Everyone has heard of Husaberg. Not everyone has seen one and almost no one has ridden one. The company has never made more than 1000 units a year (usually fewer), yet with those meager numbers, Husaberg won more world championships in the ’90s than Suzuki and Kawasaki put together. Crazy, huh?
Here’s the short version of Husaberg whats, whens and whys. From 1988 Husaberg designed incredibly good four strokes but suffered with terrible quality control. In 1998 KTM purchased the Swedish company, lock, stock and reindeer. The immediate goal was to use Husaberg technology to develop the KTM RFS line. That happened, then KTM didn’t know what to do with the acquisition. For a while they continued to produce bikes in Sweden, but the quality didn’t get much better. Then KTM started assembling the bikes in Austria and suddenly the quality was vastly improved. A lot of Husaberg’s original Swedish suppliers were ash-canned in favor of the parts used on KTMs, thus the SEM ignitions went away and were replaced by Kokusan hardware.
So now KTM has this Swedish-designed line of bikes coming off the assembly line right beside its own machinery. Okay. It seems to work.
Here in the U.S. a number of importers have tried to sell ‘Bergs. No one got rich, so KTM North America finally took over the job itself. That doesn’t mean that you can see Husabergs at any KTM dealer; the two lines are treated separately. But the truth is, if your local dealer really wants Husabergs, he could get them.
As for the machine itself, the Swedes have been working on reliability and quality for ’08. The FE450 isn’t dramatically changed from the bike we tested last year. It’s still a single overhead cam, four-valve, electric start four-stroke just like always. The most unusual feature of the engine is that the cases and cylinder are cast together; there‘s no place to put a base gasket. There are minor changes in places like the oil pump and in the way the frame is welded together. More significant are the jetting and suspension changes. The WP fork has a smaller damper rod among other details. The WP shock, which by the way is mounted sans linkage just like a KTM, has some valving changes.
It’s interesting to note that other items that look like they came straight off a KTM. The wheels are identical to KTM’s. So are the brakes and controls. The swingarm is very similar to KTM’s, and in fact we heard that the company experimented with this one-piece cast design on Husaberg first. Maybe that’s the corporate rationalization for having a second limited-production make under the KTM umbrella. It gives them a place to experiment with new ways of thinking.
THE RITES OF PASSAGE
We often use the 24 Hours Of Glen Helen as a testing ground. In fact, KTM’s Tom Moen was afraid to loan us the bike before that event because he was afraid it might end up in the race, making for a ton of use in a very short time. He was right, although the Husaberg wasn’t an official entry and didn‘t run the whole race. We put about six hours on the bike during daylight hours. There were some sections of the course that were pure Husaberg material. The single-track trail quickly degenerated into silty chaos. The ‘Berg was perfect for that. Above all, the bike had to keep going as the course climbed through steep uphill ruts. The Husaberg just would not stop. This is a big improvement over the last version we rode, which had slight jetting issues off the bottom. As long as you didn’t chop the throttle and stand on the brake, there is no danger of a flame out with the new bike.
Another thing that the ‘Berg does well is find traction. This isn’t easy to do in ugly over-used trail where you can‘t even see what‘s under the silt. You can make horrible mistakes with the FE’s throttle and pay no penalty. Of course, the Husaberg is no powerhouse. It might have the same displacement as a 450 motocross bike, but it’s nowhere near as fast. The output is more along the lines of the now-discontinued KTM 400EXC. That makes motocross sections seem a little long and tedious. The Husaberg isn’t even particularly torquey. It just goes forward with an old-world efficiency.
Everything about the bike seems that way: efficient and without frills. The handling won’t wow you with its ability to cut turns and it doesn’t feel especially light and easy to flick. Instead, you get this Swedish stability that takes hits from all sides and goes more or less straight. At speed, the bike has no headshake issues and it can certainly generate lots and lots of speed with its six-speed gearbox. We never put the radar gun on the bike, but we know that it did over 80 mph without topping out on Glen Helen’s paved back stretch.
The only time the Husaberg doesn’t feel perfectly stable is in really rough stuff–things like hip-high whoops and rocks like Yugos. The fork is soft and the rear end is sort of stiff. The Husaberg feels unbalanced and stink-buggy. It really shows up in extreme sections like logs and boulders. The rear end unloads quickly after it hits the obstacle and the whole bike wants to hop sideways. If you ever decided to ride an Endurocross on the Husaberg, it would require a very different suspension set up.
That’s a little out of character with everything else about the bike. This is a machine that really thrives on adverse conditions. The footpegs are high so that your feet won’t drag, the hydraulic clutch always works without fade and on-the-trail maintenance is easy. If you had to, you could adjust the valves with the tools in your pockets, and you can get to the filter under the seat in seconds. That filter, by the way, is mounted on the backbone of the frame and makes a distinctive sucking sound when you ride. It’s just one of those Husaberg things.
Actually, unlike virtually everyone else in the country, we’re very familiar with Husabergs and all their little idiosyncrasies. The one that Ron rode in the ISDE in 1999 wasn’t that different in performance. But in the last nine years the rest of the four-stroke world has changed dramatically. The bottom line is that the Husaberg has a very old-world feel. For old-world events like the Moose Run and certain national enduros, that’s fine. Nothing has really proven better. But in more common closed-course events like WORCS races and even some GNCCs, the ‘Berg will be out gunned by more powerful hardware. So the FE is what it is: a limited production bike for very select riders and very select events. That’s fine with us. It doesn’t claim to be anything else.
* Smooth power
* Hydraulic clutch
* Stable in most situations
* Renthal tapered bars, O-ring chain
* Durable (at last)
* Some vibration
* Shin-attacking spring-loaded kickstand
* Unbalanced suspension
* Tight footpeg/seat relationship
JUST THE FACTS
* Running weight, no fuel: 251 lb.
* Suggested retail price: $7,698
* Distributor/manufacturer: KTM North America