As of yet, I have not even seen one of these bikes, but I am already putting it in the running for bike of the year. This rebadged KTM two stroke may end up having a far reaching and completely unexpected impact on the enduro world.
Just over a year ago, Husaberg introduced its first ever two stroke models. These 2011 bikes were not imported into the US. The general rationale was that this would help Husaberg dealers worldwide to round out their model line up by including a two stroke. Other rumors suggested that KTM had an overstock of 2010 250xc-w parts and this was a way to help move them. At the time this all seemed innocent enough, certainly nothing to rock the enduro community.
Meanwhile Husaberg was continuing to concentrate on its new generation FE and FX 450’s. This was bolstered by the introduction of the street legal FS models to add depth to the line. Introduced in 2010, the new generation bike brought fuel injection and a radical engine layout to the market. As the founding member of “racing four stroke” club, Husaberg was once again blazing the the trail.
The modern four stroke race bike has now been around for over a decade. Yet in the dark ages prior to that, the 1990’s, if you wanted to be competitive and not have to mix gas, there were very few options. Husaberg was the original “ready to race” four stroke.
Early Husabergs were expensive and required plenty of attention. But if you wanted power, light weight and top shelf components, Bergs “Four Stroke Force” was the way to go. In the hands of Joel Smets they won 500cc gran prix’s and championships. They were so good that KTM purchased the company to dissect the Swedish technology before introducing their successful RFS line.
So let us bounce back forward to more recent times: Husaberg introduces its radical new 2010 four stroke design. On paper, it has all kinds of bragging rights; mass centralization, light weight feel, fuel injection, shared KTM parts and great build quality. It draws praise from many quarters, including myself. During the initial testing, I love the nimble feel and how strong the fuel injected motor performs.
Yet as the honeymoon wears off, there were a couple of serious chinks in the the new Husabergs armor. First is the weight, this does not break any new ground and is actually slightly heavier than most of the competition. Second is the situation with the strange gas tank, there is no easy way to carry extra fuel, limiting the range.
At first, neither of these issues seems too serious. Yet the American market has repeatedly shown a demand for big gas tanks that the Europeans just cannot understand. The end result is a double blow for potential buyers in the US.
The bike was too heavy to seriously race and while the bike typically feels very nimble, it does have some strange handling issues when pushed to the limit, like it doesn’t go through whoops well. One look at the results from Mike Lafferty and Nathan Woods shows that.
Then, without the potential for extra fuel, it kept many dual sport and hard core trail riders away. Interestingly, we now see the exact same mistakes made with the newest Husqvarna models, the TE and TXC 449.
Nevertheless, the Husaberg has continued onward with a small, but strong core audience. As the importer, KTM North America seemed to waver on what direction the sales plan should take. Choosing to keep the dealer network small and poising the bike as a boutique brand has only had limited success.
When the new Husaberg two stroke line up was introduced to the world last year, I inquired about the US availability. Management scoffed at the idea. The bike was simply a 2010 XC-W model painted yellow, so there was no need to bring them in when the equivalent KTM model was already here.
Now comes the announcement of the exact same two stroke models for the US market in 2012. The first bikes to arrive are put into the hands of Mike Lafferty and Nick Fahringer. Typically switching bikes mid season is a recipe for disaster, but not so in this situation. First time out brings a race win! Nick and Mike both post the best results ever in the US for Husaberg.
I had an opportunity to speak briefly to Mike Lafferty about his bike set up on the new two stroke. He told me it is basically stock. Mike is no longer a full factory rider, but has a support deal, so when he says his bike is nearly stock, I believe it. Again, not only is it stock, but it is simply a 2010 XC-W model with the addition of twin chamber forks. That means it is two generations old, with an older frame design and the older PDS shock.
So the four stroke has been ditched as a race bike. Also of note is the fact that there will not be any 2012 models imported into the US. Apparently, there are still plenty of noncurrent bikes sitting on dealer floors, so until those sell, nothing more will be will be brought in.
So where does that leave Husaberg? While once touted as the “premium” KTM brand, the cold hard fact is that it is a brand without a niche. The initial enthusiasm for the four strokes has gone stale and the two strokes do not make very good marketing sense. KTM does not have enough of its own two strokes to satisfy demand. Rebadging some of those bikes as Husabergs seems like a waste of marketing efforts.
The introduction of the 2012 KTM four stroke range does not help the situation either, as these bikes break new ground as both race and trail bikes using an evolution of traditional technology. After only two years the Husabergs are quickly showing some age against their orange siblings.
Twenty years ago, the innovation of Husaberg brought us a glimpse of the future. Few people would have ever dreamed that four stroke technology could go so far as to be competitive and eventually superior to the existing two stroke dominance of the time. I hope the brand can find it’s was in these tough times to again be a showcase for the future of enduro technology.