You do know what a Husky is, right? Actually, it’s Husqvarna, if we’re being 100 percent accurate. Well, if you don’t remember Husky, you most likely have a fresh piercing and spiked hair. The nameplate began as a Swedish company famed for building world motocross championship winners as well as some of the first true production motocross bikes, which eventually earned more fame gathering countless off-road racing championships. If you’re my age, you remember that all the fast old guys rode and raced the manly machines before the Swedish factory was bought out by Italians. And if you rode a Husky, you most likely just put on your reading glasses or are holding this issue at arm’s length and wishing for longer arms (right, Karel?).So I was happy to hop a plane to New York for the press launch of the Husqvarna models that will be available in the United States for 2005. No two-strokes will be imported; all are electric-start, new-age thumpers. For the off-roader, there are the TE 250, 450 and mighty 510. Motocrossers can choose between the TC 250 and 450. Based on the same DOHC four-valve motor, each bike has its own character, and we rode the wheels off them back East before shipping a few bikes out West for further evaluation.TE 450 ($6889)
First on the trail was the flagship TE 450. In the crowded and popular middleweight four-stroke class, this model had a few years under its belt in Europe before making its U.S. debut last year. But the Italians didn’t just leave it alone; they addressed criticisms from their racers and the press to make the bike even better. For instance, Husky actually widened the gas tank and refined the seat to be a flatter, wider design for more rider-friendly ergonomics. The Mikuni carb, which some found finicky, was replaced with a Keihin FCR for smoother bottom-end and a more-controlled pulse of fuel from the pumper. The ignition was remapped so the bike starts better, and durability-enhancing refinements were made inside the motor. For example, the crankshaft was rebalanced and now has a larger-diameter wrist pin. The radiators grew in capacity, and a coolant catch tank was added. For power, the titanium valves grew in diameter. The suspension, an interesting combination of a Sachs shock and a Marzocchi fork, saw a total redo, aiming for a more-plush and -compliant ride than last year’s slightly stiff setup.Visually, the fender and radiator/gas tank shroud changed, with the latter now shaped in the “H” crown design. Even though the 2.4-gallon tank didn’t gain in capacity, it grew in a stylish way that only an Italian could explain. Our legs felt it immediately as there is now something to grip with your knees. The seat is much more comfortable as well as feeling lower, compared with last year’s. Now you feel as if you are really sitting “in” the bike as opposed to being on top of it. That change alone has raised the bar on the Husky’s handling. It has a stability that is unmatched off-road. There is a definite feeling of precision that isn’t typical of an off-road bike, and it turns even better than before. It isn’t a light-feeling bike, but it stays planted. With the new suspension settings, the ride is all-around better and more versatile than before.Up front, the 45mm Marzocchi Shiver fork is a lot more compliant and exhibits less of a tendency to pack into the mid-stroke or feel harsh. It is also very tunable, with the compression and rebound adjusters making a noticeable change for every click or two. We ended up playing a lot with the rebound for the slippery and rocky terrain, trying to get the most out of the softest, extended part of the stroke, then dialing in the compression to get the right feel. In tighter enduro conditions, the fork is on the stiff side of the spectrum; but you will be able to handle the grass track or MX sections of a hare scramble just fine, as big hits such as whoops, water bars or outright jumps can be safely tackled thanks to a very progressive nature that is welcome at race pace.The shock was easy to tune simply by lightening the rebound. We got better traction and a more-supple feel. With the addition of external high-speed damping adjustment, you no longer need to fear the Sachs shock. It seemed quite progressive. After only a day on the suspenders, I thought they felt broken in with very little, if any, stiction and damped as well as anything available. Another benefit of the revised suspension setting is the bike’s feeling a little lighter on its feet compared with last year’s model, especially on tight, rough trails.The electric-starting TE now comes with an auxiliary kickstarter, but we never touched it. The Husky 450 didn’t jump to life right away as most other E-start bikes but instead spun a few times. Plus, it didn’t like to have the throttle turned while starting hot; just crack it, and it fires right up. Once running, the Keihin carburetor makes a difference. The TE idled more easily and came off idle more carefree. And the bottom third of the power spread is a little lighter and more controllable. While it doesn’t seem to have as much outright low-end torque as last year, the Husky still pulled with plenty of authority and was more linear in the bottom half of the power spread. It revs quickly but not too fast, so it puts as much power on the ground as possible rather than throwing it up in the air in the form of roost–even if the rider gets a little jumpy with the throttle. The TE pulls for a long time and has healthy overrev, even if it doesn’t feel as if it revs out as far as some other 450s. All the while it stayed quite quiet, courtesy of a spark-arrestor-equipped muffler. The clutch was a little odd, with the pull starting a bit on the stiff side; and the position of engagement tended to vary slightly when being used heavily. It never squealed or got loose; it just was a bit of a bother to those picky about lever or engagement position. According to Husky’s Italian technicians (via hand gestures and broken English), this has something to do with oil building up in the basket.The five-speed transmission is spaced closely in gearing but is wide in spread thanks to the powerband of the motor. Shifting on these bikes was a little tight but loosened after a day and an oil change. You will still not have the range of a bike with a six-speed box, yet it will matter only on the fastest of terrain. Both brakes are as strong and progressive as any of their competitors, but the front stopper squeals a lot. It doesn’t affect stopping power but is noisy and annoying. Foot controls and footpegs are right where they should be and tuck in tightly. Nice aluminum guards protect the cases, plus a lower frame rail extends out to protect the footpeg. Another Husky strong point is in the ease of working on the bike. Changing the air filter is a no-tools affair, as the seat comes off with a Dzus-type fastener and the battery tray folds up away from the air filter. You can get to the valves and take a clearance measurement in about four minutes. All fasteners are nice pieces, showing an attention to detail that you’d equate with a Honda, all with an Italian flair for styling that, for some, is even sexy.Where does this leave the Husky 450? It has strong points in every category with its only real issue being weight, as the bike isn’t going to be the lightest feeling while riding or when straddling the scale. Since this is the year of the 450 four-stroke, we’ll have some comparing to do during our annual Dirt Rider 24-Hour. No doubt the Husqvarna will be there, ready to square off with anything in the class.TE 250 ($6299)
Little brother was a full-on racer last year, and for most riders that was OK. As long as they kept the throttle pinned and rode the 250cc four-stroke like a 125cc two-stroke, everything was good. Well, now it’s better for everyone as a whole lot more midrange and even some bottom have arrived. Tuned for more low-end, the cam timing, revised intake tract, lighter crankshaft and new Keihin carburetor are all altered to provide a boost on the bottom. Success is obvious as the TE 250 is much less prone to falling off the pipe as it did last year; and it has some semblance of torque, even on the very bottom where it was almost nonexistent a year ago. You can actually ride the bike by rolling it on through the power, whereas last year you needed the clutch. And the top-end hardly suffered. If anything, you can shift sooner and keep going just as fast with the new delivery.All of the other TE traits and benefits carry over from the 450 with the exception of weight and slow starting. Push the button, and the little Husky spins right to life. The 250 actually feels light and has a slightly softer ride, truly a less-stiff setting. This is one bike you can really fling through the woods, and it makes you feel like a hero. It is flickable yet stable–an uncommon combination. Moreover, since everything is lighter, it will fit younger and lighter riders best.TE 510 ($7199)
At one time Husky was all about the big thumper, so it came as no surprise that the 510 is back. Built as only a special commemorative or “centennial” edition in 2004, the 2005-series 510 engine is a brute. Using the same lower end as the 450 but with 7mm more stroke and an identical bore, it offers up a big difference in power quantity and delivery, especially in bottom-end torque, where lighter riders might just find it too much. How much? Right off the bottom there is a pulse and surge that is a blend of newfound four-stroke rev and plenty of traditional thump. You can feel each stroke, and you can let it work from a very low rpm. On the negative side is the light flywheel. There isn’t enough mass to get you out of trouble if you let the rpm sink too low and then close the throttle. The 510 is more prone to stalling than even the 250. But as long as you feed the monster gas, it will chug you through, up or over anything on which it can find traction. It has a true Open-class power delivery, and we haven’t described anything but the bottom! From there on up you’ll enjoy a slight increase on what the 450 puts out, and the 510 revs just as far. It vibrates a little more in the upper revs and isn’t as happy up there as its smaller brothers, but shifting sooner will get you moving plenty fast.On the handling front, the 510 continues with the brutish feel. Although the scale doesn’t reveal much actual weight difference, you have to be ready to ride the bike in the more-technical stuff. The power combined with the added inertia flying around also says, “Open class.” It carries itself the same as the 450 most of the time but stiffens up quite a bit when the throttle is opened. And it is noticeably burlier in faster side-to-side stuff. But that doesn’t mean out in the open it isn’t that much more stable. It will definitely find a place with those seeking more powerTC 450 ($6499)
Husqvarna is taking a big risk by stepping onto the front line of motocross here in the United States. It may have started true MX here, but you’d be hard-pressed to be considered anything but an oddity on one today. That said, motocross is also the best arena in which to showcase the latest technology, and a vast quantity of R&D money is being spent by every manufacturer to get to the top in this field. The competition is so fierce that some manufacturers even delay the release of their product to save face. But Husky is confident it has a player.The first unique feature of the TC 450 is that it is electric-start only, though there is a kit to make it kick also, or kick only. With that E-button, the Husky will not win any battles on the scale or with its weighty feel at the track. The TC is heavy, and any rider accustomed to a Japanese 450 MX bike will notice. But don’t run away just yet. We rode the bike on a true MX course less than 2 miles from the world-famous Unadilla circuit. Thunder Ridge Cycle Park has a natural rolling-hills course heavy on technical turns, not jumps, and loaded with real dirt. Over the course of the day, the track became only a little rough by our standards, and the TC shined. The weight gave it a more-planted feel and helped on loose sweepers, where it dug in and bit the ground. And when flying off the rolling tabletop hills with some pretty hard landings, the suspension did a remarkable job of sticking and staying controlled. We fiddled with the rebound and compression with great results on the fork to get a good feel, whether jumping or turning. All of the stability is there, and turning is middle-of-the-road-style–not too aggressive or lazy. You could go anywhere you needed, just not as instantaneously as with some other bikes.Husqvarna’s MX motor is in the game for sure, again having a much more-traditional four-stroke pull than is common today. The motor, opened up from the enduro spec, has more snap and a quicker run-through since it is breathing out of a freer-flowing exhaust. There isn’t much of a hit anywhere in the spread as it revs out and signs off a little before you hit the rev-limiter. Actually, hitting it is pretty uncommon, as the bike prefers to work in a lower rpm range than most 450s. The close-ratio five-speed was about perfectly spaced for the power, and its pull is long enough and strong enough for you to hold it in a gear for a bit longer rather than shifting. But riding a gear high works best.A small bother was the chain clinking on the lower frame tube when it became just a little loose. And when landing hard on the rear wheel, the slap-down of the fork was a bit stiff; positioning the handlebar more forward in the adjustable clamp helped cure this feel.TC 250 ($5999)
As with its big brother, the 250 is electric starting only as an MXer. And as with the 250cc enduro TE, the TC hides its weight much better than you’d think. The power spread is best described as a combination of a CRF250R on the bottom and a YZ250F on top, which should be the best thing ever, except in the transition between the two. The TC tends to fall off the pipe if you really put a load on the engine in the lower midrange. And when you scream it, something in the harmonics of the pipe gives the bike a very flattened tone, a similarity to the YZ-F. The Husky still pulls to a healthy top-end surge, despite the noise, and if you keep it singing, it moves as fast as you’d expect a 250cc four-stroke to run.As for the handling, it mirrors the 450 but is much lighter, which equates to better turning and flickability anywhere on the track. Compared with other 250cc four-stroke MX bikes, we’d bet it gives up some on the scale, and it feels a bit bulkier on the track, too. The bike is comfortable, and there isn’t any aspect that sticks out or makes this bike feel European. In fact, all of the Huskys have a more-typical feel than even KTMs.So where does this leave Husky? Having gone through some tough times and still producing bikes, it has just received a big shot in the arm from a financing deal with Proton, a very large Malaysian auto manufacturer whose expertise in integration of production processes and replacement-part production can only help Husqvarna’s business side–and that isn’t hampered one bit by bikes that speak for themselves.What’s Hot!
* Refined all of the rough edges of an already-strong package, making the Huskys a serious threat in all classes.
* Newfound comfort with a flatter seat that has better padding.
* The gas tank is easier to grab due to its added width.
* Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock enjoy a more-supple feel without turning into enduro-mush suspension.
* Among the easiest bikes on which to work and do regular maintenance.
* Great looks and a finish that rivals anything available.
* Quality components and hardware are everywhere on these bikes.
* Carburetion isn’t as tricky or finicky as last year.What’s Not!
* All of the bikes could afford to lose a few pounds, but we’re not giving up the electric start!
* Not a Husky dealer in every town.
* Hop-up parts and aftermarket are a little scarce in the United States.