2005 Husaberg Super Moto Test
Gabe Makes a Visit to the Home for the Severely Motarded
Super Motard. It means "Super Biker" in French, and has roots in the ABC Wide World of Sports TV program's Superbikers race series from the late 70's and early 80'. In these races, sticky roadracing slicks were mounted on big-bore dirtbikes and raced on eclectic half pavement/half dirt tracks by some of the fastest road and motocross racers in the business, to see who would become the "Super Biker" of the world.
Like all things odd, the French adopted Motard racing as their own after it was abandoned by our throw-away culture. It caught on throughout Europe, with almost every major manufacturer making these hybrid machines.
In 1988, an intrepid and adventurous Swede named Thomas Gustavsson developed a racing thumper and called it "Husaberg." The company has been building a range of high-performance, competition-oriented motorcycles since. A few years ago, orange giant KTM swallowed the company up and moved production to the KTM plant in Austria, but all the R&D work is still done in Sweden, keeping the bikes unique for their loyal band of followers worldwide.
I was offered the use of two of the 2005 machines by a local Husaberg dealer, a bone-stock FS650 "Force Edition" that is the personal machine of Subterranean Cycle's tire guy Robbie Markowitz and a lightly modified competition-only FS450c that shop owner Pat Eichorn campaigns in the Nor-Cal Super Moto USA racing series. Usually I test motorcycles that belong to the manufacturer or distributor, so I was worried about riding exotic, high-strung racebikes belonging to another enthusiast.
That was my state of mind when I showed up at the shop in San Francisco's edgy Tenderloin neighborhood. Robbie had his FS650 tuned, cleaned and full of gas for me. His is the limited "Force Edition", with a special billet triple clamp, polished fork springs, fork preload adjuster and a chromed connecting rod. Additionally, the plastics and graphics are exclusive to the force edition. Overall it's a stunning visial package, dripping with trick touches, like a lavishly tricked-out AMA Supermoto bike.
For those readers who assume this is just some kind of Swedish KTM, I am here to tell you that as good and serious a bike a KTM may be, this is different. The Husaberg is truly built with competition in mind, despite Robbie's miraculously obtained California license plate and the minimal lighting. The 650 is absurdly light at a *claimed* 250 pounds dry and has few frills. There is no ignition key or fork lock, no helmet hooks or ugly reflectors. The mirror is a folding add-on, and the lights are lightweight enduro items. The switches are small and poorly placed: mere afterthoughts to comply with some far-off DMV.
The 25-pound chrome-moly steel tube frame uses a meaty aluminum swingarm to hold the rear 160-section wheel and Pirelli tire. In front, an exquisite top triple clamp carved with a CNC machine holds huge 48mm fork tubes enclosing polished springs and chromed dampers. The front wheel is bolted to a 310mm wave brake disc, and sitting lemur-like on the end of the fork leg is a four-piston billet caliper, radially mounted and engraved with the Husaberg logo. Like everything on the bike, the caliper looks like expensive jewelry for gearheads.
Visually, the bike is great. It looks light, high tech and purposeful. The curves and proportions of the components keep your eye busy without highlighting any one spot. The black bodywork and billet bling-bling scattered about the bike make it look functional and high-performing while being in-your-face stylish at the same time, like a hip-hop version of George S. Patton.
Instrumentation and controls are minimal and not designed for daily living. The lack of an ignition key or steering head lock requires you to carry around a cable or disc lock, and the switchgear is absurd: the kill switch is a button on the left bar, nothing is marked, and the horn button is located in a spot only convenient to a double-jointed orangutan. The speedometer is OK, with all the warning lights you'd need and good lighting.
Robbie helps me roll the bike outside the cluttered shop and shows me the basics. "Don't get on the gas too hard in first or second", he says, worried I might loop the bike. "It'll wheelie pretty good in third." How much power does this thing make? "After we installed the right jets and removed a block-off plate from the airbox, we saw 58 HP from a Factory Pro dyno." That would show up as something like 62 rear-wheel horses on MO's Dynojet. For perspective, a KLR650 makes 37 HP. Since this bike weighs about 270 pounds wet, I'm beginning to realize Robbie's cautions about first and second gear might not be the hysterical admonitions from the nervous owner of a $9,000 thumper, but sound warnings firmly rooted in experience.
I hoist a leg over and find that the seat isn't too high at less than 35", and it's so narrow I can just about get my feet down on the ground. The motor fires up very easily thanks to the electric start and automatic compression release. There's vibration, but the motor feels smooth and quick-revving as I blip the throttle a bit to help warm it up. Robbie goes inside to change more tires, and I pull in the clutch and slip the smooth six-speed gearbox into first, ready for an afternoon of fun in San Francisco, a 49 square mile Motard playground.
I shouldn't have worried that the Husaberg would be an untameable street monster with its light weight and powerful motor. I am here to tell you that as far as genuine racebikes go, a Supermotard makes the best streetbike by far. Super Moto racing requires a smooth and tractable engine with good throttle response and flexible gearing, as well as suspension that works well on a variety of surfaces. It also needs grippy tires that won't slide too much in the rain and
As Motards go, the Husaberg is one of the better ones I've ridden. Powerful motor combined with light chassis? Roger. Pick a speed between one and 60 mph, and the Husaberg will be going that speed in less than a block. Compliant suspension? You bet: the `Berg's light weight means you will feel everything under the tires, from a discarded Tic-Tac to a certified Bernal Heights pothole, but the wheels stay firmly stuck to the pavement thanks to the race-quality suspension. And stopping is an experience by itself.
That brake. That incredible front brake. I never thought a motorcycle could have too much braking power, but riding a Husaberg has changed that notion. Some things look good but don't work so well, like Paris Hilton. But the forged billet aluminum, German-made FTE radial-mount caliper looks like a million bucks
and is just unbelievably powerful. One-finger stoppies are no longer a dream, even if you have never actually dreamed of doing a one-fingered stoppie. With about the same trigger pull you'd need to fire a shotgun, the Husaberg will lift its back wheel in a split-second. The brakes stop you now, no waiting, two shows a night and three on Fridays. Tip your waitresses, please.