Most of the 2018 KTM and Husqvarna models have been announced now and it’s time to sift through the data to see what’s really new and what’s not. It’s clear that this year is all about the coming of fuel-injected two-strokes. Husqvarna has not officially shown its version of the transfer port injection KTM 250 that was shown to the press in Austria last week, but its coming. Company spokesmen have said that the Husky 250i and 300i will be revealed on June 28 in Canada. It’s very possible that both sizes will be available in the U.S under the Husky name. KTM will only have the 250 in the U.S. , at least for now.

Just to be clear, this is not a “clean” two-stroke, at least not to the EPA. Regardless of Euro 4 regulations, the KTM and Husky TPI bikes will not be eligible for a green sticker in California, they will not be street legal and they are not as clean as the Rotax two-strokes that are used in the marine and snowmobile markets. Those engine have direct injection, which means fuel is not introduced into the combustion chamber until the exhaust port is closed. The KTM and Husky engines inject fuel into the transfer ports and fill the combustion chamber before the piston covers the exhaust port, so it’s inevitable that some unburned fuel will escape. That’s bad for current emissions testing. The new KTM motors are much, much cleaner than carbureted two-strokes, but more development will have to take place before they can pass U.S. testing.

KTM engineers did show the press some earlier prototypes with different types of injection. There was a direct injection version that required too much fuel pressure, and that was problematic. There was another one that injected fuel earlier in the stroke under less pressure, but it, too, had problems. Transfer port injection , they discovered, was far better than those options for performance.



While the KTM show was going on in Austria, I was farther south, in Varese Italy. As I explained last week, the factory that used to make Husqvarnas prior to the KTM buy-out is now making bikes under a different name. Here’s how it happened. Back in 2007, BMW purchased Husqvarna from Cagiva/MV Agusta, wanting to be in the dirt bike market. Within six years, that attitude had completely changed, and BMW wanted to divest itself of the Italian company in a big way. This was despite massive investment on a new manufacturing plant near the Varese home of Cagiva/MV Agusta. KTM acquired Husqvarna’s name, image and legacy, but not in the Italian product or the factory. Thus, there was a work force and a new factory sitting in Italy with nothing to produce. That’s when the former Husky employees teamed up with a Chinese company that owned Shineray, a producer of small commuter bikes. Shineray was ready to move up the ladder to higher-quality European products, and SMW was born. The name was revived simply for brand familiarity in Europe.

The models that are most relevant to Americans are based on Husqvarna products from about 10 years ago. There are 300cc and 500ss dual-sport bikes that are based on the TE450 that existed between 2004 and 2009. There’s also a 600cc adventure bike based on the 2011 TE630 from the BMW years. If that sound like old bikes and old technology, there’s one other factor to throw into the mix. The bikes are projected to sell for old prices. Expect figures in the $7000 range for the 500 and $8000 for the 600. For reference, the 2011 TE630 sold for $9000 when it was new.

I got to ride the 300, the 500 and the 600 when I was there, if only briefly. The 300 and 500 will be great in the U.S. dual-sport market. The power is good, the fuel-injection is clean, and they have current KYB suspension. Compared to KTM and Husky dual-sport models, the SWMs have a weight disadvantage. I weighed a prototype that came to the U.S. last year for EPA testing, and it was 270 pounds without fuel. That’s at least 25 pounds more than a KTM 500EXC. But the power and handling were good, and the price is projected to be thousands less than bikes from Austria.

I really enjoyed the 600. They call it the Superdual 650. It has the same frame and motor as the Husky TE630, with different bodywork. The wheels for the standard models are 17 and 19, but there’s an upgraded model with a 18/21 combo and saddlebags. The bike had a Marzocchi fork last year in Europe, but that supply dried up and it now comes with a Fastace from Taiwan. Most of the important engine parts and the frame are from Italy. The Brembo antilock brakes and Athena fuel injection are from Europe, the Mikuni throttle body is from Japan and the engine cases are from China.

It was kind of interesting to see the factory again, which I had visited in the BMW era. There are still machines and tools that have the Cagiva logo, boxes that have Husqvarna tape and faces that I recognized from years earlier. The factory is very modern, with about 70 employees.

The company also produces fun little street bikes. They all have a 440cc Honda XR500 clone motor from mainland China. It won’t be coming to the U.S.



Back in the U.S. the project on top of the list was an RZ450 GP bike. This machine is the one Mark Tilley had been racing all year in the Big 6 Series. It might seem funny that Mark, who can race anything he wants, would choose a ho-hum Suzuki 450. He loves it. As it turns out, once you do a few things like put on a GPR damper, an IMS tank and Precision Concepts suspension, the bike is the perfect machine for western off-road racing.


It’s so unfair that we lost Nicky Hayden last week. There was no one like him. I first met him in 2001, and did several photo shoots with him since then. He was always fun, happy and enjoyable to be with.

Back in 2001, the Honda CRF450R was yet to be released to the public, and we got together with Honda and White Brothers to make an off beat project for the Formula USA Dirt Track Series. To make the Honda legal, it would need a restrictor plate, bringing the carb down from 40mm to 37, plus a lot of chassis modifications. Gary Jones put the bike together and  Nicky did all the testing at Ken Maely’s ranch in Corona, California.

My interest in the bike was pretty big, so I showed up for every test session and got to know Nicky. He was a 20-year-old with so much talent, you would expect him to be full of himself. Not at all. He was humble, friendly and so polite it actually seemed awkward.

Gary got the bike together for the season finale at Del Mar and Nicky, who hadn’t been racing the series, was thrust into Terry Poovey’s attempt to clinch the title. In his heat, Nicky had trouble making the Honda hook up and didn’t transfer. He had to go to the semi. He won that, and that set up an epic battle between Nicky and Terry in the main event. It came down to the final turn, but Poovey held off Hayden (who was half his age) for the win. After it all, Nicky’s smile was so big you would have thought he won. I’ll miss him.



See you there,

–Ron Lawson

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