MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2021 HUSQVARNA FC350

THE GEAR: Jersey: FXR Racing Podium, Pants: FXR Racing Podium, Helmet: FXR Racing/6D ATR-2, Goggles: EKS Brand Flat-out, Boots: Sidi Crossfire 3SR.

Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2021 HUSQVARNA FC350 BETTER THAN THE 2020 FC350?

A: Yes. Not just better but uniquely different, trend-setting and almost perfect for its chosen demographic.

Q: WHAT IS THE FC350’S CHOSEN DEMOGRAPHIC?

A: You don’t need a crystal ball to see the FC350 has two major limitations when it comes to buyers. 

(1) It’s not designed for the 16-year-old set. Why not? There isn’t a structured class for a 350cc motocross bike, which means it has to race in the 450 class, where very few 16-year-olds want to do battle.

(2) A 350 is not a bike that a Pro would choose to race. Pros are looking for an edge, not a 100cc disadvantage. There are no team managers looking at 350 riders to fill spots on 250 East/West teams or riders that they will have to wait for while they adapt to a 450.  

Q: WHERE DOES THE 2021 FC350 FIND IT’S PERFECT HOME?

A: There are two groups of riders that go crazy for this bike. 

(1) Professional practice riders. For a rider who rides for fun, the FC350 is not as intimidating as the typical 450, but still has more torque, thrust and horsepower than a 250. The FC350 can get over the big jumps that soil the trousers of 250 riders. It is the perfect play bike for track days.

(2) Vet riders. The FC350 is the ultimate choice for vets. They don’t have to hustle it from corner to corner like a 250. They don’t get blown away on the start by 450s. It makes more power than a 250 and less power than a 450‚ and you’d be surprised how many racers are looking for that exact combination.Husqvarna is the first manufacturer to lower the seat height on its bikes. The lower chassis pays big dividends—and not just to short riders.

Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE 2021 HUSQVARNA FC350?

A: For 2021, seven changes were made to the FC350, with the most significant being to the suspension. 

(1) Forks. The WP R&D team spent most of its time and budget on the forks.  

(2) Shock. The WP shock got a major remake for 2021 that included reworked settings to match the XACT air forks and a shorter stroke.

(3) Viton O-ring. A Viton O-ring was added behind the shock bushing for 2021. It sounds like a strange combination, but in simpler terms, the rubber O-ring provides tension to keep the shock bushing in constant contact with the sides of the shock. The Viton material doesn’t deform over time, as the previous O-ring did, allowing the bushing to seal better for a much longer time.

(4) SKF linkage seals. WP’s engineers felt that drag in the rising-rate shock linkage was hampering the shock’s performance. Their solution was to spec low-friction SKF linkage bearing seals. This may not seem like a noteworthy change, but we drop-tested a 2021 SKF-equipped linkage against last year’s linkage, and the movement of the linkage was much freer in 2021.

(5) Rising-rate linkage. For 2021, Husqvarna changed its complete OEM shock linkage (linkage arms and bell crank). The linkage is totally different from the shock linkage on the KTM 350SXF. First, the 2021 Husqvarna shock link’s arms are longer. This change drops the seat height and makes the starting point of the shock’s rising rate higher on the curve. Husqvarna designed a new bell crank that brought the rising rate’s starting point back to where it was before. The change in the linkage-arm length demanded a spring rate upgrade from 42 N/mm to 45 N/mm. And, in the biggest change of all, Husqvarna raised the seal head cap on the shock by 6mm. This change limited the shock shaft’s travel from 140mm to 134mm. This stops the rear tire from hitting the fender. More on the shock later.  

(6) BNG. The graphics feature the new three-color look. 

(7) Mapping. Designed for easy operation, the Husky FC350 map switch can be used to select two distinctly different engine characteristics, activate traction control and engage launch control. 

The two engine maps are Mellow and Aggressive. The Mellow (Map 1) is the stock map, It delivers a nice range of usable power, while the Aggressive map (Map 2) is crisper and more responsive. Both maps can be combined with traction control by pressing the TC button. Many MXA test riders run Map 1 with traction control engaged. This dual setting allows for a snappier power delivery when traction is plentiful while retarding the ignition when encountering runaway rev situations that generate wheelspin. 

Launch control is activated by pressing both the TC and map buttons at the same time. This function backs the ignition timing down a few degrees to improve traction until the rider shifts to third or shuts the throttle off. Setting launch control is tricky, because two buttons must be pressed at the same time. It may not sound that difficult, but try it with gloves on while sitting on the starting line trying to see if the function light—on the right side of the triple clamps—is flashing. 

In an industry first, the WP XACT air forks can give coil springs forks like the  Kayaba SSS forks a run for their money when set up properly. These are the best air forks ever made—but than what come son Honda Kawasaki or Suzuki.

Q: WHAT’S NEW ABOUT THE 2021 HUSQVARNA WP XACT FORKS?

A: To the casual viewer, the 2021 WP XACT air forks look identical to last year’s forks, but they are wildly different. Or, should we say wildly better? Amazingly, Husqvarna redesigned every internal part on the 2021 fork. Here is the breakdown.

(1) Fork length. The 2021 WP XACT forks are 10mm shorter than the 2020 forks. In a high-tech mod, Husqvarna shortened the cartridge rods by 10mm and made a corresponding 10mm reduction in the length of the WP stanchion tubes. Why go to all that trouble when the spacer inserted into the forks could have achieved the same thing? Husqvarna shortened both the cartridge rods and stanchion tubes to maintain the same separation between the bushings in the stanchions and fork internals. This increased fork rigidity while eliminating a spike in damping pressure. 

(2) Oil-bypass notches. Oil-bypass notches were machined into the fork’s inner diameter to reduce oil-pressure peaks when the stanchion bushing and cartridge bushing get close enough together to compress the fork oil. 

(3) Air seal. Since the oil-bypass notches relieve oil-pressure buildup in the damping leg, WP decided to do the same thing in its air pressure leg. WP put four bypass holes in the air seal to lessen air-pressure spikes.

(4) Negative chamber. When an air fork’s air pressure is compressed, it builds up pressure in the fork’s main cartridge chamber. Left unchecked, this pressure buildup will cause an air fork to top out. When an air fork tops out, the forks extend (rebound) so rapidly that they clank when they reach full extension. The solution to topping out is to add a second air chamber on the opposite side of the over-pressurized main chamber. The air pressure below the main chamber is used to stop topping out on the rebound stroke. WP achieved this by putting a cross-over bleed slot near the middle of the compression stroke to allow the pumped-up air pressure in the main chamber to leak over the rebound side of the fork to resist downward acceleration of the fork tubes. It is an ingeniously simple idea‚ especially when compared to the complicated balance chambers that Showa and Kayaba used on their now-defunct PSF and SFF-TAC air forks. For 2021, WP doubled the length of the crossover bleed slot in coordination with enlarging the size of the negative air-chamber air space for more progressive air pressure.

(5) Trampoline valve. Unlike on a traditional mid-valve shim stack, WP added a “trampoline shim,” so called because, unlike a normal shim that is tightly packed in by other shims and the piston, the trampoline shim has room to bend. It is given room to bend by being located above a small cavity that allows more damping in the mid-valve without making the damping stiffer at the end of the stroke.

(6) Bottoming resistance. The bottoming cone in the damping leg was replaced with a bump-stop rubber for 2021. This added space helped reduce bottoming harshness. 

(7) No-tools adjuster. Thanks to the extra space found by removing the bottoming cone, WP eliminated the need to get down on your hands and knees to adjust the rebound damping with a screwdriver. Now, a racer can adjust the fork’s rebound damping by turning a clicker by hand.

Q: HOW GOOD ARE THE 2021 HUSQVARNA XACT AIR FORKS?

A: Plain and simple, they are better than any other OEM forks in the showrooms in 2021 and comparable to Yamaha’s SSS forks in performances. The 2021 Husqvarna XACT air forks are a giant step forward for WP. All of the internal modifications are designed to make the stroke more fluid, reduce air-pressure spikes, bleed off excess oil pressure and reduce the effects of an air fork’s hyper-progressive spring rate at the end of the stroke. The updated WP XACT air forks have the same plush feel as coil-spring forks. They follow the ground, and they don’t spike at mid stroke. They don’t lift off in chattery acceleration bumps. The harsh feel at the end of the stroke is gone. Very impressive. 

The updated WP forks not only have a very good standard setting, they allow a racer to take advantage of the fact that an air fork’s spring rate can be changed to compensate for different tracks or different-sized riders in minutes. Not enough can be said about the giant plus of the 3-pound weight savings.  

We forgive you for not believing us. WP has been its own worst enemy since introducing its AER air fork in 2017. WP created a lot of anti-air-fork sentiment in the motocross world‚ although it should be noted that Showa and Kayaba air forks were much worse. Husqvarna, KTM and WP did a very poor job of providing AER and XACT air-fork owners with the information needed to get the most out of their forks. Many WP fork owners never took the time to learn how to set their air forks up properly. That lack of knowledge created a wave of air-fork negativity that will stop many potential Husqvarna riders from finding out how good the 2021 forks are.

To take advantage of the added performance, the rider has to learn to balance the workload of the fork’s air pressure and its damping clickers. Too many riders make damping changes by changing the air pressure, which couldn’t be more wrong. Once you find the correct air pressure for your weight, speed and style, all tuning should be done with the clickers. If you never take the time to find your proper air pressure, you will never fix your WP forks with the clickers.

How do you find your best fork air pressure? The best way to find the proper air pressure is to put a zip-tie on one fork leg and go out and ride. If the zip-tie is 3 inches short of bottoming, lower the air pressure. Keep lowering it until you are 1-1/2 inches from bottoming. That is your air pressure. From then on, use the compression clicker to control the travel. Don’t be afraid to go wild with the clicker. We have test riders who run it at 6 clicks out and test riders who run it 30 clicks out.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE WP SHOCK?

A: Husqvarna shortened the rear-wheel travel to lower the rear of the FC350 and balance out the 10mm-shorter WP forks. How they shortened the shock is very interesting. The 2021 Husqvarna rising-rate linkage has longer shock linkage arms (0.5mm), a revised bell crank and a 6mm-taller seal cap. The longer link arms lowered the rear seat height, while the totally redesigned bell crank ensured that the rising-rate curve was exactly what WP wanted. Had they used the 2020 bell crank, the initial starting point of the FC250 rear shock travel would have been stiffer. Additionally, with the lowered rear seat height, the rear tire would have hit the underside of the rear fender on bottoming. To stop this, Husqvarna shortened the stroke of the rear shock from 140mm to 134mm by making the seal cap 6mm taller. 

There are two other shock mods that seem minor but play a big role in the Husky’s rear shock performance. First, Husqvarna got rid of its draggy shock-linkage seals and replaced them with high-end SKF low-friction seals to free up the movement of the shock linkage. Second, there is a new Viton O-ring hidden behind the shock piston bushing. This O-ring acts as a preload spring on the bushing to keep it in constant contact with the shock body’s inner circumference. The previous O-ring would deform over time and not provide a solid seal between the bushing and shock body. The new O-ring is made out of more resilient rubber and will not deform.

MXA test riders liked the Husqvarna rear shock. It has been spring-sensitive to rider weight in the past, but we had fewer issues with this in 2021 because Husqvarna returned to the pre-2020 spring rate.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2021 FC350 HANDLE?

A: You haven’t lived until you have spun laps on a 2021 Husky FC350. The lowered chassis makes cornering a breeze. Front-tire traction is incredible. It rails through corners with little or no understeer or over-steer. It feels much smaller between your legs. The front-wheel contact patch sticks like glue. You feel the most improvement in hard-pack flat corners or off-camber corners. You don’t have to worry about the rear end stepping out, as it tracks the front wheel like it is laser-guided. This bike does nothing wrong. The lowered chassis and improved suspension bring the handling up to a new level of excellence. We aren’t kidding. 

The 2021 Husqvarna FC350 rails through corners, feels much smaller between your legs and allows body English to have more effect. The FC350 flat out handles better‚ and every skeptical MXA test rider gushed about the handling after his first test ride.

Husqvarna is the only major manufacturer to lower the seat height of its bikes‚ and the dividends it pays are blatantly obvious to even the most tone-deaf rider. The chassis is almost an inch lower, and for riders whose feet can’t touch the ground on other brands, the Husky is a dream. It’s no secret that bikes are too tall, but finally one motorcycle manufacturer has done something about it.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2021 HUSQVARNA FC350 RUN ON THE RACETRACK?

A: We can say without fear of contradiction that it is faster than it feels‚ and that lack of sensation of speed allows the rider to go even faster. Every MXA test rider, Pro, Intermediate, Novice and Vet fell in love with the 2020 Husqvarna powerband. It was incredibly easy to ride. The combination of the plush suspension, perfect geometry and a lower overall center of gravity allowed the FC350 to carve around corners. Even the Pro test riders loved it. It only took them one race to realize that the kinder and gentler Husqvarna powerband enabled them to ride harder, get on the gas sooner and be more aggressive in the tight stuff. The power is so well-modulated that there are no burps, surges or abrupt hits anywhere on the curve. It is easy to go fast when the bike you are riding doesn’t fight you.

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Bolts. Check the head stay and motor mount bolts at regular intervals.

(2) Compression clicker. Please, Mr. WP, make the fork’s compression-clicker prongs longer. 

(3) Vented airbox. We wish that Husky’s vented airbox had holes as large as KTM’s vented airbox.

(4) Airbox cover. It is so long and flexy that it is hard to remove. We stick an 8mm T-handle in the back end and pop the rubber prong out of the grommet.

(5) Gas cap. It sticks. Not every time, but often enough. Plus, the vent hose twists unless you fiddle with it.

(6) Sprocket bolts. Watch them for as long as you own the bike. 

(7) Spokes. Always check the spoke next to the rear rim lock. If it is loose—and 5 times out of 10 it will be—tighten all the spokes.

(8) Neutral. We love how well the Pankl gearbox shifts from gear to gear but hate how hard it is to get it into neutral when standing still.

(9) Bike stand. When the bike is sitting on a bike stand, the front wheel sits on the ground. This is a hassle when checking the spokes or working on the front end.

(10) Front brake hose. Be very careful when hooking tie-downs onto your handlebars so that they don’t crimp the metal tube coming out of the front-brake master cylinder. Always use soft straps. 

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Magura hydraulic clutch. This clutch is bulletproof. From its CNC-machined steel basket (with the primary gear machined into the basket) to its Belleville washer (instead of six separate coil springs), this is the dream clutch of every clutch abuser in America.

(2) Pankl transmission. No other motocross brand offers a transmission built by a Formula 1 gearbox supplier. The 2021 Husqvarna FC350 comes with complete Pankl gearsets. The metallurgy is a step above what other brands offer.

(3) Brembo brakes. The “Big Four” Japanese brands have been throwing 270mm rotors, new brake pads and calipers at their bikes to try to keep Husqvarna’s Brembo brakes in sight. They are still behind the curve.

(4) Braided-steel brake hose. Husqvarnas come stock with 64-strand braided-steel brake hoses that has minimal expansion under pressure.

(5) Electric starting. KTM has had electric starting since 2007. When KTM purchased Husqvarna in 2013, it got electric starting.

(6) Electronics suite. The 2021 Husqvarna FC350F has push-button-accessed traction control, launch control and two maps. Husqvarna does have a Wi-Fi tuner, much like the Yamaha GYTR tuner, but it doesn’t come stock with the Husqvarna; it is an option.

(7) Weight. At 222 pounds, the 2021 Husqvarna FC350F is lighter than all of the available 450 four-strokes and every one of the 2021 Japanese 250 four-strokes. You may think that weight doesn’t matter, but a bike’s rims, spokes, frame, shock spring, brakes and acceleration are weight-sensitive. 

(8) Throttle cam. Husqvarna ships its bikes to the dealers with the long-throw, gray throttle cam installed. Take it out and put on the quick-turn black throttle cam that came as an option.

(9) Twin Air filter. If you’ve never installed an air filter into a KTM or Husqvarna, you’ll be amazed at how foolproof it is compared to the normal gymnastics of other air-filter/cage/airbox designs. 

(10) Hour meter. Kudos to Husqvarna and KTM for putting hour meters on their bikes as standard equipment.

(11) ODI grips. We like the ODI lock-on grips, because if we crash and rip the grip, we can put a new ODI grip on without having to wait for the glue to dry. If you want cushier grips, go with the glue-on ODI grips.

(12) Quick-release fuel lines. Husqvarnas come with fuel lines that can be disconnected without breaking the steel band that holds other brands’ fuel lines on. And, there is an in-line fuel filter that can be replaced or back-washed in under three minutes.

(13) Plastic frame guards. They keep your boots from rubbing the paint off the side of the frame (we’d like them to be blue instead of black).

(14) AMA/FIM sound-legal muffler. It is quieter than almost any bike on the track.

(15) Chain guide. We put a TM Designworks chain guide on almost every Japanese 450, but not on a Husqvarna or KTM.

(16) Wheel spacers. Unlike on a lot of motocross bikes, the Husqvarna’s wheel spacers run on the bearings, which means that the front and rear wheels can accept different axle sizes just by changing the wheel spacers. This makes older Husqvarna wheels (and KTM wheels) compatible as spare wheels on new-model Husqvarnas.

(17) Seat. Last year’s Husqvarna seat cover had a grudge against the seat of your pants. The new seat cover is less abrasive. 

(18) Wheels. The black-anodized D.I.D. rims are mated to CNC-machined hubs using lightweight spokes and silver-anodized aluminum nipples.

(19) Handlebars. We love the resilient feel of the ProTaper handlebars.

(20) Bushings. The traditional top-end rod bearing has been replaced by a bronze bushing, while the crankshaft’s big-end features a plain bushing with two force-fitted bearing shells for a 100-hour service time.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?   

A: We love this bike. Why do we love it so much? (1) Our feet can touch the ground on the starting line. (2) It goes very fast without any drama. (3) It turns so well that you will never utter the words “oversteer” or “understeer” again. (4) The Husqvarna FC350 and its KTM 350SXF brother are the best all-around bikes made in 2021‚ but we prefer the Husky over the KTM.

MXA’S 2021 HUSQVARNA FC350 SETUP SPECS 

This is how we set up our 2021 Husqvarna FC350 for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

AER FORK SETTINGS
The 2021 WP XACT air forks will change your mind about air forks. The 2021 forks are plush, supple and offer the feel of a coil-spring fork while being 3 pounds lighter. To get that feel, you only need to find your perfect air pressure and do all additional tuning with the clickers. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2021 Husqvarna FC350 (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: Pros: 10.6 bar (155 psi); Intermediates: 10.3 bar (150 psi); Fast Novices: 10.0 bar (145 psi); Novices/Vets: 9.6 bar (140 psi).
Compression: 15 clicks out (12 clicks)
Rebound: 10 clicks out (12 clicks)
Fork-leg height: Third line
Notes: Bleed the outer chambers at regular intervals. Reset the air pressure to your chosen settings between motos (once the forks have cooled down from riding).

WP SHOCK SETTINGS
Most MXA test riders added more high-speed compression and more rebound. MXA test riders don’t stray far from the stock 15 clicks out on low-speed compression, relying on the high-speed and rebound adjustments to have a crossover effect on the whole shock.  For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2021 Husqvarna FC350 (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 45 N/mm
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/4 turns out (1-1/2 turns out)
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 10 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Notes: We turned the high-speed compression damping in 1/4 turn to lessen G-outs and run more rebound than the recommended setting.

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