LIVIN’LARGE: The Husqvarna TC450 is a Clydesdale in a Class of Thoroughbreds

By the Testing Staff of TransWorld Motocross

In American motocross circles, spending a considerable chunk of your hard-earned cash on an oddball machine usually means one of two things: you either want to be different than all of the other riders at the track who are riding bikes from the “Big Five” (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and KTM), or you have an abundance of disposable income and can afford to own whatever your heart desires.

In the past, we’ve tested oddball bikes such as the Service Honda CR500AF aluminum-framed concoction, the fabled Cannondale MX400, and the super-expensive Vertemati C500 with mixed results. While we loved the Service Honda, were impressed with the Cannondale in spite of its lack of reliability, and scared to death of the Vertemati, one thing is clear about the TWMX testing staff: we’ve got a soft spot for oddball bikes.

We’re sure that we’ll be hearing from the Husqvarna faithful for clumping the Husqvarna TC450 in with the rest of the oddball bikes, but consider this: with the Honda CRF450R and Yamaha YZ450F being as close to having a works bike as the average consumer can get, why would anyone in their right mind opt for a Husky 450 instead? That, boys and girls, is exactly what we set out to learn when our friends at Cagiva USA had a 2004 TC450 delivered to our offices for a two-month stay…

ROOTS

Though Husqvarna originated in Sweden, today’s Huskys are conceived, designed, and created in Italy. The Cagiva Group purchased the Husqvarna factory in 1986 and have been cranking out race and championship-winning motorcycles ever since. Most recently, Jacky Martens won the 1993 500cc World Championship aboard a Husky thumper, and Alex Puzar won back-to-back 125cc World Championships aboard a brutally fast Husky CR125 two-stroke. In the United States, Husqvarna has not been nearly as successful. Save for a 125cc Supercross win by Travis Preston in 2001, Husqvarna has not enjoyed the best reputation Stateside, no thanks in part to its awkward factory race team effort. When Tyler Evans was drafted by the team in 2002, he was often spotted at local tracks in SoCal practicing aboard borrowed Hondas or Yamahas because all of his practice bikes had broken down.

TransWorld Motocross’ history with Husqvarna dates back to our very first issue, back in 2001. On a roadtrip in Europe to cover a couple World Championship Grand Prix, our man Garth had the rare opportunity to test ride Stefan Everts’ works Husqvarna TC610 in Belgium. Big Girth came away duly impressed with the exotic works bike, which featured radically different frame geometry than the standard production bike and one-off suspension components. Our second encounter with the H brand came last year, when Husqvarna invited us to take a trip to the Italian factory to help celebrate Husky’s 100th birthday. With only a few days on the job under his belt, our new guy Cooley headed overseas, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. While he was there, Cooley got to ride all of the new 2004 Huskys, and came back singing their praises.

That said, we waited with bated breath for the arrival of our TC450 test bike. Shipped to its West Coast PR office from Cagiva USA’s base in Pennsylvania, the TC shocked us when it showed up with completely roached-out Pirelli tires. Seems someone along the line decided to gently break the bike in before it made its way to us by doing starts in some dark alley. No matter: a quick call to our buddy Jay Clark at Dunlop, and our TC450 was outfitted with a brand new 739FA/756 tire combo.

ROOST

“With a press of the finger, a single button on the handlebar activates a small yet powerful electric starter motor. A kick starter will be supplied with the motorcycle; this kit can be installed as a supplement to, or used instead of the standard electric starter.”

While the words in the press kit seemed enticing enough, we sure wished that the guys at Cava USA had sent us that aforementioned kickstarter when we showed up at Lake Elsinore MX Park and killed the battery while trying to start the bike. A quick trip to the local Wal-Mart (in our gear, no less!) to pick up a set of jumper cables, and we were set. When hooked up to the TWMX Ford Ranger, the TC450 reluctantly came to life, shooting six-inch flames out of the exhaust when revved hard.

On the track, the first thing we noticed was how tall and thin the bike felt. Ergonomically speaking, the bike has a big feel on the stand, and once on the track it has a heavy feel as well. Husky claims a dry weight of 233.7 pounds, a little over 10 pounds heavier than the Honda CRF450R. In reality, however, it feels more like 20, as the sensation is no doubt intensified by the bike’s super-soft suspension, but more on that later. The control group on the Husky is quite nice: a Magura hydraulic clutch, Tommaselli aluminum bars and Brembo brakes, front and rear.

At Elsinore, we quickly discovered that the TC450 was way, way out of its element. Hard-packed with Supercross-style obstacles everywhere, Elsinore proved to be too much for even our pro tester Rich Taylor to navigate on the Italian Stallion. With both ends of the suspension buckling under the loads placed on them not only when landing from the jumps but when taking off as well, attempting to maintain any sort of speedy pace was a risky affair. At speed, the bike didn’t feel as if it had a swingarm, but rather a ball joint. Everyone who rode the bike felt as if the bike’s swingarm pivoted side-to-side in addition to up-and-down.

To make matters even worse, the bike coughed and backfired at the most inopportune times. When the engine did clean out and get going on some of the longer straights, it was readily apparent that there was some serious horsepower within the all-new-for-’04 powerplant, but after only a handful of laps we decided to park the beast and live to ride another day.

A few days later—after we had the bike’s jetting dialed in by Husky’s West Coast rep—we headed to Cahuilla Creek MX Park, a natural terrain track that would surely suit the mighty TC450 better. To our delight, the Husqvarna was indeed more at home on the loamy, hilly circuit, but the suspension still proved to be way too soft. The 45mm Marzocchi fork blew through the initial portions of its travel and spent the majority of the time in the harsh, mid-stroke area. Until you hit a big g-out or jump, that is; then it blew through the mid-stroke and bottomed out violently. Cahuilla Creek has only two notable jumps on the track, and we quickly decided that we would stay low off both of them.

Out back, the Sachs shock also left plenty to be desired, as it yielded a harsh, non-compliant ride. In the shock’s defense, however, is the fact that the rock-hard seat foam probably doesn’t do much to aid in the plush factor. Square-edged bumps and acceleration chop gave our testers fits, and fiddling with the compression and rebound adjusters did little to improve the ride.

On a positive note, the bike does haul ass. The TC450 has a more traditional four-stroke powerband than either of the big Japanese four-strokes, and that requires you to short shift to keep the motor in the meat of the powerband. We rode the track in third and fourth gear exclusively, as the motor’s torquey powerband could easily bring home the bacon under a load. Riders who like to rev their bikes to the moon will not get along with the TC450: not only will the powerband flatten out, but the vibration that finds its way up the handlebars is horrendous. Replacing the bars with a set of oversized Pro Tapers equipped with Fasst Company vibration inserts would surely help.

ANSWERS?

So what kind of rider opts to purchase a bike like the Husqvarna TC450 instead of a Honda, Yamaha, or KTM? Looking back on our time with the bike, we’re still not sure that we have that answer. If the CRF450R, YZ450F, and KTM450SX did not exist, the TC450 would surely be a modern-day marvel. In reality, however, the red, blue, and orange bikes are very real, and both stand head and shoulders above the Italian Option.

Can the Husky be competitive? Like any bike out there of course it can! In the hands of the right rider—one with a passion for the unique and the patience to work through the bike’s faults—the Husqvarna TC450 can be a diamond in the rough.

RF450R, YZ450F, and KTM450SX did not exist, the TC450 would surely be a modern-day marvel. In reality, however, the red, blue, and orange bikes are very real, and both stand head and shoulders above the Italian Option.

Can the Husky be competitive? Like any bike out there of course it can! In the hands of the right rider—one with a passion for the unique and the patience to work through the bike’s faults—the Husqvarna TC450 can be a diamond in the rough.