The first time I rode a Husqvarna, I was a cocky 12-year old and my dad let me climb onto his WR430 out in the Nevada desert after giving me some sage wisdom. I kicked the big 2-stroke like hell with my left leg then when I finally got it lit-up, my dad turned me loose on a dry-lake bed. Everything was fine until I shifted into third gear, hit the power-band and burst into an out of control wheelie. I came close to looping out and scared myself half to death. At that point I swore off those crazy European bikes and never rode one again.
Twenty-two years later, fate intervened in the form of an invitation to the 2012 Husqvarna New Model Press Intro in my inbox. Although I have feared no two-wheeled dirt slinger since that traumatic day in the dirt, something in my mind whispers to me: “Be careful boy. Husqvarnas are only for men, and you’re not going to survive.” Alas, my indentured servitude at MotoUSA doesn’t leave me an out, so I was forced to face my childhood demon head-on.
The 2012 Husqvarna TC449 received a host of changes and revisions at the hands of BMW’s F1 Racing engineers.
When we arrived at The Ranch desert MX facility there was no less than 13 different Husqvarna motorcycles for us to test, but I had my eye on the new and improved 2012 TC449 motocross bike. Although the list of updates and refinements for the 450-class thumper is not as extensive as other models in the line up, the Husqvarna staff felt the improvement in performance from last year is significant.
When BMW purchased Husqvarna in late 2007, many expected the brand to get a massive infusion of cash and resources. However that would not be the case thanks to the hard economic times that followed. This is the first year where displaced BMW F1 engineers had the chance to put some serious effort into improving Husky off-road bikes.
Husqvarna’s PR team was keen to point out that the horsepower in the TC449 has been increased through a series of specific improvements. Valve timing has been revised, which boosts power throughout the rev range while DLC coating was applied to the connecting rod to decrease friction. The air box features a larger intake coupled with a revised velocity stack for more mid-range torque. Finally a new dual-map ignition rounds out a quick look at new TC449.
Last year our Off-Road Editor, JC Hilderbrand described the power of the TC449 as almost enduro-like and not hard-hitting but that is not the case for 2012. While the hit is not quite as explosive as some of the Big Four MX bikes, the TC is no slouch. Power is almost electric with a spread of strong, predictable power on par with any 450. It’s very easy to control thanks to its well-sorted fuel injection and shined when the track was overwatered and slick. Without a spike in power anywhere in the rev-range, dialing just the right amount of power is effortless and precise. No scary moments to be had here. And when the traction is good, the muscle from the TC449 pulls strong all the way to the top-end. The balance between brute force and controllability of the Husky is the most impressive trait of this engine.
“This beast definitely doesn’t lack horsepower,” said the newest member of our testing staff, former WMX Champion Tania Satchwell. “The EFI provides instant throttle response which compliments the smooth and manageable power.”
The list of refinements doesn’t end with the engine as the chassis of the TC449 received some improvements as well. An all-black chromoly frame is more rigid and stronger with reinforcement plates added near the steering head. The Kayaba suspension includes a new fully-adjustable 48mm closed fork and a progressive rear shock spring that has a soft initial stroke to improve the overall front to rear balance. A single-piece tail section is now lighter and narrower.
Right off the bat, both riders felt the suspension is too soft. Tania felt that with enough time we could get it setup for her 125-pound weight with just the stock spring. That isn’t the case for my big-boy (220-lb) frame, without a doubt front and rear springs would be needed to bring things to the proper tension. As long as I was smooth and flowed around the Ranch’s Carslbad GP replica track the suspension was livable for the day. However if I tried powering through the uphill chop, the soft progressive spring allowed the momentum of the rear end to blow right through the stroke and bottom harshly. Again, a stiffer spring would negate this issue, and anyone near my size should expect to be doing some suspension work right from the get-go.
“For me the suspension feels a little bit soft, but the chassis is really rigid,” said Satchwell. “So it needs a little work to set up for someone my size.”
Even without the perfect suspension set-up, the Husqvarna is a capable handler. The front end has a unique feel to it that takes some getting used to though. At slower speeds it feels like the front tire leans into the turn and a half second later the rest of the bike follows. Once up to speed, that awkwardness disappears and the bike comes into it’s own. I
found that railing the outside of berms at a higher speed was where the TC was most comfortable. In slow speed inside ruts and other difficult turns the strange handling trait was noticeable and it took some time to trust that the bike would go where you wanted it to go. The TC is also a big bike, tipping the scales at a claimed 238 pound without fuel and fluids but was only really apparent when asked to flick hard from one side to the other on the GP track’s cool chicane.
One area where the Husqvarna has the competition beat is the cockpit. The combination of the Magura handlebars, Domino grips and Brembo levers offers a level of factory-style and comfort that some of the bigger companies should take note of. The light, deft feel from the Brembo hydraulic clutch is fantastic.
On the brakes the Brembo dual-piston floating front caliper has a phenomenal feel when squeezing the 260mm Braking wave rotor. The stopping power is strong yet not grabby or abrupt. In the rear the feel is not as precise as the front and lever is a bit difficult to find for some reason.
After a day on the 2012 Husqvarna TC449, my childhood fear of the legendary marque has been quelled. I no longer view it as a scary, ill-tempered beast that wants to maim me. That’s right dad, I’m a man now. I got along well with this new generation Husky and can’t wait to see how this bike stacks up against the 450 class. The new TC449 is a well-mannered motocross bike that with a little time spent tailoring to your specific needs could be an excellent motocross bike. By combining the F1 tech team’s experience in squeezing big power from little engines, combined with the quality finish and stylish, angular bodywork, we expect to see even more good things coming out of Husqvarna in the immediate future. If this crop of 2012 bikes is a sign of the type of progress from last year, we can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
Stay tuned for first ride impressions of the all-new 2012 TCX 310, TCX 250 and WR300 in the coming weeks.