Sleepless1

SLEEPLESS IN SWEDEN: JET SETTING TO UDDEVALLA TO SPEND ONE DAY RIDING BRAND NEW HUSKYS

March 4, 2014
Comments off
841 Views
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

By Daryl Ecklund

Sweden has always had a special place in my heart. My grandfather, Bert Ecklund, is a full Swede and has been telling me stories about his homeland and my ancestors for as long as I can remember. Sweden is a place that I have only been able to piece together in my mind from all of his stories. I had dreamed of one day having the opportunity to visit my family’s ancestral homeland, but it hadn’t happened yet. Then, Husqvarna’s Andy Jefferson talked to Jody Weisel and said that he wanted MXA to come to Sweden for a special  2014 Husqvarna ride. Jody said that he’d been to Sweden several times and thought that John Basher should go. Basher said that he was really backed up with testing, had to go to an another event the next weekend and thought that I should go. Okay, I wasn’t first on the list, but when the ball stopped bouncing, my number was called.

SLEEPLESS-12

My hosts in Sweden.

I felt blessed. I would get to trace the Ecklund heritage. Not only that, but I’d get to ride at the Uddevalla Grand Prix track on perfectly preppedHusqvarnas and be standing on my grandfather’s native soil. It was a dream come true!

SLEEPLESS-2

Daryl Ecklund grabs more than his fair share of Swedish airspace over Uddevalla.

FIRST, I HAD TO FLY 11,000 MILES ROUND TRIP. SECOND, EVERY MINUTE IN SWEDEN WOULD BE SPENT ON A MOTORCYCLE. THIRD, I ONLY HAD 36 HOURS TO GET THE ASSIGNMENT DONE.

But, like all dreams, it had a few nightmarish elements. First, I had to fly 11,000 miles round trip. Second, every minute in Sweden would be spent on a motorcycle. Third, I only had 36 hours to get the assignment done before I had to head back in SoCal. I wasn’t about to complain. I’d never been outside of the United States before I came to work at MXA, and this was my second trip to Europe in a month. In fact, Sweden is only a short boat trip across the Baltic Sea from Denmark, where I was a few weeks ago.

SLEEPLESS-3

Lonely is the test rider! Daryl waits for the Husky crew to change the tire that he popped over a tabletop.

After the long transatlantic fight, I had to drive an hour to get to my hotel at the Stenungsbaden Yacht Club—about 300 miles west of Stockholm, but only 30 miles north of Gothenburg. I arrived just in time to sit down for dinner with my hosts, where they talked about the history of the Husqvarna brand. As the introduction went on, I started to have a sense of connection as I learned about the long legacy of the Husqvarna firm.

SLEEPLESS-4

There is nothing in the world that compares to being an MXA test rider — and a line of brand-new bikes waiting for you to get them dirty.

STEFAN PIERER’S PLAN TO REVIVE HUSQVARNA IS BASED ON THE AUTOMOBILE BUSINESS MODEL, WHERE ONE CAR COMPANY USES SHARED TECHNOLOGY TO BUILD SEVERAL BRANDS.

Swedish-born Husqvarna was founded in 1689 as a muskets and weapons manufacturer. It wasn’t until 1903 that they made their first motorcycle. In 1918, Husqvarna made its first dirt bike, although many of the Swedish roads in 1918 were dirt anyway. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Husqvarna won 14 World Motocross Championships, 24 Enduro World Championships and 11 Baja 1000 victories.

SLEEPLESS-5

The nine miles of trail also includes lots of fun stuff.

In the 1980s, Husky started to unravel. After it was bought by household appliance giant Electrolux in 1978, motorcycles were no longer the priority for Husqvarna. Electrolux unloaded the motorcycle division in 1987, and it was moved to Italy, where it was folded into Cagiva. In 2007 BMW bought the brand to try its hand in the dirt bike business. The BMW engineers tried to reinvent the wheel with the atrocious TC449. The bike was a flop and hurt the reputation of the Husqvarna brand. When the recession hit and dirt bike sales declined, BMW tried to turn Husky into a street bike manufacturer. In 2013, BMW approached KTM CEO Stefan Pierer about the possibility of his investment firm buying Husky—for a very good price. Pierer jumped at the opportunity.

SLEEPLESS-6

I CAME UP SHORT ON ONE OF THE TABLETOPS, AND I HEARD A LOUD POP AS I BOUNCED OFF THE  TOP OF THE JUMP. SOMETHING HAD BROKEN. WAS IT ME? WAS IT THE BIKE?

With Husqvarna as a sister company to KTM, Pierer believes that Husqvarna will soon be selling 15,000 offroad bikes a year, which is like climbing from the Marianas Trench to the top of Mount Everest. Pierer’s plan to revive Husqvarna is based on the automobile business model, where one car company uses shared technology and parts to build several brands. For example, General Motors owns Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. What they learn from one brand, they apply to the other brands. Stefan Pierer thinks the same business model can be applied to dirt bikes—and he wants to prove it with KTM and Husqvarna.

When I showed up at the famous Uddevalla track the next morning, there were 22 machines lined up ready to do some damage. The bikes ranged from two-stroke 125s to big 501 four-stroke thumpers. Husqvarna had flown in both TE Enduro and TC motocross bikes for me to ride, not just on the GP track, but on nine miles of offroad trails.

SLEEPLESS-8

The Swedish track looked muddy, but it had plenty of traction.

As I approached my first victim for the day, it was hard not to be struck by the similarities between the Husqvarnas and KTMs. Okay, I knew even before I left my house for the airport that the Huskys were rebadged KTMs, but the more I inspected the bikes, the more I realized that the Husqvarnas were just KTMs in Husky cladding. The only visual differences were the white plastic and polyamide rear subframe, which they borrowed in spirit from the Husaberg brand (which will be phased out at the end of the 2014 selling year). Looks can be deceiving, so I thought that I would suspend judgment until I got to ride all the new Huskys.

The sky was dark and the air was moist. It had been raining off and on ever since I arrived in Sweden. The Grand Prix track looked intimidating. The soil looked greasy, and the track had some big kickers with huge lips and steep landings. My first weapon of choice was the FC350 motocross bike (a bike that KTM is not importing to the USA, although they will bring in the enduro version). I chose it first because one of my favorite bikes to ride is the KTM 350SXF because of its unique mix of power and rev.

SLEEPLESS-9

2014 Husqvarna TC125 two-stroke.

I wanted to compare the Husqvarna FC350 and KTM 350SXF. The first lap, I was cautious, just cruising along as my goggles started to fog up. After testing the waters, I realized the Swedish dirt held up well in the wet conditions. After that first lap, the fog started to clear as I picked up the pace and became confident that the wheels wouldn’t come out from under me.

All the jumps were tabletops, but they were a force to be reckoned with. Most of them were very technical, thanks to turns right before and directly after them. It put a premium on being able to maneuver in the air. Within a few laps, I felt that I had judged the speed necessary to clear every big tabletop. I was wrong. I came up short on one of the tabletops, and I heard a loud pop as I bounced off the top of the jump. Something had broken. Was it me? Was it the bike? I was grateful that I had just blown the front tire, which is where the popping sound came from. I pretzeled the rim. I brought the bike back to the Husqvarna mechanics, and they dialed in a new front wheel. I went straight back to the killer tabletop to prove that I hadn’t flown all that way to be defeated on my first few laps.

SLEEPLESS-10

2014 Husqvarna FC450.

AS I TOOLED AROUND UDDEVALLA, MY MIND WAS FULL OF QUESTIONS. WHY DID THEY JUST COPY A KTM? HOW COOL CAN A CLONED BIKE EVER HOPE TO BE?

The Husky FC350 was the spitting image of the KTM 350SXF: same power, same high-rpm powerband, same handling and almost the same suspension. As I tooled around Uddevalla, my mind was full of questions. Why did they just copy a KTM? Doesn’t Husqvarna want to differentiate itself from its major competitors? How cool can a cloned bike ever hope to be? 

So, between rides, I started to ask the Husqvarna guys the same questions I had been asking myself. They answered honestly. They told me that it takes a couple years to develop a new bike and, since KTM only finalized the purchase of Husky in March of 2013, they didn’t have the luxury of time for the 2014 model year. So rather than skip 2014, they made the choice to pick and choose their way through the KTM catalog and begin to offer loyal Husqvarna customers, not to mention their dealer network, bikes to buy. In the coming years, they will start to distinguish themselves with unique products. I was happy to hear their reasoning, because it’s hard to ride while pondering unanswered questions.

SLEEPLESS-11

2014 Husqvarna TC85 minicycle.

With my mind at rest, I started to play musical chairs with the 2014 Husqvarna line. After I was done playing on the motocross track on every bike, it was time for some offroad action. An MXA rider going offroad? You bet. I grew up riding trails, and I love it, even though I prefer moto. 

I grabbed a TE300 two-stroke (with a headlight) and hit Uddevalla’s trails. Husqvarna had set aside nine miles of trails through the beautiful Swedish forest. These trails were no walk in the park. My legs were dangling around trying to keep the bike straight over all the slick rocks and tree roots. I fell numerous times, but every time with a smile on my face. It was a blast!

SLEEPLESS-13

2014 Husqvarna TC250 two-stroke.

OKAY, MAYBE I WASN’T TOTALLY SLEEPLESS IN SWEDEN, BUT
IT SURE FELT LIKE IT WHEN I GOT HOME. WAS SUCH A QUICK TRIP EVEN WORTH
DOING? YOU BET!

After eight hours of riding on 10 different models, I called it a day. I packed up my drenched riding gear and headed to the hotel. I had a great dinner with all the wonderful Husqvarna crew as they bid me farewell. With dinner done, it had been 31 hours since I’d left SoCal, and the clock was running out. I had time to grab a quick nap and get to the airport. During a short layover in London, I had a cup of breakfast tea and made it to my next flight. Thankfully, the plane was virtually empty, and I was able to lie down on the seat and sleep the sleep of angels.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t totally sleepless in Sweden, but it sure felt like it when I got home. Was such a quick trip even worth doing? You bet! Who wouldn’t want to ridee on a famous Grand Prix track on perfectly prepped bikes? I was wined and dined, got to ride a legendary track, careened down some killer trails, rode  a couple bikes that won’t be imported to the USA, and was able to make a connection to my family’s heritage.

SLEEPLESS-14

2014 Husqvarna FC250.

What did I learn? Husqvarna has the tools and resources to compete in any market—be it motocross, Endurocross or offroad. Their product, while currently based on KTM hardware, is the perfect jumping-off point for a new brand (okay, an old brand that has been misused and abused over the years). No matter how you parse it, Husqvarna is still in business—and that wasn’t a sure thing when it was owned by BMW. Not only will Husqvarna provide motorcycle fans with another brand to consider, it is supporting the two-stroke movement, will have a Grand Prix team (led by Tyla Rattray and Romain Febvre) and is looking healthy.

My trip taught me to look forward to the day when I will be able to tell my grandkids about the Ecklunds’ Swedish heritage and the time their grandpa spent 36 sleepless hours going to the homeland to ride the new 2014 Husqvarnas.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Comments are closed.