STORY BY DAMIEN ASHENHURST
PHOTO BY HUSQVARNA/DANNY WILKINSON
Gathered with the assembled media crew in the small north-east Victorian town of Merrijig, we were finally getting to see the Husqvarna Norden 901 up close in the long-awaited media launch.
The dealers had seen it in the days before and by all reports were pumped at the thought of it sitting proudly in their showrooms amongst the steadily expanding Husky range.
I was struck by how handsome the Norden was in person. It feels fresh, offering an aesthetic all its own and presents a personality that’s immediately disarming – unlike the insectoid menace of the KTM stable.
The design was carried out by Kiska, the company that shapes the Husqvarna, KTM and GasGas model ranges. The same company took charge of the early marketing which was hard to miss in the months of the run-up to launch.
The campaign included 12 videos, two TV spots and 200 social media assets across 300 days reaching an audience of 2 million.
To get it done the production team travelled 3600 kilometres which included a trip to the Arctic Circle for 10 days and it was kind of hard to miss.
Especially with that distinctive round headlight, flanked by fog lights that come standard, giving way to a fairing that’s got more in common with a 1997 KTM 660 Rally than it has an 890 Adventure R.
It struck me that the low-slung tank is of course familiar but somewhat understated compared to its orange cousins. At 19 litres, it also carries one litre less than the extended family but feels tad wider at the knees.
The two-piece seat is height adjustable by 20 mm, and you don’t need to have a trigonometry degree to figure it out, nor more than about 30 seconds to make the change. It also flares out from the tank juncture to be quite wide, which is something we’ll circle back to in a bit.
The ‘cockpit’ area is uncluttered with the 5-inch TFT screen taking centre stage. To its left, you’ll find the switch for the fog lights and to the right a 12-volt socket. Above the screen there’s a GPS mount and ladies and gentlemen, that completes the tour forward of the bars, please visit the gift shop on your way out.
The bronze embossed fuel cap, matching engine covers, stitched seat, round headlight and stylish graphics scheme highlight the premium feel Husky are aiming for to further distinguish it from any other bike in the extended family stable.
The bike has been engineered to be as easy to work on as possible with just four bolts to remove the tank and four bolts for each fairing. The electronics are all gathered centrally and can be removed via two bolts gifting access to the engine which offers a service interval of 15,000kms.
The pin system on the side pods makes them quick to release and a cursory look over the bike shows the fairing sections piece together very neatly with little seam separation (it’ll be interesting to see how that precision stands up to decent drops).
The Norden is originally fitted with a paper airfilter, which in Australia is as pointless as strapping a fart to a saddle. Dealers here will swap that out for a foam filter which will suit our predominantly dusty conditions.
WHAT’S THE DEAL?
Husqvarna is offering the Norden 901 at a recommended ride away price of $25,050.
The Norden is fitted with Easy Shift (clutchless shifting), as standard equipment which offers satisfying downshifts at zero throttle or fast upshifts at a steady throttle.
Husqvarna also gives you cruise control and Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) which are available on an 890 Adventure R through the purchase of the Tech Pack for around $1200, a purchase that will also unlock Rally Mode.
You can unlock Explorer Mode (same as KTM’s Rally Mode), on the Husky for just $324.
So the Norden is sold with a better stock electronics package than the 890 and there are a great number of optional add-ons from there that include heated grips and seats, protection equipment and luggage, exhausts and so on.
But just as Husqvarna refers to the Norden as a premium motorcycle, the prices of some of the optional hardware are also at a premium. And surprisingly, to utilise the Bluetooth and navigational function of the TFT display you will have to buy a Connectivity Unit for $228. That’s something that feels like it should be standard on an adventure bike in 2022.
ADAPTABILITY IS KEY
The seat is the first thing that grabs your attention when you climb onto the Norden 901. The width increases from front to back where it meets the pillion section, at which point it’s wider than my arse.
At the tank juncture, the seat is reasonably narrow and allows you to stand up with no issues and the way the seat widens from there lends you a brace point when you lean back.
It’s exceptionally comfortable, more so than a bench seat and this is no small matter because the bike is being sold as an adventure tourer, not an offroad specialist like the 890 Adventure R.
It doesn’t allow the absolute freedom of movement a bench seat does, but the type of riding that movement necessitates isn’t what the Norden is here to consistently partake in. That said, Husqvarna will have a rally seat option coming very soon.
While the Norden runs WP 43mm Apex forks, the upper tubes have been made to size in at 48mm with triple clamps to match. This was done so you could buy and fit the very much up-specced WP Xplor Pro suspension kit.
This lifts the travel from 220mm to 240mm and offers the services one of the better performing kits on the market. It is truly great kit.
If you’re looking to push the boundaries beyond the sensible, you can fit WP Xplor Pro Rally kit and lift your travel to a massive 270mm.
For both kits, you’ll need a longer side stand and for the Rally stuff, you’ll also need a longer brake line and legs like Los Angeles Lakers power forward.
Interestingly, the standard WP Xplor found on the 890 Adventure R is not available as a part.
THE BOSS WANTS THE V
When the concept of a new adventure platform was originally proposed some years ago (which would have been what became the 790 Adventure), the board of directors wanted a V-twin engine, but the R&D guys said it couldn’t be made compact enough and swayed the board to accept a parallel twin on the proviso that the nerds could make it sound like a throaty V-twin.
So, the nerds utilised a 75° offset crankshaft which delivers a grumbly exhaust note, which is, however, deceptive. When you’re riding, the exhaust noise is almost imperceptible as it battles against the wind and road noise, as well as my Cardo system playing The Wiggles on max volume.
When you’re riding behind a Norden however, it does sound nice and growly. It’s a subdued growl, but an appreciable growl, and one that can crescendo to a satanic, metallic tumult that will illicit a deep fear response from any feeble-minded or weak-hearted person within a 500-metre radius, by fitting the Remus slip-on exhaust. The overall effects of which I’ll get too soon.
The engine feels familiar to me because I recently spent a bunch of weeks on the 890 Adventure R and they share the same powerplant. It’s a versatile engine that can be forceful or subtle, can trail ride single track or sit happily on the freeway and benefits greatly from the flexibility of the electronics which help shape its many personalities through three standard modes, one optional mode and a heap of micro-adjustments.
LET’S KICK THIS INTO GEAR
Our ride started on a road section as we left to go climb mountains on epic, tight winding roads with decent dirt stretches along the way offering a 60/40 mix which is where Husqvarna sees the Norden 901 most at home.
The landscape within the Victorian High Country is breathtaking and the weather had gifted us perfection. We had a playground like no other and two days to play in it.
My biggest doubts about the Norden 901 revolved around the efficacy of the WP Apex suspension. I have ridden the 790 Adventure with Apex and didn’t like it. I thought it was much better on the 390 Adventure which is a bike that’s in little trouble of overpowering the suspension.
It has been improved since my 790 ride and while it’s still a mechanically basic kit, the performance has advanced beyond what felt like a road only set-up. But is it enough to make the Norden the bike that’s been promised?
The answer to that question comes from inspecting that promise. Husky has made it abundantly clear it isn’t offering an 890 Adventure R here. The Norden strikes a balance between offroad and travel capability; it’s an adventure tourer and as such the suspension is more road capable than offroad.
Early on I found the Apex to be wallowy and the rear tending to pogo in the mid-corner. I wound on two turns of pre-load on the spring and that did a lot to alleviate that feeling and sharpen the steering.
Soon after, I slowed the fork compression by four clicks and the bike started coming alive with less front-end dive and a substantially more planted feel.
In my mind, the Norden was never going to impress me offroad. And it took me a day to get my head around the fact that it is indeed a bike that can hammer in the dust. On a dirt road, of which we have millions of miles in Australia, the Norden sees no challenge.
It soaks up the smaller bumps and corrugations extremely well and displays poise and balance aided in no small way by the excellent chassis package, 21/18-inch wheelset and its low centre of gravity.
The constraints are found when you hit a shear object like a rock or square-edged bump at speed which you will feel via a solid jolt up through the bars and a decent deflection of the front wheel. It upsets the flow and brings on a flurry of swear words, but it never got scary loose for me across the 700 kilometres we rode.
We largely avoided the plethora of gnarly trails in the area because that’s not Norden territory, but we did duck into a trail called Blue Rag, which is a long stretch of undulating, rocky and erosion mound strewn track better suited to a 500 EXC.
The Apex reached its limits here bottoming on drainage hump leaps, deflecting and reminding the rider to bring the pace down and to not launch but to roll.
ENTER BEAST MODE
It was on this track we had the chance to try the WP Xplor Pro suspension kit on a Norden that also had a Remus pipe fitted. The two set-ups are worlds apart. With the Xplor Pro and Remus, the Norden became something else entirely. It was lively and cantankerous and felt like it was primed to start a fight in a Darwin pub that it would undoubtedly win.
The bark from the Remus was accompanied by a fierce thrust off the bottom that rolled into a robust mid-range, and it was all pretty confronting at first which perhaps highlights the user-friendly nature of the unmolested Norden.
With the Xplor Pro and the Remus the bike unchained its inner offroad animal and it was hard to reconcile the bike I was riding just minutes ago with the one I was on now.
We finished the day on the road that climbs up to Mount Hotham which is a gift from the gods for those that enjoy the twisties. If the Norden was at all unsettled this would have been a long nightmare for me, perhaps even worse than listening to a full Nickelback album. But, maybe not quite.
While I’m not a massive fan of road riding, I have to admit I had a blast and was impressed with the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs that come standard on the Husky.
GETTING TO KNOW THE NORTH
Our second day of the launch was when the Norden started to make more sense to me. There was very little fatigue from a full day of riding thanks to the bike’s elevated comfort factor and the uncertainty of how it would perform general offroad duties had largely abated.
I rolled the bars forward to improve the standing position but coupled with the suspension changes I made on day one, I made no other alterations from stock. Not on purpose anyway.
I did misjudge a mud hole for a photo opportunity and went for an inelegant horizontal slide, bending the rear brake lever in the fairly embarrassing process. If there is an opportunity for me to make a fool of myself on a bike I will grasp it with both hands.
We hit the dirt sections much harder on day two. While there’s no denying an 890 Adventure R will ride past it when things get hairy and you have to be proactive about avoiding shear hits at serious pace, the Norden soaked up the smaller bumps, handled heavy breaking and stayed balanced under acceleration.
During a brief but vigorous downpour, I took the chance to try Rain mode which brings the output down and the traction control up. When it settled, I jumped into Street mode which is more exciting and superior to any other mode when you’re on the blacktop.
The electronics suite on the Norden is well thought through. I’m happy to ride in Offroad mode all day but Explorer opens up another level of adjustability that can be tailored to the conditions you’re in easily and on-the-fly.
The left side switch block is the traditional four-button configuration and I wish KTM had left the 1290 with this set-up because it’s so simple to use without looking down.
I did find the non-adjustable windscreen allowed the airflow to hit right under my helmet peak which increases noise levels. I’d have to address that with the optional screen extension if I were a Norden owner because at times it got uncomfortably loud.
While the official stats quote a fuel range of 400 kilometres, it seems that’s a pretty optimistic number. It is of course very dependent on how you ride but with a 60/40 mix, you can expect around 340 to 360 kilometres with some of our crew getting more and some less.
Things have been going well in Australia for Husqvarna, with sales doubling over the last four years and a market share up by 36%.
The KTM 890 Adventure didn’t spin the Aussie beanie as the R model did. Its road bias brought about unfavourable comparisons to the near-direct copy in the R, which will be seen perhaps unfairly as the superior model 99% of the time.
The Norden offers something different enough for the rider looking to enjoy a true, all-round travel bike but not concerned with the speed by which they hammer through single trail. It will serve well to bring new customers to the brand which will in turn please the over 40 Husky dealers around this wide brown land.
Taking into account the standard offerings, the unique design and its suitability for anything from long-distance travel to a workday commute, the Norden is directly taking on the BMW F 850 GS, the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally and it wouldn’t surprise me if it steals sales from the 890 Adventure R.
Husqvarna has produced a true all-rounder with the potential to be moulded into a genuine offroad beast. The WP Apex is not as stiff as an 890’s Xplor in the early part of the stroke making it more comfortable and complaint in average conditions and less of a skill test to get the absolute best out of.
And this approach should entice riders who want something that looks unique, is based on a successful platform and whose vibe isn’t anchored to the more extreme end of adventure riding.
This is an endearing motorcycle with a wide appeal that will enjoy being fed a diet of the endless dirt roads that traverse Australia, whilst performing perfectly well in the mid-week commute.
- Chromium-molybdenum steel frame with engine as stressed member
- 889 cc parallel-twin engine with 105 hp peak power and 100 Nm of torque
- Adjustable WP APEX suspension
- Three selectable ride modes as standard (Street, Rain, Offroad) and an optional Explorer
- Switchable cornering ABS with Offroad mode
- Ride-by-wire throttle
- Easy Shift function
- Cornering-sensitive traction control allows for nine levels of adjustable rear wheel slip (in Explorer mode)
- Power Assist Slipper Clutch (PASC)
- Tubeless spoked wheels and Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres for peak performance on the
- street and offroad
- 19-litre fuel tank provides an extended range of up to 400 km
- Optional Connectivity Unit provides turn-by-turn navigation, telephone call reception and
- music selection functionality from the rider’s smartphone