Wheelies and Skids
It’s hard not to look at the 2019 Husqvarna FS 450 and not be as excited as you were the time you got your first BMX bike.
What has two wheels, a blue frame, a single-cylinder engine, traction and launch control and gives you the kind of fun levels some countries will arrest you for?
If you answered Husqvarna’s FC 450, you’d be partly right. The company whose tag line is “We Invented Motocross” does indeed have one hell of a moto steed—it is the current Monster Energy Supercross Champion, after all—but the bike on test here is a morph of that triple-jumping monster.
Photography by Kit Palmer
This is the Husqvarna FS 450. The guys who invented motocross also invented their own factory-built supermoto, a motorcycle that’s so much damn fun you’ll wonder why it ever took you so long to join the people who know and take up supermoto.
We are massive fans of supermoto here at Cycle News. In the time I have been Road Test Editor at CN, we’ve built three of them—granted, all Suzuki RMZ450s—but the FS 450 is different. Whereas I cobbled together a bunch of parts on what was still a motocross-bike-gone-tarmac in terms of suspension, the FS 450 has been thought of as a supermoto from the get-go, created at the factory with all the expertise that goes with it.
Husqvarna is one of the few manufacturers that creates a dedicated supermoto machine for sale here in the U.S. None of the Japanese do and only a couple, like the Italians at TM, do from Europe. Aprilia used to be part of this realm with their bonkers twin-cylinder SXV450/550, but that’s long confined to the history books. So, if you’re in the market for a brand-new turn-key supermoto, you don’t have a lot of options—which is just how Husqvarna likes it.
For 2019, the 449cc, single overhead camshaft, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder FS 450 engine gets mods like a redesigned cylinder head, new throttle cable routing, an updated cooling system, new muffler and a Magura master-cylinder with a Swiss-designed Suter slipper clutch so you can get real nasty on the downshift heading into corners and know the chassis won’t chatter itself to death.
What you’re getting out of the FS 450 engine is sweet 63 horsepower, far more than what my RM-Z was putting out and a number that, straight out of the box, should have you towards the front of the supermoto grid even before you’ve gone searching for more power.
Just like the FC 450, you get traction and launch control, although these settings have been slightly revised for the supermoto edition due to the demands of primarily tarmac riding.
On the suspension front, the WP AER 48mm air fork has come in for a settings revision, as has the WP DCC shock, which now features a new piston. Fork offset is 16mm from the CNC-machined triple clamp.
One of Husqvarna’s main aims with the FS 450 was more speed, less weight, with the subframe a carbon fiber unit that’s 0.6 pounds lighter than last year. Even the new cylinder head weighs one pound less.
The show rolls on a supermoto-specific 16.5-inch Alpina spoked wheel up front and a 17-incher at the rear, both wrapped in Bridgestone’s 125/80 R420 16.5-inch front and 165/65 R420 17-inch rear slick tires as standard. The brakes, one half of a full superbike set-up up front with a single Brembo M50 four-piston radially-mounted caliper clamping a 310mm disc, with the rear using a single-piston caliper biting a 220mm disc.
From the hot seat
How do you make a bunch of jaded-ass moto journos laugh like little girls? Take them supermoto riding, that’s what! Husqvarna bought a select group of us out to Adams Kart Track at Riverside, California, to sample the 2019 FS 450—even though some had not even ridden a supermoto before.
For us at CN, this was about our 1200th time around the tiny karting venue, so it gave a good comparison with our home-brewed RM-Z.
Everything about FS 450 is designed to do one thing and one thing only—go as fast as possible around the track. On initial contact, two things stood out for me. As this was my first-time riding with a 16.5-inch front tire compared to the 17-incher I normally run, it was astounding how much quicker the Husqvarna would hunt for an apex. The rate of turn is incredibly quick, almost to the point of it being nervous. This is a real race bike and it feels it, too.
That rate of turn, once you’re used to it, allows you to brake so late, flick it in so hard, you’re positive at some point you’re going to lose the front of the FS 450—but you don’t. And that brings me to the second point, the feeling of the Bridgestone supermoto slicks. I’ve been a die-hard convert of the Metzeler Racetec SM slicks lately. These things stick like poop to a blanket, and the Bridgestones have a much different feel to them. They’re stiffer in construction compared to the soft compound Metzelers I run and thus don’t have quite the feedback the former’s do, but that’s not to say the grip isn’t there.
Once you learn to trust the Bridgestone front, you can really start to explore the outer limits of the Husqvarna’s turning capability which—unless you’re the skill of former AMA Supermoto gun Gary Tracy, who was out there spinning laps with us, will likely be greater than your own.
To regular readers of Cycle News, the FC 450-derived engine should be a bit of a known quantity. In supermoto guise, you use far more of the engine’s top-end than at the motocross track, and this is an area the FS simply kicks ass. The FS 450 charges through the bottom and midrange so quickly you’re into the top-end before you know it, the motorcycle still pulling like a train before you need to hit those brilliantly powerful Brembo anchors.
There’s two different modes on the FS 450, one with a harder bottom-end kick to lurch you out of corners, and a softer map with more midrange, and after a couple of sessions, I found the latter map to be the most ideal, simply because there’s only three slow corners at Adams with most of your lap spent in the midrange or higher.
Having traction control is a handy edition for many riders but I suspect after getting used to the way the FS 450 operates, most will turn it off. Regardless, it’s a very unobtrusive system and doesn’t affect how you slide into corners, just how much you slide out of them.
On the brakes, the WP AER48 air fork has superb balance and allows you to point the chassis almost wherever you like, making changing lines at the last minute a given if you’re on the wrong trajectory. Then, it’s just a matter of slamming on that throttle and blasting out of the corner, connecting them like a game of join the dots via the Pro Taper bar.
There’s one thing missing from the race equation here, and that’s a quick shifter. The fitment of one as standard would mean you’d hardly need to do anything to make this a great race bike, but hey, Husqvarna can’t do it all themselves! On the plus side, the gearbox shift is lovely and light, and the Suter slipper clutch just works. Bang down the Pankl-build gearbox, dump the clutch and the chassis pulls itself into the corner, leaving the rear wheel perfectly in touch with the tarmac—unless you’ve pulled a stoppie by hammering the front brake too hard.
I could go on and on, and I will at later times because we are getting an FS 450 as our new long-term race machine next year. There’s not a huge amount we need to do to this bike, but that’s not going to stop us having fun with it.
All I can say is, if you’ve ever wanted to have a go of supermoto—especially if you’re coming off a motocross bike—there’s never been a better time to do it. CN
||2019 Husqvarna FS 450 ($10,500)
||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single
|Bore x stroke:
||95 x 63.4mm
||Electronic fuel injection system
||Wet, Multiplate, slipper
||48mm WP AER air fork, fully adjustable
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
||Single 310mm disc with Brembo 4-piston radially-mounted caliper
||Single 220mm disc with 1-piston caliper
||125/80 16.5 in.
||165/65 17 in.