There are only a select few people who get to ride full factory bikes. The obvious people able to swing a leg over these bikes are: (1) Factory riders, such as Ryan Villopoto and Ken Roczen. (2) The MXA wrecking crew; which has tested more works bikes than we can count, though we don’t take it for granted. Riding a factory bike is a huge perk of the job, because we know how rare it is to get seat time on a motorcycle that is the culmination of years of refinements and advancements. (3) Team insiders. There may be a factory test rider, mechanic or close friend of a factory rider who gets the honor of spinning a few laps. But, the list is always kept very short.
Guess what? The factory racers don’t own their race bikes. They belong—lock, stock and barrel—to the team, and that includes the right to put stickers on them. At the end of the season, the bikes go back to the catacombs of the factory. There are exceptions to the rule, however. Occasionally, a championship-winning rider will be given his title-winning bike to display at his house. But, more often than not, the motorcycle gets torn down or turned into a test mule for the following season. Some teams actually crush their bikes, turning unobtainable parts into scrap metal just to ensure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Oh, the horror!
But, there is one person who didn’t make our list of riders capable of throwing a leg over a works bike. Who is that? The president of the company. Okay, we admit that it’s a stretch to think that the elderly gentlemen who run most motorcycle companies would have use for a works motocross bike, but we found one president who loves to ride and just happens to have his own works bike. Jon-Erik Burleson is the president of Husqvarna and KTM North America. He has been an integral part of KTM’s success, and in recent years has had a vision to grow the Husqvarna brand to be as popular as any brand in recent history. As for how he acquired a factory Husqvarna FC350, that is an interesting story.
Jon-Erik Burleson is a globetrotter. He stopped counting his trips to the KTM factory in Mattighofen, Austria, after he hit the century mark. Fortunately for Burleson’s sanity, every so often he finds time in his busy schedule to ride the European motocross circuits. One time in particular stands out in Jon-Erik’s mind. The factory Husqvarna Ice One team hand-delivered a factory FC350 to Austria so that Burleson could spin a few laps on it between meetings. The only problem was that the night before he was to ride the bike, he was stuck in a meeting that lasted into the early morning. Bleary-eyed and mentally exhausted, a normal, jet-lagged executive would have passed on the ride, but Jon-Erik, son of seven-time AMA Enduro Champion Dick Burleson, wasn’t going to let the opportunity to throw a leg over a $100,000 machine pass him by. After getting warmed up, he began to pick up speed and was surprised by how well he was riding. Knowing that his energy was drained and skill level not helped by the previous night’s meetings, Jon-Erik realized that the bike was the reason for his newfound speed.
Jon-Erik is an enthusiast, not a factory star. Keep in mind that factory bikes are tuned for insanely fast riders. Nine times out of ten, a weekend warrior would absolutely hate the setup of a factory bike. The suspension is often as rigid as an unloaded 1-ton truck’s, and the engine is high-strung with a powerband that is unforgiving. That wasn’t the case with the Ice One Husqvarna FC350. Jon-Erik described the suspension as absorbent and the engine as broad from the bottom to the top. It was like the bike was specifically made for him. He was on cloud nine that day. Looking back, he admits that he probably raved a bit too much about the bike. “I just couldn’t stop talking about it,” said Jon-Erik.
The European tracks are much different from those in the U.S. Simply put, American riders are spoiled. European tracks are rarely prepared or watered, and in many countries double jumps are illegal. As a result, many Euro tracks are choppy and hardpack, requiring a vastly different bike setup than what works at tracks like Glen Helen or Red Bud. European race engines have smooth and powerful powerbands to help carry speed through sweeping corners. Without big jumps and the need for optimum traction on unprepped hard surfaces, the suspension can be set up surprisingly soft.
A few months elapsed, and as one meeting bled into another, Jon-Erik soon forgot about his fateful day as a factory rider. It was a fleeting memory that had been replaced by discussions about the future of Husqvarna and the vision for a brand that had deep roots in motocross, especially in his family’s history.
After one taxing strategy meeting, John Hinz, the product manager at KTM and Husqvarna, pulled Jon-Erik aside and guided him to the Husqvarna museum, where an exact replica of the Ice One factory Husqvarna FC350 that Jon-Erik rode months before sat. Amazingly, as Jon-Erik looked at the bike, he was told that it was a gift from his colleagues.
Jon-Erik was shocked by the amount of work that was put into the FC350. The suspension was built with factory 52mm forks and a drop-out Trax shock. It had a titanium shock spring built to the exact specs that were on the Ice One FC350 in Europe. The engine also had the same specifications as what Burleson had ridden previously. Everything from the handlebars to the full carbon fiber subframe was the same. Jon-Erik admitted, “They all pulled the wool over my eyes for those few months. Before this, I only got to ride a factory bike once and only for a few minutes. Now I have a full-factory bike sitting in my garage!”
When the MXA wrecking crew found out about Burleson’s prized possession, we had to have it. We asked if he would give us his bike to test. Jon-Erik, the nice guy that he is, said yes. Not only did Jon-Erik give us his bike, but he sent Husqvarna’s Andy Jeffferson, Charles Jirsa and Mike Brown to help us with it.
The FC350 had the same effect on us as it did Jon-Erik. Even Mike Brown, who is a Husqvarna factory rider, was in awe of the handling and never-ending rev of the works engine. Everyone who rode the bike wished he could call it his own, but to do that would require the work ethic and jet-setting skills of Jon-Erik Burleson.
What are the chances of having your own full-factory bike? It might be easier to become a factory rider than to become the president of Husqvarna, but you gotta do whatever it takes to get the bike of your dreams.