photos – Steve Cox
There is just no way to ignore the elephant in the room. No matter how hard you try (and they are trying really hard), 2015 Husky models are basically just white KTM’s with a few of the parts changed around. So there, I said and it is all out in the open, let us move on.
Sure, I am just joshing around a bit, but it is to emphasize a couple of points about my day hanging around with the gang from Husqvarna. On the surface it almost seems a bit dysfunctional. There were guys who normally wear orange shirts dressed in blue for the day. There are others who used to wear red and white shirts and get their paychecks from BMW. Most conspicuous of all was the fact that the word KTM and all references to anything orange were carefully and completely avoided. The story line included references to Swede’s, Husaberg and even Italian Husky’s, but nothing orange.
So while it may seem a bit convoluted on the surface, here is the impression I was left with. This is a group of people who are dead serious about making Husqvarna the premier brand, one that will very shortly be charting its own course. There are already a tremendous amount of resources allocated for the group. They are building an infrastructure that will probably take a couple of years to fully utilize. They already have as many employees in the main office as KTM had just a few short years ago.
So for now we are testing bikes that are frankly just Husabergs or KTM’s with new graphics. There is no avoiding that fact. It certainly does not make them any less important. They are some of the hottest things on the market. If you were shopping, you would be lucky to find one sitting on a dealer floor.
The 2015 Husqvarna FE501s is based on the already popular FE501 enduro model. Years ago the pinnacle for dual sport models was to be considered “a dirt bike with lights”. The Austrians have taken that goal and long since surpassed it. By the way, this is my new reference for all common platform things from Mattighofen; not KTM, Husaberg or Husky, just Austrian. The street legal dual sport models may in some ways even surpass their enduro siblings in overall fun and utility. I have certainly entered my share of races and covered plenty of ground on them.
The 501 is the 510cc single over head cam motor with titanium intake valves and DLC coated rocker arms. It is specially tuned with a 3 layer head gasket for smooth performance and durability. Fuel injection is via the Keihin 42mm throttle body. It has the same style inline filter and quick disconnect coupling as the other Austrian bikes. The power is fed via the wide ratio six speed transmission. Other common spec parts include the DDS clutch and Pankl crankshaft with plain big end rod bearing.
Unique To Husqvarna
What stands out most as unique to the Husky line is the suspension. Up front it is the newer generation 4CS fork. The fork features rebound and compression adjusters on the fork caps. These do not require tools and can easily be adjusted on the fly. In the rear, linkage suspension is standard on all Husky models. This is the same basic component package found on KTM SX and XC models, but with different valving and spring rates for the enduro models. The forks are mounted to CNC machined triple clamps, another upgrade.
The one obvious carry over from Husaberg is the cross-linked plyamide composite subframe and airbox. This is touted to offer more flex than a traditional subframe and to be more resistant to crash damage. It is made in three parts. Each individual piece can be replaced if damaged. Locations for the battery and electronics are cast right into the subframe.
Many of the body parts are also unique. The shrouds, side panels, seat, rear fender and headlight mask are Husky only. Handguards, front fender and rear subfender are common parts, although obviously in Husky white. The plastic skidplate is a common part and comes standard on the Husky.
The dual sport models come as electric start only. The kickstarter has been removed but can be added back with accessory parts. New design engine side covers give it a distinctive look. Wheels are black DID Dirt Star with Michelin FIM tires.
Beyond that, nearly all the chassis spec is common with other Austrian models. Fuel capacity is 2.3 gallons and claimed no fuel weight is 252 pounds. Stock gearing is a tall 15/45. Temperature controlled electric fan is part of the OEM package.
Let’s be honest, there is not much “new” to talk about here other than suspension. I just recently finished up our long term test on the similar (and very good) KTM 500exc. If you would like to read more in depth coverage, please take a look at link – 2014 KTM 500exc Review.
What I can say it this – If I had to have just one motorcycle, that is it, nothing else but the one, it would be this big bore dual sport platform. There is almost nothing to find fault with. The 501 will be a great do it all bike. It handles the dual sport mission nearly perfect. It is only a few suspension mods away from being race ready. It gets ridiculous fuel mileage, often in the 50mpg range and as high as 68mpg on the highway.
My only caveat is that the euro only FE450 (450exc) is probably just a little bit better. The 450 motor is noticeably better on the trail, it feels lighter and has a better throttle response. It is not so much a matter of power, but more of control. Regardless, this is a very minor complaint that many riders would never even realize. The 501 is a wonderful bike to do everything I ride. There is no 450 in the Husky enduro range for the US, primarily due to the fact that the 500’s are the best sellers.
For me, the suspension is a split decision. The 4CS has not improved much since the original introduction. It shows promise, but is still unfulfilled. It is wonderful in many situations. As long as there is no weight on the front end, it tracks through rocks and ruts with amazing ease. But once there is weight on the front end, either from braking or body position, it sits too low in the stroke and packs up. The action starts to get harsh and it loses traction.
Admittedly, the spring rates on the dual sport models are very light. But in general this impression is just the same as we had on the 450xcf we last tested. I am not sure just where Austria is on this fork. None of the US factory level race teams use it. There is a rumored WP air fork on the horizon. So I am not sure how much new R&D is directed to it. Frankly I need to get a bike equipped with it and do a true re-valve to see what can be accomplished. But in stock condition, WP open chamber fork is better overall for enduro.
As for the linkage, it works quite well. Again it is sprung a bit light for me. I like both the PDS and linkage. Each has its high points. If I were racing more, the linkage would be my clear choice for the ability to take big hits better and not be as sensitive to body position. So there is nothing to really find issue with here. There are plenty of riders who are sold on the link for Austrian bikes. I think the simple fact that Huskys come with linkage will sell lots of bikes.
We have had a number of test bikes with the composite subframe/airbox. In general it is okay, but frankly the KTM aluminum design is better. The airbox cover is slightly difficult to get off and on. Once you learn it, it is fine. But be careful not to break the mounting tabs when figuring it out. The right side cover has to be removed to reach the muffler bolts. Finally, the plastic bar that secures the air filter does not have very much tension and is again a bit of a trick to get secured properly. I was guilty of doing it wrong on one of our Husaberg test bikes and sucked some dirt in it. Once you learn the proper technique for everything, it is probably fine. But the KTM design is just less prone to issue.
The new odometer/computer is the same unit that now comes on the Beta. I really like it. It is easy to read and use. Scrolling through the screens and resetting mileage is easy to do while riding and with gloves on. It has dual trip meters, clock, hour meter, speedometer, top speed and of course odometer. It incorporates both the low fuel light and EFI light, but not the turn signal indicator.
Overall the FE501s is a bike that is based upon an already proven and successful package. All of the new generation motors are proving very durable. The Husky package offers a few new and different variations. If you like the suspension package, this is the only way to get a dual sport legal bike in this specification.
This newest iteration of the Husqvarna brand is certainly drawing lots of interest from enthusiasts. I hear that more all new product will be announced very soon. The brand certainly shows the full support and backing of Austria, so I think there will be plenty of bright prospects horizon.