It was like the space program. The development of the Husqvarna TC449 was a no-holds-barred, moon mission of a project that made use of the best engineers and the best riders on three continents. The end result is a great bike, but it’s not the bike it was meant to be. When it was first conceived, it wasn’t called the TC449, it wasn’t a Husqvarna, and it wasn’t even a motocross bike. Its journey was full of twists, turns and restarts.
Today, the TC449 is an offbeat machine with a long list of technical innovations and unique features. Like any motorcycle, it has strengths and weaknesses. But in the end, the most interesting feature is its mission here in the U.S. Even though it carries the nomenclature of a motocross bike, everyone knows it’s an off-road machine with a particular craving for high-speed venues out West.
AN INDIRECT ROUTE
It takes a while to “get” the Husky, and to do it, you have to know how it came into being. A number of years ago, BMW decided it wanted to reach customers at an earlier age. That meant expanding into the dirt world, and when BMW decides to do something, the company dives in head first. The G450X program was born, and the engineers were determined to buck established dirt bike trends. The first prototype was developed with the help of riders like five-time World Champion Joel Smets. In the U.S., Scott Summers was paid to race-develop the bike, and eventually David Knight and Juha Salminen were hired to race the World Enduro Series on the BMW.
But along the way, a number of things happened that changed the plan. The first was the global recession, which hit the off-road motorcycle market hard and affected the project’s budget and progress in a big way. The second was BMW’s decision to buy Husqvarna from its ailing Italian parent company. That gave BMW a shortcut into the dirt market. What followed was a period of confusion that saw some very unhappy riders and engineers. The Scott Summers program was one obvious casualty. He never even got a chance to ride the BMW. David Knight quit midseason. Eventually, the BMW G450X project was given to Husqvarna to complete. Now, about eight years after the start of all that, the Husqvarna TC449 is here. It is the best-performing, most-effective model that came out of the whole saga.
OFFBEAT BUT COOL
Technically, the Husky is like nothing else in the dirt world. Number one on the list of offbeat items is the crankshaft-mounted clutch. This means the clutch spins much faster than normal, which means that the oil turnover rate is faster, which means the clutch runs cooler. Originally, the goal was to make the motor narrow in the rear so that the countershaft sprocket could be mounted on the same axis as the swingarm pivot. On the BMW that used this motor, the swingarm pivot bolt passed through the hollow countershaft. Husky engineers decided not to do this; the TC has two short swingarm pivot bolts on the outboard sides of the motor. This would allow them to relocate the motor without changing the swingarm pivot if they wanted, but in the end, the Husky still has both the swingarm and the countershaft on the same centerline.
Another departure from conventional motor design is the valve train. The exhaust valves are opened directly by the cam, while the intake side has followers between the cam and the valves. Many high-performance motors use followers, but this is the only one we know of that uses them only on one side. Presumably, this is to allow more clearance for the intake ports. On the other side of the valves is a full EFI system with a 46mm Keihin throttle body. It’s fed by a very automotive-style airbox with a slide-in element that sits where the fuel tank is normally located. Two remote fuel cells combine to carry 1.9 gallons. The gas cap is over the rear fender. Like we said, the Husky is like nothing else in the dirt world.
Husqvarna’s engineers had very little input into the motor; it was given to them by BMW. In fact, it’s actually manufactured in Asia and shipped to Italy, but the chassis is designed and manufactured in the foothills of the Alps, using parts from all over the world. The suspension is Kayaba, the brakes are Brembo, the bars are Magura, and the hydraulic clutch is Brembo.
Husqvarna uses this platform to make four different bikes for the U.S. market. There are two dual-sport versions (the TE449 and TE511), a cross-country model (the TXC511) and this one (the TX449), which is classified as a motocross bike for one simple reason: as a competition bike, it doesn’t have to meet any emission standards. All the others are regulated by DOT, EPA and CARB. This allowed Husky engineers to make the TC as fast and racy as they pleased. Do the people at Husky Italy think it will be used as a motocross bike? Probably not, if their racing program is any indication. The Husky factory has an MX2 team based on the TC250, and even the factory’s satellite enduro racing program uses the 250 and the 310. They probably know that the Husky isn’t such a good motocross bike. At no point in the bike’s long development was it intended as such. But, it is a very good cross-country bike in the right environment. The Husky TC449 is a long, super-stable machine that is rock solid at speed. The faster you go, the better it is. Oddly enough, it handles nothing like the older Huskys with the Italian motors. Those were excellent in turns and a little shaky at speed. The TC449 is like a locomotive with absolutely no instability or headshake. If all bikes were like this, the steering-damper business would dry up and blow away.
Even the motor likes fast terrain. It’s surprisingly powerful, with great low-end torque and decent high-end revs, but it doesn’t have a quick-hit, motocross-style powerband. It’s more like an old-world four-stroke with lots of flywheel and rumbling, mountain-moving torque. The Husky is the greatest hill-climber this side of something, with an extended swingarm and a paddle tire. Nothing stops it until you chop the throttle.
All that adds up to a great desert bike. Out West, there are hills, sand and speed—all conditions where the TC449 excels. But when you get the TC449 on a track, it suddenly feels long and massive. When you get out the tape measure, it doesn’t measure any longer or taller than the average motocross machine, but the weight is a good 10 pounds heavier than other 450 motocrossers. The TC feels super long and requires a different strategy. You plan for turns ahead of time and don’t try to force the bike to do anything it doesn’t want to do. When you learn how to flow with the Husky and take swooping lines through rough sections that would toss other bikes around, you can actually make very fast lap times. But, that doesn’t work on all tracks.
We were surprised by the suspension; it’s pretty good no matter where you take the bike. You might remember that the location of the swingarm pivot was blamed for many of the BMW’s woes. Being on the same axis as the countershaft sprocket, the swingarm is subject to reactions caused by the motor’s torque output. Most people assume that this will make the bike squat too much, but the opposite is true. The rear suspension has a tendency to extend under power. Husky engineers could have changed all this with a different motor location, but instead used suspension linkage to tackle the issue. The result is excellent suspension in rough terrain and a surprising side benefit: traction. The TC’s rear wheel is glued to the ground. That slight extension of the rear end under power means the rear wheel is being driven into the earth; the bike hooks up like you wouldn’t believe.
In front, the suspension is good, but falls victim to the too-many-masters syndrome. It’s a little soft and dives under hard braking when you take it to the track. On the other hand, it is stiff for rocky trails. The truth is that the bike is about perfect for the broad distance between the two extremes. It’s good for heavy whoops and for going fast in the desert, just like the rest of the bike.
STRANGE BUT FRIENDLY
This bike is like nothing else out there. That means that you have to relearn some stuff. For instance, you have to point your toes in different directions. The crank-mounted clutch makes the front of the engine very wide, which puts the rear brake lever in a different place. You get used to it. You also might have to get used to the clutch feel, which is different in a good way. With almost every other clutch in the world, the plates expand with heat and change the freeplay. Even hydraulic clutches act up with abuse—not the Husky. There is no change in tension or freeplay at the lever. It has hydraulic actuation, but it probably doesn’t need it.
Changing the air filter takes some doing, but the good news is that it never seems to get dirty. After a while, you stop checking, which is probably a bad thing. We also took the battery for granted, because it always had a good charge. The motor’s generator produces massive wattage and always keeps the battery topped off, so we never thought about it before a ride. One of these days we’re going to be sorry, because there’s no kickstarter, but it hasn’t happened yet. A side benefit of the big generator is that you can run powerful lights without modification.
Fuel range is a bit of an issue. We’re used to small fuel tanks and just assume that the aftermarket (Clarke or IMS) will take care of the problem and offer a larger gas tank. That probably won’t happen with this bike, because the two fuel cells are already hemmed in by other parts. You should also be aware that it takes time to refuel the bike if it’s dry. The lower fuel cell is connected to the one under the seat by a fuel line, so when the upper tank seems full, wait a second and it can probably take more.
Overall, there’s something undeniably appealing about the Husky. Offbeat? Yes. This bike is the mayor of Weirdville. But if you give it a chance, you learn that this isn’t a bad thing; it’s just different. It’s probably what makes us like the bike so much. Maybe we’re a little weird ourselves.o
Even chain tension
Not easy to turn
Limited space for fuel
Wide motor in front
Engine type Four-valve DOHC 4-stroke
Bore & stroke 98.0mm x 59.6mm
Fuel delivery Keihin EFI
Fuel tank capacity 1.9 gal. (8.5l)
Lighting coil Yes
Spark arrestor No
EPA legal No
Running weight, no fuel 254 lb.
Wheelbase 58.7" (1490mm)
Ground clearance 13.2" (335mm)
Seat height 37.9" (963mm)
Tire size & type:
Front 80/100-21 Michelin Starcross
Rear 110/90-19 Michelin Starcross
Front Kayaba inverted cartridge, adj.
reb./comp., 11.8" (300mm) travel
Rear Kayaba aluminum piggyback, adj.
prld, hi & lo comp., reb.,
12.6" (320mm) travel
Country of origin Italy
Suggested retail price $7999