From spy photos posted in Internet forums to rumors that floated from track to track like tear-offs in the wind, there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Husqvarna’s 2011 model lineup, and for good reason. This new product line marks the end of a multi-year push by Husky to redefine its larger-displacement four-stroke model range, and with that the German-owned Italian manufacturer is hoping to reestablish itself as a serious player in the MX and off-road game. Dirt Rider recently attended the international Husqvarna press launch in Fano, Italy, where we were able to get our mitts on four of the company’s newest machines, including two models that were little more than mythical motorcycles just a few weeks prior.
As Husqvarna’s 250cc four-stroke enduro bike, the TE250 received several key revisions for 2011. Since it’s already equipped with Mikuni fuel injection, the bulk of the new TE250′s changes grace the chassis, which has been reinforced to meet the standards of Husky’s World Enduro racers. A streamlined frame cradle, improved suspension settings and redesigned airbox head up the list of major upgrades, while a larger fuel tank and new fuel pump design maximize mileage (or kilometerage, depending on your preference) on the trail. Two new CDI maps allow more adjustability from the motor, while a new radiator hose layout and refined silencer position provide better heat protection.The character of the TE250′s power is well suited for off-road use. The bike is tame enough to be ridden all day, yet you can still dial up the power when necessary. We found that the motor behaved best when ridden higher up in the rpm range, as it was simply more practical to keep the bike singing in case you got into trouble and had to pull a last-minute emergency wheelie over a ditch or up a surprise incline. Luckily, you can keep the revs up without abusing the hydraulic clutch as the consistent, easy delivery simply requires you to stay in a lower gear longer in order to maintain peak power. First was low enough for single-track trails, although the gearing was a little tall for tight switchbacks. The six-speed transmission is excellent on high-speed transfer sections.For a 250cc four-stroke, the TE250 has a fairly lightweight feel on the trail. The front end feels planted but the rear tends to step out over rocks and bumps, though we didn’t have any issues with headshake. Likewise, we didn’t have any problems with the fork or shock bottoming on hard hits, although heavier pilots will likely want to step up a spring rate or two in order to keep the TE250 riding in the proper place in the stroke. Even with the larger tank, the riding position on the bike feels comfortable and natural, but the Magura bar does transfer a fair amount of feedback and vibration to the rider’s hands.
Reworked from the ground up, the Husqvarna TE310 is essentially a new bike for 2011. The Italians scrapped the previous frame and outfitted the 310 with the same chassis features as the TE250, giving it the new reinforced frame, Grimeca hubs, Kayaba 48mm fork and refined Sachs shock, as well as the larger fuel tank and new graphics. The all-new motor is essentially a TE250 powerplant that’s been boosted to 302.44cc courtesy of an increase in bore and stroke. It, too, sports the revised CDI with two ignition maps to select from. The overall weight is practically identical to the TE250′s, making this bike a very close relative to its smaller counterpart.
An increase in power over the TE250 is a natural side effect of an additional 50cc, but the difference between the two motors is surprising, even when you’re anticipating it. The 310 has the same response but a much stronger initial serving of power than the 250, and the added torque down low changes the way you ride the bike-rather than keeping the revs up, you can feed the 310′s power on as needed and it just keeps coming. The bike will eventually flatten out when torqued over larger hills and obstacles-after all, it’s not a 450-but the stock character is in no way disappointing.Naturally, the handling of the TE310 is extremely similar to that of the TE250. The only major difference that we noticed was less of a tendency for the rear end to step out on the 310, which could be a function of the increased power, the fact that the bike tends to be at a lower rpm at any given point on the trail or simply a discrepancy in some minor setting between the two particular bikes that we tested. Regardless, the 2011 TE310 is significantly lighter than the 2010 (a claimed difference of roughly 13 pounds when all the changes are added up), and this helps to make the power feel that much more lively. The brakes on the machine are good but tend to chirp when heated, and the hydraulic clutch has an excellent feel to it.
The highlight of the 2011 Husqvarna line is the release of the TC449, Husqvarna’s all-new Open-class motocross bike. The motorcycle is completely new and features a range of innovative changes both inside and out. The keynote of the transformation is Husqvarna’s concept of “mass centralization”-getting the weight as close as possible to the center of gravity within the chassis. Adopted from the BMW system, a combination swingarm pivot/gearbox output (countershaft) sprocket that Husky refers to as the Coaxial Traction System (CTS) essentially gets rid of the variation in chain length as the rear suspension moves, thus reducing rear load transfer and improving the rear wheel’s ability to follow the contour of the ground. An inventive above-swingarm linkage setup increases ground clearance and complements the longer swingarm, while the Kayaba fork and shock handle suspension duties front and rear.Weight on the TC449 is also centralized through the DOHC engine, which has been tilted forward in a BMW-inspired and delivered design that provides a straight shot for the air intake. Rather than utilize a traditional fuel tank design, Husqvarna blazed its own trail and created a sub-seat main fuel tank connected to a low-mounted auxiliary tank that houses the fuel pump, which allows the Keihin electronic injection system to suck down almost every last drop of gasoline. This also permits the airbox to be located above the engine, not far from the battery.It’s a good thing that Husqvarna’s engineers put so much effort into centralizing the TC449′s weight, because this is a heavy-feeling motorcycle-much more than its claimed 238 pounds. Maneuverability in the air is almost nonexistent, meaning whichever direction the bike is pointed when it takes off dictates its exact flight path, as opposed to the aerial maneuverability found in other four-stroke MXers. That said, the weight certainly isn’t too top-oriented, so the bike still feels fairly stable and planted. Side-to-side stability was never an issue on the ground, and plowing straight into the biggest braking bumps failed to produce any unwanted left-to-right movement. The TC449 may be a bit of a locomotive, but at least she drives as straight as one.
In terms of front-to-back balance, the TC449 press unit that we rode had some issues. The bike sits and rides high in the rear end, and no amount of tuning on our part could fix this, although running a whopping 60mm of free sag (more than 110mm of rider sag) did help to minimize kicking in the rear. We also slowed the rear rebound down one click, though the shock’s compression felt fine and carried the Husky’s considerable weight around fairly well. Not helping the tall rear feeling is a soft fork setting that can blow all the way through; this was partially remedied by up to three extra clicks of compression. The Italian test track we rode the bike on was rough and jumpy, and our best setting for the Husky was a compromise between good feel in chop and sufficient bottoming resistance when falling out of the sky. It also took some dialing in to find a happy setting for turns, where the Husqvarna would initially oversteer when plowed in too hard. The Italians stated that some of this feeling could be attributed to the CTS, which applies a load on deceleration much differently than most motorcycles, making for less overall movement and a more planted feeling in the front. In any case, the Brembo brakes-particularly the front-have an outstanding feel.On the brighter side, the TC449 has a very potent motor. Response is excellent and leads into a smooth, strong boost of delivery that will cause the bike to wheelie with little effort. The stock Akrapovic exhaust makes for a throaty tone and supports the seamless acceleration. Although happiest in third gear, the 449 would easily rev out a gear lower or lug a gear higher. Clutch action was awesome and shifting felt smooth, meanwhile neutral was exceptionally large and easy to hit. Once you figure out the proper balance of throttle/no throttle, the electric starting is consistent and reliable.Thanks to a seat that extends all the way up to the steering head, the TC449 has a particularly roomy feel to it. The bike looks excessively wide at the footpeg/engine area, but we honestly didn’t have any awkward control problems when grasping the bike. The presence of one continuous sidepanel makes for an easy surface to grip, also giving the bike a sleek, naked look. Husky deliberately designed the machine this way in order to provide fast access to the air filter, oil filter, greasing points and EFI plug, and it all lends itself to a unique, aggressive look that is unmistakably Husqvarna.
The enduro version of the TC449 sports many of the same features as its MX brother but with a few changes for off-road. The most noticeable are the lights, hand guards and the 18-inch rear wheel, while the compression ratio is reduced to 12:1 (compared to 13:1 in the TC449). The TE449 still relies on a 46mm Keihin throttle body, though with a twin flap design that provides a slightly more mellow delivery than the single-flap MX design.Off-road, this motorcycle feels as big and heavy as the TC, though the weight is more noticeable when driving into corners and charging down hills. The stability of the bike is greatly appreciated, but it could benefit from quicker turning on tight trails. The motor is well suited for both trail riding and higher-speed grass tracks, and the gearing was appropriate for both. With its black rims, aggressive style and sporty-looking silencer, the TE449 is definitely one of the most eye-catching and unique off-road bikes on the market. We can’t wait to get one here in the U.S. to really dig into it.