This article was originally posted at MotorcycleUSA
I have had a couple of chances now to test the new generation Husabergs and they continue to impress me. For a bike with such a radical design, it doesn’t feel all that different, it just works really well. The only issue so far, has been the limited conditions I have ridden the FE450 in. This is partly due to the terrain that we have locally, but more so by the fact that I have not had the chance to race one of these babies yet.
The Husaberg’s strong points lie in its turning ability and the super smooth power delivery. The idea in creating the 70 degree slanting cylinder motor was to bring the weight distribution back as close as possible to the center point of the chassis. This includes moving the rotating mass of the crank back 160mm and up 100mm. The end result is a chassis feel that is very light and agile. I have tried putting the bike on the scales to see if there is some good way to illustrate the concept with hard numbers, but it just isn’t so. It has just slightly more rear weight bias than a KTM, but that basically accounts for the total extra weight. Weight on the front wheel is the same as an XCW model.
Now that the majority of the current motocrossers are fuel injected, I think everyone recognizes the benefits. The FE450 is no exception. Right from the first introduction in 2009, the 42mm Keihin throttle body worked excellent. Along with eliminating much of the tuning complications of a carburetor, the system adds a new degree of versatility to the KTM derived motor.
My goal here is to give the Husaberg a little additional race prep and then take it out to see just what the limits of its performance truly are. Racing is the ultimate challenge for any bike and I want to see just how the ‘Berg will handle the challenge at the Idaho City AMA ISDE qualifier.
Husaberg has decided to support three national level riders this year; Mike Lafferty and Nick Faringer in the AMA National Enduro series. They also signed Nathan Woods to tackle the WORCS series. From this they have had to take a close look at the race preparation required for each of the riders. This experience led to what the basic set up of our bike would be.
As turning is the most prominent trait of the FE, it has the distinct feel of a woods bike. Where it has suffered in my previous testing was in more open terrain. The suspension acted a little out of balance and continually had a stink bug feel, high in the rear and nervous in the front.
To cure this we added stiffer springs front and rear. The 48mm WP open chamber fork goes up to .46 N/mm rate to hold the front end up better. To help keep the plush feel of the stock set up we ran the preload adjusters all the way out. Valving remained stock. Compression and rebound adjusters were kept close to the standard positions, varying just a little to suit different terrain.
The shock received two treatments. A shim was added to reduce the stroke a few millimeters, lowering the ride height. The increase to a 7.6 N/mm spring also contributed to keeping the rear riding higher in the stroke. Again all the valving remained stock. The static sag was set to 35mm.
The standard fork compression setting is 22 clicks out. I started at 18, which was the previous standard setting, and was unhappy with it until I backed it out to 21. It was one click that finally made the difference in feel. The point being that the stock valving is pretty good and once the spring rates were correct for my weight and riding conditions, the package came right together.
The next goal was to get just a little more power out of the motor. The stock exhaust is nice and quiet, but the power shuts off a little early for race conditions. The set up that we ended up with was to run the Akrapovic head pipe with the resonance canister mated to an FMF Q series muffler.
This combination was able to pass through the Ridge Riders sound test at a whispery 90db. I can’t guarantee the
accuracy of the clubs testing, but it certainly does the job. As for performance, the package runs very well. It pulls with authority nearly everywhere in the rpm range, with just a little extra on top over the stock set up. The only drawback, other than cost, is that the canister on the head pipe is dangerously close to one of the coolant hoses. I carefully wrapped three zip ties around the hose to pull it away from the exhaust, mindful not to kink the hose.
I have long been a fan of the Rekluse Z-start Pro auto clutch. When we stopped by the lavish company headquarters in Boise, the crew talked me into trying the new EXP Core system. Surprisingly, it uses a completely different technology than the popular Z-start Pro model. Instead of a ball and ramp system to engage the clutch pack, it features a sandwich of wedges held between two clutch plates.
Like the balls, the wedges are pushed outwards along ramps during rotation to engage the clutch pack. The design of the rest of the internal parts is also completely new, creating a much simplified design and a reduction of the total number of parts. The advantages of this system are twofold. First, the feel of the clutch lever remains nearly identical to stock. Second, the system can be converted to a traditional operating clutch in just a few minutes by swapping out the “sandwich” for traditional style clutch plates.
To round out my personal preferences for race set up, I bolted on a set of Flexx bars and some ODI bolt on half waffle grips. For the Idaho race I went with the 31” bar in the 10 degree bend. This bar is 1” narrower than stock and the reduction is taken from the center section of the bar, so the area available on the bars for mounting hardware remains exactly the same. This is a great feature for enduro riders who have to figure out where to put everything.
A set of Fastway FIT system handguards helps keep everything well protected. This system mounts to the top handle bar clamp and provides an excellent solution to mate wrap around guards to Flexx bars.
As this bike had already seen some action, I bolted on some new plastic to clean it up. I am still not sold on the plastic subframe concept. The screws that hold the rear fender thread into this plastic, similar to KTM gas tanks. These are already showing signs of starting to strip. Plus I still feel that this area would be better utilized by serving as a fuel cell.
After some warm up riding at a local District 37 enduro I was pretty stoked with the overall set up on the Husaberg. There is no denying that the FE is an impressive ride. On the way to Idaho I dropped by to visit some industry friends and do a little riding at their local area in Nevada. I let the company owner take a spin on the FE and after just a few minutes he returned and simply said, “I think I am going to have to buy one of these”.
If you are an avid off roader and you have something like a “bucket list”, the annual two day ISDE qualifier in Idaho City needs to be on it. There are very few races that can boast the distance, difficulty and beauty of this event. This year the club secured a sizable new riding area and the event was run on entirely fresh terrain. At 110 miles per day it is a challenge for everyone.
Riding and taking photos of the bike in the area before the race confirmed my expectations about the 450. With the basic modifications it felt right at home on the trails and mountains of Idaho. For the most part it rides with a grace that belies its true weight. The fuel injected motor ran crisp and smooth at the 5,000 ft elevation, requiring no more than a couple minutes of idling for the electronics to calibrate themselves to the new conditions. One annoyance is that the FE always blows a noticeable amount of smoke on cold start up. This same thing is common on the KTM XC-W models.
Day one of the event was a gray and cool morning. It had rained much of the night and conditions turned soggy. Shortly after we left the line the sun started to peek out from the clouds promising a beautiful day of riding. As luck would have it, my day would be a short one.
In the first section I was just getting the feel for the slippery terrain. As a desert dweller, I don’t see much mud and it always takes a little acclimation. I flipped the helmet cam on to capture some shots of the great morning. Everything was going good and I was just getting the feel of the bike and terrain as we rolled into the first special test.
I was talking with Matt Stavish as we waited to go into the test, just as he left and I rolled up to the line, someone motioned for me to look down. To my dismay there was steam billowing up from the motor. Looking closer I could see a jet of water shooting out of the water pump bleed hole. I have never seen anything quite like it. The water was aimed directly at the exhaust and making a huge cloud of steam.
I had to make a quick decision, either to continue or risk destroying the bike Husaberg had been so nice to hook me up with, or quit. Let me tell you there is almost nothing in the world a tough as having to quit a race, death before DNF. But, contemplating the situation, I realized I could probably take the bike in to Boise and get it repaired at the local KTM dealer and still be able to return for the second day of the event.
So reluctantly that is exactly what I did. As I rolled into Motosports KTM late that morning, they all gave me that look as to say, “You shouldn’t be here”. Well, thanks to Boise Bob and his crew, we were able to determine that the water pump seal was the same as a KTM and we quickly had the repair underway.
Once apart, it was obvious the cause of the problem. The water pump shaft and seal lip were coated with a brown, dirt like substance. It was not something that came from inside the motor. My test bike had about 40 hours on it when it came to me and it appears that some previous rider must have been filling the radiator from a mud puddle. Fact is, I probably could have cleaned the original seal and reinstalled it.
I started day two with only slightly less zeal than day one. The trail conditions had settled down a little and the riding was fantastic. For those who have not ridden Idaho, there is: uphill, downhill and side hill, but no flat ground. The side hills are typically narrow and steep, leaving very little room for error.
The ‘Berg tracks so well, that even these tricky situations are not a problem. The front end never wants to wander or climb the side of the rut. The rear consistently follows the front so the feel is very precise. The small chop that develops in the ruts really does not phase the bike. Typically the faster you go, the smoother it rides and always feels controlled.
The first test of the day was the grass track, run the opposite direction from day one. As a deep rut had formed the first day, the key was to avoid it whenever possible. This meant running in the wet grass and duff. This is where the Husaberg absolutely shines. It finds traction where none seems to exist, just lay it over and tell it where to go. I was somewhat surprised at the lean angles I could achieve in these conditions. The bike was so planted, that with each corner I kept telling myself that I should be going faster.
This characteristic I had also noticed in my time riding the bike on the mx track. Anywhere that there is even the slightest berm, just lean the bike into it and charge. If you can choose lines that are flowing and exploit the available traction, it is like riding on a rail.
Conversely, if you find yourself in a position that requires heavy braking and a point and shoot style of riding, this is when the weight of the Husaberg becomes more obvious. It is a little heavy and for as much as it disguises that fact through handling, at times there is just no way around it. For me, one of those times was just around the corner.
I felt good after the grass track. Stavish already has the class well in hand, so my plan was to ride a steady day and I should be able to finish second to him. The next few sections of trails were a joy. With such a smooth motor and nothing to worry about in the handling department, it is easy to ride without expending much energy or mental effort.
The suspension settings were nearly ideal. The open chamber fork feels so supple and the shock tackles things that previous generations of the PDS system could only dream of. After a year of riding a 2009 KTM 450xcw, I think the rear of the Husaberg works just slightly better. As the shock settings are very similar, I attribute it to the frame. On the ‘Berg the shock is mounted to a cross member versus directly to the backbone of the KTM. I have to conclude that is gives just a little extra absorption and does not transfer as much impact to the bike.
All was going well as I entered the third special test. Then about 5 minutes into it I made one of those mistakes that I just have no explanation for. I took the wrong line and buried the FE in a mud hole at the bottom of a ravine. So there I was, nearly to the rear fender in mud. I struggled in vain for a number of minutes. At one point I felt that I probably would not get the bike out on my own.
Working my way out of the mud hole I started the bike at least ten times trying to get it to do different things. With the electric start and Rekluse auto clutch I never had to worry about what position I was in when I did this, just push the button. If I would have flooded a kick start bike in this situation, I would have never gotten out.
Finally I was able to stand the bike on end and tip it over sideways to wedge the rear wheel out of the mud. I could then ride down the ravine and work my way out. The net result was that I pretty much ended my race day right there. I was so exhausted from my struggles that I could barely ride and I still had some distance to go just to get out of the test.
I did ride to the finish of the day, but with little vigor. I did have one more good test, the last one of the day. It was more open and I really let the 450 reach its stride. It was very comfortable at speed. Actually I learned a few things in this process. Located up high, the air filter never sucked water and it always seems to stay clean. With no carburetor, there is never any need to worry about flooding the bike.
So I wish I had a better race result to give, but what can I say. It isn’t the fault of the bike. I would be happy to line it up to race just about anywhere. As for our prep work, the changes to the suspension really elevated the FE to race ready for me. The auto clutch and Flexx bars help make long days in the saddle much more pleasant.
Really, there is a strong argument to pronounce the new Husabergs as the best trail bikes ever made. They work so well that they bring a new ease of riding that has been difficult to achieve.
So how are they for race bikes? Well to be honest they are about ten pounds away from greatness. Not to say that is all bad, it is just that there are times when the weight can be felt. As for the motor, it is all about smooth power delivery. It is a true enduro race bike and there doesn’t seem to be many of that breed around these days.
The test bike is now showing 65 hours on the meter. Overall things are holding up very well. The quality of the chassis components is evident everywhere. Along with fluids and tires, brake pads and sprockets have been the only replacement parts. In 25 hours of use, I have only changed the air filter once, it just seems to stay very clean.
So there you have it. With just a little extra set up, mostly to accommodate my weight and riding style, the 2010 Husaberg FE450 has shown that it can be a very good choice for nearly any trail or race conditions. So far the durability of the new 70 degree motor is looking pretty good. In looking back at my notes from the original 2009 introduction test, I have to conclude that I am as enthusiastic about the Husabergs now as I was then.
Make sure to check out the Husaberg Video