Dual Sport Test: 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S and FE 350 S

Answering the call for race-ready street-legal dual-sport bikes, the 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S and FE 350 S are take-no-prisoners fully capable off-road motorcycles. Tested under the watchful eyes of Husky enduro legends Dick Burleson and Terry Cunningham (12 AMA National Enduro Championships between them in 13 years), I rode the two machines on a traditional dual sport route that included significant amounts of street, easy dirt roads, and challenging jeep trails.

The 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S and FE 350 S share identical chassis, but have completely different motors. The 350 is a high-performance revable DOHC powerplant, while the less-oversquare SOHC four-valve 501 (actually 510cc) is focused on tractable torque. While you might not expect a huge difference in the way the two bikes ride, they are have characteristics that definitely set them apart from one another.

Normally, I am a small motor guy. I prefer the faster revving and lighter hit of lower displacement bikes, and rely on using a more aggressive style to make time. However, the 501 and 350 had some surprises for me.

The chassis that the bikes use is fully off-road. The 48mm USD WP forks have external damping adjusters than you can use with gloves hands while riding — a great convenience. There’s a linkage WP DCC shock in the back with the long travel you expect and the 38+ inch seat height that comes with that.

Chromoly is used for the frame, as it has the flex desired by Husqvarna to make it less fatiguing on long, hard rides. The subframe is a mixture of plastic and carbon fiber, making it very lightweight and durable. The modular design allows you to individually replace different parts of the subframe, should any become damaged.

DID Dirt Star rims are the serious stuff, and are shod with aggressive DOT-legal Michelin rubber. Brembo hydraulics handle the disc brakes, along with the light-touch spring-less clutch.

Ergonomics are strictly race, and the handlebars are four-position adjustable for outliers. The seat uses rock-hard foam, with a bump toward the back. You can move around easily, but expect zero in the way of comfort on the street. After 15 minutes of straight-line pavement riding, monkey butt ensues. Husqvarna wisely is developing a dual sport seat for the bike.

Riding the 2015 Husqvarna FE 350 S is an active experience. The chassis is perfectly agile when you want to change directions, though aggressive riders will want to add a steering damper to tone things down at high speed on rough terrain, especially during braking. It’s not exactly headshake, but if you hit any rocks not just right, you better have a good grip on the bars.

The FE 350 S is a willing slider into the flat turns you find on dirt roads, and it continues the act of using the back end to turn under power. Cutting and thrusting is decidedly trickier than going the flattracker route. Let the rev-happy 350 motor spin up out of corners, steer a bit with the back end, and lean back when it’s time to put more power to the ground.

You’ll move ahead at a rapid pace, ready to shift smoothly up to another gear. Power builds in a progressive fashion, and there’s a lot of head room before the rev limit. You’ll rarely hit the rev limiter, as it almost always makes sense to shift before you get there.

It’s unclear how that all works on technical single-track yet, as we only rode on wide dirt roads. Still, the FE 350 S is a blast to ride around corners, if you’re willing to put the work in.

Rough terrain is soundly cleaned up by the WP suspension. There’s no strange kicking over nasty rocks or rain ruts, so I found myself taking the most direct lines without regards to conditions. The 350’s suspension is simply outstanding and gives you many options when selecting a line.

The Brembo brakes are just right, front and back. They have an extremely soft initial bite, so you can easily modulate them at slow speeds, and progressively ramp up the braking power to street-level requirements and traction. They are flawless and have just the feel I want.

Hopping on the 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S is revelatory. The big 510cc motor is ready to put power to the ground, and it does so in a highly controllable way. It is something like the Brembo brakes, in that it allows you to maintain traction whenever you want, and then put a bit more into the wheels when you need to. The power isn’t overwhelming down low and builds linearly to a strong top-end thrust. You won’t want to keep it revved, however, as it vibrates noticeably through the seat and handgrips.

As a dual sport bike, the FE 501 S is clearly superior. It’s a more relaxed ride than the 350, so you won’t get as fatigued on long, challenging rides. It weighs just 8.4 pounds more than the 350, and the 501’s motor will not wear you out, despite the abundance of power.

The cornering style of the 501 is quite different from the 350. Instead of using the back end to steer, the 501 likes to combine engine braking and braking to slow down, make your turn quickly and rocket out of the turn using the extra power, additional traction and slightly slower revving compared to the 350. The 501 motor is all about using traction and moving forward at whatever tempo you like. The FE 501 S is as easy to ride at a moderate pace as it is to up the speed.

The 350’s shaky front end during braking goes away on the 501, and deceleration is rock-solid, even in tough terrain. The chassis are identical, so it’s all about the additional rotating mass inside the 510cc motor that gives the 501 that needed stability.

The larger Pankl crank and connecting rod also keeps the bike pointed straight at speed in the rough. You don’t have quite the agility of the 350, but that is more than made up in straight-line stability, which is especially important for a dual sport bike. This also shows up on the pavement, where the 501 is the superior bike.

I went into this test expecting to prefer the 2015 Husqvarna FE 350 S over its FE 501 S big brother. For typical dual sport riding, the added power and stability of the big bike makes it a dual-sport winner. Of course, we didn’t do any single-track or highly technical terrain, so the FE 350 S may have an advantage there.

Still, that’s not where dual sporting is usually done. If you’re looking for a pure single-track bike, the Husqvarna non-S FE line is the way to go. For those who need more flexibility in their riding options, the 2015 Husqvarna FE 350 S and FE 501 S offer two distinct ways to mixing dirt with pavement with a focus on race-level performance.

 Photography by Steve Cox

Riding Style
Helmet: Fly Racing F2 Carbon Acetylene
Goggles: Oakley Troy Lee Signature Series Airbrake MX
Jacket: Fly Racing Patrol
Pants and Jersey: Fly Racing Evolution 2.0 Spike Raceware
Gloves: Fly Racing 907 Cold Weather
Basewear: Fly Racing Base Layer Heavyweight Top and Pant
Knee brace: Alpinestars Fluid Tech Carbon
Socks: Axo MX
Boots: Fly Racing Maverik MX F4

Specifications
2015 Husqvarna FE 350 S / FE 501 S
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 4-stroke / SOHC 4-stroke
DISPLACEMENT: 349.7cc / 510.4cc
BORE x STROKE: 88 x 57.5mm / 95mm x 72mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 12.3:1 / 11.8:1
FUEL SYSTEM: Keihin EFI, 42mm throttle body
STARTING: Electric (kick optional)
BATTERY: 12-volt, 4 amp/hour
TRANSMISSION: Wide-ratio 6-speed
CLUTCH: Wet multi-disc DDS-clutch, Brembo hydraulics
FINAL DRIVE: 14:45 / 15:45
COOLING: Liquid cooling with radiator fan
FRAME: Central double-cradle-type 25CrMo4
SUBFRAME: Cross-linked Polyamide
FRONT SUSPENSION: WP 48mm 4CS Closed Cartridge USD fork
REAR SUSPENSION: WP DCC Monoshock with linkage
FRONT BRAKE: 260mm w/ Brembo caliper
REAR BRAKE: 220mm w/ Brembo caliper
FRONT TIRE: Michelin 80/100 x 21
REAR TIRE: Michelin 140/80 x 18
RAKE: 26.5°
WHEELBASE: 58.3 ± 0.4 inches
GROUND CLEARANCE: 13.6 inches
SEAT HEIGHT: 38.1 inches
TANK CAPACITY: 2.3 gallons
WEIGHT, WITHOUT FUEL: 242.7 pounds / 251.1 pounds
MSRP 2015 Husqvarna FE 350 S / FE 501 S: $10,049 / $10,249