A lot of smaller brands are struggling. They seem to flourish for a time, then suddenly fade with fluctuations in currency exchange rates, changes in company leadership, problems with the suppliers of key parts or the tax laws of their countries. Depending on where a marquee is in this ebb and flow of fortune, going to an off-brand can be as risky as the thrill of an exotic ride is fun. Of the boutique brands, Husaberg has remained fairly steady. Stateside, there has been some juggling of the brand and its importer and issues with durability, especially in the late ’90s, but for the most part there has been a solid (if sparse) dealer network and a consistent flow of parts. Now Husaberg has been integrated back under the control of KTM North America, which should further solidify the brand and its parts supply.Now for the push. KTM is getting behind the Husaberg brand because it wants to strengthen it. It knows the bike has some benefits and appeals to different kinds of riders than its own orange bikes. In fact, the 2008 pricing structure, now a bit lower than in the past, is set to get sales numbers up in the United States.We got our hands on a fresh 2008 FE550. New for 2008 are some changes in tolerances on the crankshaft and upgrades to the balance shaft and its water pump seal, a recurring problem area we had with our 2006 650. The frame is welded in a new jig for more consistency, and the triple clamp is stronger and lighter, as it is off the KTMs. The ignition has some changes to the mapping, and of course, the bike comes with new graphics. Also, the ’08 bikes are sold as a closed-course competition bike, meaning red-sticker in California. The motor meets emissions standards, but it remains red-sticker because the gas tank isn’t sealed, a new standard you’ll be hearing more about in the future. The Husaberg got an Akrapovic muffler without a spark arrestor and comes without any lights, just number plates.Even though the delivery is off-road smooth enough, the Berg lunges out of turns when you whack the throttle.Now for the differences from a “normal” bike, the Berg has the chain and sprockets on the wrong side (right side) of the bike. Meaning the clutch and ignition are on opposite sides compared to the majority of motorcycles produced now. There isn’t a conventional airbox, the filter rides atop the large rectangular chrome-moly frame’s backbone, the inside of the frame serves as the airbox with the filter located right between your legs where the seat and gas tank meet. Hence, the open space under the seat. There isn’t a removable subframe either, and getting to the shock is as simple as on a KTM even though the linkageless PDS unit is centrally mounted on the Berg. There isn’t a conventional cylinder but a sleeve mounted in the centercases. And the radiator is a large single unit as opposed to two smaller ones.It doesn’t take long to start liking what the Husaberg has to offer. And that’s power. It has a lot of it delivered in complete smoothness or with aggressive snap. You have a great amount of control with the throttle, and just how much you’d like the engine to respond is as simple as twisting your wrist. Much more than most off-road bikes. It feels like it has a very light flywheel when you want the bike to respond quickly, but then it can also torque along and be smooth as if it had a very heavy crank. The throttle-to-rear-wheel connectivity is extremely sensitive and quite good.The bike channels this power through a well-spaced wide-ratio, six-speed gearbox, but not before you get to control it through a hydraulic clutch with a very light pull, decent feel and excellent durability. It does squeak a bit when it gets hot and from stops, but you get used to it. First gear lets this open-class beast tackle the tightest of trails like a much smaller bike because you won’t use the clutch and at low rpm the bike has a very nimble feel. Second through fifth all have an equal spacing jump, plus the motor runs on for so long with the power you can just keep the bike in one gear and let the revs make shifting pointless a lot of the time. Plus, this Berg will take full gas, no clutch power shifts like you’d expect a Formula One car to do. How fast is it? We didn’t take our radar gun or the GPS out with us but the FE easily went 100 mph. The tears in our eyes, even through the goggles, verified it. Overall, the Berg is one of the fastest and strongest-running bikes you can buy. It has about all the power you’ll ever need and is only surpassed by its bigger brother, the 650, when stock-to-stock power is compared. What’s the difference? On a really steep, traction-laden hill the 650 will never stop accelerating. The 550 merely keeps pulling steady whereas most ordinary 450s will lose steam.
The handling and chassis of the Husaberg have a unique feel, too. First, a lot of riders get the feeling that the bike has a stinkbug stance-one of being high in the rear and wide in the thighs. You can see it in the seat, which has pretty good padding in the front portion. Larger riders tend to notice this more than smaller guys. Some liked it as it kept their knees less folded up while others didn’t like being perched up higher than usual. But even smaller riders didn’t mind the standard bar position on the multiadjustable triple clamp being in the third-most forward position. So overall, the chassis is a bit tighter than a roomy KTM. It also feels like the footpegs are placed a bit higher, giving the bike an unfamiliar handling feel as well. The Berg acts like the front wheel is actually more underneath you than on the KTM, but when turning the bike feels a little more raked out and stable. It definitely has good front grip and likes to be turned on the front tire as opposed to be sliding in the rear. The 550 is fairly light on its feet for such a beast and is actually pretty good at masking its weight when the engine gets spinning, something that a lot of big bikes suffer with in handling.As to its suspension, this Berg has definitely kept the enduro touch in the setting. It’s on the softer and plusher side of the scale, but it seems they’ve found some additional bottoming resistance compared to the Long Haul 650 we had. It’s very similar to the way we had our suspension modified, so of course we liked it. It seems to be as plush as the KTMs are able to be without suffering that wallowy feel. And the bike is pretty sensitive to fork compression settings. We liked ours a bit softer than delivered, even when racing the bike on a rough GP course at SRA’s Glen Helen monthly event.Once you learn the routine of the Husaberg, all of its unique or irregular traits seem to fall into place. Air filter maintenance is a cinch. The one-liter oil capacity makes it important to change the fluid often but it’s simple, as well. The bike breathes excess oil into the airbox and will actually “self-regulate” the level if you put in too much. It can be interesting when you pin the throttle for an extended period of time, too, as it will blow it into the airbox where the bike will puff some nice, blue clouds. In fact, when those unfamiliar with this flip the bike upside-down and oil runs into the airbox, it’s funny to tell the rider they blew the bike up when the billows of blue spoke pour out! The reach to the brake pedal takes some getting used to, and trying to find the little bird that’s trapped under the seat is useless. Yes, this bike makes some funny noises.On the plus side the brakes are strong and progressive. There’s some new blue bling scattered around the bike, as well as black rims if you like that style. And speaking of the looks, almost everyone who glanced at the Berg had something interesting to say about it.Now the big question is, Do you really need a Husaberg over all the other choices out there? Only you can answer that one. If you like power, standing out from the crowd and are willing to go that extra yard in your motorcycle addiction, we can happily recommend the Husaberg. If you have to have a shop in or near your town, like to have a lot of aftermarket choices available to you and prefer to blend in, forget it and dream about what riding a Berg must be like.Specifications
Seat height: 37.4 in.
Footpeg height 16.5 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.9 in.
Ground clearance: 13.5 in
Fuel capacity: 2.8 gal.
Weight (ready to ride, no gas): 249 lbWhat’s Hot
Motor is addictive, you’ll crave the acceleration
The look is clean yet bold
Components are top-notch
Your neighbor doesn’t have oneWhat’s Not
More “Euro” feeling than a KTM
Riding position not as seamless as most new bikes
Not a lot of aftermarket support
No spark arrestor or green sticker compliance
OpinionsWell, if you don’t like horsepower, this isn’t the bike for you. I happen to like hp, so I thought it was great! The motor just pulls really nicely. It steers a little sluggish, but I’m splitting hairs compared to the other bikes. For a big-bore bike it handles well and feels light. It’s very fun to ride, has plenty of low-end and plenty of mph in the same gearbox. No tugging to do a wheelie, you just turn the throttle and control the front end height. The little birdie under the seat is interesting until you’re told it’s the airbox chirping. The tank is very nice for tight turns, considering it’s a larger capacity tank. There’s a cavity where the airbox is on most bikes, that’s large enough to house a lunchbox in case you end up riding your 550 to places where lunch isn’t served. Compared to previous Husabergs I’ve ridden, you know the kind where you needed to carry a suitcase of spare parts, this bike was a very nice change of pace and a lot of fun to ride.
-Scott Forward/6’0”/190 lb/A riderI really like Husabergs. I’ve always liked four-strokes, even before they were popular. In fact, when I was racing my Honda XR280 in the 1989 ISDE I saw the very first Husaberg. It was a full 350cc, sort of a rarity at the time, and I wanted that trick bike instead of my hopped-up trailbike. It was a lust I remember from when I was a kid and I saw and heard a Maico (still waiting to ride one of those!). Well, I’ve had the chance to ride a number of Bergs in my time, and they have all satisfied my quest for a unique ride, especially in power output. Though in all of my time I’ve only had one mechanical failure (the lighting side of the ignition on one let go, at night!), I’ve heard a lot about problems with the bikes. Our Long Haul 650 relaxed any worries on that matter. And knowing the 550 is about the perfect size for any real open-class off-road bike, I really dig this bike. Sure, with the introduction of the new KTM chassis the Berg’s handling might be a slight step behind, but I still prefer the suspension action on the 550 off-road. I’m surprised it doesn’t sell more of these.
-Jimmy Lewis/5’10″/185 lb/Pro trail riderThis bike really is about the motor. It runs great from way down low and stinkin’ incredible in the mid and all the way to the top. In every way our long-term 650 engine was good, this one is also good, but the 550 has none of the flaws like heavy vibration and an agricultural feel. The riding position is too cramped for me on long rides. When the airbox starts to seriously moan, though, the 550 comes on like it has a turbo or nitrous and you pretty much forget to sweat the little stuff. I dreaded time on the 650, unless we were playing on hills, but the 550 is a whole new animal-domesticated but not declawed.
-Karel Kramer/6’1″/210 lb/B rider