The 2023 Husqvarna TC250 is a new bike in every way; it has a redesigned motor and chassis, plus it has technology we haven’t previously seen from Husqvarna. This has been a big year of change for Husky, as well as for its sister brand KTM. Both have redesigned competition bikes for 2023. Unlike in years past, though, the two-strokes got even more emphasis than the four-strokes. Last year’s TC250 was the product of a different era. It had no electric start, no electronic fuel injection and used an archaic centrifugally controlled power valve, essentially all the same technology as a two-stroke motocross bike from the late ’70s. The new Husky represents a big-enough investment in two-strokes that the company has no choice but to keep offering them for a long time to come.
THE ELECTRONIC PUZZLE
To be fair, most of the tech presented by the new TC250 has previously been seen elsewhere. Electric start certainly isn’t new, neither is fuel injection nor the electronic power valve. What we haven’t seen before is the integration of it all. More specifically, the engine’s CPU controls the spark advance, the fuel mixture and the power-valve opening. That adds a dimension that four-strokes can’t provide. The exhaust-port timing is dictated by a combination of rpm and throttle opening. With ball-ramp-controlled power valves, exhaust-port timing was strictly controlled by rpm—and somewhat crudely controlled at that. The Husky’s system is so precise that an unprecedented portion of the motor’s performance is determined by programming rather than port shapes and compression ratios.
The previous TC250 used a Mikuni carburetor, so this year is the first time that fuel injection has been used on a two-stroke Husky motocross bike. Transfer Port Injection is only seen on the off-road models. The consensus is that TPI makes for a power delivery that is too gradual for motocross. Husky insists that TPI technology has its place, but the technological landscape is always changing. Right now, they say that having the injectors in the throttle body is the best configuration to duplicate the manners of a carburetor. That also means that you have to mix oil in the gas on the TC, just like old times. Oil injection is only used on TPI models.
Along with the new motor, the 2023 TC250 got a new chassis, with frame and rear suspension designs similar to those of the new fourstroke motocross bikes. The frame is, for the most part, stiffer and is configured to minimize suspension squat under acceleration. It still uses a WP Xact air fork in front and linkage in the rear. Husqvarna’s marketing team made the deliberate decision to slightly reduce suspension travel on all its competition bikes compared to comparable KTM models in order to reduce the seat height. That means the TC250 is lower than a KTM 250SX, which shares the same engine and frame, by almost a 1/2 inch. On most of the four-stroke models, the new frame resulted in a net increase of around 6 or 7 pounds. In this case, you would think the weight increase would be greater because this bike also gained an electric starter and a battery. On our scale, it weighs 222 pounds without fuel—that’s 7 pounds more than last year. That probably means that Husqvarna saved some weight with the new motor and power-valve assembly.
Going in, we expected the TC250 to be a beast, because the previous TC250 was. Plus, all of the new motocross bikes from KTM and Husqvarna have been a little harsh and rigid-feeling, especially when they’re brand new. Surprise! The TC250 is about as sweet as a 250 two-stroke gets. What’s going on?
First of all, the TC250’s power delivery has just enough hit to be fun, but not so much that it’s hard to control. One of the characteristics that makes fast two-strokes harder to ride than four-strokes is the sudden power ramp-up. Basically, the output doubles between 6000 rpm and 8000 rpm, which makes it difficult to find traction. Jumping can be especially difficult if that hit arrives at the wrong time. After that, it’s all over by 9000 rpm and you have to shift and do it all again. The TC250 has a couple of things going for it that make it easier to handle than we expected. First of all, the low-end power is excellent. It’s far more powerful down low than any of the 250 two-strokes we’ve previously tested. Peak power is still excellent, and there’s still a big surge right where it should be. But, something about the new motor makes it more receptive to partial throttle openings. You learn pretty quickly that the TC250 isn’t an all-or-nothing bike. You can delay the big hit simply by backing it down a little. In other words, you use throttle control. We can speculate that this is because of the multidimensional mapping that takes throttle opening into account. With ball-ramp powervalve governors, the valve goes off when it goes off, and there’s not much you can do about it. The Husky allows you to hold the power valve half open by holding the throttle half open.
The power delivery is also much cleaner than it is on traditional, carbureted two-strokes. When you’re revving the bike on the start line (i.e., with no load on the motor), it sounds a little dirty, like it has to clear its throat. Once you’re under way, though, that’s gone. The bike is super clean on acceleration. We did hear occasional detonation, but nothing too drastic. Like any two-stroke, the TC prefers good fuel with little or no ethanol.
On top, the TC revs out fairly well, but it’s nothing to get too excited about. Four-stroke riders often find this the most frustrating thing about transitioning to a 250cc two-stroke. You gotta shift early and frequently. The Husky is no different in this regard. In fact, the new fuel-injected version might go flat a little sooner than the previous version. But, before that happens, the bike peaks out with power that puts it in 450 country. It’s a genuinely fast motorcycle.
You also have a map switch that makes a real difference. The left side of the handlebar has two dedicated buttons. The bottom button gives you more on top. This is nothing new, of course, but the difference is more dramatic than we are used to. With Husky’s four-strokes, the map switch makes no difference that can be measured on a dyno—only by seat-of-the-pants testing. The guys at Pro Circuit tell us that’s not the case here. The aggressive map really is worth more than a horsepower in portions of the dyno curve.
Another pleasant surprise for us is the TC250’s frame. Husqvarna’s engineers told us it isn’t the exact same frame as the one used on the new FC450 and FC250, but it’s very similar and was built with the same overall goal. They wanted it to be more stable once established in the turn and to have flex characteristics that allowed more independent turning of the front and rear suspension. What we found with the four-strokes is that it translated into a more rigid-feeling and put more emphasis on perfect suspension setup. We also found that it takes 10–15 hours before a Husky frame is “broken in.”
In this case, we never got that same degree of rigidity. The two-stroke frame is much more compliant. That makes sense. As we have learned, the motor adds a great deal of rigidity to the frame—even motor mounts can make a huge difference. The smaller, lighter two-stroke motor simply works better with the frame design. The new TC250 is also more stable in turns than its predecessor. Unlike the four-strokes, the Husky 250 two-stroke loves the new chassis in every way. Even the suspension works better than we expected. Having said that, we have to admit that we didn’t have especially high expectations there. Two-strokes often tax their rear suspension to a much greater degree than fourstrokes. In general, they get stopped or deflected by holes and bumps that four-strokes glide over. We got less of that than we did with last year’s TC250, but rough, choppy terrain still isn’t the bike’s strong suit. In the rear, you simply have to reduce compression damping to deal with light chop in the morning, then increase it for the rough stuff that follows later. The WP Xact air fork is less finicky, but it isn’t the most comfortable fork on the market right now.
GOOD PARTS AND GOOD SCIENCE
Husqvarna is a very expensive brand, bike for bike. Company management justifies that by putting expensive parts everywhere. The handlebar is a ProTaper, and the grips are ODI lock-ons. The brakes and hydraulics are Brembo. The tires are Dunlop MX33s. The filter is a Twin Air, and the rims are D.I.Ds. All that stuff gets along well. The TC250 is a cohesive, well-assembled unit. That’s true on a broader scale as well. The bike employs concepts that come together to make a well-balanced whole. It demonstrates that the two-stroke engine is just as receptive to new technology as the four-stroke. It just took a little longer to get there.
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