MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2019 HUSQVARNA FC350

THE GEAR: Jersey: FXR Clutch Retro, Pants: FXR Clutch Retro, Helmet: 6D ATR-2, Goggles: FXR Core XPE, Boots: Gaerne SG-12.

Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2019 HUSQVARNA FC350 BETTER THAN THE 2018 FC350?

A: At first glance, the 2019 Husqvarna FC350 looks totally different from the 2018 model. That is courtesy of all-new cosmetics (not the least of which are the minimalist graphics), but underneath the hood, the engine, exhaust, cylinder head, subframe and suspension settings have all been updated. MXA test riders are conflicted about whether it is better than the 2018 FC350, but they all agree that it is different.Every MXA test rider liked the 2019 Husqvarna FC350, but were confused about the strangely configured graphics, the split number plates, the restrictor in the muffler and the airtight airbox.

Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE 2019 HUSQVARNA FC350?

A: In case someone gives you a pop quiz on 2019 Husqvarna FC350 changes, here is a cheat sheet with the most significant mods.

(1) The 2019 chromoly frame has been reconfigured in the head tube area, with stronger and more encompassing gusseting and an enlarged crossover brace. This increases torsional rigidity by 10 percent and longitudinal rigidity by 2 percent. Additionally, the 2019 frame is painted blue—an ugly blue, but blue nonetheless.

(2) The FC350’s swingarm is 5mm longer (along with the rear axle slots) for more chassis adjustment.

(3) Neken’s top triple clamp has been widened by 5mm (fore/aft) to increase rigidity by 5 percent.

(4) A yellow plastic triple-clamp guard protects the bottom triple clamp from rock dings—well, half of the triple clamp anyway.

(5) The radiators have been lowered by 12mm, their fluid volume increased, and the crossover tube (the one that goes through the frame) has been increased in diameter by 4mm to improve water flow.

(6) An all-new two-piece subframe replaces the previous three-piece design. The 2019 subframe is 250 grams lighter.

(7) The 2019 WP AER 48 forks get a major overhaul in their setup specs.

(8) The oversized Pro Taper handlebars get a new bend.

(9) Gone is the tube-shaped resonance chamber on the FC350’s head pipe. In its place is the two-stroke-shaped one that is similar to the FC450 chamber, but it doesn’t share the same dimensions.

(10) The exhaust pipe has a slip-fit in the mid-pipe to allow the pipe to be removed without having to take the shock off the bike.

(11) The FC350 cylinder head casting is 200 grams lighter. The camshafts are polished, and the finger-followers are DLC-coated.

(12) Keihin’s 44mm throttle body has new throttle cable routing for easier maintenance. 

(13) The 2.0 Ah battery produces more cranking pressure than last year’s battery for better cold-weather starting.

(14) The redesigned bodywork features a narrower cockpit, weirdly split side number plates and a 10mm-lower seat height.

(15) The 2019 Husqvarna FC350 transmission is made by Pankl Racing Systems. Pankl is an Austrian-based, high-performance drivetrain company that produces parts for Formula 1 teams. Husqvarna’s 2019 Pankl transmission features the exact same gear combinations and ratios as the 2018 gearbox and is fed its power through an all-new DS clutch.

Husqvarna’s engineers left some horsepower on the table with their airbox and muffler gaffes, but they are fixable at home.

Q: WHAT DID WE MEAN WHEN WE SAID THE 2019 FC350 “FEELS DIFFERENT”?

A: Just in case you pass the first pop quiz and get asked to write an essay on how the 2019 FC350 differs from the 2018 FC350, here are the CliffsNotes.

Steering accuracy. By increasing the frame’s torsional and longitudinal rigidity, with a focus on the head tube area, the frame’s accuracy was improved at turn-in. With less flex in the frame, the chassis is better connected to the front wheel and responds quicker to rider inputs. Of course, the trade-off is that the added stiffness not only made the frame feel stiffer but the suspension too. In action, the faster the rider, the more he liked the stiffer feel, while Vets and slower riders thought it was less forgiving of their sometimes indecisive inputs.

Suppleness. Along with the new stiffer frame came a change from the previous three-piece subframe/airbox combo to a two-piece unit that is constructed from thicker matrix plastic. Most MXA test riders felt that the new subframe design took away the “mystery factor” that made them prefer Husqvarna handling over KTM handling in the past. From a numbers point of view, the 2018 KTM 350SXF and 2018 Husqvarna FC350 share identical geometry, wheelbase, weight bias and components. Logically, the two Austrian chassis’ should have felt the same, but they didn’t! The mystery was why the identical Husky frame was more pleasant to ride than its orange brother. The flexy, three-piece subframe/airbox got all the credit. Interestingly, no test riders felt that the 2019 Husqvarna frame was more resilient than the KTM frame. Mystery solved—sadly.

2019 Husqvarna FC350Low-to-mid pickup. Husqvarnas, at least the Austrian versions, have always had restrictive airboxes. The plastic airbox has been the culprit since the FC350 was first imported to the USA as a 2015 model, but the Husqvarna engineers never responded to the complaint that we called “Husqvarnitis.” In fact, the 2019 airbox is smaller and more restrictive than the previous one. The result is that the rev speed, from 6000 rpm to 8000 rpm, is slower than it could be. How do we know? Because when we rode the FC350 with the airbox cover removed, it was snappier, perkier and quicker. There are fixes for this problem, but they should ideally be implemented on the Husqvarna production line, not by us.

WP AER forks. For production forks, Husqvarna’s AER forks have some charms—not the least of which is that there is a setting that will work for anyone who is willing to take the time to find his personal numbers. For 2019, the WP forks got a new two-stage base valve, a spacer in the rebound (balance) side of the air chamber that reduces air volume by 50 percent, softened compression valving, two-stage rebound damping and lower recommended air pressure settings (152 psi standard). All of this should have made the forks feel more controlled and responsive. But, when test riders dialed in their favorite settings from the 2018 model, the 2019 forks felt stiffer and harsher. We attributed this to the stiffer frame, more rigid top triple clamps and reduced volume in the balance chamber. We found that we had to modify our 2018 air pressures and compression settings by going softer than what we ran last year.

Don’t be afraid to go lower than the recommended air pressure. MXA test riders often go as low as 133 psi.

Q: WHAT CHANGES TO THE FC350 WOULD WE LIKE TO SEE IN 2020?

A: On every motocross bike there are irritating little glitches that you run into. Here is a quick list of things that will grind your gears on the 2019 Husqvarna FC350.

(1) Sprocket bolts. In our opinion, the taper on the sprocket bolt holes and the sprocket bolts themselves are not the same. This means that the sprocket bolts do not make full contact against the sprocket’s taper. We take lapping compound and an air gun and spin each bolt into the sprocket at high speed to match the two tapers. We think Husqvarna should order bolts (and/or sprockets) with the same taper. Until then, never trust that your sprocket bolts are tight.

(2) Spokes. For 2019, Husqvarna ordered a new spoke-nipple design to stop the spokes from coming loose. It didn’t work. They should try again in 2020.

(3) Frame guards. We appreciate that Husky puts black plastic frame guards on its bikes, but the frame is blue. 

(4) Fork clickers. Turning the compression clicker on the forks is harder than it should be. Would it kill WP to put a larger-diameter clicker on top of the forks so that they would be easier to access, especially with gloves on?

(5) Fork guards. When WP used the old-school wraparound fork guards, we never suffered any fork seal issues. Now that KTM and Husky have gone to front-only style fork guards, we are changing fork seals on a regular basis. Guess what? Honda added wraparound guards on the 2019 CRF450, so maybe in 2020 Husky could make a new design that protects the back of the fork legs from rock dings.

(6) Airbox. The Husky engineers should take a close look at how air gets into a 2019 Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki and put the same large, triangular vent holes in the 2020 airbox cover.

(7) Husqvarna FC350 muffler. The 2019 FC350 muffler has a restrictor-style perf-core cone stuck in the muffler. It kills throttle response at low rpm and contributes to the Husky FC350 giving up free horsepower.

(8) Graphics. We are aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the graphic design of the 2019 FC350 looks like the guy applying the radiator decal slipped when he was putting on the Husky logo. 

(9) Seat height. We know that Husqvarna claims that the seat height of the 2019 FC350 is 10mm lower than last year, but we suspect that their tape measure is broken. 

The 42 N/m shock spring is in the ballpark for most middleweight racers. Heavyweights should use the 45 N/m spring from the FC450.

Q: HOW WELL DOES THE 2019 FC350 ENGINE WORK?

A: The 2019 Husqvarna FC350 engine got a new clutch, new transmission, larger throttle body, redesigned exhaust system, 200-gram lighter cylinder head and new ECU mapping, although the engine’s architecture was relatively unchanged. But, make no mistake about it, this is a very good engine in spite of the airbox and muffler gaffes. At 53.30 horsepower, which is a solid number for a mid-sized Open bike, the FC350 is especially impressive in the upper middle (around 10,000 rpm), where the 2019 FC350 made 50.82 horsepower while the 2018 Husky only made 48.76 horsepower. On the track, the 2019 Husqvarna FC350 felt stronger at roll-on and super impressive from the midrange on up. It ran strong and clean all the way to the top. Its only weakness is that we know—even if Husqvarna’s engineers don’t—that it could be even better with a better airbox and a straight-through muffler.

This is an interesting powerband. It feels snappy when the throttle is first rolled on but then calms down as the rpm climb. Once it hits 8000 rpm, the power begins to increase rapidly. From 8000 rpm on, the Husqvarna takes off. The trick to racing an FC350 is to make sure that you bleed each gear dry. Never short shift an FC350. Wait for the engine to get to its 13,400 rpm rev limiter. Be patient. Don’t shift. Don’t back off.  

No short-shifting allowed. This is a 13,400-rpm engine. You need to wring it out.

Q: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DS AND DDS CLUTCH?

A: The KTM Husqvarna FC450 and TC250 two-stroke are the only Husky motocross bikes with DDS (Damped Diaphragm Steel) clutches. The Husky FC250, FC350 and TC125/150 come with DS (Damped Steel) clutches. Both the DDS and DS clutches come with an integrated steel basket/primary gear, Belleville washer in the place of coil springs, and hydraulic actuation (Brembo for KTM and Magura for Husqvarna). So, what’s the difference? The key is the word “damped” in the acronym DDS. In essence, the 450 four-stroke and 250 two-stroke get a rubber-bumper cush-hub that absorbs the jolt of the more powerful engines. The FC250 and FC350 do not get the rubber-damped cush-hub.

Q: WILL THE 2019 FC350’S MAGURA CLUTCH SLAVE UNIT FAIL?

A: No. Magura’s clutch slave unit seal failures have been limited to the FC450 (not the FC250 or FC350). The FC250 and FC350 use a different size slave piston that seems to be immune to the seal issues that plague the larger FC450 piston.

Q: WHAT SHOULD YOU DO TO THE FC350 TO MAKE IT A BETTER RACE BIKE?

A: You should try to do as little as possible—in order to keep from goobering it up with a bunch of meaningless foof. Here is MXA’s very short list:

Gearing. We gear it down by adding a 51-tooth sprocket, but some test riders prefer to run a 52. 

Airbox. We drill five 1-1/4-inch holes in the airbox cover (always drill the holes behind the air filter, not next to it).

Map. We race our bikes on map #2, but we have ridden stock ECUs that have been re-mapped by Twisted Development’s Jamie Ellis. Twisted’s map is worth the money.

Exhaust. We tested both the FMF and Pro Circuit exhaust pipes. They both added power in the 2-horsepower range.  

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Spokes. Good news! Husqvarna redesigned its spoke nipples for 2019. Bad news! It didn’t solve the problem.

(2) Blue frame. From what weathered barn did they select the blue paint for the frame?

(3) Husqvarnitis. What is Husqvarnitis? It is the motorcycle equivalent of emphysema. The cure? A hole-saw bit.

(4) Graphics. “We don’t need no stinkin’ graphics!”

(5) Subframe. Husqvarna exchanged last year’s three-piece plastic subframe for a new two-piece design. It is stronger and lighter, but most MXA test riders preferred the feel of the old three-piece design. It made the chassis feel suppler.

(6) Spring rate. The stock shock spring is a 42 N/m spring. If you are over 185 pounds, swap to the 45 N/m spring from the FC450.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Weight. The 2019 Husqvarna FC350 weighs 222 pounds.

(2) Brakes. This is the brake that Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda are trying to catch up to. 

(3) Air filter. The Twin Air air filter comes with a foolproof mounting system.

(4) Skid plate. Husky welded mounting tabs under the frame to hold a skid plate. Nice touch. 

(5) Hydraulic clutch. The Husqvarna clutch makes Japanese clutches feel feeble (even the 2019 Kawasaki KX450 hydraulic clutch). You can expect double or triple the life from Husky clutch plates compared to the “Big Four.”

(6) Handlebars. The new bend on the ProTaper handlebar is comfortable.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: We think that the Husqvarna FC350 and KTM 350SXF are the best bikes for the widest range of riders. They are lighter than all the 2019 450 four-strokes and lighter than four 250 four-strokes. They make almost 10 horsepower more than any 250 and rev to an incredible 13,400 rpm. They blur the difference between a 250 and 450. This bike can be ridden like a 250 while having the torque and power of a 450. If you can only afford one bike but would like two, the FC350 is two bikes in one. It is a Vet racer special and a Professional practice rider’s dream.

The 350cc concept never caught on with the Big Four, but that’s their loss. This is a sweet machine.

MXA’S 2019 HUSQVARNA FC350 SETUP SPECS

This is how we set up our 2019 Husqvarna FC350 for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

AER FORK SETTINGS
The majority of MXA test riders ignore the recommended air pressure numbers. They are not well-suited to the majority of Husky owners. If we know one thing about WP AER air forks, it is to set the air pressure first (using the zip-tie method to check for full travel), then go in and out with the compression and rebound clickers (starting at the stock 15 clicks out). This can be done in a series of single-lap tests. Don’t be afraid to experiment. There are MXA test riders who run air pressures in the 130 range and some who exceed 156 psi. As a rule of thumb, once the air pressure is in the ballpark, we do the majority of fine-tuning with the compression clicker. There is no harm in a low air pressure setting as long as the front of the bike doesn’t hang down in the corners and use up travel too quickly. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2019 Husqvarna FC350 (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 140 psi (152 psi)
Compression: 25 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Rebound: 17 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Fork leg height: Third line
Notes: If we feel that the forks are harsh in the middle but tend to ride high when we increase the air pressure, we lower the oil height in the damping leg by 10 to 20mm to eliminate a harsh spot in the travel. Additionally, pay attention to extreme temperature changes. You may have to change the AER’s air pressure as it gets hotter later in the day. We bleed the outer chambers constantly.

WP SHOCK SETTINGS
If you are heavier than 185 pounds, you might want to run the 2016 Husqvarna FC350’s 45 N/m spring. If you are lighter than 120 pounds, you should look into the 39 N/m spring from the 125SX two-stroke. Overall, this is a very good shock. Although we do make clicker adjustments, we rarely stray very far from the stock 15 clicks out on compression. It can be dialed in with only a few clicker changes. As a rule of thumb, most MXA test riders leave the low-speed compression on the stock setting and focus on the high-speed dial to make the changes. We do run additional rebound damping. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2019 Husqvarna FC350 Factory Edition (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 42 N/m
Race sag: 105mm (110mm)
Hi-compression: 1-3/4 turns out (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. Additionally, we set the sag at 105mm instead of the WP-recommended 110mm.

Click her for the Husky FC350 first ride video.

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