We ride Husqvarna’s latest FC 450 motocrosser
Husqvarna’s flagship motocross machine is an in-house favorite of mine. I love its combination of controlled 450-power delivery and high-end components. I’m not a 450 ripper, by nature. I’m more at home fully (okay, almost fully) opening throttles of smaller-bore bikes around a track. Bluntly, 450s are just too damn fast for me most of the time. Tiring. Scary. Potentially full of loop-outs. All of these come to mind when jumping aboard a 450 after some time away from the track—which I’m sure most of you reading this can relate to.
And if 450s are aggressively tuned for the top one percent of motocross’ elite, or modified by wannabes to hit hard for the go-fast-in-straightaways crowd, forget it. Give me a 125 or something for some fun on the track. You can have your macho bike.
Husqvarna has offered a rare exception to the 450 scenario for me the past few years. The FC 450 is undoubtedly a serious performer. It carries plenty of fast guys around tracks plenty fast at the highest levels of the sport. And, for those of you without free energy drink hats, it has gobs of 450 performance in stock form. But, still, it’s been labeled as slower than others because it delivers power so smoothly and quietly.
The bottom line is it’s just easier to ride for me than any of the other players in the class. Combined with insanely great clutch and brake components and an excellent lightweight feel, I have plenty of reasons to back up putting the Husqvarna FC 450 on the top of my shootout lists.
Husqvarna’s unique airbox/subframe assembly and muffler specs suppress power delivery and sound compared to its orange Austrian brothers, and the KTM is lower in the decibel and snap department than the Japanese makers. This makes the delivery smoother overall and easier to control. It feels less punchy, and some say it’s slower than the competition, I’d beg to differ on lap times, but that’s just argument ammo for another day.
With this subdued (by comparison) power punch, the Husqvarna FC 450 is a more balanced bike when my throttle control is sub-par. It just doesn’t get out of shape as easily. And any dyno chart on the planet will show you that it has plenty of horsepower. If you’re secure enough in your abilities to know the bike’s subtle bottom-end hit probably isn’t what’s holding you back, the Husqvarna FC 450 is ready for you before 2020 came to town.
The rare complaints I’ve had with this bike center on wanting more suspension comfort on initial contact with track bumps and a seat cover that leaves your cheeks begging for mercy. Give me more compliance in the suspension, and ditch the cheese-grater seat and it’s close to perfection, for me.
For 2020 Husqvarna is addressing some of the concerns faster riders have brought up. Some guys and gals want more punch. They want this bike to fight up a weight class in their power perceptions. They want no doubt that they’re riding a beast. They want the most macho motorcycle on the track. These riders are able and willing to sacrifice some of the Husqvarna’s easy-to-ride character to get some hit out of the corners and barky power output. These are either the highest-level riders on the track, those that prefer punchy power, or just delusional old dudes that want to rip the start—I get it. For them, Husqvarna has made three significant changes to make sure their elbows are stretching as much as possible in 2020.
First, they re-mapped the second setting in the ECU to deliver more aggressive power output. Map one is essentially the same as in 2019. Map two comes on with more aggression. And from our first ride, we can tell you the number-two map is preferred by those who can use the extra pop. Riders like myself (who certainly don’t need it) didn’t find it too aggressive overall despite preferring map one for getting general 450 use.
Map two doesn’t blow you away with uncontrolled wheelspin, or head-snapping acceleration. But it is a more noticeable jump from map one than in the past. It has more growl to the roll-on and surges with more attitude. It also ensures you’re paying attention a little more around the track. It makes map one feel very controlled—almost like Traction Control is turned on (when it’s not). The fastest guys and gals out there will likely want Husqvarna to deliver even more punch in the future here. Maybe a map three?
It’s worth noting how nice the Husqvarna map switch is, yet again. Two numbers that light up tell you precisely what map you’re in. On-the-fly switching, zero confusion or vagueness add to the ease-of-use. A big “TC” icon that lights up when Traction Control is activated leaves no doubt. Easy launch control activation means you know when it’s on and when it’s not instantly. It’s the standard for what all other handlebar drive mode controls should be. Because it’s so nice, we can switch back and forth between maps instantaneously. And we did. And you should, too.
Adding traction control into the two-map system really provides you four separate drive modes. The Austrian system covers all the bases from cement-like slippery conditions to deep sand and mud; you can easily switch between four combinations to get the best performance. For example, Map two with TC on is pretty impressive for your average intermediate-level rider even when traction is plentiful. Again, if you lack throttle control at all times, this helps.
Modified EFI maps are very common. And for top-level racers, the stock adjustments Husqvarna’s made won’t likely make that big of a difference. Some of them will always be looking for more power, no matter what Husqvarna delivers. For 2020 shootout comparisons, the new map will help close the gap on bikes that feel snappier.
The airbox for 2020 gets options. You can run with a stock, solid cover, or go with holes. The ventilated cover has sleekly designed gills carved in it that look more show than go. However, its no secret Husqvarna owners have been drilling out airbox covers for years to get the composite subframe/airbox assembly to breathe a little more freely. Our opinion on this is the holey airbox lid will likely improve mid-to-top-end performance of the bike, allowing it to intake more air more rapidly. Do we need more mid-to-top pull on the 450s today? We can go with or without this mod so far. If we get to faster tracks and can test the covers again, we will likely have more input here. So far, it looks pretty cool.
Next on the mod list for the 2020 Husqvarna FC 450 is a rear sprocket change. They went up one tooth on the rear. This is a very common mod for those looking to tighten up the gaps in a motorcycle transmission and provide more rapid bottom-end acceleration. Final-drive swaps aren’t new or revolutionary, and the change on the Husqvarna does what you’d expect. Combined with the second map changes, the bike has more aggression than before. On the negative, changing final drive ratios this direction will affect mid- and top-end pull and will likely result in one more shift as you approach a high-speed track obstacle. Or you’ll be hitting it with higher RPM in the same gear as before—neither of which I’m a big fan of. This gearing change will be a welcome addition to most and save them a few bucks on a part they were likely going to change. For me, it saves me a downshift in turns. I can now ride nearly every corner in the motocross planet in third gear.
Another setup we used was the black throttle cam. This is the optionally included throttle-tube cable cam that comes with all Husqvarna motocross bikes. It provides a shorter turn of the throttle to open the throttle body fully. It’s a pretty big difference compared to the “stock” gray wheel—around 4mm or so when measured on the throttle housing. The stock wheel requires quite a long twist, taking out some of that opens the throttle sooner and allows you to get to wide-open without re-gripping. On the Husqvarna, it should be the only one you use.
The last significant change for the 2020 Husqvarna FC 450 and one that doesn’t have to do with power delivery are the suspension specs. In one word, the suspension is now plush.
This year marks a significant shift in the FC range’s departure from KTM’s SX-F line up. Going forward, you will see independent spring rates/air spring settings, oil levels, and valving specs inside the shared components from WP. And in Husqvarna’s case, the commitment to comfort is very apparent. Our test riders are 170-180 pounds with intermediate to pro ability. Both of us felt the Husqvarna was on the soft side, overall, but not tragically so. It has excellent comfort, for sure, but with a few clicks of rebound damping added to control some “springiness,” we had a setting we were both confident in the compression stroke settings to ride it as a normal track day bike on any obstacle we were comfortable hitting. We think Husqvarna went a little soft overall. And rear shock spring rate upgrade will be in the cards for a lot of folks. In general, we feel it’s going to be easier for people to tune in some stiffness than it was for them to tune out some harshness from 2018 and 2019’s FC 450s.
The most noticeable change here is the nice initial bump compliance. The annoying harshness form initial bump impact some have experienced on WP components the past few years is gone. It is compliant across the board with controlled bottoming. From here, we can quickly go stiffer if and when it’s needed.
The competitive nature of the 450 motocross class is making sure manufactures keep modifying their machines to win shootouts and sales floor races. Husqvarna’s changes make the 2020 FC 450 more competitive for the faster racers in the motor department and more comfortable for all in the suspension world. There are some questions we need to answer before shootout time, and the biggest are: is the new, more powerful map enough for the fastest riders, and can the WP suspension be comfortable and capable for the same? Right now, the bike is still hitting the middle sweet spot really well. CN
2020 Husqvarna FC 450 Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, SOHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke, single
|Bore x stroke:
||95mm x 63.4mm
||Keihin EFI, throttle body 44mm
||Wet, multi-disc DDS-clutch, Magura Hydraulics
||Central double-cradle-type, 25CrMo4 steel
||Carbon fiber reinforced polyamide
||WP XACT-USD, 48mm, fully adjustable
||WP XCT Monoshock w/linkages, fully adjustable
||Single disc, 260mm Brembo
||Single disc, 220mm Brembo
||D.I.D 80/100-21 in.
||D.I.D. 120/80-19 in.
|Steering head angle:
|Triple clamp offset:
|Weight (claimed, dry):