Husqvarna is arguably the most iconic name in off-road motorcycling, tracing its roots as a motorcycle manufacturer back to 1903. The motorcycle division had a bumpy road from 1987 to 2013, with various owners attempting to keep the fame burning—a particularly difficult challenge in the United States.However, when Cross Industries AG (owner of KTM) bought Husqvarna from BMW, and moved the product development team to the Swedish headquarters of Husky’s Italian-era alter-ego Husaberg (retiring that brand in the process), the new partnership instantly became a great success with record sales for the resurgent historic marque.The sport of supermoto was born with ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ Superbikers competition in 1979. The brainchild of promoter Gavin Trippe, it pit top riders from different disciplines, battling each other on a mixed pavement and dirt course at Carlsbad Raceway in California. Racers on various motorcycles ranging from modified 500cc two-stroke motocrossers to Harley-Davidson XR750s with at track tires competed in the made-for-television concoction.
Europeans eventually picked up on the sport, lacing up wide 17-inch rims with slicks and fitting big front brakes to motocross machines. By the early 2000s, both the FIM and AMA were running supermoto championships with factory teams racing on dedicated tracks that featured a combination of asphalt and hard-packed dirt with jumps.Although Husqvarna, as well as KTM, has sold dedicated supermoto bikes in the past, they had disappeared before the KTM purchase. First shown as a concept in 2014, the Husqvarna 701 Supermoto has finally made it home to the roots of the sport.Though common on street bikes, the 701’s chromoly trellis frame—weighing just 18.5 pounds—is unconventional for a dirt bike. Unusual for all bikes, the rear- mounted 3.4-gallon fuel tank is a complex plastic rotomolding that doubles as the rear subframe, and is strong enough to allow the 701 to carry a passenger and luggage.
For riders accustomed to street bikes, the riding position initially feels odd with the long, 35-inch-high seat. For best results, the 701 needs to be ridden like a dirt bike—slide forward on the seat and use the bars to push the Husky down into the turns while keeping your body upright. The wide bars give excellent leverage to flick the bike hard onto its side, and the fast steering Husky will turn from side to side as quickly as the rider can countersteer.The 17-inch tubeless spoked rims are mounted with wide, sticky supermoto-specific Continental ContiAttack SM tires in the road-friendly sizes of 120/70 front and 160/60 rear—the same size rubber you’ll nd on a KTM 690 Duke R.
Husqvarna tapped the well-proven SOHC 690cc fuel-injected single that began life as a KTM 650 in 2007—now with a twin plug head and a throttle- by-wire system to fine-tune the power delivery at the twistgrip. The big thumper makes a claimed 67 horsepower at 7500 rpm, yet manages to allow for 6000 mile oil change intervals, remarkable for a motor of this architecture and power output.Engine noise is quite subdued through the huge muffler and never becomes offensive. The engine is mated to a six- speed transmission, with a nice light pull at the hydraulic clutch lever.Riding the 701 Supermoto over some of the best mountain roads Southern California has to offer was supremely confidence-inspiring. The 701 dares its rider to go faster than seems sensible on unfamiliar roads, even on fresh tires. The latest ContiAttack SMs have what Continental calls TractionSkin, which is a micro-rough tread surface, giving you traction from the rst revolution of the tire.
Mid-corner line changes are no problem, just push the bike down farther, lifting the inside boot off the footpeg to allow it to drag if necessary. The tighter and more numerous the turns, the more advantage the 701 has over conventional sport bikes, as tire grip from the Contis is never a concern.When the road opens up, the 701 is just as happy on fast sweepers, never once showing any instability—even in sixth gear over bumpy surfaces.The long-travel WP suspension is superb, with 8.5 inches of wheel travel in the front and nearly 10 inches in the rear. The forks have a split design, with the compression and rebound damping systems in individual fork legs, while the WP 4618 shock is linkage-assisted. Both are fully adjustable, of course.
The 701 Supermoto’s initial sag gives way to well-damped firmness, with no bottoming out of the fork even under hard braking. The superb feel and power of the big 320mm floating front disc and Brembo caliper dares its pilot to leave braking as late as possible for the corners. Bosch 9M+ Two Channel ABS is standard, and defeatable. An optional plug-in dongle allows the ABS to be disabled for the rear wheel only, so you can slide the rear tire into tight turns—ideal for supermotoing.Changing down two or three gears while diving into a corner is standard supermoto practice. The hydraulically actuated Adler slipper clutch takes the strain in stride, with a little slide from the rear before throwing the bike on its side.
You can then feed the power on while still leaned over, allowing you to fire out towards the next turn. In situations like this, the 50 ft/lbs of torque at 6000 rpm and full-tank weight of just 340 pounds—over 60 pounds lighter than the similarly displaced, though higher output, Triumph Street Triple R ABS—make for a thrilling ride.With the high-end suspension and braking, the 701 can carry speed on rough and bumpy roads that would have riders of sport bikes slowing down to avoid being bucked out of the seat. At a slower pace, the suspension gives the comfortable feel of a big adventure bike thanks to the generous travel.Away from the twisties, the Husky becomes less fun. Counter-intuitively for a bike focused on tight quarters, the 701 is geared high and will pass 115 mph in sixth, while the tractability of the engine allows it to pull strongly from low in the rev range. The smoothness of the over-geared motor is a relief, and the 701 Supermoto will cruise happily all day at 80 mph. However, the upright riding position coupled with the narrow hard seat does not make for pleasant long-distance rides on freeway slab.
Husqvarna worked hard on civilizing the 701, and the lack of vibration from such a huge single cylinder is welcome. A big balancer shaft mounted ahead of the crank, ignition timed independently for each spark plug, and rubber mounting of the handlebars all work together to remove almost all traces of vibration. At times in the saddle, the 701 feels like a V-twin with its smoothness, power delivery and low inertia.The gear changes are positive, although the upshifts to fifth and sixth take slightly more travel on the shifter and can give the occasional false neutral until it becomes familiar. Even with standard gearing, the Husqvarna can lift the front wheel in first or second with a tug on the bars. Those who aren’t interested in freeway speeds will likely go down a tooth or two on the countershaft sprocket.In typical dirt bike fashion, the instrumentation is spare, with basic warning lights and just a small digital speedometer with odometer and trip meters. The long stalked mirrors are functional, working superbly to provide a clear view behind on both sides.Husky’s fit and finish of the 701 Supermoto is impressive throughout. Neat details abound, such as the black-anodized CNC triple clamps, the exotically shaped multicolored seat with a functional special grip pattern, the 8.6-pound swingarm, and rim graphics.Husqvarna has produced a well rounded package with 90-percent of the excitement of a full-race supermoto bike— which is one of my personal bikes—while offering a durable, low maintenance and high-quality street motorcycle that can do service as an economical commuter as happily as chasing down and shaming sportbikes with three times the power on twisty roads.The new 2016 Husqvarna 701 Supermoto is not for everyone, but if you are lucky enough to live near the right sort of roads, there are few machines of any size or price that can match this motorcycle’s pace and love of pure fun.Photography by Kevin WingRiding Style:
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