Remember the previous, BMW-designed Husky FC 450? Well, forget it. The new FC 450 is nothing like it — it’s miles-high better. PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIT PALMER
There was a time when the Husqvarna name meant everything in the world of off-road motorcycle racing. And it didn’t matter where in the world. On the motocross track, in the desert, or in the woods, it made no difference: If you showed up at a race with a Husqvarna in the back of your truck, you were automatically feared by your competitors, especially if your name happened to be Heikki Mikkola, Malcolm Smith, Dick Burleson, Terry Cunningham, Larry Roeseler or Dan Smith.
Husqvarna soon became synonymous with winners and winning, and helped make many legends in our sport. The name Husqvarna was big and by the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, just about everyone, especially off-roaders, wanted a Husqvarna in his or her garage.
But as they say, all good things must come to an end. Whether or not that’s true, however, is up for debate. But there’s no debating that it happened to Husqvarna. Ever since the Swedish company changed ownership and moved to Italy in 1986… well, let’s just say that pretty soon no one was afraid of you anymore if you showed up at the races with a gun-sight logo on your bike’s tank. In fact, they might’ve felt sorry for you. Too much business and not enough R&D led to Husqvarna getting left behind.
Over the years, Husky has tried making comebacks but with no real success. Once in a while, a decent model or two would emerge, and they even won a few MX World Championships in the ‘90s with Jacky Marten, Peter Johansson and Darryl King, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to make a real difference in the big picture and certainly not enough to get consumer confidence back again (especially in the U.S.) when it came to the Husqvarna name.
By 2007, Husqvarna was pretty much circling the drain. BMW, however, came to its rescue, but the Germans quickly lost interest in producing small-bore dirt bikes and sold the brand in late 2012 to, of all companies, KTM, one of Husky’s biggest off-road rivals over the past few decades. Yes, it seems strange that KTM would want to buy and save one of its fiercest enemies, but things like this happen all the time these days, especially in the automotive industry and even now in the motorcycle industry. Case in point, Victory’s purchase of Indian. Also, the scenario isn’t much different than when major companies branch off into two, like Honda and Acura, Toyota and Lexus, and Yamaha and Star. Evidently, it must work or they wouldn’t be doing it.
One thing hasn’t changed, though — Husky’s still look sexy.
To get the Husqvarna name back on the map quickly, KTM had to work fast, and the most efficient way to do that was to take many of its own models and give them a different look, a few minor changes and… ta-da, instant Husqvarnas! We don’t expect this to be KTM/Husky’s game plan every year, though.
Husqvarna now has its own group of people, engineers and technicians helping run the show, and it even has its own building in the U.S. and will, for all intents and purposes, eventually become its own company. At least that’s how it will seem. Last year, we traveled to Sweden and saw with our own eyes the new Husky crew, which was made up partially of famous Husqvarna and Husaberg racers and some of the original Husqvarna employees. Down the road, we’ll probably forget that KTM has anything to do with Husqvarna. We’ll see.
But, for now, Husqvarna motorcycles are heavily influenced by KTM and are essentially KTMs at heart, like the FC 450 motocrosser that we recently got the chance to throw a leg over. The FC 450 is basically a standard 450 SX-F (not the Factory Edition model) in Husky clothing, but it does have a few significant differences.
The FC 450 feels a lot like a KTM but there are subtle differences.
The list of changes that separate the Husqvarna and KTM is short but just long enough to give the FC 450 its own identity. The most obvious difference is visual - the Husky looks sexy, with its reshaped white plastic and yellow and blue trim. The bike definitely stands out in a crowd.
The side panels have also been redesigned to accept Husky’s unique, three-piece injection-molded polyamide composite (in other words plastic) subframe. Using plastic materials, Husky says, has many advantages: it’s light, strong, allows for more desirable flexing and can be designed to integrate electrical wiring and the airbox.
The seat is attached to the subframe via two bolts (hidden inside the hand-hold dugouts) compared to the KTM’s one-bolt system.
The Husky is fitted with black anodized D.I.D Dirt Star rims with silver spokes, the KTM silver Excel rims with black spokes. The Husky also has a black-colored rear sprocket, a yellow powder-coated valve cover and yellow fork guards to help differentiate it from KTMs.
The Husky’s WP suspension, chromoly-steel frame and motor are right out of the KTM’s playbook, but, again, there are a few differences. Unlike the KTM, the Husky features a two-way switch on the handlebar that allows you to change mapping on the fly, and the Husky has a different muffler – it’s slightly longer and has two baffles instead of one.
The FC’s rear axle is slightly smaller in diameter, too. It’s 20mm instead of 25mm, and the one-piece cast-aluminum swingarm it runs through is different than the KTM’s.
All of the Husqvarnas come with white plastic hand guards, including the motocross (FC and TC) models, and are mounted to tapered 827 Renthal Fatbar handlebars.
One of the biggest physical differences between the FC 450 and KTM SX-F 450 is the Husky’s plastic subframe with integrated airbox.
Airing It Out
If you’ve ever ridden the KTM 450 SX-F, then you have ridden the Husqvarna FC 450. Well, sort of. They’re not exactly the same, but pretty darn close. The Husky does have a slightly different feel than the KTM but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. Even some factory Husky racers we’ve talked to aren’t sure why. The tank/seat junction does seem a little wider than the KTM and it vibrates about the same, which is to say a bit more than the Japanese 450s and the KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition model. Otherwise, the Husky rides and feels a lot like a KTM, but not exactly. Could it be because of the plastic subframe and airbox? Probably.
Like the 450 SX-F, the Husky’s SOHC four-valve motor has a broad power delivery that also provides plenty of torque and horsepower (60 peak hp. at 11,500 rpm according to Husky’s specs) across the board. Bottom end is mellow and rider friendly, top-end is decent but midrange is where you want to be. That’s where the meat of the Husky’s power lives and it’s very useable. The Husky’s quick-change mapping switch is a nice touch. Flip the switch from the standard mapping setting to the other and you get one that is a little less aggressive for drier terrain or when you start losing your mojo after a long ride. You can, however, customize the two settings, but you can only toggle between the two. Again, nice little feature that the KTM doesn’t have.
Clutch action is one of the best in the biz, thanks to the single-spring pack and hydraulic actuation. It’s light, smooth and strong. And when you pair the Husky’s awesome clutch with a solid five-speed transmission you have an excellent transmission system that offers buttery smooth shifting with positive feel.
The Husky, like the KTM, has electric starting. We’ll take the extra few pounds E-start adds over kicking any day.
Chassis is stable and has a good feel but, as mentioned, it does transfer a little more vibes to the bars and pegs than the Japanese 450s. The vibration, however, isn’t a game changer and you probably won’t even notice it after a while.
The FC 450 gets in and out of the turns with the best of them.
We love the Husky’s ergos, just like we do the KTM’s. Again, the Husky seems to be a little wider in the midsection than the orange bike, but not by much. Handlebar bend is a little on the flat side for our tastes and the seat-foam density is a little on the stiff side; still, overall rider position and comfort are way up there on our like meter.
Suspension works well overall. It’s not the best in class nor is it the worst, but it’s a thousand times better than the previous BMW-built 450 Husqvarna motocrosser. The 48mm closed-cartridge WP fork and WP Dual Compression Control (DCC) rear shock have a balanced feel and work in harmony with each other, giving the rider a sense of confidence that you want in order to attack the track without having to worry about the bike doing anything out of the ordinary. A lot of this has to do with the Husky’s rock-solid stability.
Fork compression adjustment is a breeze, thanks to the large finger-adjustable nob on the top of the fork, there’s no need to pull in for a tool. You’ll still need to adjust the fork rebound and shock clickers via a flat-blade screwdriver but usually you go to the fork compression first when dialing in the suspension. We increased both compression and rebound on the fork and shock in order to get the bike to ride higher in the stroke and, at the same time, provide more damping for increased control.
Faster riders will notice a narrow window for finding that sweet spot with the fork, but, overall, the suspension works well for the average rider and vet racer.
Cornering on the Husqvarna is predictable. It has a planted/controlled feel. The bike holds its line in ruts and tracks well on hard-packed and off-camber terrain. As always, suspension balance is most important in order to utilize any bike’s turning capabilities, and we certainly found this to be true with the FC 450. The better we dialed in the suspension, the better it turned. It’s no Suzuki through the turns but it does rival and, in some cases, even turns better than the other Japanese machines.
Like the KTM, the Husky’s Brembo brakes are amazing. Stopping power with these units is second to none. Modified units on the Japanese bikes come close but none are as good as the Husky’s (or KTM’s) right out of the box.
One thing about the Husky (and the KTM) that we would like to see is a larger bar bad. The Husky’s is extremely small and hard, and we feel offers minimal protection. Plain and simple, it’s not safe.
Look familiar? It should, it’s the exact same motor as the KTM 450 SX-F’s, but the Husky has a handlebar-mounted mapping switch.
Pretty much as we expected, the new Husqvarna FC 450 is an outstanding motorcrosser; after all, it is essentially a KTM 450 SX-F, which placed second in our 2014 450 Motocross Shootout, just one spot behind the Kawasaki KX450F. But, like we said, it does have its own personality and it’s one that we would be perfectly happy living with. Thanks to KTM, you can be proud to have a Husqvarna in your garage once again.
2014 Husqvarna FC 450
MOTOR: Liquid-cooled, SOHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke, single
BORE X STROKE: 95mm x 63.4mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 12.6:1
FUELING SYSTEM: Keihin EFI, throttle body 44mm
STARTING: Kick and electric
CLUTCH: Wet multi-disc DDS/Brembo hydraulics
IGNITION SYSTEM: Fully electronic w/digital ignition timing adjustment
FRAME: Central tube, chrome molybdenum steel tubing
FRONT SUSPENSION: WP, 48mm closed-cartridge, full adjustable
REAR SUSPENSION: WP, Dual Compression Control (DCC) single shock
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL: 11.8 in.
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL: 12.5 in.
TIRES: Dunlop MX51
FRONT BRAKE: Brembo, single 260mm disc, w/4-piston caliper
REAR BRAKE: Brembo, single 220mm disc, w/1-piston caliper
WHEELBASE: 58.9 in.
GROUND CLEARANCE: 14.6 in.
SEAT HEIGHT: 39.1 in.
FUEL CAPACITY: 1.98 gal.
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT: 237.2 lbs.