Today I had the opportunity to test the new 2016 Husqvarna FE350S street legal enduro bike. In my limited miles of riding this bike, I have gathered enough information to formulate a professional opinion of the bike. Remember opinions are like assholes, everybody has one and its still in question whether or not I am a professional.
First things first, I like the fact that the bike has a key but the placement is in such a spot that it instantly became annoying. As it started up, I couldn't believe how quiet the bike was. Like a little sewing machine humming away. I swung a leg over and much to my surprise the seat was extremely comfortable. Ergonomics felt a little cramped (I'm 5'9") but can be adjusted to some extent. Adjustments I would like to see: bar clamps mounted in the hole on the farthest forward mount of the top triple (I am really just whining about this) and the bars either raised or at least rotated a bit forward to give it a more upright feel, especially while standing. These are both personal preferences.
My initial thoughts on the clutch, as I slowly released it, creeping forward out of its parking spot was that it felt smooth, very smooth. Maybe even a little to smooth. A hydraulic clutch seems to make any bike feel more refined, and the feel of this clutch hit that mark. Husqvarna, I tip my hat to you.
I turned out of the dealership, moving from the asphalt to the dirt. The feel and feedback from the steering was light, agile and forgiving. Now were in the dirt so lets get serious. I rolled hard on the throttle and much to my dismay was quite underwhelmed with the power. Yes, underwhelmed. I was hoping the front end would have popped up, as I twisted the tits off of the throttle but all I received was dismal forward acceleration. Now, I have to keep in mind this is a 350cc bike BUT claims around 46hp from the factory. After reading the specs, on paper, I guess I had higher expectations of such a lightweight (about 240lbs) and certainly, what seemed to be, a well powered package, again on paper. Don't get me wrong, it has enough power and torque to get out of its own way but after comparing a few different bikes with like HP it just wasn't what I thought it was going to be.
After riding the dirt path for several miles at speeds up to 80 mph, while producing smooth power, this speed proved to be murderous for the little 350. I understand that this is a 350 but I needed to know its limitations and capabilities to properly formulate my opinions. I slowed a little and found the smoothness of the bike was far beyond what I had expected, no real funny buzzing or vibeyness even at 70-80 mph. Good job KTM, I mean Husqvarna. I wouldn't want to buy this bike to hammer on for long periods of high speed (think desert racing, highway riding etc...). This isn't the purpose of the bike anyway. I do feel that it is capable enough to ride for stints on the highway to get you to your off road destination. I just don't think it would be wise to operate at speeds higher than 60-65 mph for any period of time on the open road.
I didn't really know what to expect being that this is the first bike I have ever ridden that has a polyamide subframe, Husqvarna's fancy way of saying it has a plastic subframe. It felt great, probably because I was riding a brand new bike. Granted, I wasn't sending it into space or riding the dealers demo bike to its eminent doom filled death in a pit of boulders. I guess the "plastic" subframe did its job either way and I really don't think it felt any different than one made of aluminum.
The suspension soaked up everything my 190lb body could give it and at speeds. I should mention that the new WP 4CS forks and WP DCC rear shock are amazing. I really feel that this setup is one of the best if not the absolute best currently in the enduro market. I hit a G-out around 70 mph that would have sent most bikes squealing and begging for mercy but like a good whore the Husqvarna just kept on begging for more. No bottoming and no funky death wobble.
A desert racer it will never be but I am positive that with proper gearing what it could be is the ultimate woods machine. I say this because in stock form it seemed that after a short time at speed one would become tired by having to work so hard to keep the front end up. It doesn't wheelie well on demand, again at speed, and unless you are abusing the clutch it probably never will. But of course being the professional that I am I would never abuse a dealer demo :) I really hope that this slight power wheelie problem can be cured with proper gearing because if not I would leave me a little disappointed in bike.
As I rode off the dirt and back onto the pavement I was sad to have to give the 350 back. It really is a fun bike that fills a certain niche in the enduro market. I parked it in its spot, hit the engine stop button got off and walked away. After a few steps I turned back one more time to look at it, like I was looking at a big breasted blonde passing by and noticed that the taillight was still on. Ahhh, that annoying key that I had already forgotten about placed on the goofy side mount near the fork just became the deal breaker. Someone please make a relocation kit for it.
Overall, I do like the bike but think it was just a little bit under powered for my taste. For some riders this lack of power may lead to being able to ride the bike more to its capability making them faster than their competition. Especially in tight technical riding sections. For others, especially new riders looking to get out and have a great time it will prove a great platform to grow into.
I have spend the last year riding in the desert and don't feel that it would be a bike that I would add to my stable just yet. When I move back north or at least someplace that has obstacles other than cacti it will be highly considered next to the KTM EXC-F 350. If I had tested this bike in Northern, MN say at the Gilbert OHV park, my feelings for the bike may be a bit different. This is a place where speed is not needed. Where the nimble, lightweight 350 would shine like a 10 foot tall menorah and there would be no competition.
I think it could be better with proper gearing, some raisers for the handlebars, a skidplate and some real hand guards. Add the above to this light, nimble properly suspended Husqvarna and it could be your next hardcore backwoods racing weapon. For those of you teetering between the 350 and the 500 heed my advice. Get the 500.
ALWAYS REMEMBER the proper equation for motorcycles one should own is always M+1
M being the current amount of motorcycles. (My version of "new" math).