FIRST RIDE: HUSABERG 250, 350, 501 & TWO-STROKES

 
(8/12/2012)
 
 
 
For the first time in its short- but-impressive history, Husaberg now offers what can be called a full line of enduro motorcycles. That’s not to be confused with a full line of motorcycles—there are no dual-sport bikes, MX bikes or Supermoto bikes, just enduro bikes. There are two bikes for most off-road classes, two-stroke and-stroke.
As you might expect, all the bikes have counterparts in the KTM line, as the two companies have been one and the same since 1998. But these aren’t rebadged clones like Chevy and GMC. The Husaberg line has its own distinct personality. We got a chance to ride all the new bikes at a mass roll-out for the world media in Oliana, Spain. The common ground is that they are all no-compromise enduro bikes heavily oriented toward racing. Here are some brief impressions:
 

HUSABERG FE250: This bike’s closest relative in the KTM line is the 250XC-W. It’s a six-speed, electric-start, fuel-injected 250F with essentially the same motor as KTM’s 2012 250F MX bike. That motor wasn’t especially successful as a motocross bike, but it was great off-road. It never had quite enough peak power to satisfy the moto crowd, but the powerband went on and on, which was great for trails. The same holds true for the Husaberg version. The ‘Berg takes a step up the food chain with a new WP fork design, labeled the 4CS. This does away with the bladder in the existing close- cartridge WP in favor of a variable chamber that is held under pressure by a spring. The redesign makes maintenance much easier. And now the adjusters are located on the top of each fork leg. That doesn’t mean that all the rebound valving is in the right and all the compression is in the left, it just means a minor amount of adjustable damping is separated.

On the trail it works well. The fork is much less divey than the one that came on last year’s KTM XC-W. It stays up in its travel like a motocross bike, but still manages to suck up little trail trash. It’s a great fork.
There are only a few complaints. The clutch is the old coil spring design, which is just draggy enough to keep it from starting in gear. This is in contrast to the new diaphragm clutch on all the other bikes, which has a lighter pull and complete disengagement. And overall the Husaberg occupies an odd no-man’s land in the market. It’s much more aggressive than the Honda CRF250X and the Yamaha WR250F, but not as fast as full moto 250Fs, which is what most racers prefer. The electric starter, of course is the wild card that makes the ‘Berg a more civilized racer.arated.

Rock climbing in Spain with the FE250.

 
 
HUSABERG FE350: Back in the late ‘80s, Husaberg had another FE350. It was such a ground breaker that it forced the creation of a new racing class in Europe. The new FE is a great bike too. In fact, it’s a much better machine than the 2012 KTM 350XC-W. That bike was billed to have all the advantages of a 250 with the power of a 450, but in the end, it also had the drawbacks of both. The new FE350 creates power from much lower rpm so you don’t have to scream the motor all the time. It doesn’t suddenly fall off the power if the Rs drop too low, either. It’s more like a mild 450, whereas the KTM was like a hyper 250. This model got the diaphragm clutch, which has an interesting feel. It’s at its stiffest when the lever is all the way out, and gets easier as the lever comes closer to the bar. Overall, the pull is very easy and the progression is good. When the clutch is fully disengaged, there’s virtually no drag on the engine, so the bike starts easily in gear. Starting, by the way, is 100 percent electric. There’s no kickstarter. But the possibility is there, you just have to buy the parts.
The fuel injection is absolutely clean. Husaberg was actually the first off-road bike to get this right. Prior to the first injected ‘Berg thee year ago, all EFI bikes had a nasty tendency to be jerky off the bottom. Husaberg got it right first, then others followed. The FE350 has nearly perfect fuel metering.
Like the other Husabergs, the 350 got the 4CS fork, which works well in most situations. Adjustability is great; the clickers are actually knobs that are easy to use and require no tools. The only flaw in the system is that they don’t offer much adjustability on the compression side. The standard setting (on the Euro models that we tested) is 22 of about 28, so if you want softer, you can’t go far.
In the rear, the suspension geometry is like the most recent KTM XC-Ws, with a longer shock and a steeper shock angle than last year’s Husabergs. It remains linkless.
The 2012 KTM 350 was never a bad bike, but it was overshadowed by other, more spectacular bikes in the KTM line. Now the Husaberg 350 is a full notch higher on the food scale. It might be the best four-stroke in the line.

 The 2013 Husaberg FE350 is the second bike to carry that name in Husaberg's history. 
 

     
HUSABERG FE501: Upper management made an interesting choice with the big-bike market. They only offer the 501 for 2012, opting out of the 450 class. It makes sense, actually. Husaberg has always been strongly associated with big bikes, and with a production run that is limited to about 4000 bikes worldwide, it made sense to concentrate on the big guy. The 501 has a motor similar to the 450 that Ryan Dungey uses for motocross, but with a longer stroke. It has a ton of power, but there’s nothing harsh or brutal about it. The delivery is about as smooth as 60 horsepower could be. It goes fast when you twist the throttle hard, and it’s controllable at partial throttle openings.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact that it makes a ton of power, and if you choose to gas it, you have to hold on tight. The 501 can wear a man down fairly quickly. Like the 350, it has a hydraulically actuated diaphragm-spring clutch that has an easy pull. And like the 350, the fuel metering is very good. It has a little popping on decel, but that has no real affect on the bike’s performance.
Of all the bikes in the line, the big 501 has the best overall suspension. It’s often like that with big bikes. The 501 certainly isn’t heavy, but it’s no 125. The means it likes to occupy its own spot in the universe while the suspension does more work. The new fork has a much more active feel with the 501.
Like those of all the Husabergs, the Brembo brakes are incredible—they’re easily the most powerful in the dirt-bike world. In technical, hilly terrain, you actually have to relearn how to stop. You can’t be jerky with the front brake on downhills, especially not on the 501. It has the most fork dive of all the bikes, so you have to learn to drag the brake, rather than stab at it.
On the 501, you learn to respect the bike. You have to respect the power, the brakes and everything else. It’s a lot of motorcycle.

The FE501 carries its size well.
 
 
The terrain in Spain's mountains is very arid.
 
THE TWO-STROKES: Husaberg (aka KTM) will bring in two two-strokes; the 250 and the 300. They both have nearly identical counterparts in the KTM line. Again, the biggest differences are the new fork and the use of a sub-frame that is constructed of composite material. All the Husabergs use this sub frame. In fact, all use the same frame, with only minor differences in the cradle for motor mounts.
The Husaberg 300 will be a known quantity for most riders. It’s more or less an off-road icon. The ‘Berg motor is 100 percent identical to the KTM’s, with the exception of the name on the clutch cover. This year both machines get the new diaphragm clutch, which works just as well on the two-strokes as on the four-strokes.
In case you are one of the very few off-road riders who doesn’t know why the 300 is so highly respected, it boils down to a simple fact: the two-stroke motor never got any better than this. It runs cleanly at very low rpm and it has instant throttle response. The 300 isn’t as fast as a 450 four-stoke, but it’s close enough. And it feels much, much lighter. The ‘Berg 300 probably weighs about 20 pounds less than the 501, but you would swear it’s a much bigger gap.
What surprised us on this ride was the effectiveness of the Husaberg TE250. It’s virtually the same bike as the 300, but with smaller displacement. The 250’s power hits a little harder and it revs more; that much we expected. But it also works just as well off the bottom. The 300 can stall if you really dare it to, but it seems like the 250 just won’t stop. What really sets the two models apart is the hit. Some people like it and some people don’t . The 300 has a much more gradual power delivery.
There are two other models in the Husaberg line that won’t make it to the U.S. There’s an FE450 four-stroke and a TE125 two-stroke. The 450’s market is too crowded and the 125’s market is too small. But that’s okay. We’re just happy that Husaberg is back. Check out more in the November issue of DB.

 The two-strokes in the Husaberg line remain excellent for extreme trails.


 
 

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WARNING: Much of the action depict­ed in this magazine is potentially dan­gerous. Virtually all of the riders seen in our photos are experienced ex­perts or professionals. Do not at­tempt to duplicate any stunts that are be­yond your own capabilities. Always wear the appropriate safety gear.

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