Husqvarna Motorcycles is a company that sees opportunity when others may not. Despite the dour health of the motorcycle industry, the Italian brand continues to push forward with new models and updated designs – using its small corporate size to be flexible and bold. By joining with BMW, Husqvarna got more than financial backing, and an influx of new machines including a 50cc, 250cc and 630cc line proves that the red and white team is on the gas. The most obvious pooling of resources thus far comes in the shape of the all-new Husqvarna TC449.
Replacing the TC450, the new 449 looks like a modern motocross bike, and then some. Gone is the split exhaust header and the pipe now exits along the right side, ending with Akrapovic’s top-of-the-line muffler with carbon fiber bracket. Bodywork on the 449 is very different from the previous model. While the fenders are particularly angular, the radiator shrouds and side panels are one continuous piece on each side, and totally smooth. The seat, which has a very comfortable profile and foam density, extends from the rear fender to the steering column. A single Dzus fastener holds the front of the seat which makes maintenance easy with access to the airbox, diagnostic plug and battery. To fully get to the tray-style air filter, the right shroud and side panel comes off as one piece.
We love how it looks at a standstill, but the extra-wide rear fender can be felt while riding if the rear end bucks or you’re a rider that hangs towards the back of the bike. The fuel cap is located at the rear of the seat, which feeds two cells, a 1.7 gallon primary located where a traditional airbox would be, and a 0.5 gallon “reserve” which is held low, resting just above the engine cases. A fuel pump for the electronic fuel injection is located in the lower tank, giving it access to every last drop. This reserve tank is transparent and can be seen from either side of the bike, making it easy to keep track of low fuel.
Husky’s new styling has developed a sleek, sexy appeal, but there’s more under the hood that’s worth noting. Fuel injection, a revised engine and unique suspension arrangement make the TC449 unlike any other motocross bike currently available.
As part of the new styling, Husqvarna retains the white steel frame and red motor accents on the cylinder head. Brembo brakes and hydraulic clutch, billet hubs and a single-piece molded skidplate give the TC a finished and high-quality feel, despite that it has come from concept to production in a short time.
All right, so it looks different, but the mechanical goodies underneath the shiny exterior are equally new. The engine is all new this year, and while Husqvarna claims it as their own, it clearly blends the technology of its parent company, BMW (and is manufactured in Taiwan). A Keihin electronic fuel injection system feeds the dual overhead cam engine with a 46mm single-flap throttle body (the new TE449 enduro bike uses a dual-flap). One of the things we love about the new model is the electric start. Though it contributes to weight, the ease of starting is worth it, and the TC is not equipped with a kickstart lever.
Motoring up the Italian circuit’s long hills proved the engine is very user friendly. Delivery is non-aggressive and feels a little slower than it probably is, due to the bike’s weight.
It’s a little unfair to call the power enduro-ish, but it’s not a hard-hitting brute by any measure. Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s not slow. As a comparison, the TC’s smooth, roll-on delivery is most like the KTM 450 SX-F. It actually worked very well at the track we were riding. Dual ignition maps offer a hard and soft setting (hard power and soft power, not hard terrain and soft terrain) and can be switched by a button on the right handlebar. Riders cannot change maps while riding; the bike has to be shut off for 10-15 seconds. The difference between the two settings isn’t drastic, but we did prefer the soft map for the slippery, hard-packed Italian circuit. The bike likes to be short-shifted through its five-speed transmission. Not so much because it runs out of steam, but more because it starts to vibrate quite a bit at high rpm. The TC has different cam timing and a higher compression ratio than the TE449 (13:1 vs 12:1), and Husqvarna claims an 8% power increase over the enduro model. Final gearing is a 15/53 combo which will probably work well at a wide variety of tracks, but we actually would have preferred a slightly larger rear to help carry a higher gear on the steep Italian circuit.
The concentric swingarm pivot gives the rear end a slightly different feel, but it’s not unusually noticeable. As for the linkage on top of the swingarm, it works great on small bumps, but the Kayaba shock is too soft for large landings.
Husky’s particularly proud of its new Coaxial Traction System. The CTS design emphasizes three things: control, traction and stability. Borrowing the concentric swingarm pivot and front sprocket design from BMW, the new Husqvarna motocross bike reduces the amount of load transferred to the rear wheel under acceleration. A Kayaba shock handles the suspension duties out back and utilizes a unique layout with the linkage located on top of the swingarm rather than underneath. This helps protect the linkage and increases ground clearance to 13.2 inches. With the two radical designs, we expected the TC449 to feel completely different, but that just isn’t the case. For the most part, it rides like a regular motocross bike. It doesn’t squat as much in the rear coming off corners and the suspension action is predictable and normal feeling, albeit too soft.
On today’s 450 motocross bikes, I rarely go stiffer on suspension settings, but throughout the day I was twisting clickers in on the TC, continuing all the way until I climbed off for the evening. I was happy with bump absorption, even in the heaviest braking areas, but balance between the Kayaba shock and fork is the biggest issue. We continually made improvements with chassis setup, but never got the balance quite figured out. Overall, both ends need to be much stiffer and we searched for the right combination of rider sag and fork placement in the triple clamps.
Our session started out with the static sag at 43mm and the rider sag at 105mm. After realizing that both ends were way too soft, even after I stopped coming up short on all the jumps, we started pushing in the clickers. Two clicks on the fork compression, two on the shock’s low-speed and a quarter-turn on the high-speed. It was somewhat better, but both ends were still bottoming. The front end felt low but didn’t want to turn in the loose soil until the last minute, and then it wanted to oversteer. In an effort to get the front end up and lower the rear, we dropped the forks in the triple clamps until they were level with the fork caps. We also softened the shock preload to allow 50mm of static sag to drop the rear. Another two clicks in on the low-speed compression and it was out for another session.
It seems like the TC449 would be best on rough tracks with few jumps. Something like Glen Helen comes to mind where the smooth motor would help conserve energy.
Both ends resisted bottoming better, but the combined lowering of the rear and raising the front was too much, making the front end push. We settled with the forks back in the stock position but left the increased shock sag. Different linkage to help lower the rear end might be an option as well, though we didn’t get to try anything. The action of the closed cartridge fork and top-mounted shock linkage was fine for me, but playing with different spring rates would have been good to stiffen things up. We didn’t get it completely figured out in our afternoon of testing, but the good news is that the Kayaba components were responding well to adjustments and we were making progress.
As far as the concentric swingarm pivot and countershaft sprocket, the only area where I really noticed a substantial difference over conventional units was on the uphill sections. One in particular had a left hand corner and then a long, steep and rough climb. Entering the base of the hill sitting down, the rear end didn’t squat the way a conventional bike would. However, it didn’t seem to hurt the forward drive. Most everywhere else on the track, the bike acts normal. A few corners had some berms to settle against, and there again the squatting was less noticeable. The rear end tracked extremely well through faster, rougher sections, as well as the long, choppy sweeper. We’d like to get onto a track that has more point-and-shoot corners and some better traction to see how it feels in those conditions.
The spacious cockpit offers easy movement, but muscling the bike takes effort, particularly in the air.
Several large bumps kicked the rear end high, but the TC never moved side-to-side – stability being one of its best characteristics. Wheelbase is 58.7 inches and the steering geometry is 25.8 degrees of rake and four inches of trail. Much of the stability comes from the fact that it’s plain heavy. Husky claims 238 pounds, but the TC definitely feels like more. It’s difficult just to get on and off a stand (no thanks to a complete lack of usable handholds), and though it feels a bit lighter in motion, it’s still heftier than Japanese machines. The Husky refused to be blown off course in the afternoon winds, which was great as a less-than-superb jumper, but more aeronautically gifted riders complained that it’s tough to change direction during flight.
The Brembo dual caliper brake up front and single rear are said to be 8% lighter on the 2011 model and cinch down on Braking wave rotors. The track we tested on was built into the side of a steep hill, making for long descents. It was also very hard-packed terrain with piles of loose, baked chunks in the corners, making braking difficult in general. Given the conditions and the heft of the machine, the brakes are adequate, though not particularly powerful. One of our biggest complaints was that the rear lever was hard to find. The cover protecting the clutch slave cylinder protrudes from the side case and pushes the rider’s foot away. It took some getting used to.
One thing’s for sure, as a new model the TC449 is definitely going to be one of the more interesting 2011 machines. The TC was born quickly, and for such a fast development, the final product looks to be better than many hoped. It was only April when the prototype was revealed, and now the final version should be available in October. As long as Husqvarna continues its aggressive strategy, there’s no doubt the TC will be a solid contender.