Husqvarna Sparks Brand Loyalty Crisis in Wisconsin: From Moto To Lawnmower

1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross
1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross

Being of 100-percent Scandinavian (Finnish) stock, a motorcycle brand from the great north has a certain degree of automatic brand loyalty for me. Husqvarna is just such a brand.

The magic of the Husqvarna brand was tattooed on my brain in 1970 when I saw Bruce Brown’s classic motorcycle documentary, “On Any Sunday,” wherein Malcolm Smith and Steve McQueen mount their Husky dirt bikes and slay all comers.

Despite the brand’s enormous emotional appeal for me, I never owned one. Two reasons: first, in my little home town in northern Wisconsin where I came of age with my first motorcycles, there wasn’t a Husky dealer to be found, unless you wanted to buy a chain saw. That’s right—they sold the excellent and pricey Husqvarna professional-grade logger’s chain saws but not the motorcycles.

1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross
1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross

Second, I had serious doubts about my derring-do on the dirt. Attempts at dirt bike riding at anything above jogging pace with my brother’s 1972 RT-2 360 Yamaha Enduro resulted in some embarrassing and occasionally painful get-offs. The only endo I’ve ever done was in our sandpit with a borrowed Honda XL125. I shuddered to think what I might do to myself on a bike with the fearsome power of a Husky.

As a history buff of almost everything mechanical and military, I was fascinated to learn of Husqvarna’s military heritage, starting as an armaments manufacturer at the behest of the king of Sweden back in 1689, a similar lineage to another historic motorcycle brand, BSA, which had its origins in England as Birmingham Small Arms.

In 1903, Husqvarna manufactured its first motorcycles—the same year Harley-Davidson did so. By 1933, Husqvarna began enjoying road racing success and in the 1950s, the brand began its domination of motocross in Europe with Husky rider Rolf Tibblin claiming the brand’s first 250cc world championship in 1959.

Bill Nilsson rode a Husky to the 500cc class world championship the following year and Husqvarna was off and running as the brand to beat in premier-class motocross. Tibblin took the 500cc class world title in 1962 and ‘63. Bengt Aberg took the title for Husqvarna in 1969 and 1970 and the Ferocious Finn Heikki Mikkola took the 500cc world title for Husky in 1974. Husqvarna also claimed motocross world championships in the 250cc class in 1963, ’66 and ‘67 with Torsten Hallman

In the late seventies, things started to get a little confusing. Husqvarna was acquired by Electrolux (that’s right—the vacuum cleaner people). Then, in 1987, the brand was sold to Italian motorcycle maker Cagiva, part of MV Agusta. But the product development team opted not to go to Italy with the brand, stayed in Sweden and launched the Husaberg brand in 1988.

In 2007, Husqvarna was acquired by BMW. In 2013 Pierer Industries AG, which was the owner of Husaberg, acquired Husqvarna, bringing the company full circle and back to its ancestral homeland in Sweden and the company became part of the Austrian KTM Group the same year.

Return to street bike production occurred with the release of the 701 Supermoto in 2015 with Husqvarna simultaneously starting to make inroads in U.S. Supercross competition. The Supermoto was followed by the Svartpilen 401 and Vitpilen 401 in 2016, the Vitpilen 701 in 2017, and the Svartpilen 701 soon after with the Norden 901 twin and Supermoto 701 joining the line in 2020.

OK, so that’s the background on the magic of the Husqvarna brand where motorcycles are concerned and why I haven’t owned one. Enter the Husqvarnas that I do own: a lawnmower and chain saw.

Husqvarna lawn mower loyalty

After years of struggling and cussing my cheaper hardware-store brand chain saws and power mowers, I finally had had enough. Last year, I traded in a less-than-year-old store-brand lawnmower that would not start in less than six to twelve pulls on the recoil on a brand-new Husqvarna 7021P push mower with “easy start” one-pull starting.

Ok-it cost literally twice what the store-brand mower did, but has proven to be more than twice the machine than its predecessor, starting on the first pull nearly every time, never faltering in thick, heavy grass, lighter and easy to maneuver.

This fall, with some clean-up cutting to do around my place and my old chainsaw running poorly when I could get it to run at all, I went back to my Husky dealer and invested in a brand-new Husqvarna T435 chain saw. It’s a small saw but with amazing power and cutting speed, is as light as a circular saw and starts as a dream.

As a teenager working in the woods years ago, one of the most popular brands of chain saw among the logging professionals I knew was Husqvarna. As far as I know, the brand hasn’t lost favor in that crowd to this day.

So, here’s the logistical part of the problem for me where Husqvarna motorcycles are concerned: I still don’t have a local dealer. Mowers and chain saws, yes, six miles down the road. Motorcycles not so much; near as I can determine from the dealer locator the nearest dealers are each about three hours away in any direction. If I was ever to consider putting out the cash for a brand-new Husky motorcycle, I’d want warranty service within reasonable reach.

But wait. There’s something that’s a little confusing here. Look closely at my Husky-orange lawnmower and what is the brand-name on that terrific engine? Honda. My terrific Husky mower is powered by a Honda GCV engine—it is essentially a Husqvarna/Honda hybrid! A kind of mash-up of two great brands.

Husky Lawnmower

I have owned more Honda motorcycles than any other brand and they have nearly all earned my admiration for elegant design and solid reliability. As reliable as my old Hondas have been, I’m not surprised that the OHV mill on my mower that starts so easily is a Honda.

What we have here is a bit of a brand loyalty conundrum—is it Husqvarna or Honda? For the time being, for me, with one of Wisconsin’s largest Honda dealers twelve miles from my place, for motorcycles, it’ll still be Honda.

With warranty service at the Husqvarna dealer six miles away to the east, for mowers and chain saws, it’ll be Husky. So, I guess it’s actually both. I guess I’ll give this thing some more thought—if only because that Vitpilen 701 is really a pretty cool bike…