Husqvarna’s FE350 is one of the new-generation mid-capacity enduro bikes which balance power and rideability so well.
Cycle Torque tested the FE350 in the July 2016 issue. Sure, you can read the text here, but the best reading experience is in the digital magazine – get it for the iPad or iPhone here, or read it online here (it will be available soon).
The video review of the Husqvarna FE350 will also be posted here when it’s completed.
Bigger is better right? Why wouldn’t you want heaps of grunt, a chunky mid-range hit, and enough top-end to keep up with a V8 Supercar down the highway? Well maybe not a supercar, but I think you get the point. Aussie moto heads love their big-bore dirt bikes. KTM 450 and 500 EXCs, and Yamaha’s WR450F sales absolutely crush it, and I don’t think anyone would deny the success of the big and mighty XRs back in their day.
Why are we bringing you a story about a mid-sized 350cc four-stroke? Good question. You see, modern day four-stroke enduro bikes are far more advanced than they used to be, engines are faster and more reliable, and the ride has become much more forgiving and comfortable thanks to the development of chassis and suspension components. In many cases, riders can benefit greatly from placing their egos aside along with their big-bore monsters, and go riding on a bike better suited to their capabilities and general riding areas.
The Husqvarna FE350 is a mid-sized thumper being produced under the watchful eye of our European counterparts in a large orange coloured factory, located in Mattighofen, Austria.
The 2016 Husqvarnas are very well equipped machines. A chromoly steel chassis offers superb strength, with unmatched rider comfort and feedback. White Power 4CS forks with Husqvarna-specific valving is standard, along with linkage rear suspension and a WP DCC (Dual Compression Control) rear shock – there’s no WP PDS system (often used by KTM) here. As you would expect, the WP suspension items offer complete compression and rebound control, providing the rider with a wide range of adjustability should they feel the need to make a few changes. The aluminium swingarm is an interesting single piece design, which eliminates any welding process. This avoids any potential heat stress, cracking or distortion, providing increased reliability, safety and above all – superior quality. The polyamide (nylon/plastic composite) subframe is a lightweight, forgiving design featuring an integrated airbox and handle holes, making it easier to move the bike around while stationary. Before you ask, No, the handle holes weren’t built for the freestyle wannabes and their superman seat grabs, but they do come in handy for that, too…
The 350cc four-stroke DOHC liquid-cooled engine is an absolute ripper, weighing in at only 28.5 kilos and revving to a thrill-seeking 12,000 rpm. The mid-sized Husky is a sure thing to give you some excitement. The crank and conrod are designed and supplied by the industry leader Pankl, which has also been known to supply a few Formula 1 teams here and there. While there are obvious performance gains, the service life has been greatly extended, now at a massive 135 hours before a major engine rebuild is recommended. That’s close to double the life you can expect from some of the other manufacturers out there. An updated, six-speed gearbox is fitted to the 2016 models, with a new input shaft bearing adding a smoother, tighter feel to the gearbox. Final drive gearing is not affected and remains the same at 13/52, however Husqvarna has added a new Supersprox rear sprocket as a standard item. It has steel teeth on the outer ring for added strength and longer service life, while the lightweight aluminium inner ring keeps the weight down and looks ultra-cool with blue anodising.
In an effort to further simplify the engine design and reduce weight, the FE engine features a multifunction balancer shaft which drives the water pump and timing chain as well as cancelling out the inertia forces of the engine. New for 2016 is a Brembo hydraulic clutch, while it’s been hydraulic for a while, this is the first time we see Brembo components on offer. As you would expect, it is a very high quality item, offering a perfect clutch action every time and requires very little maintenance. Last but not least the battery-powered electric starting system, a must-have for every enduro bike. If you think a bike doesn’t need an electric leg, keep that in mind and ask yourself again the next time you’re stuck on a hill, or when you get stuck in the mud, or when you tip over at the end of a long day on the trail… I could continue. An electric system just doesn’t compromise a competition enduro like it used to. Like engine technology, batteries have also come a long way. Lithium-ion batteries like the one used in the FE are much lighter and can be positioned any which way. If you still disagree, or want both options, Husqvarna has made the provision to add a kickstart lever and it’s available as a genuine accessory.
On the trail
After only a few minutes on the trail you will quickly realise how lively and easy the mid-sized 350 is to ride. Although physically it shares very similar dimensions, it feels much lighter and narrower than a 450 or 500. The lighter engine and decreased rotating mass plays a significant role in giving a more flickable feel through the tight stuff. The WP suspension is very well dialled in for your average Aussie trail, after setting the sag correctly at 102mm we hardly changed a clicker all day. It certainly has a softer, plusher feel throughout the stroke, and is set up for a mid-sized rider like myself at 80-85kg. Over the small bumps the WP fork and linkage rear suspension soak up everything with ease. Harder hits like big logs and drop-offs are handled well by the FE350 without too much harsh bottoming or any unpredictable moves. If you’re a larger rider or tackle some more aggressive, motocross style terrain, a stiffer spring rate may be something to look at if you find the ride is overly soft for you. The chromoly chassis, aluminium swingarm, and polyamide subframe combine very well to offer both comfort and performance, with no crazy vibrations, unusual stiffness or rigidity, nor quirky mannerisms when cornering. The ride is smooth and forgiving when you’re cruising along the open trail. Turn it up a notch and the Husky reacts instantly to increased rider input, becoming more precise through turns and more stable at speed. A combination that few other off-road bikes can offer in showroom condition.
250cc four-stroke engines are known to be screamers. They produce good overall power but to make the most of the small bore engine the rider needs to be keeping it on the boil. On the other end of the scale, the new 450cc & 500cc thumpers have bucket-loads of power and torque, which can propel you up or over any obstacle in a heartbeat, whether you have the talent, or not. Obviously the 350 is aimed to fit right in the middle, and it does that perfectly. The power curve of the FE is quite broad, with a healthy squirt of power right off the bottom. In the mid-range the Husky really comes to life with a revvy style of power that requires the rider to take control over their input. It’s rewarding to ride and gives an exciting feel. Further along, the mid-sized Husky will keep revving far beyond any big-bore with a very potent top-end run. If you’re up against a big-bore on the track, you can certainly hold the 350 wide open for longer with the higher revs, while the big-bore rider is left shutting off as the power can get easily away from them. This is very handy when you come across nasty sections of trail filled with rocks, logs and tree roots, as the power is much more manageable. Believe it or not, it’s also great on hills, as you can be much more aggressive up the face of a hill and not have to worry too much about the power or bike getting away from you. The Brembo clutch works very well, as has a soft pull and great feel. The six-speed gearbox offers smooth transitions and together with the 13/52 gearing combination it was a faultless combination on out test loop. Sixth gear really only comes into play if you’re riding on the tarmac, on open dirt roads or in a desert race. While it may not be used often, it is certainly a feature which riders will be pleased with.
More forgiving and less taxing are first things that come to mind when talking about the Husqvarna FE350. It’s an easy bike to ride, with a broad power curve that suits almost any rider. After a long day on the trail when your mates are struggling with the power their bigger 450s, you’ll be powering past them on the next big hill thanks to the easy delivery of the 350. The suspension and handling are second to none in the off-road category and the lighter feel of the 350 makes tight trails a breeze. The standard components on the Husky are unmatched by any other brand. It’s quite easy to make the case that the blue and white Husqvarna may actually be a bit better than its orange coloured friend that rolls out of the same factory. Sure it’s very similar, but it has a few extra goodies that the KTM doesn’t, which could be right up your alley. Husqvarna dealers often have demo bikes available, so if you’re in the market for a new enduro machine hit up your local dealer for a ride on a 350. Don’t be so sure that a new 450 is the bike for you.