“Crap, I may not make this turn, I’m going to make a fool of myself and fall off the bike,” I thought to myself as the group I was riding with suddenly made a hard right U-turn from the tarmac to cobbled stones with a steep drop connecting both terrains.
I was part of a group of riders from South East Asia who were invited to ride the Husqvarna Norden 901 at the romantic island of Jeju, in Korea. I was the only one from Malaysia, so national pride rode on my shoulders as well.
I did make the U-turn though. Helped in part by the Easy Shift system that the Norden came equipped with that lets the rider shift gears without engaging the clutch. Allowing for quick gear shifts during acceleration or during awkward situations such as the one I found myself in.
I quickly dropped gears from fourth to second, giving me the low-end torque I needed to coax the bike out of the challenge that lay ahead of me. I had 100Nm connected to my right hand, which was more than enough for me to simply light up the rear wheel and let the traction control do its job of giving me the right amount of grip I needed without hurting my pride.
Then came the part where I worried about which trail to take which minimized the chances of the bike sliding away from underneath me. Good thing that the Norden weighs in at just 204kg (without fuel), which gives it impressive low speed stability. And most of the weight is centered at the bottom of the bike, which makes the top of the bike feel light and agile.
This gave me the balance I needed to let me take my time to think things through. The last thing you want to do in such a situation is to rush a decision simply to end up dropping the bike. And so, it is important that the motorcycle understands that and keeps its balance.
After spotting the tyre marks that the Korean and Vietnamese riders ahead of me had laid down, I followed suite. The WP front fork with its 220mm of travel soaked up the hard drop. It is manually adjustable for compression and pre-load, but even in factory setting, it was already doing a splendid job. Very little of the shock from the drop was transferred back to my arms.
“That was too easy!”
“Is the suspension too soft?”
“Maybe I’ll scrape the underneath of the bike?”
I was obviously freaking out inside my helmet. I don’t usually ride off-road, but it wasn’t exactly new territory. The basic idea is to always let the bike do what it wants to do and feel for grip with smooth throttle inputs to counter.
But the Husqvarna (Husky for short) Norden 901 made mince of everything our ride threw at it. The rear mono-shock from WP (adjustable as well) simply absorbed the drop and let the Pirelli Scorpion STR tyres sink in to maximise grip as I quickly got on the throttle to stabilize the bike and get it out of the mud and the cobble stones.
The Husky has three riding modes – Offroad, Street and Rain – which is all you ever will need. The simpler the better, and that’s a salvo against those that offer up to six different modes. Why oh why!?
Throughout the slippery bits, I was riding in offroad mode. This minimises the ABS brake interference that lets you lock up the rear wheel to slide around in sand and mud rather than consistently cutting off power. It also adjusts the throttle for a more linear response rather than a sharper, aggressive one that is better suited to road riding, which is where we came from before exploring Jeju’s forests and grasslands.
The ride started off at the Ecoland Hotel, which is situated at a mountain top, far from Jeju’s popular beaches and crystalline sea water. But this provided an excellent opportunity to push the Husky in and out of corners. And again, it did not disappoint.
The 889cc engine provides 105hp at 8000rpm, which basically means that it is a rev happy power unit. It is not a new engine though, since Husqvarna belongs to the same company that also owns KTM Motorcycles and GasGas – the Pierer Mobility Group AG. The engine also powers the likes of the KTM 890 Duke and 890 Adventure, though in a different state of tune.
The Norden 901 is better suited to adventure touring and off-roading, while the KTM’s are better suited to tarmac riding with a sportier aggression. The Norden is a proper explorer, and it feels like it as soon as you get on the saddle.
The handlebar is set up high, but it is adjustable for reach by up to 30mm. Why is this important? Well, you know how all our arms are not of equal length? Well, that’s why. So that it is easier for those with short or long arms to get comfortable on the Norden. Some bike makers force you to buy aftermarket accessories for this level of customisation. The Norden offers it right out of the factory.
The seat is placed just 854mm off the ground, but for taller riders, that can be adjusted to 874mm. The seat itself is quite comfortable and is narrow at the point where the seat meets the tank. Not as narrow as that of a Honda Africa Twin or a Ducati Desert X, but good enough. This seemingly mundance feature is important because it makes it easier for shorter riders to get their feet on the ground when coming to a stop.
Anyway, I was riding in Street mode throughout the journey on the road and never got to explore Rain. Street mode was already good enough to provide a balance of power and grip. With a lead rider who kept everyone’s speed in check, and very little time to acclimatise to riding on the wrong side of the road (Koreans ride on the right side of the road where else we Malaysians ride on the left), there really was no need to push the Norden more than what we were already doing. Besides, we were already riding faster than regular traffic and were happily carving up and down the mountain roads.
It was fast enough to tell you that I wish the Norden came with a taller screen to keep the windblast away. But there’s an optional accessory that clips on to the existing screen and increases the overall length of the screen by a few centimeters. We did not get to sample that, but Husqvarna says it works well. We will have to take their word for it.
We were also riding fast enough to lean the bike into corners and feel the knobby tyres dig deep. This is a not only a testament to the Husky’s applaudable all terrain character but is also the culmination of a great bike that runs on tyres that are perfectly at home in the mud as well as on the tarmac.
The Norden 901 offers everything that makes a great Adventure bike. The only thing that might hold people back from it is the fact that not many are familiar with the Husqvarna brand. Which is a pity since the company has been around for about 300 years; starting off building muskets, later appliances and in the early 1900s, entered the then very young motorcycle industry.
Perhaps some may find comfort knowing that it shares the same reliability with KTM, since most of the parts are shared anyway. It is features like its ride height, wheelbase, design and electronics that truly sets it apart and gives it its own character. A character that needs to be experienced for yourself to be appreciated. The Husqvarna Norden 901 is available in Malaysia for RM98,800.
Engine: 889cc, Parallel 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, DOHC
Gearbox: 6-speed with Quickshifter
Power: 105hp @ 8000rpm
Torque: 100Nm @ 6500rpm
Suspension: 43mm WP Apex USD (Front) WP Apex Monoshock (Rear)
Brakes: Radially mounted 4-piston caliper with twin 320mm discs (Front) / 2-piston floating caliper with single 260mm disc