount of effort to get the bike to go where you want. More than once I felt as though I had to really muscle the bike to get it into the right line, though this is a sacrifice made for excellent straight-line stability with no odd deflection from the front tire.
The big 501 is definitely a powerhouse, but it is not as difficult to ride as you may think. Down low, this beast will definitely break traction if you just hammer the throttle, as the initial hit and low-end pull is very strong. I found myself covering the clutch a lot to help modulate the power, and by deliberately weighting the rear tire more than the other bikes it was not hard to keep the bike pulling up loose rock sections and steep gravel hills. As expected, this is the most top-heavy feeling machine of the bunch, and combined with the massive snap that the engine produces it’s possible to get out of shape if you’re not careful or paying attention. Still, I was surprised by how well the 501 worked in tight sections; the relatively weighty feel (which, in reality, is similar to a KTM 500) goes away when you are flowing and carrying speed. Only when you mess up and get out of shape does the bike feel scary. A stiffer fork setting (clicker adjustment) helped the bike overall but wasn’t as plush over repeated hits and head-on impacts such as logs and tree roots. The shock did a fine job of absorbing without any unwanted kicks or hits.
TE 250/ TE 300
Also equipped with the WP 4CS closed-cartridge fork, the TE 250 and TE 300 two-strokes are built around the now-closed Husaberg production line. A DDS (damped diaphragm steel)/ Brembo hydraulic clutch also graces each machine, along with electric starting with a kickstart backup. Each transmission is a six-speed design, and both machines are tunable via adjustable power valves as well as through two different pre-set ignition curves that can be changed by simply switching a plug connection. Both bikes are also capable, durable, and totally at home in difficult terrain. The TE250 works just as well in nasty sections as its bigger brother. Even though the 300’s extra torque seemed to be the hot setup on the slick trails, the power on both bikes is strong throughout and does not wear the rider out or spin the tire excessively. The clutch works great, shifting is smooth and the electric start is flawless. A lack of damping support on drop offs and hard hits had us chasing the suspension to a stiffer clicker setting on both bikes. The shock worked well overall. The ergonomics are comfortable, and aside from a stiff seat there’s not really anything to complain about when riding in the attack position.
FC 250/ FC 450
Based off of the KTM SX-F models, the new Husqvarna four-stroke MXers are certainly proven. Neither bike has kickstart casting—it’s button start only—with Dunlop, Renthal, and Brembo sitting near the top of the Husqvarna’s accessory list. Not surprisingly, both machines’ on-track performance reflects that of their orange counterparts: The FC 250 has a broad powerband that hooked up well on the slippery circuit. I felt at home aboard the machine right away, and I didn’t notice any hiccups in tuning nor when shifting. The bike could stand to have a stronger bottom-end, although the rev-to-the-moon personality of the top end provides enough excitement for the average pilot. The FC 250 seemed to reward aggressive riding, which would mask the slightly harsh character of the suspension when ridden slowly or through repeated hits and rough ruts. Tracking was decent in corners, and I found that I could cut inside of lines if I set up properly and had faith in the front tire’s shoulder knobs to hook up. The FC 450 took more effort and energy to corner, due to a higher resistance to leaning than the smaller machine. As expected, the larger four-stroke revved out quite hard and could clear bigger jumps from the inside line with amazing ease. Hard hits pushed the fork to the limit, and more tuning than we had time for would be required to really dial in the setting for the track we were riding. Still, this was the best “Husqvarna” 450cc four-stroke I have ever ridden, and the heavily KTM-influenced Austrian machine is leaps and bounds better than the old Husqvarna 449.
TC 125/ TC 250
Based off of KTM’s 125 and 250 SX models, the new Husky TC 125 and 250 both provide two-stroke lovers with a unique MX-oriented solution. The 125 powerplant features a Vertex piston with a Magura clutch and comes stock with Boyesen reed valves, Dunlop MX51 tires, a Renthal Fatbar and WP’s closed-cartridge fork. The 250 shares several of these components but instead is offered with a five-speed transmission and a DDS/ Brembo hydraulic clutch setup. For those who want a bit more boost, there is a 300cc kit available through Husky Power. Both machines feature easy tuning by way of the same power valve and ignition curve options found on the TE 250 and 300.
I felt that these motorcycles were fun, but I’ll admit that the slick track conditions in Sweden were better suited to the traction-grabbing thumpers. The 125cc was a blast to ride and rev out; the small-bore engine produced a healthy snap and sounded crisp and clean. You have to shift this little machine a ton, and you definitely need to be active with the clutch to keep the revs in the right place. Given the additional weight of the accumulated mud added to the underside of the fenders, the TC 125’s suspension felt soft on hard landings, in whoops, and even when coming into corners. A loose steering feel makes the bike feel flickable and also unstable. On the bigger end, the TC 250 has such a sharp hit down low that it broke loose just about every time the throttle was cracked open—I actually added some slack to the throttle cable just to help mellow out the initial response feel. The 250cc engine has a fat mid-range and revs out quickly while still allowing itself to be ridden on the pipe. I felt as though the TC 250 absorbed harder hits better than the 125, but a semi-sharp bite of the suspension on square-edged bumps kept me on my toes—both literally and figuratively—when negotiating choppy terrain.
Some Husqvarna fans were truly expecting an all-new lineup of motorcycles for 2014. While this would have been radical, it’s really not very realistic—the powers that be at KTM have only owned Husqvarna for around seven months. It makes sense that the new Husky line would borrow so heavily from its sister brand, and we can definitely hope that in the future additional updates and innovations become available to further separate the two brands (notice that I didn’t say “three”; that’s because Husaberg has already halted production, and once the current bikes are sold there will be no more ‘Bergs produced). As it stands now, Husqvarna has a complete collection of MX and off-road models that is proven to be reliable, is already an increase in performance over their previous models, and that hits on both two- and four-stroke owners. The biggest downside at this point is that Husky is considered a “premium” brand, so prices are not likely to drop—the days of the cheap, street-legal Husqvarna are officially over. But if the brand keeps charging as hard as it has in the past few months, there’s no telling what they’ll be able to accomplish in the coming years.