I just got back from spending a day riding around the mountains of San Bernardino on the newest dual sport from Husqvarna, the TR650 Terra. If you are one of those with a short attention span (like me), here is what you need to know: This latest BMW derived Husky is one heck of a street bike.
Husky is on the move, anyone can see that. The part that comes across slightly fuzzy, is just what direction they are heading. It is easy to see that there is lots of activity, plenty of talk about the future and hints of what new models might be in the pipeline. But for the most part, it still all seems a little vague and possibly subject to change.
As for models that are in the showroom for sale today, there are some good ones and some parts of the lineup that are a bit stale. Even the best of the models are up against some strong competition.
So what could be done to get things jump started immediately? It seems so obvious that it makes you wonder why someone else did not jump to it already. Take an existing BMW derived motor and build a bike around it to take on the 650cc Utility class. The market for these bikes is less than glamorous, but they are steady sellers. Japanese models that are all near twenty years old dominate the class.
On paper, the end result is pretty amazing. At less than $7,000, the 2013 TR650 is a European dual sport bike with a solid motor, fuel injection and an array of modern components and style, all poised to inject some flair and performance into a stagnant market segment. Yes, there were many corners that had to be cut to achieve this, but this will still be one Husqvarna model that will universally be touted as best in class.
I think it is important to understand just where this model lies in the food chain. Husky calls it a 50/50 dual purpose bike. I would give it something closer to 70/30, with a very strong bias towards street performance. It falls right in the middle of the current class of 650’s; Kawasaki KLR, Honda XRL and Suzuki DR. On paper and real life ride experience, the closest real competitor is probably one of the BMW G650 models. However, as you can see in the specs, it gets boosts in performance and weight compared to the BMW siblings.
This tells something about what it is. What it is not, is a direct challenger to the KTM 690 Enduro. It is almost the opposite focus. The KTM feels more like an enduro bike with lights. In a side by side street comparison, the KTM would feel rough edged, especially at freeway speeds. Of course, the roles reverse once the tarmac ends. The TR650 has the Husqvarna badge, but no dirt bike pedigree to challenge the KTM. Fire roads will be fine, but serious off road work might best be left to someone else.
Our semi-guided press junket started with a freeway ramp. A casual acceleration through the 5 gears to blend into traffic and I was doing 75mph before I even knew it. Other than the wind blast of the naked bike, there was absolutely no other sensation. No sound, no vibration, no movement, it is just a nice serene ride. I instantly thought I could ride all day at this speed.
The cockpit and rider position feel like a road bike. The bars are low and close. The seat is also low and molded to a one-position stance, footpegs are somewhat high and rearward. The instruments are easy to read. There is a large tachometer and smaller digital speedometer. The switch gear is the standard Domino stuff that we see on most Euro dual sport bikes. Like the TE511, the horn and blinkers switches are reversed.
It is hard to say which was more impressive at highway speed, the motor or the stability of the bike. While Husky claims 58hp, I suspect that is optimistic. It does put out some great power though. It is just not where I expected it. This is not a thumper in our traditional sense of the word. Real power delivery does not start until 4500 rpms. Below that, things are quiet. With the tall stock gearing, cruising revs range from 4500 to 5000, all without even a hint of vibration anywhere.
We had a 30 mile freeway ride to finish our day. Afternoons on Interstate 15 look something like the Autobahn. 80 miles per hour is not sufficient for the fast lane. Yet cruising at that speed was effortless, for both power and comfort. The 400lb weight of the TR makes it track very well at these speeds. Wind gusts from passing trucks had little impact on the bike.
For blasting along the mountain roads, the 650 took just a little technique to keep it moving happily. Lacking torque, shifting is required to keep a brisk pace. Shifting also becomes sort of an art for this riding. The transmission itself is a little sticky, causing the occasional missed shift. The budget bike has no luxuries such as a slipper clutch, so downshifting is a clutch and throttle blip affair. Failure to use this technique results in black skid marks as the rear wheel locks up on corner entry. Our group of moto journalists seemed happy to leave their fair share of rubber on the road.
On the chassis side, stability is again the key world. Like many contemporary bikes, the fuel tank sits in the traditional airbox location. It keeps the weight down low. Turn is just a little slow and takes some deliberate effort. Once on line the TR likes to stay in place. There is just a slight tendency for the chassis to stand up under hard braking. Smooth riding and early planning of line selection is the best bet.
Our time on the dirt was limited to a section of two track road. Still, we were able to play around on a couple of small but tricky hill climbs. Husky chose Metzler Sahara Enduro 3 tube type tires for the Terra model. These are very old school, same as came stock on my 1991 R100GS. Personally, I think they are a great choice. They have just the right amount of off road grip to match the level of the bike. Their street performance is very solid.
The extra tall gearing becomes obvious as soon as you hit the dirt. However, it helps to highlight two aspects of the bike also. As our group played around on the dirt and hill climb, I don’t believe one rider ever stalled a bike, even though some came to a near dead stop before accelerating again. The fuel injection response is very clean.
Second, riding around on slick dirt roads was much easier while keeping the motor below its power zone. Now we are not talking about going fast, just how easy it is to ride because the motor will happily chug along at low revs. Once we started going faster, it was best not to down shift for fear of locking up the wheel. A little use of the clutch to keeps the revs up coming out of corners was perfect.
So blasting around fire roads on the TR650 is great. Yet it only takes one sharp water bar to remind you of the myriad of limitations that dissuade serious off road use, weight and suspension are the first to come to mind. With a little work, the Husky could be improved, but I think that if offroading is the first thing on your priority list, this might not be the correct bike to start with.
Let’s face it, you can’t make a low price point and keep all the fancy features. This is a great package for the price. Still, as a European bike owner, there are a few glaring parts on the bike that really detract from the beauty. The foot pegs hangers, brake pedal and shift lever are all made of sheet steel. The stressed member frame leaves most of the motor exposed. It is neither attractive nor protected. The cable clutch lacks the crisp feel of the hydraulics we are now so accustomed to.
Most all of this is minor. Husqvarna seems to have kept the most important key elements. It is just unfortunate that the areas where they scrimped, are also some of the most visible.
The suspension is pretty basic, a non adjustable Sachs inverted fork and linkage Sachs shock. Each end has 7.5” of travel. The stock settings seem to mate well with the best use of the bike. The springs are stiff enough for sport riding and casual off road use. Control is good on the road and reasonable in the dirt. Overall ride quality is better than average.
The 21” and 18” wheel choices give the owner the widest possible choices for off road tires. While I would not be planning to add knobbies, I like the fact that these are also often the most economical and common tire choices. Have you ever thought about having to go look for a 17” replacement tire somewhere in Baja?
Husqvarna North America is working on a wide variety of accessories to accompany the TR line. We got a sneak peek at some of those that include; panniers, skid plate, foot pegs, and heated grips. They are also looking into having a larger fuel tank designed by IMS.
The overall design seems to please most everyone. The bodywork is innovative. From the rear, the twin exhausts tuck in nicely and look cool. It lacks my much desired rally replica styling. From what I understand, the Germans have made it clear that Husky models will never encroach into BMW GS market territory. Overall, I would say the styling is a page from the BMW playbook, make it unique and avant-garde enough that it has to be cool.
My Bottom Line
For a number of years I had to commute around the mean streets of Los Angeles. For much of that I used a BMW F650. It was light, nimble and economical to ride, the perfect utility bike. What it lacked was the kind of power and handling that would bring joy to the ride. It would shudder at the mention of dirt.
For me, this bike charts new territory for the class. It is head and shoulders above the Asian competition. I would choose it first for most uses that would also suit those models. It is a few dollars more, but there is plenty of value for that money. It is probably the ultimate utility bike out there. If I owned one, I would find plenty of excuses to go riding.
If your riding scale leans further towards the street than the dirt, this looks to be a very nice bike. The nice price is just the icing.