Ever since joining the KTM family eight years ago, the Husqvarna brand has been slowly distancing itself from its popular orange-colored cousin. This has been the plan since day one, and this has never been more evident as it is today with Husqvarna’s latest FC 450 motocrosser.
Photography by Kit Palmer
The Husqvarna name has been around for a very long time, it’s one of the oldest brands out there, so it makes perfect sense that the new Husqvarna appears to be catering more toward the mature, okay older, crowd these days. It’s impossible not to notice how the FC 450 has specific characteristics that could make it more appealing to older riders. Compared to Husky’s fraternal twin, the KTM 450 SX-F, the FC 450 has, as of late, been somewhat less-aggressive, or hard-hitting, in the motor department and noticeably softer in the suspension department. This year (2021), Husqvarna has disassociated itself from KTM a little further by lowering the FC 450’s suspension/seat height to make the bike easier to ride. So, you see, there is evidence that Husqvarna is catering more toward the vet rider these days with, at least, its FC 450.
The 2021 Husqvarna FC 450 is hardly all-new, but it did get some significant changes worth noting. Most of them have to do with suspension and making the bike easier to ride, mostly in the turning department. To do this, Husqvarna lowered the suspension—and overall height—by 10mm, which is roughly half an inch (okay, 0.39 inches). This was accomplished by shortening the fork’s inner cartridge and stanchion (outer fork) tubes and modifying the rear shock seal head cap and the lower linkages on which it rides. Wheel travel up front has, in turn, also been reduced 10mm/0.4 inches to 11.8 inches, which is now the same as the rear. (Modifications to the rear suspension resulted in a lower seat height but without any loss of rear-wheel travel; you can do that by fiddling with the linkages and the shock body.) So, now the bike sits 10mm lower, which Husqvarna claims to improve handling and, not to mention, stability because the center of gravity is lower.
The FC’s already well-liked WP Xact AER 48 fork got a significant overhaul last year. A new mid-valve was introduced in 2020, which resulted in a welcomed cushier ride that also soaked up the square-edges better. Modifications to that same mid-valve this year resulted, Husky claims, in the same damping characteristics as last year’s fork despite the reduction of wheel travel.
Husqvarna stepped up its game in the electronics department this year, too. It now offers smartphone technology for altering engine mapping, ala Yamaha. However, unlike Yamaha’s system, you have to purchase a transmitter that is built into a Husqvarna-made handlebar pad that replaces the stock pad. Our bike was not set up for this but still offered the usual two-mode handlebar switch.
There are a few other notable things that set the Husqvarna apart from the KTM. The Husky uses Magura clutch hydraulics, rather than Brembo; the Husky is fitted with ProTaper handlebars, the KTM stiffer Neken bars, and the rims are D.I.D opposed to Excel. The FC’s subframe is also made out of composite “plastic” the KTM’s aluminum, and their mufflers are different. The Husky’s muffler has a small screen built into it to help smooth out power delivery.
But just because Husky might be fine-tuning the FC 450 a bit more toward the senior rider doesn’t mean it is willing to sacrifice supercross-winning performance or have this bike labeled as a “vet” bike, Husky still wants it to perform on a high level and appeal to the “kids,” as well. This is certainly evident when riding the ’21 FC 450.
The FC 450 still rips, especially in the power department. Our 20-year-old test rider who qualified for four 250SX West Supercross mains this year, and is no stranger to 450s, described going up one of Glen Helen Raceway’s notorious uphills on the FC 450 as “like being shot out of a cannon.” Yet, the FC, he says, delivers all that power in a very smooth and linear fashion, making the FC’s motor remarkably easy to manage and control, despite all that crazy power. Our test rider was impressed with the Husky’s engine, to say the least.
However, it wasn’t a big surprise that he spent a part of our first day on the FC 450 stiffening up the suspension a bit. At 170 pounds, he’s not exactly heavy, but he is an extremely aggressive rider and needed a bit more resistance at both ends than what the stock settings were giving him. But the key thing here is that he made a few tweaks here and a few tweaks there and was able to get the suspension to perform to his liking. Overall, he’s a fan of the FC’s WP AER 48 fork that he says it works well and has a wide range of adjustability. WP never gave up on pneumatic forks and their commitment to them shows.
And speaking of the fork, it has a new adjustment knob at the bottom of the fork leg. You can now make rebound damping adjustments by hand. A screwdriver is no longer needed.
As far as the shorter suspension and lower seat height go, our rest rider thought it was indeed all good stuff, but, given a choice, he would prefer the taller stance of last year’s bike, mainly from a comfort point of view just because he’s taller than your average rider at six foot one inch. He added, however, it wasn’t a deal-breaker, and he did admit that it made the bike easier to ride through the flat corners and improved the bike’s overall stability over rough ground. He went on to say that he was already impressed with the handling and controllability of the ’20 Husky, and the chassis changes to the 2021 model only made it better and should appeal to an even broader range of riders now.
The FC also got a new seat cover that isn’t as grippy as the previous one. Can you hear us cheering? The other one was overkill, like sitting on eight-grit sandpaper.
Many things return that we already love about the FC 450 such as its Brembo brakes, which are still some of the best in the business. The Husky’s Magura hydraulic DDS clutch, with its super-strong CNC-machined basket and Belleville washer design, has great feel, a light pull and is extremely consistent. The Husky, like the KTM, offers two useful engine-mapping settings, and launch control and traction control (you might not use traction control all of the time, but there are times when it really comes in handy. And it’s just nice to know that it’s there). And, the Husky is one of the lightest bikes in its class, and you definitely feel that on the track.
This was only our first full day on the 2021 Husqvarna FC 450, and, of course, we’re looking forward to trying it out more on other tracks and comparing it to other 2021 450s coming out soon. We like the direction Husqvarna is going with the FC 450, which has, more and more, developed into its own personality when compared to KTM’s 450 SX-F. Husqvarna is doing a good job building a 450cc motocrosser that appeals to both the young rider who wants go-go-go and the older, or more refined, rider who also wants performance but with comfort and controllability. CN
2021 Husqvarna FC 450 Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke, single
|Bore / stroke:
||95 x 63.4mm
||Keihin EFI 44mm throttle body
||Wet multi-disc DDS-clutch, Magura hydraulics
||Central double-cradle-type frame, 25CrMo4 steel
||WP Xact-USD 48mm pneumatic fork, fully adjustable
||WP Xact monoshock with linkages, fully adjustable
||Single 260mm disc, Brembo
||Single 220mm disc, Brembo
|Weight (dry, claimed):