The biggest single motorcycle achievement of the last decade wasn’t fuel injection. It wasn’t the 250F. It wasn’t reverse heads, mass centralization, dual exhausts or electric start. The most important innovation was the hardcore dual-sport bike. After years of standing in line at the DMV hoping to get the old, blind clerk who might let you license your real dirt bike, now we have real dirt bikes that are perfectly legal. It started with Husqvarna and then was taken to the next level by KTM.
The 2010 Husqvarna TE510 and the KTM 530EXC are the cream of the hardcore crop. They are the most in-demand dual-sport bikes in the U.S. right now. They are actually real dirt bikes coated with a thin veneer of legality. Each bike started off as a dirt model, and then the engineers set out to make them street-legal with mods that would compromise the bikes the least. It turns out that most of the popular notions about what makes a bike legal are just myths. You don’t need a metal fuel tank; you don’t need a super-bright headlight; and you don’t need full street tires. But you do need to meet federal and state emission requirements, which is the biggest source of compromise. In the real world, owners typically ditch these items after the bike leaves the showroom. If anyone asks, we don’t know anything about that.
A few years ago, the bike that Husqvarna called the TE510 was a pure dirt bike, then it suddenly showed up with blinkers and a DOT-approved VIN. Today, the TE has the same basic motor and frame, but everything else has changed. The most significant of those changes is the fuel-injection system, which makes meeting smog standards easier. Even so, the TE comes with a throttle stop that only allows half throttle. We removed that before we ever rode the bike, but that makes the bike a competition-only unit. We also installed an ignition jumper that comes with the tool pouch. That tells the ECU to switch to a performance fuel and ignition map. The pipe has a removable spark arrestor that doubles as a baffle, which we left in place. There’s a large charcoal canister on the right side of the motor that we left in place, as it doesn’t affect the performance in any way. It’s just ugly.
Husqvarna’s 510 motor actually displaces 501cc and has a six-speed gearbox. The clutch is hydraulic, and the bars, wheels, pegs and details are all top-quality, just like on a full-race bike. A Sachs shock does the rear suspension work, but this year the fork is an all-new KYB. The brake calipers are made by Brembo, and the discs are by Braking.
We’re still awe-struck that this bike can be this good and still be street-legal. It’s a dirt bike, pure and simple. The motor has old-world pulling power from way down low and exceptional torque. Even with the baffle in place, it’s fast—not screaming, high-rpm fast, but throaty, hard-pulling fast. On top, the Husky seems to die earlier than you expect, but it’s done great work by then. The gearbox has surprisingly close ratios—usually the gaps are larger for dual-sport applications. That makes it even more of a dirt bike.
The 510 starts easily, and its EFI system works well at any altitude or temperature. This is even more vital for a dual-sport bike, because you’re more likely to cover big distances, and that includes vertical distances.
It’s surprising for us to actually put these words in writing, but the Husky’s suspension is another one of its strong points. We never had issues with the Sachs rear end, but now the fork is up to the same standard. It’s perhaps a little soft for pounding desert whoops, but come on; this is a dual-sport bike—it’s supposed to be a little soft. The Husky still has good manners in turns. Just like its motocross cousin, the TE is a traction magnet. Both ends sniff out traction in any terrain. Give credit to geometry, power delivery, suspension or spooky Italian magic.
To top it all off, most of the Husky’s dual-sport components aren’t just throwaways. The blinkers stay in place, the key is in a good location, and the tail light might live through a real off-road ride. The electronic fan is a great item that keeps the bike from boiling in hot weather.
Even though the 510 makes decent power, the motor has an old-world feel. It revs slowly and without much enthusiasm. Vibration is tolerable, but not humming bird smooth. And we know that we already called the Mikuni EFI system a strong point, but it isn’t without reservation. When we removed the spark arrestor, the motor gained substantial horsepower, but the fuel mixture was knocked off its game. On a carbureted bike, we would just raise the needle or change the mainjet. With the Husky, a new pipe will probably require a trip to your Husky dealer and some fuel remapping.
The Husky 510 isn’t a light or small-feeling machine. It seems long and heavy. There aren’t any measurements that back this up, though. It might be a few pounds heavier than the KTM, but the wheelbase, seat height and all those numbers are right in line with comparable bikes.
The Husky’s fuel range isn’t that great. Having the fuel pump within the tank actually cuts into the 1.9-gallon capacity slightly. IMS has a different tank for the EFI model, and it has a 3-gallon capacity. It sells for $275 and is available at Just Gas tanks ( 999-6269). The charcoal canister is mounted very clumsily, and we don’t know if we’ll go to jail if a bush (or a hammer) takes it off.
KTM’s 530EXC starts off with a big advantage. It’s 95 percent the same as the 530XC-W dirt bike, which is one of the greatest dirt bikes of all time. In order to make the XC-W into a street-legal bike, the factory made only a handful of changes. All the lights are there: the blinkers, the tail light and a DOT headlight, along with the horn and the various switches. Then there are emissions items: a charcoal canister hidden in the airbox, different jetting and a little hose routing. The muffler is slightly different; the final gearing is taller; and the tires are DOT-approved Metzeler ISDE rubber.
The motor is a single-overhead-cam design, which was all-new two years ago. It’s still carbureted, of course, with a Keihin FCR carb. The gearbox is a six-speed. The suspension is exactly the same as that on the dirt models. The shock is a WP with PDS valving mounted directly to the swingarm without linkage. The fork is also WP, and the brakes are Brembos. The clutch is hydraulic, and the components are all excellent. Oddly enough, it does not have a fan like the ISDE edition.
This is an easy bike to love. The motor is perfect. Not just powerful, not just good; it’s perfect. It runs smoothly down low and pulls immediately through a powerful mid-range. On top, it revs out to a decent level. If you had to come up with any word to describe the motor, willing would probably fit best. The EXC is willing to go up anything, keep running without stalling and outrun most dirt bikes along the way. This motor single-handedly might put fuel injection back 10 years. There’s no reason to switch.
The overall handling is excellent, too. The KTM feels light and easy to ride, but that isn’t to say it feels small. You know that you’re riding a big bike, but that’s not inherently bad. The KTM’s suspension is just a little stiffer than that of the Husky, making it better-suited to a faster pace. It has a more race-ready feel overall. The KTM is quiet, and it scores big in the comfort department, with very little vibration and an easy lope at freeway-speed—if the stock gearing is left in place. If you want a little more performance, it can be had without replacing the stock muffler. There’s a nozzle within the pipe that can be shortened for a significant increase in power without disturbing the sound meter too much.
The parts on the KTM are mostly excellent. Even the tires, which are a sore point on almost all dual-sport bikes, are the best of the breed. That is to say, they are the best in the dirt. They aren’t much to brag about on the street.
You need to fine-tune the KTM just like the Husky. While it doesn’t have a throttle stop, it does need a little attention in the jetting department. We installed the needle from the 530 Six-Days edition, which is an OBDTR in the number four position. Interestingly enough, that created the need for a leaner pilot jet, so we went down from a 48 to a 42. With those jetting specs, the 530 is perfect at sea level up to about 6000 feet. If you go higher, it starts feeling a little rich. We should repeat that with a carburetor, jetting changes are at least possible, even on the trail.
More fine-tuning: The stock gearing is too tall and gappy for the dirt. We swapped out the 15/45 sprocket for a 14/48 combo. That actually made the overall gearing similar to the Husky, but the KTM was still taller on top. There’s a big gap between first and second, but the motor has so much torque that you barely notice.
Some of the KTM’s dual-sport parts are fragile. The blinkers pop off immediately. At KTM headquarters, they like using the blinkers off the 950 Enduro. You can find replacement LED blinkers from SAR ( 625-0187).
So which is our favorite? Both of these bikes are so close to their off-road counterparts that we’re in heaven. For a very long time, KTMs have won all our off-road shootouts, so it isn’t surprising that the KTM is our pick for top dual-sport. But having said that, we aren’t sure if the KTM wins by enough to justify the difference in price. The 530EXC sells for $9498, and the TE510 sells for $8599.
If we had to make a list of the differences between the two bikes, it would be made up mostly of intangibles. The KTM feels a little more modern and is near the beginning of its life span, while the Husky has been around for a long time. Is that enough to justify the price? Maybe. It’s your money, so you get to decide. Love’em both, lust for the KTM a bit more