“The more I learn, the less I know”, that about sums it up. It does some nice things, but for every one good thing, there is a bad one to go with it. The best way I can think to describe it is; just imagine that the TE has a three-inch extension on the swingarm. If you can picture that, then you can understand exactly how it handles.
It turns strange. The front wheel goes first and then the rear follows along behind, like two different movements. It feels very long. Once you get it healed over, it will rail through a turn. However, any change of action will upset this; chop the throttle or hit the brakes and the bike stands up. It is stable. It goes well in a straight line, but when it is time to change course, it takes a deliberate effort to do so.
It is a great hill climber, just as a bike with an extended swingarm would be. It gets excellent traction. Once headed downhill, the tables turn. It feels like an inordinate amount of the weight bias transfers forward. The rear tire loses traction quickly on downhills and the wheel starts to chatter under braking.
As for getting the front wheel to come off the ground, it’s not likely to happen. It is as if the entire chassis is conspiring to leverage the front end to the ground. Riding in Tecate there are always little rock drop offs where you would like to blip the throttle and lift the front end off a small ledge. Not with the husky, unless you have plenty of time to plan ahead, you just have to let the front end roll down the drop. I had a little better luck trying to wheelie up onto rocks, mostly because the mass of the bike is now working for you.
Husky took a bold approach with the top link shock and CTS designs. While each probably has some good points, overall I don’t think either design concept is going to last. The CTS philosophy is flawed in that it ignores the many different ways a rider uses the throttle and rear brake to provide input to the chassis.
This is the area that really shows the greatest lack of attention to detail on the TE models. The Kayaba components just don’t feel like they really have any serious development behind them to work in conjunction with the unique features of the chassis. The chassis and suspension often feel like they are working against each other.
As delivered, the soft sprung TE is not up for anything more serious than a casual fire road. Hitting an obstacle at speed is an “event”. The poor dampening makes the bike feel much heavier than it really is. Factor in how the chassis handles and it is sort of like riding a big adventure bike off road.
I took the bike up to Javier at Trail Tricks and we did some quick valving work. To keep the budget in check, no springs, just valving. We ran into a couple of other issues while we had the forks apart. While we expected to find the same Kayaba internals as in a Yamaha WR450, they are completely different parts. Same style of construction, just different parts. On the base valve there are four free bleed holes, compared to just two on the Yamaha. The compression adjuster has some control over these, but only in the last couple of clicks of adjustment. Therefore, there are four holes that flow oil unobstructed.
The other unusual thing we found was marks where the springs are rubbing against the cartridge. These are on both forks and 360 degrees around. I am still not sure of the exact cause, but it sure doesn’t seem like a good thing.
While I have some reservations about what is going on inside the forks, we have made some huge gains just with a little valving work. In the big picture I would say we are only half way there. I need a spring for my size in the rear and the forks still need some attention.
Overall, the bike handles open terrain much better. It feels like it lost twenty pounds in the process. Keeping to a moderately aggressive pace, it will tackle most anything.
Here I have finally hit on a couple of things that are praise worthy. The TE has the best lights of any dual sport bike I have tested so far. The switch gear is good. The odometer is nearly impossible to read while riding, it requires reaching up and moving the brake cable out of the way to see. The trip function is equally difficult to reset. The rest of the cockpit is nice with Magura bars, Domino grips. The kickstand works well once the self-retracting knob is chopped off. The stock handguards are a nice touch, but they follow the current trend of being too short for serious protection.
The smart buyer will not try to mount the license plate on the space provided, it will end up as someone else’s souvenir when they find it on the ground. I was able to do a quick modification to put the plate up on the subfender and move the turn signals up as well. It looks good enough that I doubt anyone will even notice the difference.
The frame is very wide at the footpegs. The pegs are located up high, so they don’t catch on too much stuff. Overall, the frame clears most rocks and crevices well because it is narrow and tall. You just need to focus on keeping your toes pointed in as they are hanging out further than normal.
The rear brake pedal is nothing more than a tacked on afterthought. A brake snake is mandatory and even at that, don’t expect it to last long if you ride in rocks. I did fine with the shift lever except that I hit a false neutral regularly.
The rider position is a little awkward. The bike feels very tall to ride. The tape says it is 37” and that is similar to the other bikes in the garage. But, there are times when I am challenged to touch the ground. The seat to bar position is nice for sitting. Due to the high pegs, once you stand up, the bar seems too low. It is very similar to the old Husaberg frame in that regard.
The brake package is great, Brembo components with Braking rotors. This is a page from the KTM playbook. The front works great. As I mentioned, the rear is limited because gets to chattering quickly.
I used to think KTM seats were bad, but I have revised that. I think I hit an all time record for pain with this one. Fortunately Seat Concepts has a replacement foam and cover for the 449/511 line. It still keeps a slim profile, most people don’t even recognize the change, but it is a vast improvement in comfort.
The 2.5-gallon fuel tank will regularly get 70 miles and as far as 90. That will be enough range for most riders. It had better be, because there are no other options. There is a low fuel light that gives plenty of warning. The clear lower fuel tank makes it easy to see how low the fuel level is once it gets below one gallon.
Man, there sure is a lot to talk about with this bike. I have not even mentioned how it looks or how seemingly complicated everything is. That is part of the rub, this bike certainly gets people’s attention. I have had all sorts of people approach me while I have been out on this thing. Some of them knew what is was, others did not, they all just thought it was pretty awesome. I even had a strange girl come up and tell me how cool she thought my bike was. Let’s face it, no one reading this is seeing this design for the first time, so you probably already have an opinion on the asthetics.
It rather strikes me as a dirt bike for street bike people, as if it really should say BMW on the side of it. We will overlook the fact that they already did that once. Nevertheless, here is a bike that is right at home in the midst of the people who designed the super successful “GS” line up. It is kind of over thought and a little bit overdone, just like a GS and they sell loads of those things. I should know, I have owned three of them.
I also know that this bike could be far better with some more attention to detail. Fix the vibes, add some gearing and put some attention into the suspension. That would address most of my complaints.
So how does it stack up against the competition? We can’t put the TE up against a KTM, any KTM, it just is not on par in any performance comparison. I did one full day of testing alongside my old 2006 450XC. The XC had the Acerbis six gallon tank mounted because it had to carry fuel for both bikes. In nearly every facet, the old KTM out rode the Husky.
In terms of pure performance: power, weight and handling it is probably closest to a Suzuki DRZ400. Yes, it has more motor, but only once it is opened up. The Husky has better quality components and is much, much cooler. Yet, in terms of all around performance characteristics, it and the DRZ are pretty close.
I know it sounds like I am being harsh here. But I just can’t see it any other way. I keep riding and thinking I will come to some sort of epiphany, but no. It just is what it is. We are not talking about vague “I just don’t like it” sentiment. The flaws are all tangible. Even though it shows some glimmers of brilliance, overall it just feels half done. I hope that Husqvarna will give it some love in the future and we will be able to see just how good the TE511 can be.