I have had the big Husky dual sport bike for a while now and I have put many miles on it. I have been out riding the bike every chance I can get. Now usually, this means that I am having lots of fun with a test bike. But, in this case, it is as much a matter of me hoping that the light bulb will finally go off and I can “get it”. I am having some trouble getting into the same groove as the Husqvarna.
You may have noticed that I am way over due for writing the first ride report on the TE. The problem is that I have been stumped on quite where to begin talking about the bike. More than once I have sat down to organize my thoughts only to decide to head out for one more ride hoping it will become clearer.
Therefore, there is no “first ride” report. This is more of an intermediate status report. The primary reason for this is that I just could not find a whole lot of positive points to give the Husky in showroom stock condition. For that matter, I didn’t even truly receive the bike in stock condition, the evaporative recovery system had already been removed and the “power up” plug had been installed.
Let me back up just a bit here and lay down some groundwork. I have been doing plenty dual sport riding lately. Much of the riding that I do in Baja would really be classified as dual sport. We have to ride plenty of tarmac when traveling down in Mexico. I regularly rack up a couple of thousand miles a year riding knobbies on the pavement.
During the years I was working guiding tours, I would always ride the oldest most clapped out bike in the garage, typically old XR’s. I have racked up lots of miles and I am not all that picky about the bikes, I have had to ride lots of junk.
I take dual sporting seriously. That means when the bike goes somewhere, it does so with wheels on the pavement, not in the back of a truck. My idea with the TE511 was to put it into this context and see how good it would perform. The former BMW model has not set the world on fire as a race bike, but that does not have to be the mission of every bike either.
I realized that this project was going to be more of a challenge than expected before I even hit the last stop light heading out of town. The stock TE511 has some glaring issues standing in the way of it being a great bike for the street. So let me break it down for you.
Let’s face it, this is a motorcycle that was built around a motor, a motor that BMW peddled off to Husky. That would all be fine if it was really an outstanding package, but I just have a hard time getting very excited about it.
First of all the damn thing vibrates. The first two hundred miles were the most miserable I have ever had on a motorcycle. To my great relief, the vibes have calmed way down since then. I am at about 900 miles right now and the motor gets a little smoother and more powerful with each ride. Nevertheless, it still vibrates more than any contemporary motor that I can think of. It has improved from; terrible, to just mildly annoying. But honestly, If I had purchased this bike, I would have been back to the dealer a number of times complaining about the situation.
Now if you had a motor that vibrated, you would probably want to do everything else possible to mitigate the situation, right? The next real issue with the TE line is the close ratio motocross transmission. It is the TC transmission with a sixth gear added. First gear is just a little tall. Third through fifth are impossibly close and sixth is not nearly tall enough for the road. To give some comparison, sixth gear is just a fraction taller than the KTM EXC fifth gear. If you recall, I felt that the EXC transmission ratios were too close for ideal pavement riding. It sort of reminds me of racing my old 250 two stroke in Baja last year, no matter how many times I try up-shifting, there are just no more gears.
The Husky comes stock with 15/51 gearing. This will yield a comfortable highway cruising speed of 54mph. Yes, it will go much faster. Yet if you are setting out to do a highway stint, shift through the gears and hit a comfortable pace, this is where it falls. The bike feels like it is going much faster than that, turn up the throttle and the vibes really intrude. On one trip out to the desert, after about 50 minutes of pavement I arrived at the first dirt section of the day. I actually had to stop and take a short brake because my hands were too numb to handle the controls in the dirt.
Changing the gearing helps a little. In the front, the stock 15t countershaft is all there is. Besides, you really don’t want to change the countershaft until necessary. I have watched the video on YouTube a couple of times and I know it is not that difficult, but it requires removing the chain, swingarm and bottom shock bolt, so I don’t plan to attempt it. Going to a 48t sprocket in the rear is better, but it only gets the cruising speed up to about 60mph. Anything taller will require cutting the chain and will make the gearing too tall for serious trail work.
Shall I go on? After logging a couple of days of riding time on the stock bike I was really struck by the fact that it just didn’t have very much power. Throttle response was also very sluggish. I called FMF and had them send a full system with the Power Bomb header and Q silencer. That was an immediate improvement.
In my riding time since then, the motor seems stronger every ride. That must be a good sign. This past weekend I went on an organized ride in Tecate on all kinds of super technical trails. In many places, the motor was actually fun to ride. It now displays lots of low-end grunt. It is very old school feeling, slow to rev, always shaking just a bit and has tons of compression braking, but on the trail that is not so bad.
It gets super good traction, particularly when the going gets bad. However, this is hampered by a tendency to stall. In the worst terrain, it takes a constant finger on the clutch lever to help keep the revs up just a bit. You don’t dare hit a big rock or climb in a tall gear for fear of the bike dying at the worst possible moment.
Riding in Tecate I had plenty of time to give the clutch a thorough work out. The combination of super technical trail, slightly tall gearing and my fear of stalling meant my fingers were getting a big workout from all the clutch work. At one point, I could just start to hear a little noise out of the clutch side of the motor and the lever got a tad soft. But once I was out moving again this all went away quickly and I had no other fuss from the clutch. The cooling fan comes on regularly, but never overheats.
Considering that this was all on black diamond level trails, the 511 motor handled itself pretty well. The motor certainly has its moments. On trails where you can get a rhythm going in second or third gear, it is a hoot. There is plenty of power on tap to scoot from corner to corner. Roll on is smooth and predictable and the FMF exhaust gives it a nice sound.
Overall, the TE511 runs very well. It starts easy, hot or cold. It has a very regular idle and is not affected by weather or altitude. It was only from riding it on AA level trails that it showed any sign of stalling or flame outs. I am glad I stuck with it. If I had not invested the time to rack up well over 500 miles on the bike I would not have gotten past the initial break in point where the performance started to shine through. But, if your riding plan includes plenty of time on the pavement, this motor is going to feel handicapped.