2005 Husaberg Super Moto Test

Gabe Makes a Visit to the Home for the Severely Motarded

A few dozen laps of the bumpy, twisty road around Twin Peaks revealed a machine with great handling characteristics, as should be expected from a competition bike. The weight distribution and steering geometry felt just right to me, and the longish wheelbase kept it from feeling too twitchy at higher speeds. The frame and suspension is stiff enough to let the rider carry as much speed as he likes over bumpy, fast turns, with the wide bar ensuring mind-warping turning speeds.

Cruising on the freeway in afternoon traffic puts the Husaberg outside its optimal environment. There's no wind protection, and the upright seating position exacerbates this. The motor starts to send strong vibrations to an ass already

tenderized by a hard, narrow seat, although sliding back six inches gives a cushier perch. Even though the bike is geared for 120 mph, I can't see hanging on for more than a few seconds over 90 mph. It's no fun on the highway, even for relatively short trips.

But keep it under 60 and playtime commences. The narrow profile and upright seating makes the 650 an Olympic-level lane-splitter, and the precise throttle, brakes and steering let you instantly carry out any traffic-carving plans you devise in seconds, without a second thought. On some bikes I'm nervous ripping between two MUNI busses on Market Street; this isn't one of them. Riding around a crowded city becomes a treat rather than a chore, and constructions zones, loading ramps and curbs turn into amusement-park rides instead of obstacles. If everybody rode Motards, speed bumps would quickly lose their purpose in life. Anarchy!

The next Monday we loaded up Pat's big truck and drove 90 miles out to Stockton, CA, home of the  the largest bike I had ridden there to date was the 72cc Derbi I used to race. Would a 450 be too much for me?

Just like riding the 650 on the street, I shouldn't have worried. Pat's 450 is essentially the 650 with no lights and a smaller bore. Rolling out onto the track for the first time in a year, I was relieved to discover a machine with not much more weight than my Derbi 70, with a powerful yet more controllable engine. I was slower than everybody else practicing at first, but then as I got more comfortable with the big thumper motor and fantastic Maxxis Supermoto tires Pat uses, I sped up, even passing a few other riders.

On a tight and twisty racetrack, a lightweight powerful bike like the FS450 is a ticket to all-day fun. The motor feels as strong as the 650's, and the chassis delivers confidence and feedback that only a custom-built race weapon like this could. I could lean the bike as far as I wanted with no scraping of footpegs or weird flexing feelings from the frame. Faster and faster I would attack the familiar apexes, only to discover I was using a fraction of the bike's capability. All day long I was just using third gear, powering out of corners like I was on some kind of demented scooter.

Stockton provides great spectating opportunities right in front of the bleachers, where a long front straight ends at a 120 degree right hand turn best taken at under 20 mph. On a raceday, this results in three or more bikes drag-racing each other off of the last turn onto the straightaway, accelerating to 70 mph and braking at the last minute in a cloud of rubber smoke, fighting for position into the sharp right turn. The Husaberg takes up this challenge with aplomb, the great throttle response letting you get on the gas early, a buttery gearbox allowing you to go as fast as you dare, and those amazing brakes to smoke the tires and slide you into place in front of your competition.

Robbie was also present with his bike, and I took the 650 out to see if it had any advantage over the 450. The extra motor is unnecessary on such a tight course, but the 650 felt only a fraction less nimble and light than the 450 and was every bit as enjoyable.

Trackdays are fun, but how's this bike everyday? Well, the bad news about getting 60 HP from a 650 thumper is that you're looking at a very high-strung race motor. The Husaberg seems to be very reliable, but it has a rigorous maintenance schedule, requiring fresh motor oil every 300 miles and plenty of supervision otherwise. It's a bike for racers and serious enthusiasts; the low production numbers and high admission price will ensure that.

$9,000 plus for a thumper seems like a lot, but this bike actually represents a good value. If you don't believe me, calculate the cost of making a Motard racer out of a CRF450. You'll need wheels, tires, gearing, suspension work and brakes to start. After you spend well over $10,000 including the cost of the CRF, you still won't have a bike with the pedigree -- or performance -- of the Husaberg or another high-performance street motard. And an R6 will go faster in a straight line, but you won't beat one of these on a twisty, bumpy road on it, unless you're skilled enough and crazy enough to carry the kinds of corner speeds a 250-pound dirtbike is capable of on your porcine 400-pound sportbike.

We motorcyclists are always searching for the perfect bike: a motorcycle that is fun around town, comfortable on the open road, great on twisty roads, and suitable for trackday fun. A big Motard like the Husaberg isn't that. It's too uncomfortable for long distances, too maintenance-intensive for daily use and has about as much civility as Dick Cheney on coke. But as a supplement to our daily rides, a big Motard could handle the cross-town trips, 50-mile Sunday excursions and occasional trackdays with great competence and fun. It's surprising to me there isn't more demand for a bike like this, with it's amazing performance, easy handling and acuity at extra-legal activities like wheelies, stoppies and long, greasy slides.

So a Motard isn't the Holy Grail of motorcycles, but it can be a fun and practical supplement to your stable. And if you want one of the fastest and best-handling around -- the MV Agusta of Motards -- a Husaberg deserves a closer look.

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