MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2022-1/2 HUSQVARNA FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION

The Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition has an all-new chassis, suspension, bodywork, electronics, ergonomics, airbox and power output when compared to the production 2022 FC450. The engineers did a pretty good job.

Q: WHAT DID HUSKY CHANGE ON THE 2022-1/2 FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION?

A: Everything.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2022-1/2 HUSQVARNA FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION DIFFER FROM THE KTM FACTORY EDITION?

A: The cosmetics and plastic components are the most noticeable changes, but the list of differences includes the gas tank (different shape with the Husky tank holding more fuel on the right side of the bike), radiators wings (a blunter shape with no pointy nacelle), front fender (a conventional white fender instead of an orange I-beam fender), rear fender (white instead of orange with a different shape at the interface with the seat), frame color (black instead of orange), triple-clamp anodizing (black instead of orange), seat cover (a black Guts seat cover instead of an orange Selle Dalla Valle cover), side panels (the right side panel is two pieces with a removable front piece covering the shock adjuster dials), frame guards (the black Husky frame guard doesn’t extend over the mid-pipe like KTM’s orange frame guard) and clutch cover (bronze anodizing instead of black anodizing). 

Q: WHAT ARE THE LEAST OBVIOUS DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE HUSKY AND KTM?

A: There were two “Edition” variations that caught the MXA test riders’ attention, one significant and one a minor. (1) The KTM front fender has eight 1-inch winglets molded into the back half of the front fender. They were designed to knock down moisture and dirt flying off the front wheel into the rider’s goggles. (2) When KTM introduced the 2022-1/2 Factory Edition, its engineers spent an inordinate amount of time explaining how flow studies had shown that “undefined” air (air that came in from widely spaced or ill-positioned gaps) was the enemy of effective power. In response, they redesigned the Factory Edition’s flow so that all the air entering the airbox came from well-defined vents on both sides of the airbox. The two vents were positioned above and behind the air filter, and you could see through the frame from one vent to the other. The KTM even had a V-shaped dome under the seat base to help redirect the air coming into the vents in a downward direction. It was a very nifty presentation on how to design an airbox.

You can imagine how surprised we were to discover that the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition’s airbox didn’t have any of the peachy design features that were laid out for us regarding the KTM airbox. In fact, the two air vents on the FC450 Rockstar Edition are fake vents. In short, the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition gets its air from a slot at the back of the airbox cover and, of course, from other “undefined” leaks.  

Gone is the all-plastic subframe/airbox combo that was spun off from Husaberg. The new subframe is a hybrid of an aluminum structure reinforced by a polyamide plastic covering. THE GEAR: Jersey: FXR Revo Comp, Pants: FXR Revo Comp, Helmet: 6D ATR-2, Goggles: FMF Powerbomb, Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10.

Q: HOW DOES IT RUN ON THE TRACK AND DYNO?

A: We really shouldn’t be too concerned about “defined” or “undefined” air, because the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition actually makes more peak horsepower than its well-defined KTM Factory Edition brother. Adequate airflow or not, when the Husky FC450 gets up a head of steam, it is more often than not a player in the peak horsepower game; however, on the lower end of the rpm scale, the throttle response and horsepower on the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition are aided to the tune of 1.2 horsepower from off-idle to 7500 rpm over the Husky. After 8000 rpm, the Rockstar and Factory Editions are head to head until they get to peak horsepower, where the FC450 Rockstar hits 60.4 horsepower at 9600 rpm, while the 450SXF Factory Edition makes 59.9 horsepower at 9400 rpm.

On the track, the Husky was smoother, mellower and easier to ride at the crack of the throttle, where the KTM 450 Factory Edition was more responsive. Our Vet test riders liked the roll-on power of the Husky better, while the Pro riders preferred the KTM’s quicker acceleration. Neither slow nor fast test riders quibbled over the Husqvarna’s 1/2-horse advantage over the KTM at peak, because it was mitigated by the fact that the KTM peaked a couple hundred rpm earlier and stayed above 59 horsepower for a 1600 rpm span. The Husky’s peak number may have been higher, but its breadth at or above 59 horsepower was only for a 1300-rpm span. There is give and take between the two limited-edition machines, but they both have great powerbands that are more responsive down low than their production-based stablemates and yet still linear from top to bottom. Powerful yet manageable.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE MAPS?

A: For several years, MXA has been asking for a larger difference between the Mellow map (Map 1) and Aggressive map (Map 2). Often the difference between the two maps is infinitesimal. Finally, on the 2022-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition, the KTM engineers gave riders two distinctly different maps. The Mellow map was, in fact, mellow, although it still had a significant hit, while the Aggressive map was much more usable down low and then built serious power in a progressive surge from the mid to the top. The two KTM maps gave riders of different skill levels options.

It sounds good, but when we compared the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition’s two maps, the distinction between Map 1 and Map 2 was blurred. We dyno’ed both maps and could decipher no obvious differences. We raced with both maps, even changing the maps on the fly, but came to the conclusion that the two Husky maps were much closer to each other than the two KTM maps. Maybe it was just our test bike’s ECU, because there was no mention in the tech briefing of the Husky having different maps from the KTM. That said, every MXA test rider ran Map 2.

The FC450 engine is small enough that it fits in the FC250 frame. It is also tilted back 2 degrees, and the countershaft sprocket is lowered 3mm.

Q: DID WE LEAVE OUT SOMETHING IMPORTANT ABOUT THE HUSQVARNA AIRBOX?

A: We are getting to that! When KTM purchased Husqvarna from BMW in 2013, they already owned a different Swedish motorcycle brand. KTM made the decision to run with the more famous Husqvarna brand and dropped the oddly unique Husaberg brand, keeping only two things from the suddenly defunct Swedish brand: (1) The Husaberg “Ready to Race” slogan, which they adopted as KTM’s new catchphrase. (2) KTM decided to borrow Husaberg’s molded plastic subframe and combine it with the airbox on the new-generation Husqvarnas. 

For the 2022-1/2 Rockstar Edition, Husky and KTM share the same traditional aluminum strut subframe, reinforced by molded segments that are 70-percent polyamide plastic and 30-percent carbon fiber. There is little doubt that this change was meant to address cracking problems with the previous molded Husqvarna subframe/airbox combo.

Q: HOW GOOD IS THE HUSQVARNA ROCKSTAR EDITION SUSPENSION?

A: First, it isn’t really Husqvarna suspension. Yes, it is made by WP, but it is not the plusher and lower Husqvarna suspension from the production 2022 FC450. Instead, the Rockstar Edition uses the stiffer and taller KTM suspension components.

Why doesn’t the Husky FC450 Rockstar Edition come with the well-regarded 2022 Husqvarna setup. We got two answers, so pick the one you like best. (1) “It is a replica of the Husqvarna factory race bikes, so it can’t come with the shortened and plusher 2022 production forks because the team doesn’t use that setup.” Correct, but they also don’t use anything resembling KTM or Husky 48mm AER air forks, opting, in most cases, for 52mm Cone Valve spring forks. (2) “In order to get the Factory Editions and Rockstar Editions on the showroom floors as early as possible, the factory had to start procuring and stockpiling parts before November of last year. Given that there are 450 and 250 versions of both the Factory Editions and Rockstar Editions, that added up to a minimum of 1600 sets of suspension. Management decided that it was more expedient to order 1600 of the same forks and shocks instead of 400 of this one and 400 of that one.” This we believe. We don’t like it, but we believe it.

Would we prefer the 1-inch-lower overall chassis height of the stock 2022 Husky-spec forks, shock and linkage? Yes, because we love the lowered chassis’ turning prowess, plusher feel and increased comfort for slower, shorter or older riders; however, none of our Pro riders wanted to race with softer forks.

WP forks come off the assembly line with very tight tolerances. This is great for the long run, but absolutely horrible for the first few hours of riding.

Q: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT ROCKSTAR EDITION FORKS?

A: We want to warn you that the first ride on WP XACT AER air forks will be the worst ride of your life. Husqvarna, KTM and GasGas forks come off the assembly line with very tight tolerances. This is great in the long run, but absolutely horrible for the first few hours of riding. Luckily, the MXA test riders—who are assigned to do the photo shoots, “MXA First Ride” videos and ride the bikes to set up the suspension settings for the test riders who follow them—are well aware of how harsh the forks can be in the first hour. And, in truth, the forks don’t fully achieve the plushness they are capable of for about five hours of break-in time.

Test riders who raced the bike at two hours hated it, but two weeks later, when the forks had four hours on them, the exact same test rider, on the exact same bike, on the exact same track, loved it.

Q: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT THE ROCKSTAR EDITION FRAME?

A: If you are a long-time Husqvarna racer, you may remember when the 2018 Husqvarna FC450 came out. It got a new frame in 2018 with additional gusseting around the steering head. When we tried to run the suspension settings that worked so well on our 2017 FC450, they didn’t work on the stiffer 2018 frame.<

We struggled to develop new fork and shock settings to get the comfort and plushness of the 2017 from the stiffer 2018 chassis. Guess what? If you thought the 2018 frame was too stiff, you’ll have the same feeling about the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition suspension setup, with the caveat that instead of stamped metal gussets, as back in 2018, the 2022-1/2 frame has ultra-strong, forged-steel brackets on top of the frame’s backbone (behind the head tube), and, no surprise, forged brackets on the down tube (below the head tube). These forged pieces make the frame more durable and stronger, but because of them, this frame needs a lot of break-in time. The six hours on the WP forks is just a warmup for the frame. Our frame got closer to its natural resilience with the passing of every hour of saddle time. It was perfect at the 10-hour mark.

All of the Rockstar Edition’s electronic switchgear has been downsized and rearranged. It takes a little while to adjust to the four modes on the map switch.
All of the Rockstar Edition’s electronic switchgear has been downsized and rearranged. It takes a little while to adjust to the four modes on the map switch.

These sound like crazy-town break-in times, but you don’t have to wait for 10 hours. The chassis will feel better every time you ride it. You’d be amazed how many first-time KTM owners waste money on expensive fork mods, motor mounts and shock springs when all they really had to do was ride it more.

Q: WHAT DID WE THINK OF QUICK SHIFT?

A: What is Quick Shift? Quick Shift is an electronic cut-off switch that interrupts the ignition when a sensor on the shift drum signals the ECU that an upshift is about to happen. Killing the spark relieves the torque load on the gearbox to allow faster clutch-less shifting. Quick Shift is only active on upshifts. It can be turned on or off by pressing the “QS” button on the map switch, and it can be changed on the fly.

Quick Shift is at its best on long, fast, wide-open, high-speed straights, especially long start straights where the rider has to row through the gearbox from second to fifth. After the start, opinions are mixed—only half of the MXA test riders liked Quick Shift for the rest of the track.

Q: WHAT DID IT WEIGH?

A: The 2022-1/2 Rockstar Edition weighs a surprising 231 pounds. That is 7 pounds more than the 2022 production bike. Even at 231 pounds, it is still lighter than every Japanese-built 450 but 9 pounds heavier than a 2023 GasGas MC 450F. The Rockstar Edition is heavier than the yet-to-be released 2023 Husqvarna FC450 because it is outfitted with “added-value parts” that not only add value but weight. These include the Factory hubs, cross-three spoke pattern, skid plate, front rotor guard, cross-3 front wheel, pleated seat cover and split triple clamps.  

Q: WHAT IS THE MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE (MSRP)?

A: The 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition’s retail price is $11,800, which is $100 more expensive than the $11,700 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition. For that money, you get a host of bolt-on accessories, not to mention a preview of next year’s 2023 Husqvarna FC450 a couple months early.

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Seat height. The 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edittion is skyscraper tall. It wouldn’t be so tall if it had Husqvarna’s own suspension on it.

(2) Push buttons. We like the push buttons on the new electronics for start, stop, traction control, maps and Quick Shift, but the buttons are so low-profile that getting them depressed with a gloved hand is often hit or miss. To get to our Quick Shift button, we rotated the map switch forward to bring the LC and QS buttons within easier reach.

(3) Weight. One of KTM’s, Husky’s and GasGas’ claims to fame was their incredible light weight. Well, at least GasGas can still claim that achievement.

(4) Chain slack. The Rockstar Edition owner’s manual says to measure chain slack at 58mm at the back of the chain buffer pad, but the true number is 70mm.

(5) Shock adjuster cover. This Kiska-designed cover guards the high-and low-speed compression adjusters from being hit by the rider’s boot. Funny, but KTM doesn’t need this awkward cover because the right-side KTM number plate was designed to protect the dials. Kiska should have planned better so that the Husqvarna side panel could do the job properly in the first place instead of adding another piece of plastic foof’ to the bike.

All of the suspension settings for compression and rebound can be adjusted by hand, although the shock’s rebound adjuster is hard to get to. It does come with a back-up screwdriver slot.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Chain torque. Husky moved the countershaft sprocket down 3mm to reduce rear-end squat under full power. 

(2) Cross-three spokes. The more spokes that an individual spoke crosses over on the way from the hub to the rim, the stronger and more forgiving the wheel. The Rockstar Edition front wheel is laced cross-three.

(3) Frame backbone. The frame’s backbone and shock tower have been separated to reduce the effect of square-edge bumps and whoops thrusting the energy of the blow to the front end, which in turn makes the rear end kick.

(4) Adjustable offset. The Rockstar Edition triple clamps can be changed from 22mm offset to 20mm offset. 

(5) Roll-over sensor. As a safety feature, there is a mercury switch that shuts the engine off if the bike is laying on the ground for more than 7 seconds.

(6) Air filter. No air filter is easier to put in or take out than the Husqvarna design, except, of course, the KTM and GasGas air filters.

(7) Kill button. The previous kill button was mounted inboard on the left handlebar. For 2023, the kill button and start button share a fitting on the right side of the handlebar. Again, the button could be raised up higher for easier use.

(8) Idiot light. In 2022, the FI diagnostic’s LED light fell out of its holders constantly. On the Rockstar Edition, the idiot light has been moved to the triple clamp-mounted hour meter.

(9) Engine castings. The totally new 450 engine cases were downsized so that motor mount bosses would be in the exact same location as the new 250 engine cases. This allowed Husky to use the same frame for the FC250 and FC450.

(10) Footpegs. The die-cast footpegs are 7.5mm longer, but they do not stick out further. Instead, they stick in closer to the frame. We like the feeling of having our feet tucked in closer to the frame—to the extent that some MXA test riders remove the plastic frame guards to get their boots even closer.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: As always, the limited production run of the FC450 Rockstar Edition means they sell out quickly. Do we think that Husqvarna should up production from 400 units to 1200 units? No! In truth, MXA always advises its test riders and friends not to buy Rockstar Editions or Factory Editions, because the true-to-life 2023 Husqvarna FC450 production bikes will be one generation newer, 4 pounds lighter and $1000 cheaper.

2022-1/2 FC250 Rockstar Edition is identical to its FC450 stablemate, but with a 250cc engine.

BITE-SIZE2022-1/2 HUSQVARNA FC250

Given that the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC250 Rockstar Edition shares the complete chassis, frame, shock linkage, swingarm, geometry, bodywork, airbox, triple clamps, 20mm-shorter shock, aluminum/polyamide hybrid subframe, 3mm-lower countershaft, die-cast footpegs, increased compression, Brembo brakes and Brembo clutch with its FC450 Rockstar Edition brother, you can look at MXA’s preceding FC450 Rockstar Edition test (page 30) for most of the mechanical particulars. Most notable on the list of technical advancements is the fact that the Husqvarna FC250 and FC450 have all-new engine castings that enable both engines to fit in the exact same position in the hydro-formed chromoly frame. Thus, neither the FC250 nor FC450 have to compromise on the weights and balances like other brands when using the same frame for both displacements.

The big-bore short stroke engine is a major departure from previous KTM 250SXF engines.

It was no secret that the existing Husqvarna FC250 four-stroke engine was six years old heading into the 2022 model year. Amazingly, it was still the best all-around race engine in the quarter-liter class. Although touted as a high-rpm engine, its horsepower numbers across the rpm range were impressive; but, six years is a very long time to try to stay at the top. To stay ahead of the pack, KTM and Husqvarna needed something startling—and that is exactly what they delivered. Dropping their once ground-breaking 78mm by 52.3mm bore-and-stroke design, the all-new 2023 engine, as introduced on the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC250 Rockstar Edition, offered a totally new-from-the-ground-up, 81mm by 48.5mm bore-and-stroke design. With a 3mm-larger piston and an almost 4mm-shorter stroke, the latest generation FC250 engine architecture forecast improved midrange and even more top-end power than before.

With 44.6 horsepower on tap, the FC250 Rockstar Edition has an incredibly broad powerband.

And, that is exactly what it delivered. Compared to the best Japanese-built 250, the 2022 Yamaha YZ250F, the new Husqvarna FC250 engine made more power than the YZ250F at every 1000-rpm interval from 6000 rpm to 14,000 rpm. Husqvarna’s advantage varied from 1 to 3 horsepower at each step and, more tellingly, the FC250 cracked the 44-horsepower mark at 12,300 rpm and stayed above that lofty number until 14,000 rpm. By comparison, the YZ250F never broke the 43-horsepower barrier, peaking at 42.56 horsepower at 12,600 rpm.

On the track, the Husqvarna comes closest of any current 250cc machine to delivering solid midrange punch without losing any top-end power. The FC250 is 3 horsepower better than the 2022 YZ250F at 9000 rpm and doesn’t reach its peak of 44.6 horsepower until a soaring 13,700 rpm. That means you don’t have to clutch it out of corners to keep it on the pipe and, thanks to Quick-Shift, you never need to touch the clutch lever when upshifting through the gears. All that’s required of an FC250 Rockstar Edition rider is to choose his favorite map, change the rear sprocket to conform to his riding style or track configuration, and hang on.

Power has been improved across the board over the 2022 production FC450. The Rockstar Edition joins the 60-horsepower club.

MXA’S 2022-1/2 HUSQVARNA FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION SETUP SPECS 

This is how we set up our 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition suspension for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

WP AER FORK SETTINGS There is a learning curve to WP XACT air forks. The right fork leg is strictly damping, and the left leg is air only. Husqvarna has a sticker on the air leg to guide you to the recommended air pressure. It is a very good starting point, but it’s just a suggestion, not an ironclad law. MXA has test riders run as much as 165 psi and as low as 135 psi. The 2022-1/2 forks have the potential to be great once broken in. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition:
Spring rate: 158 psi (10.9 bar)
Compression: 14 clicks out (12 clicks out)
Rebound: 15 clicks out (18 clicks out)
Fork-leg height: Third line
Notes: The 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition comes with rubber rings on each leg to allow the rider to see how much travel he is getting at a given pressure, but the orange rings wear out and slide down by themselves after a couple of hours. 

WP SHOCK SETTINGS Most MXA test riders liked the overall feel of the WP rear shock. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition:
Spring rate: 45 N/mm (175 pounds), 42 N/mm (150 pounds), 48 N/mm (over 200 pounds)
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/2 turns out
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 15 clicks out
Notes: Static sag, measured without the rider on the bike, should be between 30mm and 40mm. To measure static sag, first set your race sag to 105mm. Next, take the bike off the stand and have someone hold it vertically while you measure how much the rear suspension sags without a rider on it. If your static sag is more than the recommended 40mm, your spring may be too stiff for your weight. In this case, the spring is not compressed enough to allow the suspension to extend far enough on its own. If your static sag is less than 30mm in the rear, the spring may be too soft for your weight. In this case, the spring requires so much preload to achieve the proper race sag that it makes the rear suspension prone to topping out under a load.

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