By Gary Franks Pics by Gary Franks and Mitterbauer H. Riders – Gary Franks and Kyle Erasmus
Since ownership by the Pierer Group, Husqvarna Motorcycles sales have surpassed the company’s expectations and the brand continues to grow stronger than ever in its 112 year history with successes at the very highest levels in FIM Motocross GP’s, AMA Motocross and Supercross, the World Rally Championships, Extreme Enduro, SuperEnduro/ Endurocross and the World Enduro Championships.
Now the 2017 enduro range has just been launched here in South Africa and the exciting points for the Swedish brand and the market at large is that –
- This is the first ALL-NEW enduro motorcycle range for Husqvarna Motorcycles, not only since Austrian ownership, but in a very long time.
- The 2017 model range represents a massive improvement over the outgoing models in every way.
Whilst it is true that Husqvarna shares the same major components with sister company KTM, Husqvarna has its own management, design and engineering team who passionately work with those base components to create unique and stunning enduro weapons of mass desire.
So What’s New?
Literally everything – over 90% of every model is all-new. “All-new” is pretty meaningless if it just looks different but remember that these all-new parts have been developed, tested and refined by both Husqvarna and KTM’s factory race teams. Every new part offers better functionality and reduced weight.
The new chassis is perhaps the most significant new feature and one ride is all it takes to feel the improved ride and handling brought about by the new frame’s flex characteristics. The engineers have given the frame 30% more longitudinal flex – this means that the frame absorbs forces 30% better, giving a lot more comfort and more importantly, control. At the same time the new chassis provides 20% more torsional rigidity which improves stability and agility.
Suspension – I am very pleased to see the WP 4CS forks replaced by WP’s new Xplor 48 forks. These are open cartridge inverted forks with split functionality and using technology from WP’s renowned cone valve forks. All adjustments (rebound, compression and preload) are now made at the top of the forks without requiring any tools. Of course with Husqvarna’s you also get the CNC machined triple clamps firmly holding those forks in place.
There’s a completely new rear WP DCC (Dual Compression Control) shock and progressive linkage too. Whereas the previous models used a modified motocross linkage and shock, these new units have been purpose designed for enduro with specific geometry designed to deliver the best possible traction and absorption. A pressure balance inside the shock improves damping resulting in greater rider comfort and handling. The corrugated outer contour of the shock reservoir increases cooling.
Engines – Both 2-stroke and 4-stroke models feature completely new engines designed with a major focus towards lightness, mass centralisation and improved rideability. The engines are all smaller and more compact, all rotating shafts in the engines have been located closer to the centre of gravity, they all deliver improved performance throughout the rev range and they are all much lighter.
An exciting new feature standard on the 4-strokes is traction control (TC). With TC engaged the engines new faster processing ECU (control unit) monitors engine rpm and load and when it senses wheelspin, it retards power to assist the rider in keeping things under control and finding the best traction possible. All models come with the engine mapping switch fitted so you can switch between a milder or more aggressive power delivery.
Improved new big end bearings in the 4 stroke engines mean longer service intervals too – 135 hours.
The new 2-stroke engines feature a redesigned and more effective power valve system and the new electric start system on the TE250 and TE300 is now located underneath the engine where it engages more directly for better reliability in starting.
Bodywork/ Ergonomics – Is there a sexier enduro bike than these 2017 Husky’s? I don’t think so – they really are stunning and fresh looking in their white, yellow and blue livery. And those good looks come with total functionality in every way – sleek, light, very grippy and flat seats, nothing obscuring your movement and freedom on the bike. The new side-access air filter is really well designed and almost impossible to put in wrong. New lock-on grips mean no more wiring and gluing grips on. The bodywork on all the full size models is interchangeable too, so one-kit-fits-all.
All models also feature improved ground clearance and the new mud-free footpegs are 6mm higher for less chance of catching on rocks and in ruts.
The new 3-piece composite carbon fibre subframe is 1 kg lighter, as is the new lithium-ion battery – right there you have 2 kg’s less weight high up on the bike where it really counts.
Even the radiators are new and more efficient, and they feature new protectors (louvers) which now act as radiator braces, diverting energy from impacts around the radiators and into the frame. So there’s less reason to add heavy items like radiator braces to these lightweight machines. A cooling fan controlled by sensors attached to the ECU rather than a thermo switch is also standard on all 4-stroke models.
I could go on ad nauseam about all the improvements, but what you want to know is my opinion on the bikes, so let’s get to that. Given free access to all 7 new Husky models, I felt like a ruling party chief given free reign of the treasury.
A 125 has never been the most popular choice for enduro riders, especially those who ride at altitude or live on fast foods and beer. However when it comes in at a claimed weight of just 92, 2 kg’s (without fuel) and delivers 40 hp, it becomes a lot more attractive. You still need to keep the little piston working hard but the bike is so agile and yet stable that you feel confident enough to ride it hard and with commitment. The TX125 is great fun to ride and actually very quick by any standards. It is the only model that you have to kick start but an electric start kit is available and can be added.
Having ridden and raced a previous model Husqvarna TE250 extensively, I was blown away by the improvements to the new model. It is simply in another league. The ride is way more comfortable, the engine much smoother and more responsive, the bike is a lot lighter (102, 2 kg) and better handling and the suspension improvement is fantastic.
The motor pulls strong from almost no revs and you can lug 2nd gear up a steep and rough hill with just the occasional clutch feathering required. In situations like this the lightness and engine responsiveness demand very measured and smooth throttle inputs to hold your line, but engaging the softer ignition map with the standard equipment handlebar switch makes it easier to be smooth and love the 250 in technical enduro terrain.
The new 300 is a powerhouse with a power-to-weight ratio similar to a space shuttle. It takes a way better rider than me to ride this world-conquering extreme enduro machine aggressively. Having said that … fortunately you don’t need to. That’s because the TE300 loves to be ridden smoothly at low rpm where it rewards you with perhaps the best “luggability” available. It’s almost impossible to stall the motor, even clawing your way up hectic climbs and passes.
Compared with the previous model it does feel quicker with the new engine and having shed substantial weight – it weighs just 102,4 kg’s and most riders would probably benefit by fitting the green power valve spring.
The suspension on the test bike felt a little soft in front but it can be difficult to distinguish between the comfort and control provided by the new chassis and the suspension being soft. The rear shock/ linkage was noticeably excellent, especially impressing me with how it keeps the rear wheel planted and finds great traction in dry and loose conditions.
Although the overall weight reduction on the new FE250 is only around 2 kg’s, you really can feel on this bike how Husqvarna’s focus on improving handling and performance through mass centralisation, improved chassis and suspension. It feels significantly lighter and livelier than the previous model. The engine feels slightly torqueier and definitely has more mid-range hit. Suspension is excellent and the whole package inspires confident and enthusiastic riding. The gear ratios are well selected and I never felt it was lacking pulling out of turns, even in thick sand. I’ve always been a 2-stroke fan but this bike could really convert me – it is so easy to ride smoothly in technical terrain, and to ride hard absolutely anywhere.
The new 350 is quite possibly the most immediately impressive of the range to ride. With significant gains in low to mid-range power, a much lighter feel to its handling and the great balance of power this mid-size 4-stroke offers, it really would be difficult not to choose the FE350. Ridden in the sand and flowing terrain at Rhino Park, I loved how the bike put the power down and still felt lively even in the thickest sand, yet at the same time was quick and nimble enough in the twisty forest section and the quarry.
A 450 is usually the bike I pay least attention to on a test or launch because they are typically great at off road or desert racing but not so good at enduro riding. So it was interesting that this was the bike I had the most fun riding on this particular launch.
Granted the riding at Rhino Park lends itself more to the bigger powerful bikes, but I made a short mixed loop which included a rough steep hill-climb, short straights, loose flat corners and a bumpy steep descent. Ridden hard and aggressively such a loop becomes intense, quickly reveals mistakes and helps you identify which bike is easier to be smooth on.
Imagine my surprise when I was quicker, smoother, less tired and having more fun hammering it out on the FE450 on this loop than on the TE250, TE300 and FE250! Admittedly I had the traction control engaged on the 450 – that thing is the business. Traction control enables you to ride the bike with more confidence because it keeps the back tidy even when you get over-zealous with the throttle on those flat corners. Ok so I’m not saying you should buy one for riding in the rocks and Lesotho, but don’t be surprised when guys come past you on a 2017 FE450 in those places.
Rhino Park has some open whooped-out jeep tracks which seemed the obvious choice for a test on this 63 hp powerhouse. Stretching the 501’s legs I was relieved to find the power isn’t brutal and dangerous but rather refined and smooth. Of course there is masses of torque and it’s thrilling to stretch the cable a bit. So when the whooped out and rutted sections came rushing at me I found myself ignoring that irritating warning from the sensible part of my brain that was fast losing its power over me. Instead I kept the throttle open until the fence came many hundred metres later. The composure and stability defies logic and has you shifting your boundaries. The FE501 impressed and inspired me, never intimidated and is definitely a bike I would want in my ideal man cave.
Husqvarna has made massive improvements in all areas and across the entire range. The biggest difference is to the handling and suspension which in my opinion will see riders naturally riding quicker with less effort than they would on the previous model. But also very significant is the lighter weight, better ergonomics, traction control and improved engine performance. No bike is unbeatable but it’s hard to imagine that these aren’t.