Over the last few weeks Husqvarna NA has been showing one of its latest creations. It is called the Baja and is a self-touted trek-touring concept bike that begs some explanation, especially from those of us hard-core dirt bike riders waiting for Husky to deliver the KTM killer. It is easy for us to sit back and criticize but it takes looking at the bigger picture to see what is going on.
The Baja was not the direct injected two-stroke or a new 450cc racer/dual-purpose platform– but a proven BMW 650cc single placed into a very stylish concept chassis that is living testament to Husky’s glory days in the states. Glory days tarnished a few times over with business woes and importer and manufacturer issues. Yet this Husky Baja was designed to appeal to more than just a racer but a rider who might want a bike to be practical and fun, especially with rising gas prices. The Rotax based motor is one of the most fuel-efficient out there and as smooth as one big piston going up and down can be. The bike was not made to intimidate but to invite, many commented on its lower seat height, wishing it could be just a little lower as well. It was made to bring more people into a Husky dealership and make more riders out of them. Even if it does appeal mostly to an aging group of the hardcore, it is the type of bike that can help the company expand from its very narrow audience and rich dirt racing heritage.
So where are the new Huskys? Where are all the expected developments since the purchase of the brand by BMW? Well, it is taking time, maybe a little more that most had expected and hoped for. Right away we saw some of the big releases in the TC/TE/TXC 449/501 platform using the BMW powerplant. But that bike has been plagued with unfavorable reviews and a spec sheet that does not line up with the competition. And the smaller bikes based on the 250cc four-stroke motor were lacking in a few areas as well. The two-strokes, well they have remained mostly unchanged since the early 2000s.
But that does not mean that things have not been happening. Behind the scenes there has been a complete change in management and most of the people involved with Husky in the US have successful motorcycle roots at another company, yes that big orange one that is dominating the off-road market right now. They have been working on building the dealer network and getting the parts situation dialed in. Making financing programs available and managing a slow and steady growth even in these tougher times. These are not the things that make magazine or bike test headlines but building blocks to a successful future.
Looking closely, some bikes have jumped the shark, specifically the TXC 310, a bike fought for hard by the US team because it is a bike that US riders will buy. And they got that machine right. The TE 250 with its shortened seat height is a big success for the brand filling a niche in the market for a lower seat height performance machine. Including the 144cc kit with the 125cc two-strokes shows incentives that make sense. So maybe there isn’t a Husky that can go up against a KTM 500 EXC right now, but there are not any other brands bringing that level of machine out either. We will likely have to wait till 2015 to see anything revolutionary coming out of Italy wearing the H badge. Even if the Baja is not what you were looking to see, it is a sign that Husqvarna is still pushing and taking small and thoughtful steps forward, with a view that is a little bigger than we expected. The time is right and will be ripe for some variety in the off-road market soon. Everyone sees the positioning most of the manufacturers are taking. Some of the Japanese companies are interested only in motocross and others have a hard time understanding our diverse off-road needs. This is leaving the growth of companies like Husqvarna, Beta and Gas Gas up to the products they deliver in the next few years. For anyone who likes variety and choices, as well as competition, you have to be rooting for these companies.