2011 Husaberg FX450 Review
Off-road racer with a split personality
The first time you see a newer Husaberg motorcycle you are instantly aware you are looking at something unlike anything else on the market. Yes, Husabergs are assembled from KTM parts, but in a way that is completely unique. Consider Husaberg to be KTMs R&D department and you’re on the right track. The new Yamaha YZ450F or BMW G450X are pretty radical motorcycles in their own right, but Husaberg has taken the mass centralization concept to a whole new level.
The Husaberg is powered by what is essentially a KTM engine that has been folded, turned around and contorted to meet the engineers’ goals of mass centralization. The heaviest parts of the Husaberg engine, like the crankshaft, are located where they should have the least effect on handling. The oddities don’t stop with the pretzel shaped engine either. The Husaberg line features plastic subframes, a front mounted airbox and a unique steel frame. KTM provides the WP suspension components, and in the case of the FX450 they are off the KTM XC line. The rear shock doesn’t use a linkage but has different valving and reservoir placement than a KTM shock.
Husaberg has seen international success in the most grueling races on earth with its FE line of enduro bikes. When Motorcycle.com tested the FE570 we found it to be a light handling and torquey machine bristling with high quality components. What we didn’t like was the wide-ratio transmission, super-soft front suspension and the bike’s weight. The FE570 didn’t feel heavy to ride; just the opposite, it felt surprisingly light on the trail. It was only when hoisting it onto a bike stand, picking it up after a fall, under heavy downhill braking or charging into turns that you really noticed its true weight.
This summer, in Alberta Canada at the Xtinction Extreme Enduro, we rode an FE570 belonging to Dave French of A&E Racing. His bike had been modified with a stiffer fork from the FX model, changing the character of the bike completely. We found it to be a great motorcycle on such technical, hilly terrain. Canadian Extreme Enduro racer Shane Cuthbertson raved to us about how much better his more aggressive FX450 worked for extreme races, and ever since then we’ve been on the gas to try an FX450 for ourselves.
Husaberg made the FE into an FX by removing most of the enduro equipment and installing a 19-inch rear wheel, a better flowing muffler, a close-ratio six-speed transmission and stiffer suspension. Before you ask, no, the Husaberg FX450 at around 248 pounds isn’t as light as a converted Japanese 450 motocross bike. Husaberg did, however, read our minds by removing most of the stuff we don’t like about enduro bikes without losing an enduro bike’s user-friendly character or making the FX as sharp as a full-on motocross bike.
Our test bike was Canadian Husaberg dealer Scott Rocher’s personal bike. It was new but had been modified by Enduro Engineering with Rocher’s personal suspension settings, handlebar, hand guards and graphics. As such we can’t talk too much about suspension performance of this bike, but here’s what Rocher did: Fork: stock .48kg springs with slightly lighter high-speed damping. Shock: stiffer 8.0kg spring (7.2 stock). Naturally we would have preferred a stock machine to evaluate, but as you can imagine Husaberg FX450s are elusive animals that are hard to catch, so we took what we could get!
The fuel injected engine starts quickly with a stab at the button. No kickstarter is offered, but since new fuel injected dirt bikes start so easily these days we wonder if Husaberg could have simply used a kicker to save weight? In any case the Husaberg fuel injection performs flawlessly. It’s quick to warm up and runs cleanly at all engine speeds, with excellent throttle response. The FX450 powerband is smooth and ultra controllable, but it isn’t exactly a rocket ship. The Husaberg makes comparable horsepower and torque numbers to any other 450, but in reality you won’t be getting holeshot awards. The Husaberg’s engine shines at cutting fast lap times, not winning drag races. The mile-wide powerband is coupled to an excellent hydraulic clutch and a slick close-ratio six-speed transmission, making it easy to bomb through slippery or technical terrain without frustrating the rider.
Like most European bikes, the Husaberg excels at fast and slippery Euro-style grass tracks. It puts power to the ground at high speeds effectively, but will also pull like a trials bike when it needs to. No wonder Endurocross and Extreme Enduro guys love these bikes! Put the Husaberg FX450 on a tight, jump-filled motocross track with good traction and the story changes. Sometimes you need a big, solid blast of instant power. Husaberg Power Parts makes a switch that allows the rider to change ignition map settings from soft to normal to aggressive. Our bike didn’t have that switch, but we wish it did! Fuel Injection tuning can be further altered with a laptop computer and an EFI tuning program available from Husaberg Power Parts.
We should mention the FX450, despite having a better flowing non-spark arrested muffler than the FE model, remains fairly quiet. We don’t like to say this, but we bet with a less restrictive muffler and appropriate EFI tuning this motor could scream. If we were racing an FX450 in motocross or at wide-open ‘new school’ cross-country races we’d be trying a pipe and tuning for sure! In any case, we’ve already established raw power isn’t why Husabergs are seen on podiums all over the world. The biggest part of the Husaberg success story doesn’t revolve around horsepower, it revolves around the machine’s surprising agility.
The FX450 is stable at speed, and the unique engine placement gives the bike a light feel that hides its real weight. In fact, sometimes the front end feels almost too light. If you like doing long wheelies you’ll love this thing! We raised the fork 15mm above the tripleclamps to put more weight on the front wheel and to tighten the steering geometry, which resulted in much improved cornering habits. We have noticed with Husabergs, the Yamaha YZ450F and the BMW G450X - with non-traditional engine designs or mid-mounted fuel tanks - that they can be super-sensitive to very minor chassis and suspension adjustments. Take the time to properly dial in the Husaberg for your terrain and riding style and you will be rewarded with great handling. Don’t be lazy or you’ll be disappointed. No other 450 handles technical terrain as well as a properly tuned Husaberg.
We loved the 19-inch rear wheel. Husaberg, like us, has decided the benefits of the 19-inch hoop are well worth the trade off of slightly increased risk of flats, possible rim damage or endless repetition of old wives’ tales about why 19s don’t work off-road.
As mentioned, the suspension was set up to the owner’s preference. Rear suspension performance was average and similar to any KTM, but if this were our bike we’d try heavier valving and stiffer springs in the fork. To us the Husaberg felt too low up front, especially after we raised the fork in the tripleclamps. Our testers range in weight from 150 to 230, of different riding abilities and ages, but all remarked on this trait. We bet the standard rear spring coupled with stiffer fork springs would reduce the nosedive feel and make the bike sit more level.
The ergonomics of the FX450 are okay, but a little wide. The width of the seat/tank junction caused us to wear holes in the seat cover with our knee braces in record time. The rear fender is short and flexible and needs to be longer to be effective. There are lift points in the plastic subframe but they are too high and too far forward to be really useful.
We like how a rider can slide way up to the front of the Husaberg easily and how all the controls are intelligently placed. We also love the translucent plastic gas tank under the seat that lets you instantly check fuel level. Brakes were strong and easy to modulate and by yanking a ripcord the airbox and battery access couldn’t be easier. Everywhere you look at the Husaberg you notice ISDE-inspired touches. Even the kickstand works! The FX450 has superb ground clearance, high foot pegs and most everything is tucked out of the way and doesn’t collect mud. Riding the FX450 is an ego trip, feeding a crowd wherever you go.
Thankfully the days of squishy-soft and obese enduro bikes are long gone, at least at the National and International level of competition. It’s easier to convert a motocross bike for off-road racing than ever, but it still expensive. So is carving weight and adding power and moto-ready suspension to an enduro bike. The Husaberg FX450 is cool because the engineers have already done all the hard work for you. Yes, it is a bit fat and will need careful tuning for your riding style, but all the good stuff is already there. We really like the FX450, and we know with a little engine and suspension fine-tuning we’d love it!
Thanks to Ross Rocher Sales and KTM Canada for providing our test bike, the Corner Grass Racing Team for its input and set-up advice and the private landowners who provided facilities for this test!