MXA’S 2015 HUSQVARNA FC350 MOTOCROSS TEST: THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2015 HUSQVARNA FC350 BETTER THAN THE 2014 FC350?
A: Yes, but not for any technical reasons. Since Husqvarna did not import any Husky FC350s to the USA in 2014, 2015 is the first year for this model. That doesn’t mean that Husqvarna didn’t make any FC350s in 2014; they just didn’t import them.
For 2015, Husqvarna decided to bring the FC350 to our shores. Since the 350 is KTM’s best-selling engine size, it only makes sense for Husqvarna to ride the mid-size wave. Plus, since Husky has a much larger offroad following than motocross following, the 350cc engine size fits into its wheelhouse.
Q: IS THE HUSQVARNA FC350 IDENTICAL TO THE KTM 350SXF?
A: Amazingly, it is not—and we don’t mean that as much from a mechanical standpoint as a riding characteristic one. On the track, it has a completely different personality from the KTM it is cloned from.
Q: HOW DOES THE HUSQVARNA FC350 DIFFER FROM THE KTM 350SXF?
A: There are eight major differences between the Husky 350 and KTM 350.
(1) Plastic. While the running gear (engine, brakes, forks, swingarm, suspension and geometry) are all shared parts, the gas tank, fenders, side panels, seat and subframe are Husky-only parts.
(2) Subframe. The most obvious difference between the Husqvarna and KTM 350SXF is the FC350’s polyamide plastic. It is unique to Husqvarna and even requires a frame change in order to have double mounting bolts instead of the single bolts of KTM’s aluminum subframe.
(3) Airbox. When Husqvarna’s engineers decided to go with an updated version of Husaberg’s plastic subframe, they committed themselves to a new airbox shape. Perhaps if they had to do it over again, they would consider the effect that the thick structural shape of the molded subframe would have on the engine’s ability to breathe. KTM’s thin aluminum subframe tubes leave more room for air to come in from the battery box. Plus, KTM has vents in its airbox covers. Not so on the Husky FC350. It is buttoned up tight. A loaf of bread would stay fresh in Husky’s airbox for a week.
(4) Seat. Although the Husqvarna saddle looks identical to the KTM seat, it is not. Not only does it mount via two bolts that are accessed via the handholds, but its fancy, gripper-style, yellow-and-blue seat cover is slippery as ice.
(5) Ignition maps. Both KTM and Husqvarna offer reprogrammed ignition maps. Husqvarna’s optional maps are accessible from a two-position map switch on the handlebars. Map 1 is the stock map and Map 2 is whatever map you choose at the junction box under the seat. The choices are stock (which Map 1 remains at all times), mellow or aggressive. KTM owners can only access their maps by buying an optional map switch from their friendly local KTM dealer.
(6) Controls. The Husqvarna uses a taller Neken handlebar than the KTM’s Renthal FatBars. Neken makes all of KTM’s and Husqvarna’s triple clamps. The motocross bikes do not get hand guards this year, although the offroad bikes do. The FC350 grips are slightly firmer than what is found on the KTM 350SXF, and they also have “Husqvarna” inscribed in the rubber.
(7) Rims. The Husqvarna line comes standard with black-anodized D.I.D. DirtStar rims, while KTMs come equipped with black-anodized Excel rims.
(8) Muffler. Don’t be confused by the different exhaust part numbers between the FC350 and 350SXF. Both bikes use the exact same muffler, and they are interchangeable—although the Husqvarna muffler has a thicker mesh screen inside for sound deadening.
Q: IS THE 2015 KTM 350SXF ENGINE IN THE HUSKY FC350 ANY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT IT WAS IN 2014?
A: No. Apart from a more durable oil-pump suction screen, the 2015 engine is the 2014 engine.
Q: HOW DOES THE HUSKY VERSION OF THE 350 ENGINE DIFFER FROM THE KTM UNIT?
A: We forgive you if you think that the two engines should perform identically. Logic would lead one to believe that since the two powerplants are mechanically identical, their performance would be identical. But, it isn’t the case.
Because motorcycle engines are essentially air pumps that draw air in, combust it and then blow it out, an engine’s ability to breathe is a big factor in its performance. Remember what we said about the restrictive nature of Husqvarna’s plastic subframe? Its molded shape and fully sealed side panel cut down on the amount of air that the Husky FC350 can get. Less air means less throttle response at low rpm.
How do we know this is true? That’s simple. We removed the left-side airbox cover and raced the bike without the left-side panel. Guess what? It came to life without the cover.
In back-to-back tests against the KTM 350SXF, which is the only bike with the same displacement, the KTM was livelier, snappier and more responsive from low to mid. There was a noticeable difference. Once the rpm climbed and the airflow evened out, the Husqvarna produced the same peak horsepower as the KTM, albeit a couple hundred rpm later (caused by its need to take deeper breaths to get to peak).
Every test rider favored the KTM engine over the Husky version, but on paper they look the same.
Q: WHAT’S THE TRICK TO RACING A HUSQVARNA FC350?
A: Boiled down to one phrase: “Never shift!”
The FC350 revs to 13,400 rpm, and it makes its peak horsepower way up in the stratosphere. If you shift before the engine has revved all the way out, you will not be getting max power. Thus, never shift. Hold it, wait, wait, hold it, wait, then shift.
Q: WHICH HANDLES BETTER; THE HUSKY FC350 OR KTM 350SXF?
A: Handling is a very complex index to decipher. Both the KTM and Husky are very good-handling bikes (when the suspension allows them to work to their fullest). They track straight, respond to rider input with precision and can carve through sweepers with just a flick of your knees. Neither one will turn as sharply as a Suzuki, but they don’t shake at speed like the Suzuki either.
The key to getting the chassis dialed in is to spend extra time getting the rear sag and front fork height balanced for your weight and style. Once you find the sweet spot, you can make the FC350 and 350SXF turn just by thinking about it.
When we pushed the MXA test riders to pick the handling package that they liked best, they all chose the Husqvarna FC350. They claimed it was more absorbent, felt better during weight transitions and was more resilient in the rough. The source of all this goodness? The plastic subframe. Husqvarna’s polyamide subframe softens the overall feel, especially when it interacts with the rider in berms, tight corners and jumps. We have no empirical data to support this contention, but we have the test reports of seven different test riders to confirm it.
Additionally, we removed the top subframe bolt from where it mounts to the blower portion of the frame. In back-to-back tests, which are as easy to do as riding a lap and then taking the bolts out and riding again, every MXA test rider preferred the way the Husky felt without the top bolts in the lower subframe bracket. We learned this trick from the Husky race team.
Q: HOW GOOD ARE THE 4CS FORKS?
A: They aren’t perfect, but “not perfect” is much better than what we said about WP’s previous fork designs. Most test riders find themselves turning the compression clicker on the WP 4CS forks all the way out to soften the compression. This seems odd, because on virtually every other brand of bike, our AMA Pro test riders always turn the compression in, while the Vets turn the compression out. With both groups going the same direction, we realized that we had a harshness problem.
Our solution? We lowered the fork oil height in 5cc increments. The Pro test riders stopped at 5cc, while the slower test riders went to 10cc. The limit on how low you can go depends on your weight, speed and track layout. If you take out 10cc and the forks start bottoming, you will have to put some oil back in. Let bottoming be your guide. Your best bet is to send your forks out to have them revalved.
Q: WHAT CAN YOU DO TO FIX THE 2015 HUSQVARNA’S PROBLEMS?
A: Given its known limitations, there are things you can do to make the 2015 Husqvarna FC350 better. Break out your Swiss army knife and get started.
(1) Airbox cover. The Husky airbox could be used as a diving bell by Jacques Cousteau. It is that air- and watertight. On the dyno, the stock Husky airbox cover costs one full horsepower. The solution? Drill holes in the side panel until your bike runs as well with the side cover on as it did with it off. LightSpeed makes two different carbon fiber vents that look trick and do a good job.
(2) Mesh screening. The MXA test riders remove the mesh backfire screen from the airbox and the mesh sound screen from the muffler. We suggest switching to a fire-retardant air filter just to be safe. The reward is improved throttle response.
(3) Gearing. It’s not that we don’t like the gearing; it’s just that the choked-off powerband doesn’t like it. We have two suggestions. You can gear the Husky down by going up one tooth on the rear, or you can gear the FC350 up by removing one tooth from the rear sprocket. Both of these choices come with rewards and penalties. If you gear it down, you will be able to get to third gear sooner and the powerband will turn over quicker. If you gear it up, you will be able to stay in second gear longer, which will allow the engine’s 13,500 rpm rev limiter to work to the max.
The MXA wrecking crew was evenly divided along talent lines as far as gearing choices. The faster test riders either stuck with the stock gearing or went one tooth fewer on the rear. Why? They had the talent to carry their speed and weren’t worried about bogging or falling off the pipe on the upshifts. The Vets and Novices preferred to gear it down to get through each gear with more thrust, which allowed them to get to third gear sooner.
Q: WHAT IS THE REAL STORY BEHIND MID-SIZED OPEN BIKES?
A: Before the KTM 350SXF was introduced in 2011, a rider had to choose between a 250 and a 450. There was no middle ground. Oh, you could send your 250F out to have it big-bored up to 265cc, 270cc or 290cc, but it was still a 250 four-stroke at heart. The 350 idea germinated from the belief that 450s were too powerful; however, the 350 movement wasn’t helped by the first two years of KTM 350SXFs. They were slow. Then, KTM began to kick out the jams, and the 2013 through 2015 engines became viable options for someone who wanted Baby Bear’s porridge. Now a rider can choose a mid-sized bike that makes competitive 450 horsepower but is still ridden with a wide-open 250cc style. There is a new 350cc engine on the horizon for both KTM and Husky for the 2016 models.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Air-filter cage. The air-filter cage does not intuitively fit into Husqvarna’s airbox. There is a fairly high chance of getting it misaligned. The new KTM factory Edition has a sweet air-filter cage that is fool-proof. Here’ hoping it makes its way to Husky for 2016
(2) Gearing. Most MXA test riders run 51 or 49 teeth. Very few stick with the stock 50-toother.
(3) Weight. The point of a mid-sized Open bike is to complement the modestly powerful engine with a supremely light and agile chassis. The Husqvarna FC350 may be agile, but it definitely isn’t light. It needs to lose at least 8 more pounds to make the mid-size concept come to fruition.
(4) Shift lever. The shift lever is either too high or too low.
(5) Airbox. An engine needs to breathe, but the FC350 has asthma.
(6) Rear fender. You will break the rear fender. How? Just like us, you’ll forget to use the grab handles and instead pick up the FC350 by the rear fender. As a result, the plastic will snap and the fender will stand at attention.
(7) Subframe. The polyamide rear subframe is a creative idea, but it bulges out in certain areas, causing the test rider’s boots to get hooked on the subframe. It needs a smoother interface.
(8) Seat cover. Only Teflon would be worse.
(8) Suspension. It’s rideable as is, but it could be so much better.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Clutch. This is the way a clutch should work. Good feel, hydraulic power, self-adjusting and long-lasting reliability—worth every penny.
(2) Electric start. The greatest idea in offroad riding.
(3) Brakes. Husqvarna’s 260mm Brembo front brake is still the best in the biz.
(4) Handling. It doesn’t do gymnastics, but it carves perfect lines once you find the perfect balance between the front and rear suspension.
(5) Shifting. The transmission shifts with ease under a load. It is very impressive compared to its competition.
(6) Aesthetics. Bulletproof in-mold graphics and a unique color scheme make it stand out in a crowd.
(7) Fork adjusters. Unlike every other fork on the market, the WP forks can be adjusted by hand thanks to dials on the fork caps. No tools needed.
(8) Side panels. Even though we have issues with the airbox and plastic subframe, we like the full-coverage side panels because they are easier to grip with your knees than the smaller KTM side panels. However, we do Swiss cheese them.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: KTM used to own this class. KTM was the only game in town—and if you bought into the mid-size Open bike formula, all your money went to them. Now, with Husqvarna having skin in the game, there are two options—although all the money still goes to KTM. We like competition because it improves the breed, but we aren’t sure that KTM really wants Husky to swim in its end of the pool. Still, they opened the flood gates, and now it is sink or swim for the Husqvarna FC350.
MXA HUSQVARNA FC350 SETUP SPECS
This is how we set up our Husqvarna FC350 for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.
4CS FORK SETTINGS
The WP 4CS forks have potential, which is something we couldn’t say about last year’s bladder forks. But, and this is a big but, they aren’t rideable out of the WP factory. We don’t know if they have more fork oil in them than the spec called for or they just missed on the valving, but these forks need help.
For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup on the 2015 Husqvarna FC350 (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 0.48 Nm
Oil height: 100mm
Compression: 17 clicks out (15 out)
Rebound: 14 clicks out (15 out)
Fork-leg height: 5mm up
Notes: We lower the oil height in 5mm increments to lessen mid-stroke harshness. Although Husqvarna fork-oil height is measured in millimeters from the top of the tube (with the spring out and fork collapsed), 10cc is the equivalent of 10mm, which makes raising and lowering the oil height simple.
WP SHOCK SETTINGS
Thanks to the all-new 2015 shock linkage, which has a more progressive rising rate in the first part of the stroke and firmer internal valving, the Husqvarna FC350 can handle a wide range of rider weights. The new shock is 4mm longer than before, but the rear wheel travel hasn’t change because the new shock linkage allows the shock to hang lower. Don’t fiddle too much with the shock until you get the forks dialed in, then move on to the rear of the Husqvarna.
For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2015 Husqvarna FC350 (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 5.7 kg/mm
Race sag: 100mm
Hi-compression: 2 turns out
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 13 clicks out (15 out)
Notes: As a rule of thumb, faster test riders stayed near the standard settings, give or take a click or two, while slower test riders clicked the compression and rebound out around four clicks.