Think back to maybe 10 or 12 years ago. Back then the Honda XR600 was the fastest, toughest big bore you could buy, and God knows how many people owned them. The XR600 was a do-everything bike that you could race, trail ride or go adventuring on, and nothing much ever went wrong with it, or at least not enough to dissuade Australians from buying them.
There were other popular big bores too. Yamaha made the TT600 while Suzuki had, and still has the enduringly popular DR650. And the Euros have plenty of big buggers. They got in early with 610s and 620s, but then a weird thing happened. For some reason Yamaha and Honda, the two biggies, surrendered that part of the market, and the biggest four-stroke that either makes today is a 450. Suzuki still makes Dr Big and Kawasaki makes the KLR650, but that’s it from Japan.
Why did they do that? It’s a mista-wee. But the Europeans certainly took advantage of the situation. With a big hole in the program, they were only too glad to fill it. Now Husqvarna has a 510 and a 610; KTM has everything from the 525EXC to the 990 Adventure – they’ve creamed this class; TM has a very fast 530; and now Sherco has launched a 510 to go with the neat and deceptively quick 4.5i. The game’s back on.
Husaberg started making dirt bikes in 1988 and is obviously very proud of its product. It says the appearance of the supermoto and dirt models will be more obviously differentiated this year; they don’t want people buying an FE650e and inadvertently winning a supermoto race on it. What you make of the colour scheme on the 2007 range is up to you. We think it’s pretty at both ends but ugly in the middle. Maybe they should have employed a bit more blue and a little less yellow, particularly on the fuel tank which, already enormous, could have done without the added notoriety.
These bikes have always had first class equipment and had it not been for the clumsy switchgear the tradition would have continued. The bars are tapered Maguras, the grips and levers Brembo – great, but you have to take your hand off the grip to hit the kill-switch or the horn button.
And Husaberg’s infatuation with inexplicable eccentricity continues. The fuel tank is semi-transparent, which is a great idea and always was, but for reasons concealed from everyone who rode this bike, the fuel tap is mounted in reverse. That means you can’t see the On, Off, Reserve markings. Why Husaberg did this is anyone’s guess.
The hot-start button and the choke are not merely tucked away but entombed under the tank on the left-hand side. Finding a way to make the choke so utterly inaccessible must have been a lifetime project for Husaberg’s ergonomics professor. We had to poke it back in with a stick.
Having conscientiously listed all the negative aspects of this motorcycle we will now regale you with its indisputably positive aspects. Yes, there are some.
In the first place, it handles like a bike half its size. The FE650e is a 450 with a lot more power. If you position your weight properly it will tip easily into corners and you soon forget that this is the world’s most powerful dirt bike. You also forget about the alleged mass. It might look big when it’s parked in your concubine’s driveway, but once the thing is moving it feels balanced and stable. Even on single-lane trails it’s certainly not the handful we expected. It’s also slowed by brakes that have that admirable combination of power with feel.
We thought the steering was very accurate, and for a big bike with a lot of power the ’Berger seems to get a lot of it to the ground. Wheelspin under acceleration during a power-slide on gravel is minimal. That says a lot for its chassis.
And we can’t say enough about that engine. God almighty this thing hauls! If KTM did indeed buy Husaberg to get the engine technology, this could be the engine that sealed the deal. Crack the throttle and you get a noticeable induction noise. You also get a burst of acceleration that feels like Pethidine in reverse.
Only it’s not rip-your-kidneys-out acceleration. With the stock 45-15 gearing there’s a rapid but smooth accretion of velocity that you can meter precisely with the throttle, almost down to single rpm, or at least that’s how it feels. It might be God-Almighty fast but the power is predictable and hell fun to play with. This is a drop-dead brilliant thing to ride. Throttle response is excellent and the grunt just keeps on coming. A standard FE650e should top out somewhere around 160km/h, so you won’t have any trouble keeping up on the freeway.
On the road it’s actually quite civilised. Vibration isn’t too bad until you hit 100km/h; the seat is comfortable for short spurts on tarmac, and the engine’s prodigious midrange and top-end will enable, if not downright encourage you, to pass anything. We had reason to suspect that the odometer on the test bike was inaccurate so our fuel consumption figures may be a bit dodgy. Consumption on the trails was an indicated 10.9km/lt, and we can believe that, but consumption on-road was allegedly 20km/lt, and we can’t believe that.
This bike is a conundrum, and has minor faults the Japanese eradicated from their bikes years ago. But to be honest, we loved it. For the sheer pleasure of riding something that handles well and has this much power, you can’t beat it. They sell about 50 FE650s a year in Australia. But for the feeling among dirt riders that KTM bought Husaberg for its engine technology and then lost interest, they might have sold a lot more…
Engine: 628.3cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, SOHC, four-valve single cylinder
Bore and stroke: 100 x 80mm
Fuel system: 41mm Keihin FCR
Frame: chromoly tempered
Front brake: single 260mm disc with twin-piston Brembo calliper
Rear brake: single 220mm disc with single-piston Brembo calliper
Front suspension: WP USD 4860 MA Husaberg Enduro
Rear suspension: WP PDS 5018 MCC Husaberg Enduro
Wheels: spoked alloy
Tyres: 90/90-21 front, 120/90-18 rear
Seat height: 930mm
Claimed weight: 109kg (all liquids, no fuel)
Fuel tank: 10.5L
Price: $12,895 plus ORC
Colours: blue and yellow
Warranty: 12 months parts and labour