It’s been a long time since we addressed the 350 vs 450 question in motocross. In our last chapter, we decided that pros generally turn a faster lap time on a 450, but everyone, regardless of class, has more fun on a 350. That was a few years ago, and we wondered if 350 had closed the gap. Before sending our 2020 test bikes back, we decided to spend a day riding the Husqvarna FC350 and FC450 back to back.
It was a pretty informal test. We had two riders; Pete Murray and me. That’s old and older, but Pete is a current class champion from the Vet World Championship and can run with intermediate-level riders of any age. The two bikes were a stock FC350 and a FC450 Rockstar Edition, both with very low time. Both bikes got a face lift and a new chassis in 2019. For 2020, they didn’t change much, although the Rockstar Edition did get some significant upgrades in the suspension department. That might have been a factor in our final results.
Last year, we did a comparison between the Husqvarna FC350 and the KTM 350SX-F. You can check that test out by clicking here. We loved both of the bikes and found they were greatly improved over the previous generation of 350s. In the end, we felt that the KTM was a little more aggressive, but we felt that either was more fun than a 450.
The 2020 FC350 comes in at 222 pounds without fuel. The FC450 is only 3 pounds heavier at 225. We did not dyno these two bikes back-to-back on the same day, as we do with full shootouts, but in separate dyno runs, we saw a peak of 54 hp out of the 350 and 57 out of the 450. The 350 has much less torque, of course, but closes the gap by revving higher. In price, they are similar as well. The 2020 FC350 has an MSRP of $9899 and the standard FC450 is $10,099. Most dealers add $1000 for the Rockstar Edition.
Did the suspension upgrades on the Rockstar Edition give the 450 an unfair advantage? Yes.
We rode them on the two tracks that Glen Helen offers; the fast and hilly National track as well as the tight and twisty REM track. We came in fully expecting that the 450 would have a lap time advantage on the big track and maybe even on the smaller track, but that the 350 would allow the rider to go farther and be happier. That’s always been the result in the past. The fun factor has always tipped the scale toward the 350, but if you choose a winner based on cold facts, the 450 always came out on top.
This time, it didn’t play out like that. Both of us loved the 350, as always. It’s fast enough to get the job done without fanfare and there’s something really thrilling about revving a bike to 14,000 rpm. What we didn’t expect was that the 450 rated just as high on the fun scale. The FC450 is a sweet, easy bike to ride. No, you don’t get the high-rev thrill that you do on smaller bikes, but there’s something just as satisfying about the deep rumbling torque of a big 450. On Glen Helen’s big track the power of the 450 put it a notch higher because you need it. In the past, we have often said that the average rider can’t use all the power of a modern 450. We need to modify that; the average rider can’t use all the power of a 450 all the time. Sometimes he can, and the Glen Helen National track offers more of those times than most tracks.
On the tighter REM track, the 350 was a little more fun than the 450, simply because you could open the throttle more often. The 450 is definitely on a leash there. As soon as you find a place to really twist the throttle, you have to shut it down right away. But we will say that the 450 was no beast. The power was so smooth and easy, you didn’t feel like you had any penalty. For the first time, we felt like we could ride the 450 just as many laps as the 350.
We still love the FC350 and we know it has improved year after year. What’s changed even more is the FC450. In recent years, Husqvarna and others have pulled back from the horsepower race and concentrated on making power more usable. That’s especially noticeable with the 2020 FC450. KTM/Husqvarna management made a conscious decision to aim the Husky brand at sportsmen and amateurs and as a result, the bike rates higher than ever on the fun scale. This particular day of testing was not conclusive, but it did tell us that the truths that we have held dear for many years might well be under fire. We expect young, fast riders to prefer the big, bike but when two old guys come back saying the same thing, it’s a sign that times might be changing. We intend on exploring the subject in more depth when our 2021 test bike have been assembled.
ARE YOU READY FOR SUPERCROSS?
We have people on the floor at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City for the seven remaining round of the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross season. All the results will be posted here as soon as each qualifier, head and main is complete. That will be more important in later rounds, which will not be broadcast live.
BETA FIRES FIRST
Beta is doubling down on two-strokes for 2021. The Italian company has already announced half of its new line up. That’s pretty impressive considering that Italy only recently opened back up and send people back to work. The Beta line will include a 125, a 200 a 250 and a 300. You can read about them by clicking here. Earlier, the company revealed the Xtrainer for 2021, which you can read about here.
ROGER’S 10 GOLDEN RULES
Back in the ’90s, Roger DeCoster and I worked on a number of very cool stories for Dirt Bike. I’m often asked if he really wrote them. YES! He did. We would work out the details of each feature in long meetings and even though I was the one who actually pounded a keyboard, every thought came out of Roger’s head, and he would edit it all. This man has a very serious work ethic. The 10 Golden Rules Of MX is a series of stories that can be accessed by clicking the link above.
Let’s get back to racing!