When was the last time you were overtaken with pure unbridled motorcycle excitement? Overcome in a state of complete rapture? Do you remember the bike that evoked the reaction? I do, it was the first off-road motorcycle I ever laid eyes on, and I didn’t even know how to ride one at the time. Flash forward to the 2009 Husaberg FE 450, and I can truly say déjà vu.
Why this bike? What is so radically different from it and a standard off-road machine? No, it’s not the striking aesthetics of the Scandinavian styling (evident in the Viking battleaxe-inspired radiator shrouds). Rather, and it may be a bold statement, it is the realization that this bike will change how we ride and how we think about off-road motorcycle design. The motorcycle industry has witnessed the consistent advancement of off-road motorcycle technology since the 1970s: long-travel, single-shock suspension; water-cooling; disc brakes; aluminum frames; high performance 4-stroke engines; and, most recently, fuel injection.However, since the long-travel suspension revolution, none of these ideas have radically challenged some of the most fundamental, long-held tenets of motorcycle design. These advancements are more logical technological enhancements to a platform that has conceptually and arguably remained relatively constant for decades. Husaberg is a Swedish marque that came into existence in 1988 after a group of engineers defected from Husqvarna following its purchase by Cagiva. Husaberg made its name as a maverick off-road motorcycle company, developing an off-road racing program on a shoestring budget and posting impressive results. In 1995, KTM purchased Husaberg, and although the bikes are now produced in the state-of-the-art KTM factory in Mattighofen, Austria, the racing development and design remain in Sweden. It took this small team of Swedish engineers, sequestered in the far north, miles away from the motor-cycle mainstream, to re-think how we ride off-road motorcycles, to design a bike from the bottom up, and in the process, to turn modern convention upside-down.The Swedish engineering team rationalized that the key to overall per-formance lies in nimble and responsive handling, rather than brute power-not a novel notion. Off-road motorcycle manufacturers have been dabbling in mass-centralization for some time in an effort to relocate the weight of the bike closer to the center of gravity.The goal is to ease turning by reducing the forces of inertia inherent in swinging around weighty extremities. In a great leap forward, Husaberg addressed an issue that had escaped the concern of other designers-gyroscopic effects of the engine. The engineers relocated the heavy, rotating mass of the crankshaft to the center of the bike, above the transmission, and just below the rider’s knees-nearly four inches higher and over six inches rearward, compared to conventional designs.This allowed for positioning the cylinder nearly horizontal, to better align the engine’s rotation with the motorcycle’s direction of travel. The airbox, a lightweight component, sits in the fuel tank’s traditionally lofty location, giving it an optimal straight shot into the 42mm throttle body of the Keihin EFI system. Gasoline is carried in various cells below the seat, further centralizing a heavy component-2.25 gallons of fuel. Also, the Swedish engineers used a composite polyethylene plastic for the rear subframe on the new chassis to lighten up the rear extremity.The exhaust header is neatly tucked out of harm’s way, providing for high ground clearance; a sloping skid plate facilitates gliding over rough terrain. With the fl at engine design, two oil pumps are utilized to pressurize the oil circuit to keep the powerplant constantly lubricated. In short, the engineering team concocted the perfect storm of radical thinking and applied engineering, working seamlessly together to dramatically improve the handling of the motorcycle.Proof of the Husaberg’s conjecture is delivered on a tight, wooded singletrack. In a straight line, the engineering change is hardly noticeable on the 251- pound (claimed dry) machine. But, when the FE drops into corners, it does so with an eerie ease, as if the weight of the engine had been exorcised. This phenomenon manifests itself whether the rider is in a seated or standing position. Exiting corners is no less revolutionary. With the vastly reduced gyroscopic motor effect, the application of power does not upright the bike, allowing the rider to carve out of turns at extreme angles. These are not subtle sensory experiences-the effect is undeniable.As you speed into corners, the engine braking reminds you that you are riding a four-stroke, while the Brembo brakes with steel-braided lines provide extreme stopping power and require a very light touch on the controls. I detected a small amount of headshake under braking, and would remedy that with Husaberg’s optional steering damper. The engine is packed with usable and tractable power, allowing the rider to loft the anodized DID front wheel over obstacles while still maintaining traction over slippery terrain. The EFI is spot on, With the vastly reduced gyroscopic motor effect, the application of power does not upright the bike. and allows for precise throttle response in extreme conditions, preventing the engine from coughing and allowing the pilot to chug through sections, even while riding a gear high. With three ignition mappings to choose from (though not on-the-fl y), the rider can tailor the power delivery to suit his skill level, and the amount of traction offered by Mother Nature.As an aggressive and experienced rider, I prefer the highest-performance position for all but the muddiest, slipperiest conditions.In stock form, the fully adjustable WP suspension is fairly soft and set-up for tight, low-speed, single-track conditions, but the WP units are among the most progressive on the market. For optimum performance, exploit your favorite suspension shop. The Husaberg FE 450 is a radical new bike designed for all-out performance in the most extreme off-road conditions, future of off-road riding and, thanks to and its maker acknowledges that the the extensive parts and service network mainstream off-roader is not the motor-of KTM, it does so without the expected cycle’s target market. The signifi cance of irritations of owning an exotic. FEBRUARY / MARCH 2009 ULTIMATE MOTORCYCLING Photos by Don Williams
Helmet: Shoei VFX-W
Goggles: Utopia Slayer Pro
Jersey, gloves and pants: Shift Assault
Boots: Sidi Crossfire