Trail Test: 1996 Husqvarna 250 WXC/WXE
This could easily be the best 250 of 1996
The salient word that comes to mind when riding the '96 250 WXE is "nimble." Excellent suspension action that reacts to small size bumps as well as killer whoop-de-dos, without deflection or bottoming of either end is coupled to a good steering frame that provides positive, predictable directional stability. Every rider that took a turn on the Husky came away impressed by its quick reacting and sure handling manners. The bike is light to start with (222 pounds claimed dry weight for the WXE, 220 for the WXC) and even feels lighter because of the slim ergos and grunty low-end motor. This is a mount you could manhandle all day long and hardly break a sweat. Not that you'd need to, however. The riding position allows the Husky to be steered where you want it to go, with little concern for minor changes in terrain, like ruts, roots or holes. Steering is quick and without any hint of headshake at speed.
We didn't spend nearly as much time fiddling with the Husky's suspension as with the motor. The reason for this is simple: the 250WXE comes with such a fine suspension setup and frame geometry that it works nearly perfect right out of the box. Literally, all we did was set the sag and go riding. Here's the suspension settings we settled on. Sag 105mm. Fork settings: left fork (compression) four in from full soft (full CCW) with a total of fifteen clicks adjustment; right fork (rebound) four clicks in from full soft (full CCW), again with a total of fifteen clicks adjustment. In both cases the owners manual specifies only twelve clicks advertised.
A tech tip for adjusting Marzocchi forks from Don Knight: It is recommended that all fork adjustment measuring start from full open (CCW) rather than full closed (CW). This is because the adjuster is a tapered steel needle that seats in an aluminum orifice. Excessive closing force here (full CW) will deform the aluminum orifice, change the valving and confound the adjustment process.
Showa shock settings found the compression set at eight out from full hard (full CW) and rebound at nine clicks out from full hard (full CCW). Both shock compression and rebound adjustments provided 24 clicks adjustment. The forks come with stock .42 N/mm springs and provide 12 inches of travel. We ran them with stock oil and oil level (SAE 10 weight at 180mm) and found them to be pretty close to what's needed. The rear end comes with a .51 spring and delivers 12.6 inches of rear wheel travel.
The '96 frame is unchanged from its '95 predecessor, and includes a Honda-like removable, aluminum subframe. Riding position is excellent and contributes heavily to the light-feeling handling. Aside from color and graphics, the '96 body work is identical to the '95 model, which provides a 3.2 gallon fuel cell and full coverage radiator shrouds. The rear brake pads were not up to the chore of wet weather riding, as we wore out rear brake pads in about 70 miles of slogging through melting snow, ice and associated mud. In a long, muddy enduro, you'd have to plan on starting with fresh pads, and probably have to change the stock pads anyway. We did, however, try a set of metallic EBC pads, which exhibited slightly improved wear resistance with like braking action.
Fine Takasago Excel rims are shod with venerable Metzeler Unicross tires which are good performers in many soil conditions. Enduro goodies: A 12-volt lighting coil is found on both the WXC and WXE models. The coil drives the 35 watt headlight and 3 watt tail light, standard on the WXE, both of which stood up to the rigors of our entire Trail Rider test. The WXE comes with the obligatory mechanical odo with a sano cable-saving lower fork leg clamping scheme. KTM riders could easily pirate this clamp for their sleds, greatly reducing potential odo cable failures.
Clutching and shifting--if there's to be any bad news, then this is it.
The Husky comes with the only six speed tranny in the '96 litter, and 14-48 gearing, well suited for our test. A workable steel shifter is up to the task, and provides positive cog engagement with or without the aid of the clutch, even under heavy load. This is fortunate, since clutch pull is fairly heavy for a modern dirt bike, certainly greater than those of other major brands. While the clutch engagement itself is sweet, with a smooth actuation that allows power to be fed in gradually, the clutch doesn't disengage cleanly, and has a tendency to drag, confounding in-gear starts. Problem amounted to this: with the clutch free play adjustment at a minimum (to reduce dragging and aid in-gear starts) the lever position is extremely far from the handlebar, and requires a considerable effort to reach and pull in.
The entire Husky line is chock-full of trick features that promote longevity and ease maintenance chores
At the other extreme, with the free play adjustment a little on the sloppy side, the actuation effort felt much better, however, there was considerable dragging with clutch pulled in, making in-gear starts nearly impossible. Lubrication and routing did little to improve performance. In addition, any change in leverage is essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul--an easier clutch effort inevitably yields more clutch dragging. Perhaps a change in springs might improve things, but we were lacking the time to find out. On the bright side, even 125-like clutch abuse resulted in little change in clutch action or fade.Operation and Maintenance
Quick adjust Domino clutch and front brake levers are mounted to low bend handlebars. The handlebar clamps are shock mounted within the triple clamp to reduce vibration. This is especially needed in light of the stock carbon steel handlebars, which have a tendency to transmit vibration. The seat retains the single quick release fastening scheme and appears carved from a dense chunk of open-cell foam. Seat shape is on the square-ish side and somewhat firm, but extremely thin, allowing easy changes in body position. The seat cover is of fairly thin material that exhibited some signs of premature wear during its short stay with us. After less than 50 miles, the cover showed signs of tearing, and even wore holes in places where it rubbed against the tank and side covers.
The entire Husky line is chock-full of trick features that promote longevity and ease maintenance chores. Zerk fittings are found on all rear linkage and swing arm pivot points and a Kawasaki-like viewing window is found in the clutch cover for engine oil level inspection. Airbox access is from the top, after seat removal, and requires no tools to change the stock Twin Air filter. The enduro-sized fuel cell still permits good spark plug and carb access. We completed plug changes without the use of maintenance midgets, and accomplished all carb jetting changes (float bowl and slide removal) by simply loosening the airboot clamps and rotating the carb. A two ring piston should be good for extended top end life, while the final drive benefits from the stock DID 520 O-ring chain. Finally, the Husky owners manual is thorough and well written, providing all required adjustment and maintenance specifications.Coup de Grace
The late introduction of the '96 Husky model line, while delaying our testing, also delayed some of the best news on the consumer front. In addition to being a well built and equipped enduro sled capable of competing in any venue, the '96 Huskys are the best priced bikes on the market. The suggested retail prices for the WXC and WXE are $4999 and $5199, respectively. Also note that the 125 versions sell for a rock bottom $4199/4399. Kinda makes you want to start humming the Italian national anthem. Combine the low list prices with the impressive performance and feature set, and the Husky 250 could very possibly be the best dirt bike of the year. So what if you have to buy a pipe to be completely happy.
Since when can you put a price tag on happiness?
HUSKY 250 WXC/WXE Engine Type: Liquid-cooled 2 stroke Displacement: 249.6cc Bore/Stroke: 67 X 70.8mm Transmission: Six-speed WR Gearing: 14/48 Chain DID o-ring Tank Capacity: 12 liters (3.2 gal.) Carburetion: Mikuni TM38 Ignition: CDI, 35w lighting Forks: Marzocchi Magnum 45 Suspension Travel: 305mm Front Brake: Brembo hydraulic disc Front Tire: Metzeler Unicross 90/90X21 Rear Suspension: Showa mono shock Suspension Travel: 320mm Rear Brake: Brembo hydraulic disc Rear Tire: Metzeler Unicross 130/90X18 Seat Height: 890mm Wheelbase: 1450mm Ground Clearance: 370mm Claimed Dry Weight: 222 lbs. Sugg. Retail Price: $4999 (WXC), $5199 (WXE)
Advanced Husky Fiddling:
With the short time allotted to complete the accompanying Trail Rider test, we were more than scrambling for Husky tech info and hot set-up tips to try out before deadline. This quest eventually lead us to Don Knight of Knight's Cycle, who is perhaps the preeminent authority on tricking out Husqvarna bikes here in the US. Knight's experience comes from factory sponsored programs to build Husky race bikes for European enduro competition and the ISDE. Knight's shop built all of the Huskys rented for the Oklahoma ISDE and does considerable R&D work directly for Husky (Cagiva) of Italy. While we were unable to try out all of Don's recommendations, all of the advice we did try proved spot on. As a result, here some of the tricks of the Husky trade and set up specifications that we were unable to get to.
Suspension Knight's recommends 4.0 springs in the fork. Oil and oil level is as follows: the compression leg gets Spectro 85/150 at an oil level of 150 mm. The rebound leg gets Spectro 125/150 with a 190 mm oil level. Damping adjustments are compression, seven clicks from full soft (CCW) and rebound, eight clicks from full soft (CCW). Note that there are no valving changes recommended. For longevity, Knight's builds and sells aftermarket shock bodies and shim stacks for Husky.
Since when can you put a price tag on happiness?Engine Knight's highly recommends an aftermarket pipe and has built racers with both Dyno Port and FMF products. The Dyno Port is more suited for technical tight woods work, rocks, mud, off-camber, etc., while the FMF pipe is hot in more open conditions. Jetting specifications are: 440-450 main; 35-40 pilot; air screw 1.5 turns out; a 6AEJ1-64 needle in second or third position (from the top, depending on temperature); and a 4.0 slide. The needle noted is special needle that Mikuni made for the '92 Husky 250 only. As such, it is only available from Husky, and will not be recognized by Mikuni parts suppliers. Regarding the slide, Knight claims that the stock 3.5 slide is a little rich off the bottom. The recommended 4.0 slide cleans up this transition, improving mid-range power. All of Knight's scoots are fed a steady diet of race fuel. Don says that you have to run the high octane fuel, real 100 octane, to avoid detonation. Knight recommends against octane booster as some octane boosters don't play nice with pre-mix oil and could lead to premix dissolution and eventual engine damage. Clutch A potential improvement in clutch action can be attained by slightly straightening the 90 degree metal elbow at the end of the clutch cable where it terminates on the top of the engine cases. Accomplish this by removing the clutch cable and straightening the end elbow fitting slightly, just enough that it just clears the water hose. Pack the fitting with grease when reassembling.
More of the same advice, and some of the finest Husky tuning work, can be obtained from Don Knight, Knight's Cycle, 611 N. Chrisman Ave., Cleveland, Mississippi, 38732; (601)843-3251