MXA RACE TEST: 2019-1/2 HUSQVARNA ROCKSTAR EDITION
Husqvarna has only been in the limited-edition business since the 2018-1/2 Husky FC450 Rockstar Edition. This is a special bike that is built to take advantage of a hole in the AMA rulebook that you could drive a cement truck through, especially with Roger DeCoster behind the wheel. No rider on any of the competing teams was allowed to race 2019 models in the 2018 Supercross series like the Husky and KTM riders were. Why not? The AMA rules state that no one can race a bike that isn’t sold to the public. And under the rule, there must be at least 400 bikes available for sale to the public. Husqvarna produced over 400 Rockstar Editions before the start of last year’s and this year’s AMA seasons. By taking advantage of the AMA homologation rule, Jason Anderson got to ride next year’s bike to the 2018 AMA Supercross Championship, while Roczen, Tomac, Barcia, Peick or anyone not on a KTM Factory Edition or a Husky Rockstar Edition were on their old bikes.
Where the AMA homologation rule goes wrong is that the AMA does not demand that the 400 bikes be available to the public before the racing season starts. Instead, they require that only 200 of these special bikes be in the country by March 1, 2019. The second 200 Rockstar Editions don’t have to show up until June 1, 2019. A quick check of your 2019 racing calendar will reveal that on June 1, the 2019 AMA Supercross series will be over for 28 days. In short, for the vast majority of the 2019 AMA Supercross series, the factory Husqvarna and KTM riders are the only riders who have access to next year’s technology.
KTM and Husqvarna aren’t breaking the rules. They aren’t even bending them. There is nothing stopping Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki or Honda from producing their own Factory Editions—except that the Japanese brands aren’t willing to fire up a special production line in November to get next year’s race bikes into the hands of their team riders (and 400 consumers). We know what you are going to say next, “What about the 2019 Honda CRF450WE Works Edition? Isn’t it the same as a KTM Factory Edition or a Husky Rockstar Edition?” The answer is, “No.” Honda’s CRF450 Works Edition didn’t come out months before the actual 2019 Honda CRF450 is available. It came out in conjunction with the production bike and goes on sale six months after the Supercross series starts. It is just a stock CRF450 with race team graphics, polished (not ported) cylinder head, Yoshimura slip-on muffler, coated suspension components, Honda team graphics and an $11,499 dollar price tag.
If the AMA were serious about the homologation rule, the rule would state that “no bike can be raced in AMA competition until all 400 homologated bikes are available through U.S. dealers.” Without this rule, AMA racing will always be a matter of the haves and the have-nots.
BUT POLITICS AND AMA IGNORANCE ASIDE, IT’S NOT OUR JOB TO RAIN ON KTM’S AND HUSKY’S PARADE. THEY READ THE AMA RULEBOOK, THEY FOLLOWED IT TO THE TEE AND THE PUBLIC GETS A CHANCE TO OWN NEXT YEAR’S BIKE BEFORE NEXT YEAR’S BIKE IS HERE.
But politics and AMA ignorance aside, it’s not our job to rain on KTM’s and Husky’s parade. They read the AMA rulebook, they followed it to the T, and the public gets a chance to own next year’s bike before next year’s bike is here. It’s our job to tell you how the 2019-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition performs. Right off the bat, the MXA test crew felt that the mid-season powerband was faster than the current 2019 FC450 mill. We hammered it back to back with our standard FC450 and we could feel a difference. The power of the basic 2019 Husky FC450 was never lacking, but it did feel a little draggy through the low-to-mid transition. The stock FC450 felt like a sports car that was waiting for the turbos to spool it. The laggardly feel was not a deal breaker and for test riders who preferred smoothness over brutishness, it was a deal maker.
By comparison the 2019-1/2 Rockstar Edition had a power curve that was more alive and more eager to jump into the meat of the powerband. The Rockstar Edition’s engine was better, but finding the source of that more active throttle response was hard to trace down. Husqvarna’s engineers claimed that the ECU mapping was the same. We couldn’t see how the new bronze top-end rod bushing (replacing the coated steel bushing) could be much of a sugar-daddy contributor to snappier response. The Rockstar Edition does come with an FMF Factory 4.1 slip-on, but in testing we preferred to run a stock Husqvarna FC250 muffler (without the internal restrictor) over the FMF slip-on because the stock muffler hits harder and pulls quicker through the low-to-mid transition. The redesigned JE piston, with its box-shaped under-the-dome reinforcements, CNC-machined and hard-anodized ring land and reconfigured piston camming was one of only two possible power donors remaining, but apart from the camming nothing on the piston seemed to have the potential to liven up the low-end. The only remaining source of snap had to be assigned to the new rocker arm architecture (topology). The shape of the old rocker arm was moved around to keep the rocker arm from flexing at high-rpm, which can contribute to erratic valve timing. But, we are just guessing and Husqvarna isn’t telling.
If we were betting men, we’d bet that the ECU has been slightly changed in terms of ignition advance at low-end—and Husqvarna has not spread the word. There is talk of a USA only, American-spec, ECU map for 2020. Let’s hope it happens. If you are interested in more low-to-mid response from your FC450, send your ECU to Twisted Development’s Jamie Ellis at www.td-racing.com or call (951) 698-7222. You can also drill holes in the Husqvarna airbox cover to help the engine breathe. The Rockstar Edition does not have a vented airbox cover, but the 2020 is scheduled for one.
MXA test riders approached the 2019-1/2 WP AER suspension with a grain of salt. It pleased us that they lightened the low-speed compression damping, but scared us that they increased the recommended air pressure from 152 psi to 158 psi. Upping the air pressure from 10.5 bar (152 psi) to 10.9 bar (158 psi) is a dead giveaway that the softer valving allows the forks to move much freer into their stroke—and the added air pressure is there to hold the softer compression damping higher in its stroke. WP made the forks softer and then added air to make them stiffer. That is giving to get.
Whatever they did, after our original skepticism, we found that there was nothing to be afraid of. Each test rider fiddled with the air and damper settings before agreeing that the 2020 production forks were better than the 2019 production forks. On the track, test riders started with the compression at 12 clicks out, the rebound on 18 clicks out, and the forks slid up to the second line. As a starting point each test rider put in his favorite number from the 2018 WP AER air forks. Surprise! Most of last year’s numbers worked on next year’s forks.
It goes without saying that, save for our AMA Pro test riders, every other test riders’ chosen air pressure was much lower than the recommended 158 psi. We say this so you don’t feel like the odd man out if you are running air pressures in the 130 psi to 140 psi range. Those low pressures are what the majority, not the minority, of what most normal riders run.
There will be some confusion with what WP forks are called. AER is out. The new 2020 WP production fork is called XACT, even though it is AER derived. For 2020, all the WP motocross forks have fancy marketing names. There are three versions of XACT forks: standard XACT air forks, XACT Pro Spring forks and XACT Pro Air forks. If it says Pro after XACT, it means it is a Cone Valve fork, but the Cone Valve name is out and XACT Pro is in.
Even though the 2019-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition is as black and white as a bike can get, thanks to the production bike’s dingy blue frame being painted jet black, but for some reason the triple clamps, FMF muffler and hubs are anodized blue. Our guess is that the Husqvarna aftermarket division had gone with the blue motif on the clamps and hubs, because blue and yellow are the official colors of Husqvarna—in a nod to their Swedish roots. And since the blue Factory triple clamps and blue Factory hubs were sourced from Husqvarna’s aftermarket catalog, it was blue or nothing.
OUR GUESS IS THAT THE HUSQVARNA AFTERMARKET DIVISION HAD GONE WITH THE BLUE MOTIF ON THE CLAMPS AND TRIPLE CLAMPS BECAUSE BLUE AND YELLOW ARE THE OFFICIAL COLORS OF HUSQVARNA—IN A NOD TO THEIR SWEDISH ROOTS.
The Factory triple clamps look like they are copies of Xtrig’s ROCS clamps in that the top and bottom clamps are slotted where they grip the fork legs. Both the top and bottom clamps are divided into two segments where they grip the fork legs. The slotted segments improve the contact patch of the triple clamps on the fork stanchions. How do they do this? By having two thinner segments wrapping around the fork stanchion as opposed to one large clamping surface, the segments conform to the round shape of the fork tube better. They differ from Xtrig clamps in that all of the triple clamp pinch bolts are on the back side of the triple clamps, Xtrig’s bolts alternate with one set on the front of the clamp and one on the back.
Additionally, the fork offset can be changed from the stock 22mm to 20mm by loosening the 27mm nut under the steering stem and rotating the stem 180 degrees. Less fork offset (20mm as opposed to 22mm) increases trail and should make the bike steer slower and improve stability, while more offset (22mm) should make the bike turn sharper. We preferred the stock 22mm offset.Apart from having blue hubs, the Rockstar Edition wheels featured billet CNC-machined hubs that are much stronger than the stock cast hubs (that are machined to clean up the look). Additionally, the Factory wheels come with black D.I.D DirtStar rims and a 36-spoke front (laced in a strong cross-three pattern). These wheels are available already laced up at your Husqvarna dealership for around $900 a set.
Added accessories include a Selle Dalla Valle pleated seat cover, holeshot device, blue rear sprocket, skid plate, semi-floating front brake rotor, Rockstar team graphics and a front disc guard.
The list of updates and changes on the 2019-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 are by no means a quantum leap forward. The significant changes are limited to three minor engine mods (rocker arm, piston and bronze top-end rod bushing), eight bolt-on mods (wheels, triple clamps, FMF muffler, seat cover, holeshot device, front rotor cover, Rockstar graphics, blue rear sprocket) and updated 2020 suspension (XACT forks, re-valved shock and Factory triple clamps). In truth, the Rockstar Edition is the Austrian Factory’s version of what many American consumers do to their production bikes—and, equally true, the 2019-1/2 Rockstar Edition doesn’t have much in common with the factory Husqvarna team’s race bikes beyond the basic rolling chassis.
In many ways, the 2019-1/2 Husky FC450 Rockstar Edition is the modern version of a 1969 Yamaha DT-1 with a GYT kit. For those too young to remember, a racer could buy a stock 1968–’69 Yamaha DT-1 250 and a GYT (Genuine Yamaha Tuning) kit to punch it up. The accessory GYT kit was comprised of a ported chrome cylinder, high-compression head, single-ring piston, bigger carburetor and expansion chamber. You could buy it from your Yamaha dealer to hop-up your basic DT-1 enduro-tuned engine. For comparison, the Rockstar Edition starts down the Austrian assembly line as a stock Husqvarna FC450 and gets a handful of engine parts, updated suspension components and a smattering of special parts. The problem with buying kit bikes or garage queen machines from guys with too much money is whatever they’ve done to modify their bikes probably isn’t what you would have done. The same holds true for the Rockstar Edition. Did you want blue hubs? Did you want a slip-on pipe? Did you want a Guts seat cover? Did you want XACT production forks or XACT Pro Spring (Cone Valve) forks? Well, did you punk?
THE 2019-1/2 ROCKSTAR EDITION IS THE MODERN VERSION OF A 1969 YAMAHA DT-1 WITH A GYT KIT. FOR THOSE TOO YOUNG TO REMEMBER, A RACER COULD BUY A STOCK 1968–69 YAMAHA DT-1 250 AND A GYT (GENUINE YAMAHA TUNING) KIT TO PUNCH IT UP.
Maybe it’s just us, but we think that KTM Factory Editions and Husqvarna Rockstar Editions should be as close as possible replicas of the factory race bikes—not blinged-out production bikes. And face it, this is not a replica of Jason Anderson’s factory FC450.
However, it is a great motorcycle (blinged or unblinged). It has a healthy engine, superb handling, bulletproof clutch, Pankl transmission, electric starting, traction control, Brembo brakes, push button maps, 36-spoke front wheel, excellent suspension components, Pro Taper bars, perfect shifting, and a 224-pound dry weight. The Rockstar Edition isn’t a bike for everyone, in no small part because Husqvarna is only going to make 400 of them (and to make the FC450 Rockstar Edition, they had to stop making the KTM 250SXF Factory Edition). If you feel that it’s worth the extra money to be the first on your block to have a 2020 Husqvarna 450SXF, then go for it. As for us, we’ll wait for the actual 2020 production model.