HUSKY FE501 TEST

Husky fanatics have to be drooling. Diehards immortalize Torsten Hallman, visualize Bengt Aberg at Westlake, can see JN Roberts blitzing across the Mojave Desert and have Roeseler going top American at his first ISDT. There is history to the brand, and the business relationship with the Austrians will do nothing but add distinction and competitiveness to a product that had been declining. That being said, Husqvarna’s venture into the big-bore world of enduro comes in the form of the FE501, which is actually a 510cc machine that shares much with the KTM marque, borrows a little from the Husaberg brand, and includes a dash of this and that, making the Husqvarna FE501 unique in the field.
THE GOODS
One area where the FE501 virtually mirrors the KTM is the engine. It’s a single overhead cam that activates two titanium intake valves and two steel exhaust valves. The piston is a König bridge-box-type design (in three years of testing 500s, we’ve had virtually zero issues with the mechanics and durability), it pushes a counter-balancer that cancels the internal inertia, and drives the water pump and timing chain.
It’s fit with a six-speed gearbox. The DDS clutch uses a diaphragm spring (as opposed to six coil springs), an exhaust system with a steel header and a super-quiet (and well-tested via KTM) screen-type spark arrestor. The FE is fully compliant with EPA and CARB off-road emission regulations, which means it’s eligible for a green sticker in California. The fuel tank is vented through a charcoal canister and various engine hoses go into the airbox, but all other measures are invisible. And straight from the KTM assembly line comes the 42mm Keihin throttle body. According to Husky, there is an optional Husky Power Map switch that allows you to change maps from stock to soft and hard acceleration.
The frame is a white version of the KTM XC-F chassis that uses linkage, and this is a definite change from the KTM mindset of link-less PDS for off-road and linkage for moto and closed-course off-road. The fork and triple-clamp choices are good: CNC-machined clamps (SXF and XCF only) and the WP 4CS fork, which made its debut on last year’s Husaberg line. It’s a 4CS, closed-cartridge, 48mm design that uses a four-chamber system to blend the performance of a closed-cartridge fork with the plushness of an open-cartridge fork. The 4CS features compression on one side and rebound on the other, with both adjusters on top, which makes it suitable for quick changes on the trail. One of the main benefits of the 4CS fork is that the closed-cartridge design stays higher in the stroke (the open cartridge tends to wallow) and the more rigid CNC triple clamps actually tighten up the cornering traits of the machine.
One area where they stuck in some new (or borrowed) technology was the subframe. Like last year’s ’Berg, the Husky’s subframe is plastic or, more precisely, it is a three-piece construction of the polyamide, allowing the engineers to integrate features like the airbox, electronics and rear grab handle into the composite unit. This means that the Husky uses different side panels from the KTM, though the airbox side is still a quick-remove item. The saddle appears identical but in fact uses two side mounts (as opposed to the KTM’s under-the-fender side attachment).
The Husky is fit with CNC-machined hubs, black Excel rims, Brembo brakes and a good, tough, plastic chainguide. The chain is an X-Ring unit. The sprockets are good quality (KTM) pieces, and the bars are strong Neken Bulges fit with really plush Husky-logo grips. Both levers are adjustable at the bars. The Brembo clutch offers (for the billionth time) great feel and engagement at the lever. The handguards are perch-mounted and very sano, and the adjustability at the bar perches is superb (two positions, stock and forward), with two positions available on the perches (either forward or stock). It comes fit with a cooling fan (a big yahoo!), a 2.38-gallon fuel cell (a tiny bit bigger than the 2.25 KTM unit), and—this is a biggie—a new easier-to-read digital odometer! Not that we’re sick of the “gotta be 20 to decipher the numbers” KTM unit, but the new Husky odo is easy to program and much easier to read.

ON THE WAGON TRAIN
Anyone with a modicum of mental strength will perceive that the Husky FE501 has competition from the KTM 500XC-W, Husaberg FE500, Honda CRF450X, Yamaha WR450, Sherco 450 (which we have heard of but not tested) and the TM 450FI. So, the reality is, for a hard-core enduro/off-road junkie, the Honda CRF450X hasn’t been updated for several years and caters more to the desert/Baja crowd. The TM 450FI is pretty much a one-off, high-priced beauty. The Yamaha WR450 is the closest non-Austrian machine and definitely has potential, but the main battle is between the KTM, the Husaberg and the new Husky, all of which are influenced by a certain amount of inbreeding, though in this case that isn’t a bad thing.
Let’s push the button and head down the trail. First off, starting is pure honey. Stab and go. The Husky FE501 starts easy and immediately, usually with no choke. The clutch action is smooth and easy on the hand with nice engagement. We moved the bar perches forward for more cockpit room and, for our taller testers, actually built a new saddle using a tall Guts foam and cover. Anyone over 6 foot 2 preferred this setup.
The power is immediate, smooth and almost mirrors the crack of the throttle. You’ll feel substantially more bottom thrust on the 501 motor compared to the 450—almost too much. It rolls on smooth but has a good amount of meat to it and then rolls into the midrange before belching hard and making noise. This makes it a short-shift motor, so use the grunt and thrust, let the really meaty middle snarl and yank, and then shift! We’re going to experiment with mapping changes (see sidebar) in an effort to get it to smooth out and pull (rather than unload so hard). Since the bottom power is so substantial, shifting some of that power up won’t hurt the tractability or the trail-ability in any way.
Still, the power is purely extreme off-road, and this baby loves to dance on ugly parquet floors. The six-speeder has a super-low gear (good for towing loaded cement trucks), and second through sixth are spaced quite nicely. Naturally, the huge bottom-to-mid powerband covers any gaps in the tranny. Shifting is smooth, and sixth is a very good overdrive and useful on fast transfer sections.
Kudos to the WP4CS fork! We like the combo with the CNC triples. The overall effect is more precise, with good cushion on hack and subtle trail input. Adjustments are vanilla: reach down and click. We found that going in two on the compression actually made it plusher and better in speedier terrain. This fork does a nice job of flattening a variety of terrain and is a better choice for the hard-core off-roader over the older open-bath WP unit.
Out back we wanted to have issues with the linkage rear end. Unfortunately, it worked really well, staying plush enough in hack and litter, but offering an improvement over the PDS design in stacked and consecutive bumps, all whoops, and mid-speed jumps and hits. Cornering seemed to be more focused, so finding a downside, other than the weight gain (about 5 pounds) and the fact that it’s considerably harder to work on the shock (about one minute to pull on a PDS design versus 15 minutes with linkage), we couldn’t muster up a snivel.
The bike does feel big and girthy (251 pounds) and could definitely go on a diet, but other than opting for a lighter exhaust system, cleaving off suet would be tough. It’s a vibrator; we’re hoping that mapping it to pull smoother and longer will help here. Check the sidebar for other mods. While we wanted to love the composite subframe, we couldn’t come up with a reason that it’s better than an aluminum unit and, honestly, the seat bolts are a pain to get at.
GIVE ME A TRIPLE SHOT OF THAT JUICE
Yee-haw! The Husqvarna FE501 is an off-road weapon disguised as a fun machine. The power is subtle, strong and alarmingly well-muscled. It’s quiet, and it’s green-sticker legal. It has strong enduro lighting and a well-thought-out and visible odometer. The suspension is at the upper limit of off-road acceptability—great in the uglies and up and cushy in the speed zones. It doesn’t cough, barf or bog via fuel injection, which makes for good power and super mileage (maybe 25 percent better than a carbureted model). The handling is balanced, easy on the pilot and versatile. Is it better than the KTM 500XC-W or the Husaberg FE501? It depends. Was LR your hero, and do you love white? Then belly up to the bar, my friend. The Husqvarna FE501 is a little bit of old-world legacy mated to current technology and manufacturing. The result? It’s a winner from here to the local enduro or to the Six Days—it’s that good.

Comments are closed.