2018 HUSQVARNA FX450: FULL TEST

The lines between motocross and off-road motorcycles have become somewhat blurry when you walk into a dealership these days. The FX450 is one of a crop of new dirt bikes that are labeled for off-road but designed for motocross. Luckily, it’s one of very few that can do both. The 2018 model picks up exactly where last year’s version left off.

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Husqvarna offers three 450s for 2018—the FC450 motocross bike, the FE450 dual-sport and the FX, which is called a cross-country bike but imported as a closed-course competition vehicle. Husqvarna, like several other Euro makers, simply gave up on the off-road category because the EPA has very tight restrictions. It’s just as costly to go through the process to make a bike fully street-legal, so the FE450 is expected to satisfy the off-road market as well as the dual-sport segment. The FX450, on the other hand, is intended for off-road racers. It’s just like the motocross bike, but it has softer suspension settings, an 18-inch rear wheel, handguards and a slightly larger fuel capacity (2.25 gallons as opposed to 1.85). For 2018 it also has different brakes. Husqvarna has contracted with Magura to supply calipers and master cylinders for all its new off-road bikes, while the MX bikes are equipped with Brembos. The motor and frame are identical to those of the MX bike. The single-overhead-cam motor has an MX muffler, MX engine tuning and MX gear ratios. Even the engine mapping is the same; both bikes have a handlebar-mounted switch that allows you to choose between two different maps, traction control and even launch mode. The motor is not the same as the one in the recently released FC450 Rockstar Edition. That motor has a new head and a number of other items that might well be introduced on the 2019 FX450. The rear suspension has softer valving than the FC, but the spring rate is the same. Husky engineers didn’t have to do very much to the fork to make it appropriate to off-road riding. It has the WP AER 48 air fork, and the recommended pressure is 9.8 kPa ,or 142 psi, whereas the motocross model is to be set at 156 pounds.

The Husky FX450 takes its own racetrack with it anywhere it goes.
The Husky FX450 takes its own racetrack with it anywhere it goes.

 

Like all modern Husqvarnas, there’s a counterpart in the KTM line with the same motor and mission statement. The KTM 450XC-F sells for $100 less and has a number of different components; things like the handlebar and rims. The Husky gets the composite airbox/subframe and a Magura clutch master cylinder (in addition to the aforementioned Magura brakes). The bodywork on the Husqvarna is completely different as well.

The FX shares its frame and motor with the FC450 motocross bike.
The FX shares its frame and motor with the FC450 motocross bike.

WHERE DO YOU RIDE AN FX?

It should go without saying that the FX’s mission first and foremost is racing. It’s the bike that Rockstar Husqvarna riders Josh Strang and Dalton Shirey race, as wall as Big 6 pro champion Zach Bell. It’s a very powerful motorcycle. It might even be the most powerful motorcycle that’s sold as an off-road bike—aside from perhaps the KTM version with the same motor. Most of the combined KTM/Husky East Coast racers actually consider it a bit too much for the woods. Josh Strang is the only one of the bunch that prefers the 450 over the 350.

So, is it too much for the average rider? Tough question, because there’s no such person. Face it, horsepower is fun. No matter who you are, pulling the trigger on 60 horsepower will make you smile. There’s no hill too steep, no sand wash too deep and no demand for power that can’t be answered by the FX450. The real magic of the bike is that the delivery of all that power is about as controllable as it could possibly be, once you learn the tricks. Trick number one: tall gears are your friend. When you’re in first or second, things happen very rapidly on the trail. The rear wheel spins, the front wheel comes up and you have to come up with a plan very quickly. When you’re in third, the power delivery is more gradual and traction is easy to find. There’s also less engine braking, less chassis movement and life is good. The problem with riding most big four-strokes in a tall gear is that you’re risking a flame-out. That’s where the Husky works so well. The engine is mostly glitch-free when you have it in the low-rev zone. We say “mostly,” because it’s still a four-stroke and it can still cough and die on occasion. But that’s not the end of the world like it once was. This is the electric-start era, and if the Husky does stall, you’ll have it running again before you roll to a complete stop. Keeping a hand on the clutch at all times is the standard 450 failsafe, but not entirely necessary with the Husky.

The parent company for KTM and Husqvarna generally prices Husky models $100 higher than their KTM counterparts. The FX450 sells for $10,399.
The parent company for KTM and Husqvarna generally prices Husky models $100 higher than their KTM counterparts. The FX450 sells for $10,399.

On the other hand, it’s wonderful when the trail opens up and you have somewhere to go. You can drop a gear and get there fast. Here’s another thing that’s amazing about the FX450—it revs! If you want to be entertained, put it in third, twist the throttle all the way and count to 10. The bike keeps on revving and revving like a top fuel dragster. That’s where it comes in handy to be Josh Strang. On the trail, you have to decide how much power to summon and which approach to use. It’s not an easy task. If you choose to gas it hard, it takes a lot of strength to hold on.

All of Husky’s off-road models come with Magura brake components, whereas the MX bikes come with Brembos. The Magura units aren’t as powerful but have excellent feel.
All of Husky’s off-road models come with Magura brake components, whereas the MX bikes come with Brembos. The Magura units aren’t as powerful but have excellent feel.

Some aspects of the FX help, like the amazingly low overall weight. The bike weighs 227 pounds without fuel, which is about like a 250 MX bike from the ’90s. It’s 30 pounds lighter than any of the EPA-approved trail bikes, like the Honda CRF450X, the Yamaha WR450F and the Suzuki RMX450Z. The bike is stable and very agile considering its output. There’s nothing about the chassis that isn’t appropriate for fast off-road riding and racing. The stock settings are stiff, as they should be for a competition bike. The fork is easy to adjust, though. You can go a little crazy with the air pressure without making a big mistake. Drop it down to 130 pounds and it still doesn’t bottom hard. The rear suspension is a little more limited because of its 5.4-kilograme fixed spring rate. That’s fine for MX, but you’ll feel every pebble on a low-speed trail ride.

Another limiting factor for trail riders is heat. The Husky can boil over if you keep it under 10 mph for too long, especially if you use the clutch. There’s no catch tank.

IS IT AN OFF-ROAD BIKE?

Clearly, the Husky FX line expands the definition of what is and isn’t an off-road bike. That isn’t a criticism. There’s a place for a bike like the FX, and the fact that Honda, Yamaha and KTM have come out with their own off-road competition 450s shows that it has become an accepted fact with the manufacturers. The FX is a racer that isn’t necessarily bound to the racetrack. You just have to understand that up front.

 

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