[ Coming to America this fall: all-new Husky TR650 single-cylinder dual-sport. Terra model features 21/18-inch wheels. A more street-oriented Strada will come equipped with 19/17-inchers. A full line of adventure-type accessories will be available for both models. ]
Husqvarna history reaches back 300 years to a Swedish arsenal founded in 1689, and it’s arguably the oldest motorcycle company—as long as you add the fillip, “in continuous manufacture,” as any executive would. After starting production of two-wheelers in 1903, Husky, located in neutral Sweden, didn’t let mere World Wars get in the way of building bikes, and there were no terminal bankruptcies and later restarts as with a few other famous brands.
But a recent visit to the factory also confirmed how new in some ways the company is. The thriving Husqvarna of the Sixties through the early Eighties—of Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and On Any Sunday fame, of World MX championships and Baja victories, of the company that sold as many as 12,000 dirtbikes a year in the U.S.—largely disappeared when Cagiva bought the motorcycle business from the same-named Swedish conglomerate in 1987 and relocated it south to Varese, Italy. A disastrous transition of the spare-parts supply, among other problems, almost killed the brand in America. Claudio Castiglioni, the one-time owner of Cagiva, MV Agusta and Ducati, shaped the relocated company in the image of his others: Design and competition were emphasized, and some of the more “boring” disciplines such as manufacturing, quality and distribution lagged.
When Castiglioni’s empire was on its last leg in 2007, with Ducati long ago sold to investors and the rest overwhelmed by debt, BMW acquired Husqvarna. BMW’s stated intent was to build the brand and have it complement BMW motorcycles in the same way that Mini does BMW’s cars. This time, though, the company could stay put, with Varese remaining its home.
Significant progress has been made over the past five years. The latest 250cc and 310cc off-road four-stroke Singles share a modern, lightweight engine design that has been made significantly more powerful for the 2013 models. Two-stroke 125 motocrossers and 300cc off-road bikes play where much of the competition doesn’t, and the slightly weird 449cc enduro inherited from BMW has grown into a good Husky dual-sport bike. The Nuda is the brand’s first really big streetbike in more than half a century.
More significant are the things that you can’t see. The production line at the factory is laid out to Toyota’s innovative Just In Time standards, using statistical quality-control techniques to reduce manufacturing defects. Every safety-related bolt on every motorcycle is tightened with a torque-and-angle-recording electronic torque wrench, with the information sent wirelessly to a server that tags that information to a file based on each bike’s VIN. The engineering group is stronger than ever, with cross-fertilization from the parent company. As an example, the new head of engine engineering is Ralf Kleid, whose former job was working in BMW’s Formula-1 engine program. Spare parts not in stock in the U.S. are delivered via airfreight through BMW’s automotive parts distribution center with no rush-delivery charges.
[ Husky's Nuda R is powered by a pumped-up, 898cc version of the BMW F800 parallel-Twin, but revisions and returning are so thorough that the two engines seem completely unrelated. ]
Husqvarna President Klaus Allisat and other company officials laid out a road map to the company’s future during our visit. Biggest point? “We will not be an off-road-only company,” said Allisat. While off-road motorcycles will be the core offering, the limited opportunities for pure off-road motorcycle market growth means that a broader range must be embraced, and some models will be related to BMW products.
The Nuda is the first of these, with both its engine and chassis derived from the BMW F800, but significantly changed and sportier. The Nuda is not coming to the U.S. for now, but the next street product will be: the TR650 Single in Strada and Terra versions. Loosely based on BMW’s G650 Single, the TR650 sees a very significant power boost over the BMW version (from 48 to 58 horsepower) and also gets a Husky-specific frame and bodywork. The more dual-purpose-oriented version, the Terra, will come with longer suspension travel and—at the insistence of the American Husqvarna distributor—21-inch front and 18-inch rear wire-spoke-wheels to allow the broadest selection of tires for street or off-road use. In contrast, the Strada will be a little lower, with 19-inch and 17-inch cast wheels.
Both models will be aimed more at pavement than dirt. The current low value of the Euro, as well as BMW’s Asian sourcing strategy for some components, will allow these machines to be priced very attractively relative to such competition as Kawasaki’s KLR650, and they should cost far less than any KTM of like displacement.
Similarly, the 900cc Twin family will be extended in the future, with the next model more broadly purposed than the streetfighter-style Nuda, likely with mild dual-sport/adventure-bike positioning. The greater volume potential it brings may justify the expense of U.S. certification for the 900cc platform, thus allowing both the adventure version and the Nuda to come stateside.
But perhaps the most exciting future product hinted at by both Allisat and Husky marketing director Max Kalbfell was an emissions-legal two-stroke Single. Rotax, which makes the 800cc and 900cc Twins for BMW and Husqvarna, has also been developing low-emissions two-strokes for its parent company’s Ski-Doo snowmobiles, and its 600cc E-Tec direct-injection two-stroke Twin is currently in production. A single-cylinder slice from that two-stroke would make a very interesting 300cc engine for an off-road or dual-sport motorcycle. If the strong hints dropped by Husky executives prove true, it may not be too long before something like that enters production—whoever makes the engine.
A lightweight and powerful street-legal two-stroke enduro? We can only hope, and perhaps such a machine may even have polished-aluminum knee-grips on its fuel tank. Even if it doesn’t, we’re sure Steve McQueen would approve.
[ The author chats with Raffaele Zaccagnini, Husqvarna's head of design. Zaccagnini's team is responsible for penning the Nuda and new TR650 models, as well as the Moab and Baja concepts from which production Singles were derived. ]