MXA’S 2006 HUSQVARNA TC450 TEST

March 23, 2006
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Husqvarna is the oldest motorcycle company selling offroad bikes in the USA today. Founded in 1903 in the town of Husqvarna, Sweden, it started as a gun manufacturer (in fact, the Husky logo is a gun sight), but made its first production motorcycle before World War I. Husqvarna achieved fame in the mid-war years (1918-1939) for its high-tech four-stroke engines, road racers and 750cc V-twins. After WWII, they were one of the first companies to focus on motocross. Husky’s success in the offroad world was phenomenal, not only in winning races, but in selling motorcycles. Unfortunately, Husqvarna was gobbled up by a giant Swedish conglomerate that specialized in refrigerators, stoves, sewing machines and chain saws. The appliance company didn’t understand motocross, and in 1986 sold Husqvarna to the Italian-based Cagiva brand.

Cagiva has struggled over the last 20 years, unsure of how to market the now Italian-made Husqvarna motorcycles. In 2005 they banked everything on electric starting. It didn’t deliver the buzz they wanted. For 2006, the electric starter is gone in favor of less weight, more power and better suspension components.

The MXA wrecking crew liked the 2005 Husky TC450with reservations but how did we feel about the 2006 model?

 

Q: IS THE 2006 HUSQVARNA TC450 BETTER THAN THE ?05?

 

A: You bet. A makeover of these proportions wouldn’t be news on Joan Rivers, but it is significant in Husky-land.

 

Q: WHAT DID HUSQVARNA CHANGE ON THE 2006 TC450?

 

A:What didn’t they change would be an easier question to answer. The only part of the bike that is substantially unchanged is the chassisthe rest (engine, suspension, weight, starter, brakes and cosmetics) is totally new.

 

Q: DID HUSQVARNA FIX ALL OF THE FLAWS?

 

A: It seems a little greedy to criticize the Husqvarna engineers for not fixing every flaw for 2006, because they did yeoman duty this model year. Here are the areas that they focused on:

 

Forks: We hated last year’s Husqvarna forks. In fact, it is wrong to call them “last year’s forks” because they were throwbacks from five years agounfortunately attached to the 2005 TC450. No more. The wimpy 45mm Marzocchi forks have been trash-canned for 50mm, sealed-cartridge Marzocchi Shiver forks.

 

Shock: Last year Husky spec’ed a Sachs shock absorber. It actually turned out to be a decent piece, but there was a total lack of technical data or support for the Austrian shock. The fix? Husqvarna went with Ohlins for this year’s shock.

 

Brakes: Husky’s Brembo brakes are good, although the rear brake pedal adjuster is limiting. Making them better in 2006 are long-lasting and more durable brake pads.

 

Handlebars: Oversize, 28mm, aluminum handlebars are mounted on all-new triple clamps.

 

Gearing: Second gear is taller to allow the bike to carry speed farther off of the starting line. Every MXA test rider used second gear on the starting gate. It carried very far (probably because the overall gearing is too high).

 

Exhaust system: Awesome. The all-titanium Arrow exhaust system is a work of art. It would cost almost a grand to buy this pipe on the aftermarket. As an added plus, it is the quietest production pipe we have ever tested.

 

Q: WHAT CHANGE DO WE REGRET AND LOVE AT THE SAME TIME?

 

A: The electric starter. Last year, all of Husqvarna’s four-strokes came with electric starters. They didn’t even have kick starters. On a day-to-day and week-to-week basis, most MXA test riders loved the Husky’s electric starter. It always worked, the battery never faded and we weren’t afraid to shut the bike off on the starting line.

But for as much love as we showed the magic button, we also grew to hate it. Why? Because the 2005 Husqvarna TC450 was a porker. It weighed beaucoup more than its closest 450cc

competitor. That weight could be felt. But not anymore! For 2006, the electric starter has been replaced with a kickstarter. It saves nine pounds.

Would we rather have the nine pound weight savings or the electric starter? Tough question, but when we are racing the TC450 we want it to be light. When it is sitting in the pits on a bike stand we want it to have an electric starter. The answer: it is a race bikeit has to be light.

 

Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE ITALIAN-BUILT TC450 ENGINE?

           

A: The 449cc, four-stroke, four-valve, double-overhead-cam, liquid-cooled engine has a 97 x 60.76mm bore-and-stroke. The tranny is a five-speed and the carburetion is handled by a trusty 41mm Keihin FCR. The TC450 and larger TC510 differ only in stroke.

Two years ago, the MXA test crew stuck a valve on our 2004 Husqvarna TC450. It was ramrodded in so hard that we couldn’t pop it loose with conventional backyard tools. For 2005, Husky solved the valve problem by switching to a new supplier (who increased the valve’s stem size and added a metal head gasket). We had no problem with the 2005 valve train. But Husky’s engineers weren’t done fiddling. For 2006, the intake valves have been enlarged from 33mm to 37mm and the exhaust valves from 28.5mm to 31mm. That may sound like a big jump in size, but most Japanese-built 450s are in the same ballpark (36mm intake and 31mm exhaust). The intake cams, intake and exhaust manifolds and combustion chamber have been redesigned to offer high-turbulence characteristics.

The forged high-resistance aluminum piston is a

totally new design and has two O-rings, and the new

primary drive has a wider ratio to make the power more tractable.

 

Q: HOW MUCH POWER DOES THE 2006 TC450 MAKE?

 

A: Before we tell you how much horsepower the 2006 Husqvarna TC450 makes, we need to give you some background. Most of the Japanese 450 four-strokes produce around 50 horsepowergive or take a few tenths. The Austrian-built KTM 450 makes a hair over 48 horsepower. Now that you know the ballpark that the 2006 450s are playing in, you can be trusted with the answer to the question of how much power the 2006 TC450 makes. It produces an amazing 51.9 horsepower. It is the most

powerful 450 in our dyno tests by a full pony.

 

This is big news, but not for the reason you think. Although the MXA test crew was impressed with the dyno runs, we were most impressed by the fact that last year’s Husky TC450 only made 47 horsepower. That is a pitiful amount of power. The fact that Husqvarna increased the output by almost five horsepower is

barrier-breaking. That’s a ten percent increase in power in one year.    

 

Q: IS THE HUSQVARNA TC450 THE FASTEST 450 MADE?

 

A: We aren’t going to pull the wool over your eyes and tell you that extra horses cover all sinsthey don’t. Although peak horsepower is an important factor, it is just one part of the equation. Take the low-horsepower KTM 450SXF for example: it has the least peak power and the flattest curve, but every test rider loved it because they could use a larger percentage of its potential than that of the more powerful engines (which they had to whiskey throttle to control). Power is a factor, but equally important is the powerband’s curve, the usability of the engine and the immediacy of the throttle response. The TC450 has a really good curve, which is easily transferable to lap times, and it has excellent low-end torque at roll-on.

 

Is it the fastest 450 motocross bike made? No. Not even close. In fact, it is very reminiscent of a trail bike. The power is a little weaker off idle than the CRF, YZ-F, KX-F or RM-Z, and the turnover rate, the speed at which the engine revs through the range, is quite leisurely (caused by very heavy crank halves and tall gearing). Where it does its best work is in the meat of the powerband (from 7000 to 9500 rpm), where it romps all comers. The top-end horsepower is impressive, but kind of meaningless because it’s the rare rider who holds a 450 wide open until the cows come home. Late power, like the Husky’s, is normally too late to be very usable.

 

Q: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO RIDE THE 2006  HUSQVARNA TC450?

           

A: Strangely, this isn’t a horsepower machine. You don’t gun-and-run with iteven though it makes the most horsepower. Since it is soft off the bottom, slow revving and over-geared, you have to glide with the TC450. Although it is tempting to short-shift it and ride on the mellow low-to-mid transition, that is the kiss of death. From idle to the midrange, the TC450 is an enduro bike. Nice, pleasant and manageablebut not on the pipe. To go fast you have to use the middle of the powerband. Stay between 7000 and 9500 rpm. Shift at peak and keep the engine dead center in the middle. Don’t cruise on the bottomno matter how tempting.

 

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE GEARING?

 

A: If there was ever any doubt that European tracks are different from American tracks, the stock gearing on the TC450 is proof positive. This beast is geared tallway too tall! On most jump-filled American tracks, with their tight corners and rough straights, the TC450 will lope along in second gear. You heard that right! Second! You gotta gear this puppy down to make third gear the meat-and-potatoes gear (and keep second for starts and thrust).

 

Q:HOW GOOD ARE THE JUMBO-SIZED MARZOCCHI SHIVER FORKS?

 

A: Last year we prayed that Husqvarna would round-file the 45mm Zokes for Marzocchi’s higher-tech 50mm Shiver forks. Watch what you wish for. The Shivers sent shivers down our spines. They were quite a mystery. Every test rider complained that they wouldn’t move, that they were jarring over chatter bumps and felt harsh when they felt like anything. Yet, shockingly, they were getting full travel. How could they be harsh and motionless and still be moving over 12-inches? They were stealth forksthey moved but nobody saw it.

Our quick fix was to go to stiffer fork springs and a lower oil heightthat way the forks would stay higher in their stroke and resist bottoming, but would be much more supple on the small stuff (because of the lower oil height).

 

Q: WAS THE SACHS-TO-OHLINS TRANSPLANT A SUCCESS?  

 

A: Yes. We liked the Sachs shock on last year’s TC450. It was one of the best things about the bike. That said, we like the Ohlins even more. The Swedish-built shock has incredible adjustment range and quality construction, and there are a boatload of shops that can work on it.

We set the Ohlins’ sag at 100mm and left the rest of the shock alone. It should be noted that if you weigh more than 185 pounds, you will need to go to the next stiffest shock spring. Use free sag as your gauge; once you set the race sag, test to see if the shock has any top-out movement left. If it doesn’t, go up on the spring rate. We had to swap springs.

 

Q: HOW DOES THE 2006 HUSQVARNA TC450 HANDLE?

 

A: Paradoxically, we liked some aspects of the 2006 Husky’s handling, while hating the overall feel. What did we like and hate? Steering input was light (neutral), but it didn’t want to bite (it castered). Straight-line stability was acceptable, but the chassis had a very short front center, which meant that the rear of the bike felt like a very long caboose. The bike responded best to throttle-steer (using power to bring the rear end around the front), but, because of the neutral front end, throttle-steer often turned into a two-wheel drift.

Amazingly, even though the handling was flawed, most MXA test riders liked the way it felt. They compared learning to ride it to a science project.

 

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

 

A: The hate list:

(1) Rear fender: We loved the ski-jump look, but it just made the rear of the bike taller than it already was.

(2) Weight: Pitching the electric starter and battery was a step in the right direction, but the TC450 is still heavy. It weighs 245 pounds (that is 15 pounds more than most of its competitors).

(3) Size: This is a giant of a bike. It’s even taller than the previous sky-scraping Kawasaki KX450F. Short riders will dangle their legs on the starting line.

(4) Pipe: The sweet looking Arrow exhaust pipe sticks out just behind the rear brake master cylinder, more so than KTM’s exhaust pipe. It gets in the way and it is hot.

(5) Starting: It starts when it’s cold, but balks when hot. Luckily, it has both a manual and automatic compression release (we used the manual release to clean out the engine way too often).

(6) Gas cap: It is shaped like Husqvarna’s gun sight logo, but watch the rubber gasketwhen it falls out, so does the gas.

           

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

 

A: The like list:

(1) Clutch: A very nice Magura hydraulic unit.

(2) Seat: Taking off the seat and getting at the air filter requires only a twist of the wristno tools needed.

(3) Holeshot device: It comes stock on the TC450. Unfortunately, it grated against the fork leg (causing us to remove it).

(4) Cosmetics: The red-and-white motif is a step up from the horrid blue and yellow of the past.

(5) Electric start: If you really want an electric starter, it is available as an optional kit.

           

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

 

A: Last year, after testing the 2005 version, the MXA wrecking crew said, “If Husqvarna finds a few more ponies, loses a couple of pounds and tightens up the geometry, they will have a champion.” We were wrong. They did everything we asked for (except about the geometry, but they upgraded the suspension to overlap into the handling arena), but this is still a quirky motorcycle that hasn’t embraced the American way of racing. It’s lovably quaint, but not a winner.

 

For more 2006 Bike Tests go to Top Ten Stories

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