Ryan Nitzen | July 1, 2022
A day at the track with the ’23s.
Photography by Ryan Nitzen
Motorcycle buyers are seeing no shortage of options right now. In recent issues, we’ve tested the 2022 KTM Factory Editions (read the reviews here: 2022 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition and 2022 KTM 250 SX-F Factory Edition), the Husqvarna Rockstar Editions (read the reviews here: 2022 Husqvarna FC 450 Rockstar Edition and 2022 Husqvarna FC 250 Rockstar Edition) and covered the new GasGas Troy Lee Edition. A few short months later we went to the iconic RedBud MX to ride the ’23 KTMs and now we just wrapped up our first rides on the latest Husqvarnas. Whew, that’s a lot of riding. There’re 11 motocross-specific bikes between the two brands alone. Husqvarna recently unveiled its 2023 lineup at Fox Raceway, and we sent our team to get in on the action.
As previewed with the 2022 Rockstar Editions, the 2023 Husqvarna four-strokes (FCs) are technically all-new. New frame, engine, swingarm and bodywork highlight the updates for this year, and some of these changes you may already be familiar with. That’s because they’re the same revisions we’ve seen on all the new KTM models. The new frame removed the “backbone” spar and features a new shock tower mount that sends forces down through the pegs rather than up into the handlebars. The engine is rotated inside the cradle and shortened to improve center of gravity. A revised bore and stroke is also designed to give the Husqvarnas some extra bark down low. New electronics feature a slim, two-button map switch with traction control and a new quickshift option. The quickshifter works in gears two through five and allows the rider to leave the throttle wide open when clicking up. Completing the list of updates is new a color scheme.
Two new two-strokes (TCs) also accompany their FC brethrens. Yes, there are only two TCs, there is no two-stroke 300 in the mix like KTM (300 SX) has. The TC 125 and TC 250 both feature the highly anticipated fuel injection technology. An EFI off-road 300 (TX) is coming, too. Gone are the days of carburetors and jetting, these new Husqvarnas are equipped with electronic throttle bodies that are nearly identical to the now-standard four-stroke configuration. Riders are back to mixing gas again, but they gain ease of tuning with a two-map option on a handlebar-mounted switch. The EFI system is practically foolproof and results in a reduction in headaches right out of the gate. Both new TCs have electric starting as well as new frames and bodywork.
WP handles the suspension department for all the KTM Group brands, Husqvarna included. Xact fork and shock come standard on the new Husqvarnas. However, the Husqvarnas are still 10mm shorter from top to bottom than the KTM, which also lowers seat height by 0.75 inches, and suspension travel is a tick less. Husqvarna says this gives people an option for something a little lower to the ground.
VIDEO | First Rides On The 2023 Husqvarnas
We rode all five of the new Husqvarna bikes at Fox Raceway just after round one of the Pro Motocross Championship. The track was long, fast, and chalk-full of big jumps. First up was the FC 450. The biggest of the FCs shares the same engine as the KTM but feels slightly smoother in overall power character. It’s still plenty powerful, though. They designed this new-gen motor to pack a punch with noticeably more get up and go off the bottom than years past. Just like the KTM, the new FC 450 delivers a bigger hit down low while still maintaining its smooth and familiar, high-revving character.
Map one is strong but will feel relatively on-par for current Husky owners, while map two is noticeably more aggressive in all aspects. The FC 450 does feel a bit more manageable in terms of roll-on power compared to the KTM but overall these updated Austrian machines stack up similarly in nearly every way.
Next up, the FC 350, perhaps the most forgotten of the big bikes. After riding the KTM 350 SX-F a few weeks back, I was again eager to throw a leg over the Husqvarna middleweight machine. The 350 is a nice blend that feels somewhere between a modded-out race 250 or a toned-down 450. I hardly ever ride any of the 450s in their aggressive maps and often opt for the “smooth” or “old guy” setting. The 350 right up my alley. With similar internal changes to the 250 and 450 FCs, the 350 has a surprisingly strong bottom end paired with that lightweight rev through the mid to top. The option of two maps gives the rider some extra tunability as well for different track conditions. It also feels lighter and less labor-intensive to ride despite being only 1.73 pounds lighter than the 450. By the end of the day, I felt most comfortable on the FC 350; consistently hitting my lines with the least amount of fatigue, especially as the track dried out late in the day.
Now, the FC 250. We got a preview of this bike when it was unveiled as the 2022 Rockstar Edition model, and the ’23 sees practically all of those same updates aside from the suspension (the Rockstar Editions did not have the 10mm lower suspension). The new 250’s powerplant is everything we wanted from last year’s standard model. It’s stronger down low but doesn’t seem to give anything up from mid to top. We’ve always liked the Austrian bikes for their long-range internal gearing, and it feels like they’ve kept that but added on where it was lacking. The more aggressive map two was consistently our favorite map on the smaller 250.
Husqvarna had two pre-production two-strokes on hand, one 125 and one 250, for the Fox Raceway intro. We tested the new EFI system at RedBud, but these were our first laps on home territory. Both bikes now come standard with electric starting, two maps, as well as the new frame and bodywork. The ’23 is also weight neutral when compared to the ’22; removing the carb assembly was evened out by adding a battery and e-start system.
The biggest advantage we feel with the fuel injected two-strokes, aside from no jetting, is the crispy throttle response. There’s hardly any lag or bog and the throttle is practically connected to the rear wheel, similar to the four-stroke machines. The 125 feels incredibly torquey for a small-bore two-stroke but fell a bit flat towards the top. The 250 has a strong bark down low, and that meaty two-stroke sound is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The techs did revise the EFI settings after the KTM RedBud intro, and we didn’t feel as comfortable on either of the Husqvarnas. Both TCs felt more pingy and less girthy in the mid to top and needed to be shifted more often. But remember, these bikes are still in the final testing stages and don’t go into full production until September.
Differences / Wrap Up
In year’s past, differences between the Husqvarna and the KTM have been obvious. Different components like brakes or clutch highlighted one brand over the other. The Husqvarna has been seen as the more premium offering with the higher price tag, while the KTM was the flagship “Ready To Race” brand. Now in 2023, the two bikes are more similar than they’ve ever been and it’s almost hard to tell the two apart. Aside from the lowered suspension, which makes the Husky feel a bit more planted, there’s only a few small differences between the Austrian machines. The Husqvarnas are spec’ed with ProTaper bars (Neken on the KTM), a smoother seat cover, sealed airbox, and different shaped/colored bodywork (the KTM has more aggressive-looking shrouds, and the Husqvarna has a plastic shock cover panel). The Husky is geared more towards the vet rider who wants something not quite as tall, or a smoother power delivery. With only $100 more for the white bikes, it will likely come down to which color fender you like looking at most. CN
Click here to read the 2023 Husqvarna Motocrossers Review in the Cycle News Digital Edition Magazine.
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