Husqvarna TR650 Terra – quick spin

November 2013: 1000 miles on a TR650 Terra in Morocco

As long as it’s smooth, a big single comes close to the optimal configuration for a do-it-all travel bike, especially if you intend to  ride dirt roads occasionally. You’ve enough power to pull a load, the economy to carry it a long way, and all without too much mass making the rig hard to handle on muddy or sandy tracks. And these days efi has managed to introduce smoothness and hopefully seamless starting too.

huskbroI’ve done Sahara trips riding, or riding with just about every big four-stroke single going, so when I read of Husqvarna’s new TR650 Terra and Strada I was curious to see if I might like to add one to that list. There are no press bikes in the UK for a couple of months so I paid up and took a short test ride from a BMW dealer in central London. FYI, this review adds up to no more than an hour’s ride around west London on a 650 Terra.

I’ve never owned a Husky, but it’s quite likely that in their 1970s heyday they were a better known brand in the US than the UK. I recall in the late 70s and early 80s reading in Dirt Bike magazine about US enduro champion Dick Burleson’s epic annual battles with the Blackwater 100 enduro aboard a two-stroke Husky 390WR (below left). And a few years earlier we had no less than Malcolm Smith, flat tracker Mert Lawill and the ‘Cooler King’ Steve McQ (all flying above left) hooning around in On Any Sunday – a film so good I’m going to slap in a clip right here. In fact his 400 Crosser (right) was up for auction soon after I wrote this.

Globalise it Husqvarna is the name of the former Swedish maker of off-road competition racers who were bought off Italian owners Cagiva (MVA) by BMW in 2007; it’s said to give the German marque a bit of dirt bike credibility. Then in early 2013, in the course of realignment towards urban mobility and nothing less than e-mobility, BMW Motorrad sold the brand to Pierer Industrie AG, a private company owned by Stefan Pierer, the CEO of KTM. As things stand Huskies continue to be made in northern Italy, with the new TRs using the Chinese-assembled 650 engine made by Rotax that appears in BMW’s Sertao and GS650G among others, two models more or less separated by wheel size with the implied trail- or road bike use. It’s a common ploy these days; use one motor/chassis platform to sell two or more options.

The two TRs are in this mold; identical frames and motors with the road-oriented Strada running 19/17 cast wheels and tubeless tyres (left) and the Terra trail bike with 21/18-inch spoked rims. In the UK the Strada gets ABS as standard; on the Terra it’s an option. Most expect the Terra will be the better selling of the two, although I’ve found a 19-inch front wheel rides fine on the sort of unsealed roads you do when overlanding. I believe tubeless tyres are better too. Don’t think you’ll be doing the modern version of the Blackwater 100 on a Terra just because it has a 21-inch front wheel.

Replace ‘X’ with TR? I wondered whether the two Husky TRs were reiterations of the failed X-series of 650-single BMWs from around the time BMW bought Italian-owned Husky in 2007.

That may be the vague idea, but in fact the new TRs bear a closer resemblance to a previous Husqvarna, the 2010 TE630 (right: 160kg wet; up to 57hp claimed; £6200 in 2010). Only now they’ve moved away from the TE’s off-roader attributes towards a trail and road bike using a significantly worked over BMW engine, which may help explain the drop in price.

Using this same base engine, in this respect the Terra would compare with the old X-challenge (left, on the gnarly MH5 piste in Morocco) while the Strada would equate with a 19-inch X-country. In AMH, Walter ‘Sibersky’ Colebatch describes the substantial mods he made to his air-shocked X-challenge to create a hardcore overlander, while I myself might have erred towards a tubeless 19-inch X-country.

I still haven’t got to the bottom of why the X bikes were a flop other than perhaps looks and that buyers didn’t associate BMW with light trail bikes. As far as I know it certainly wasn’t down to a disastrous reliability record out of the crate. I always thought BMW gave up on the Xs too soon – or did so to focus attention on the new 800cc twins which came out around that time (and initially had more teething problems than a chocolate gearbox).

According to the power specs issued on the TRs’ launch in Spain a couple of months ago, the Huskies both claim a notably higher 58hp over the 650GS BMWs’ 48hp, but for many the weight specs were disappointing. At 186kg a Terra with the ABS option is said to weigh just 6 kilos less than the portly Sertao (right) and some 26kg more than the preceding TE. The old BMW X-challenge with its air suspension but no ABS clocked in at just 156kg wet. And yet looking at a Sertao while sat on the Terra in BMW Park Lane’s underground hangar, it’s hard to believe there’s only 6kg or 13lbs in it. The Terra is slinky slim alongside the Sertao – like an old TT600 sat by a Tenere. And it can’t be that the motor is inherently heavy if they managed to get an X-challenge some 30 kilos lighter. This all assumes the factory figures are correct – one day some diligent publication will spend some quality time with a pair of scales. Yes we all know that the weight of something even as large as a GSA1200 magically evaporates once on the move along a nice road, but in the real word of overlanding there will be muddy diversions or gravel track opportunities where that weight (combined with tyre choice) becomes very much apparent. When the going gets tough, weight does matter.

Claimed kerb weights (wet) • TR650 Terra 186kg (with ABS) • BMW Sertao 192kg • Yamaha XT600R 181kg (no ABS) • BMW X-Challenge 156kg (discontinued) • Husqvarna TE630 160kg (discontinued)
The KLR650, and pre-Cambrian DR650 and XR650L continue to be churned out for the US and maybe other markets.

Testing testing
Like I say I’d sooner run a 19-inch front-tyred bike for long distance travels which are mostly roads, but figured more would be interested to read about the Terra. Apart from appearance, only the handling would differ; according to the specs seat height is just half an inch and non adjustable.

Manoeuvring out onto Park Lane, first impressions where of a slim, small bike with what felt like an oddly heavy front end. That and the conspicuous thud from the high-compression engine. High comp motors don’t do so well with low octane fuel out in the world, but up to a point modern computerised ignition and efi systems can cope with it. As for the heavy front, I don’t know if the Sachs UPDs and the rim are cheap items, but at least they’ve not lumbered the TRs with an unnecessary second front disc as on Yamaha’s Tenere. Even at 180 kilos, a bike can surely manage with a single, well calibrated front disc, especially when you have ABS as a back up.

The Terra is as slim as a rake (right) – my knees were about 8 inches apart which gave confidence to split the West End traffic like a pushbike. Even the pipes are slim and tucked in, compared to some cans you get. The Terra’s agile dimensions and snappy engine helps here too in a point-and-squirt sort of way, while popping on the over-run as some efi does. The high-comp blat reminding me of a TT600 from years back.

I pulled over in the park to have a closer look over the TR650. There’s really not much to it; you can see they’ve equipped it down to a price (the rack – more below – is about the sum of it) although the fit and finish were of a high standard compared to some Jap bikers I’ve owned.

The dashboard has the usual array of Christmas lights which chime up on ignition as the rev counter needle does its sweep. The salesman had inadvertently set it up to read kilometres and I couldn’t work out how to reset to mph without RTFM. (The salesman also said one of the menu buttons was a redundant ‘mapping’ button, although the LCD on the right indicated an enigmatic ‘Map II’…). All I could do was scroll the LCD read-out below the speedo between temperature, trip and odometer. A light also comes on when ambient temperature nears freezing, you need a service or the fuel gets low. The ABS can be disengaged in the usual way with a button on the bars (right).  I was also pleased to see non-BMW indicator switchgear: left, right and press to cancel like my aged Suzuki. The radiator (left) is wide and when you fall hard the plastic wing scoops may not protect it.

Where trail bikes or 21-inch-tyred bikes with high mudguards often lose their composure is at higher speeds, so I swung up onto the urban Westway freeway to see how the Terra responded. Back in my despatching days this was always a welcome blast out from the heart of town. Up to around 70 the Terra felt stable, though of course without any protection, sitting like that for a while would have its limits. The step-free MX-style seat plank felt firm, though as we know it takes an hour or two for a saddle’s true measure to shine through too. As in town, out on the flyover’s expansion joints the suspension felt reassuringly firm, but I don’t recall seeing any adjustment other than preload and maybe damping on the back. When needed, the brakes pulled the big single up sharply, though with suspension dive I couldn’t manage to get the front to ABS. Again, as in town at lower speeds the five speed gear change was slick and notch free. And on the short high-speed run along the flyover I can’t say I noticed any vibration from the seat or even the tell-tale mirrors. Despite its high-comp motor, this must be one of the smoothest big singles around which bodes well for long-range comfort. My test bike had 19 miles on the clock.

Further down the A40 I pulled over again for another look over the bike. The lack of  any protection around the engine jumps out at you – though of course a bashplate will be on the options list which includes luggage, a tiny fly screen, hand guards, heated grips and other stuff (see below). With drain plugs (below right), oil lines and exposed brake linkages (left), you’d think a chunky bash plate is one thing they could slap on, out of the crate, if for no other reason than to make the Terra look the part, alongside the Strada.

Oddly, the Terra never starts first dab of the button as you’d assume efi bikes would; it takes a few churns. It stalled on me only once. Unexplained stalling was the bane of the early F650s and could be extremely dangerous when it happened as you pulled out onto a major road. Big singles especially seem prone to efi anomalies – the big swept volume of the single cylinder makes it tricky to get it right first time, though it can be done (on an XT660Z for example, despite ropey fueling on earlier 660 XTs). Trickling through traffic on a near-closed throttle I did detect a very slight unevenness, but nothing as bad as has been said of the previous TE630 – or on my carb’d GS500 for that matter. And though I’ve not read up on it yet, there’s been a lot of talk about hot-starting issues with the new Sertao; you’d hope Husqvarna have worked around that using their own efi and ignition combination.

On the back what feels like an alloy rack doubles as a pillion grip and baggage loop, but it hangs way out behind the fixtures; a weighty box combined with a sudden thud might just snap it. As mentioned, the Terra appears a basic package after looking over the better equipped Sertao back at the shop. Even with its comparatively flabby looks, it did look like you get more of a bike with the Sertao, especially when I was told by the salesman they were about the same price.

In fact the original price difference was huge – at £6700 the Sertao costs some 28% more than a Terra without ABS at £5271. ABS manages to raise that by a rather staggering £700 to £5971 - making the Sertao now 13% pricier. Factor in the Sertao’s screen, fatter seat, thin bash plate and hand guards and you may still be ahead with a Terra if choosing better or better value third party equipment as opposed to what are often lame or over-priced OE accessories (see below).

In the UK, at around £5300 the Husky Terra matches up very well against say, Yamaha’s  XT660R at £6500 (right). There’s no ABS and the weight is similar at a claimed 181kg while making only 47hp on the 10:1 compression ratio (actually better for running on low octane fuel). If you can live without the ABS, the grand-plus saved over the XT or Sertao buys a lot of equipment for a Terra. First though, I’d like to be sure that seat delivers the miles. Cushier looking pads such as on the BMW twin I rode in Morocco proved to be a disaster.

The 14-litre under-seat tank (left, filled up from a conventionally located filler cap) is the same size as on the Sertao and so is difficult or costly to enlarge, but at what you’d expect will be a reliable 23kpl (65 mpg UK) it should be good for over 300km or nearly 200 miles. Another 3 or 4 litres would see it up to my overlanding benchmark of 400km/250 miles.

So at around five grand in the UK or under $7000 in the US they’ve pitched the Terra as a minimally equipped, budget priced, big single trail bike with an exotic Nordic pedigree and the highest power in its class. For overlanding the same-engined Sertao may be better equipped, but that comes at quite a premium, while losing the Terra’s perceived agility.

The British press have been typically lukewarm about the new Huskies, but in the US they seem to get it as a close competitor to their ageing KLRs and DRs. This massive Adv Rider thread has plenty to read, including recent owners’ reports, and there’s more TR chat on this thread at Cafe Husky. Official parts are listed on the right – or click this.

Me, what I’d like to see is a direct competitor to a Tenere, KLR or the old KTM 640 Adventure; a big tanked, out-of-the-crate overlander with an all-day seat and the necessary protection from wind, rocks and falls (a bit like this mock up).

It’s unlikely Husqvarna are going to go that way, but at the currently reasonable price without the ABS, you do have something a bit pokier and different from the usual XTs, BMWs and (in the US) KLRs, XRLs and DRs. Just remember in the UK the Italian-built Tenere was a £4500 bargain when it came out in 2008 – now it’s £7k…

It’s a shame that turning the Husky TE into a TR added so much weight without any noticeable substance, but as on a Tenere if that means a chunkier, load-carrying steel frame, then it’s weight in the right place. It’s hard to think where else it can be on the Terra. As one guy on Adv observed “Maybe this is good enough with the typical $2000 thrown at it…”

Husqvarna TR650 Terra specs UK price: £5271 (with ABS, £5971) Engine: single cylinder, liquid cooled, dohc 4v, 652cc Power: 58bhp  @ 7250rpm Alternator output: 400w Torque: 44lb.ft (60Nm) @ 5750rpm Economy: 66mpg (23.4km/l, 4.3l/100km, 55mpg US) (at 75mph/120kph) Fuel range: 3.1 gallon (14 litres, 3.7 gallons US) / 200 miles (320km) Seat height: 33.9in (860mm) Terra: 34.4in (875mm) Wheelbase: 59.1in (1501mm) Weight: 410lb (186kg) wet with ABS
Like
Looks
Smooth, responsive engine
ABS and brakes
Firm suspension
No detectable vibration at speed
Slick gear change
Slim profile
Competitive price
Useful rack
Lump
Heavy, for what it is
At the very least, needs engine protection
Needs a windscreen too – OE accessory fly screen looks way too small
Tank a bit small.

Husqvarna Baja

If you’ve managed to read this far, hang around and check out the Husqvarna Baja retro desert racer. The concept bike from early 2012 is here and the top pic below. Then in November 2012 at the Milan Show Cycle World, among others, reported on a street-ready Baja with all the necessary paraphernalia and twin pipes. There are several more studio pix of the street scrambler on the BMW press site where you can be assured that ‘the multi-section architecture of the body displays a very clear, purist style’. Now you know.

Looks good and low with a fat 19 on the pointy end (I told you 19s are the future!) and retro Husky styling, but with the BMW engine and chassis from the TRs. Had Husky not folded it seems likely the Baja will have reached the US where Husky is better known. But, like the Yamaha Ryoku, it looks like just another interesting concept bike that will never make it to the showrooms. Good on Husky for joining the retro bandwagon with an original and cool looking machine.

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