If you know about the new Husqvarna FX450—if you know what it is, what it does and why it’s here—then congratulations; you’re one of an elite few. But before you spread the word, or perhaps even write a five-digit check to purchase one, you had better ask yourself one thing: Are you sure you know?
If you’re not 100 percent clear, we can help. Let’s start by explaining what it isn’t. The FX450 is not a trail bike. It’s not a replacement for the FE450 that more or less held the same place in the Husqvarna line last year. To be frank, it’s really not an off-road bike—at least not in the traditional sense. The FX is a racer with DNA that is 90 percent identical to that of the Husky FC450 motocross bike. It’s imported in the closed-course competition category of motorcycles and isn’t approved by the EPA, the USFS or CARB.
Here’s what it is: a race bike. This is a motorcycle designed for elite off-road racers who go very fast. It is a powerful piece of brilliant engineering with a race-tuned motor, race-bred suspension and race-worthy components.
MORE FOCUS, LESS BUREAUCRACY
This category of motorcycle is new to Husqvarna but not new to KTM, Yamaha or the industry as a whole. The KTM 450XC and Yamaha YZ450FX are also off-road models that are motocross bikes just under the surface. The reason the FX450 is confusing is that last year Husky’s 450 off-road bike was a quiet, emissions-certified trail bike called the FE450. That model is gone. To make things even more confusing, Husky now calls its dual-sport bike an FE450 (without the S). According to Husqvarna, the reason for the change is tightening emission and sound regulations imposed on off-road bikes. The rules, they say, are essentially the same as those for street-legal bikes. The marketing spin is that the FE450 off-road bike wasn’t dropped at all; it simply became street-legal. KTM is taking the same path by “merging” its off-road and dual-sport lines.
What does it mean? The bottom line is that if you want a Husky off-road bike that passes all the regs for trail bikes, you have to buy a dual-sport. If you want something for racing or just going fast on private trails, there’s the FX450. As we said, this bike is a twin brother to the FC450 motocrosser. It has the same engine, the same frame, the same suspension components and most of the same parts. Its off-road claims come from different ignition mapping, softer suspension valving, a softer rear shock spring, an 18-inch rear wheel, a kickstand and a 2.25-gallon tank. The gear ratios and final gearing are identical to the MX version’s.
In case you don’t know much about the Husqvarna 450 motocrosser, here’s the short form: it’s a single-overhead-cam, electric-start five-speed that was all new in 2016. It’s closely related to the KTM 450SX-F, but with a few significant differences, such as the composite airbox/subframe, Magura hydraulic clutch, DID Dirt Star rims and ProTaper handlebar. The biggest change for 2017 is the switch from the WP 4CS fork to a WP AER 48, which uses a single air chamber (in the left leg) instead of coil springs. The FX has that fork as well, and it helps make the whole package amazingly light. The bike weighs 227 pounds without fuel. That alone should be your first clue that this isn’t an ordinary off-road bike, as most are in the 250-pound range.
All of Husqvarna’s four-strokes come with a multi-function switch on the handlebar that allows you to change ignition mapping on the fly. It lets you choose between map one or map two (standard or aggressive), and you also get the option of Husky’s version of traction control. If you press the two buttons at the same time, it throws the bike into launch mode, which temporarily tailors the power output for the start. As soon as you chop the throttle, it goes back into whichever map you selected. The bottom line is that there are five different combinations to try.
Whether you ride the bike on the track or the trail, there are some undeniable facts about the FX450. For one thing, it’s powerful—really powerful. Between KTM and Husky, there are four bikes that use this motor, so let’s just say it’s one of the four fastest dirt bikes you can buy. The bike isn’t scary or uncontrollable, but it does command respect. It has such deep, rich torque that most riders never see peak power. You tend to ride it at low revs and sidestep the fact that you’re probably not strong enough to hold on when it’s angry. On a wide, deep motocross track, the FX is ideal as long as you have space to twist it. Likewise, a desert sand wash might give you the opportunity to see max output, but for the most part, you learn to ride at half throttle and like it. The two ignition maps and traction control create subtle changes in the power delivery. Don’t expect it to become a different bike. Even the traction control is barely noticeable in most situations.
For legitimate trail riding, the FX is capable but clearly out of its element. First gear is tall, so you end up riding with the clutch more than the throttle. Flame-outs occasionally stop you in your tracks, regardless of which map you select, but the good news is that the electric starter is quick and handy. It will also boil over if it doesn’t have enough airflow. It’s clear that the engineers designed this bike for going fast; the tighter the trail, the more it feels out of its element.
On the other hand, the chassis handles well at any speed. The bike is lighter than any Japanese 450 available, and it feels surprisingly nimble for something with more torque than an early locomotive. The latest-generation Husky chassis has surprisingly quick, light steering and is still stable at speed. We used to think that you couldn’t have good cornering manners and stability at speed. Not true.
For the record, we love this fork. We don’t have to use qualifiers like “for a Husky” or “compared to last year.” The WP AER 48 fork is excellent by any standard. It has forced us to rethink our underlying mistrust of air forks. First of all, there haven’t been any failures on any of the test bikes we’ve had with this fork—and that spans about 10 models. Maintenance is easy, and the air pressure seems to hold up for months without a booster shot. Most of all, the performance is great. The little impacts that the old 4CS used to transmit straight through your hands and into your teeth are pretty much a nonissue. The biggest advantage to using air as a spring, of course, is the fact that you can change the effective spring rate, and that’s especially valuable on a bike like the FX450. It’s part motocross bike and part off-road bike, so it would be virtually impossible to come up with a coil spring that works for everything. With the AER 48 you simply drop the pressure a few pounds, and the rocks that felt harsh and evil suddenly seem like they’re made of foam rubber. The standard air pressure of 9.6 bar (140 pounds) is very track-oriented. If you take it to the trail you’ll want more like 9.1 bar. If we had to complain about anything, the fork’s main shortcoming is that it doesn’t like flat landings. When you slap the front end down or come up short on a jump, it can transmit more of a jolt than, say, a KYB or Showa.
In the rear the coil spring that Husky provides is appropriate, given the nature of the bike. It’s perfect for mid-level motocrossers or high-level riders going very fast off-road. The bike works best with about 105mm of sag. Most motocross riders will probably prefer this setup over that of the FC450, because it’s just a little cushier and more forgiving. Once again, though, it’s not especially effective for rocks, roots and the types of impacts that trail riders deal with.
In our short time with the bike it has become one of the most popular machines in the Dirt Bike fleet. The reason is simple: it’s the ultimate practice bike. For riding during the week at the local tack, nothing could be better. Bikes with this much power are great for short motos where you pass your buddies and then pull off. Likewise, it’s a great desert bike. The Mojave has the space, the hills and the whoops to make perfect use of the mighty FX. The hitch here is that the bike is not particularly welcome on BLM land because of its closed-course designation and lack of a spark arrestor. That’s mostly only a problem in California, though. For private land and the rest of the country, the Husqvarna FX450 is a superb motorcycle with capabilities far beyond those of the average rider. You simply have to understand what it is going in.
• Powerful motor
• Excellent fork
• Standard handguards, skid plate
• Reliable electric start
• Hydraulic clutch
• Excellent brakes
• Light overall weight
• Not trail-oriented
• Runs hot
• Tall first gear
• Occasionally breaks spokes
Engine type: SOHC, electric-start, 4-valve
Bore & stroke: 95.0mm x 63.4m
Fuel delivery: Keihin EFI, 44mm
Fuel tank capacity: 2.3 gal. (8.5 l)
Spark arrester: No
EPA legal: No
Running weight, no fuel: 224 lb.
Wheelbase: 58.5″ (1485mm)
Ground clearance: 14.6″ (370mm)
Seat height: 37.8″ (960mm)
Tire size & type:
Front: 90/90-21 Dunlop Geomax AT81F
Rear: 120/90-18 Dunlop Geomax AT81
Front: WP AER 48, adj. reb./comp.,
12.2″ (310mm) travel
Rear: WP aluminum piggyback, adj. prld.,
hi & lo comp., reb., 11.8″ (300mm) travel
Country of origin: Austria
Suggested retail price: $10,099