Archives – Press Launch – 2022 Husqvarna Norden 901 – Cooler Cousin

By Bertrand Gahel. Photos : Sebas Romero, Marco Campelli, Kiska. Posted on

*This article was published in Vol. 52 No. 1 of Cycle Canada digital magazine.

First revealed to the world a couple years ago as a prototype, Husqvarna’s cool new Norden 901 finally hits the market for 2022. The question now is whether there truly is an adventure-capable machine under those fine looks, or not?

Azores, Portugal. Quite an unusual situation the new Norden 901 finds itself into. On the one hand, the untrained eye sees it as a cool new adventure model and on the other, ADV nerds wonder if it’s anything more than a re-skinned KTM 890 Adventure. To find where the truth lies, I traveled to a place I didn’t even know existed : the Azores Archipelago, some 1500 km off the shores of Portugal. For two days, we rode up and down the surreal island of São Miguel’s volcanos and ripped along its mostly empty roads at essentially whatever pace pleased us.

It wasn’t awful.

Most importantly, though, it revealed everything about Husqvarna’s newest, biggest and most expensive street bike so far. But before we get there, some technical clarification is needed as to what the Norden exactly is. From a mechanical point of view, there’s just no denying the high number of shared parts between the new Husqy and KTM’s 890 Adventure from which the 901 is derived. And they’re major parts : the 890’s engine, frame, swingarm, wheels and brakes all found their way on the 901. Tire sizes along with ergonomics are also shared. That is a lot.

But there are differences, the most obvious being a completely new bodywork offering better wind protection and a wider, cushier seat, not to mention much cleaner and refined styling. The Husqvarna is also equipped with longer travel WP APEX suspension (220/215 mm front/rear on the 901 vs 200/200 mm on the 890) and offers compression and rebound damping adjustability up front vs no adjustments on the 890 fork. Both rear shocks can be adjusted for preload and rebound damping. Finally, tires are Pirelli’s excellent Scorpion Rally STRs on the Norden (more on them later) vs usual road-biased adventure-type rubber for the 890 Adventure.

Now, while new suspension specs and a different seat don’t exactly scream «new bike», the fact is the riding experience offered by the Norden 901 —on the road as in the dirt—  just isn’t the same as the 890 Adventure’s. But there are similarities between the two cousins and one of the biggest is, predictably, performance from the 105 hp, 6-speed parallel Twin. Whatever the bike, it delivers the same pleasant and practical low to mid rpm torque followed by a fun high rpm rush. Also close to identical are weight and general proportions. Even though their 889 cc displacement approaches 1 liter, the 901 and 890 follow what is, these days, a relatively common middleweight ADV recipe : full dimensions, decent amount of equipment, reasonable weight. While a bit heavier than the KTM (mostly because of its full bodywork), the Norden still weights in at just below 220 kg with a full tank, easily some 30 kg less than the average 1200-1300 heavyweight ADV. It’s a massive difference that generates benefits at every level. For one, even if the power number itself isn’t insanely high, those 105 horses are enough to have a plenty of real world fun on the road, as in relatively effortless second gear wheelies, for example. Off road, the Twin is tractable and not prone to stalling when lugging at very low revs, but has more than enough high rpm power to spit long roosters of dirt and rocks from its rear tire. While it’s not a perfect motor  — it sounds just okay, it shifts a bit harshly and it vibrates when revved high —, it still offers a very compelling mix of lightness and power, which is a crucial ingredient of an ADV model claiming serious off-road capabilities.

That’s precisely where the KTM and the Husqvarna begin to drift apart. With the 890 Adventure R being an absolute war machine in the dirt, the base 890 Adventure understandably offers a more road-biased nature. Over at Husqvarna, the unique Norden is officially neither street nor dirt biased. Instead, the 901 promotion material sells adventure as a lifestyle rather than potential for competition or race readiness : the Norden 901, Husqvarna says, is a good road machine that’s decently able to handle off-road duties.

Thing is, when you know the reality, you also know that’s seriously downplaying what the 901 is actually capable of. But why? If I were to guess —and I don’t think at all I’d be wrong— I’d say that humbleness is meant to get away from the fear factor instilled into «normal» riders by KTM’s business-as-usual aggressiveness. While very attractive to the Uber experienced, KTM’s over the top reputation indeed sometime intimidates the average motorcyclist. Smartly, Husqvarna seems to be aiming for that non-extreme clientele with the Norden, hence the absence of motocross cues in the styling and the downplaying in the marketing language.

To cut to the chase, here is in the simplest terms what a Norden 901 really is : less aggressive off-road than the KTM 890 Adventure R and much more practical in everyday use, yet not as road-biased as the base 890 Adventure. There. And while that description doesn’t sound particularly dramatic, the fact is the end result is a brilliantly well-rounded adventure motorcycle.

We didn’t play tourist on the magically beautiful São Miguel Island. The two days we spent there, we went at it hard and fast. On the street, we rode up and down roads that snaked as best they could around monstrous solidified lava flows. The pavement quality isn’t horrible, but far from perfect. There are lots of cows on São Miguel, more than inhabitants apparently. Which meant lots of mud and dust scattered on the road by tractors. We experienced biblical rain on the first day and the pavement was often damp on the thankfully clearer second test day. Plus, the two-lane roads criss-crossing the island are narrow and corners are blind more often than not. These aren’t easy conditions by any means and riding hard and fast in those circumstances not only meant being very precise and focused, it also wouldn’t have been possible without the appropriate machine. For example, full on sportbikes could have never kept up with us. Trying would have gotten whoever dared intimate with the cows. The pavement just wasn’t good or clean enough for that. But on the Norden 901 shod with the absolutely phenomenal Scorpion Rally STRs mentioned earlier and equipped with suspension components so brilliantly chosen and adjusted, we ripped. Almost unconcerned with dust or slight dampness on the ground thanks to the high grip and carcass strength of the Pirellis, completely oblivious to road imperfections thanks to the suspension’s exceptional ability to both work and handle high corner speeds, we rode like we were competing in the TT.

Sporadically, before heading for the dirt, we would stop, select the Off-Road power mode, deactivate traction control and adjust ABS to our liking (fully on, fully off, or only active on the front). A slight pose in compliments is requiered here : the Norden uses a bright, nicely sized (5-inch) and well-illustrated color screen as it’s instrumentation. But the way to navigate through menus and get modes activated is done through the same left-hand control system KTM has been using for years. Every function works well, but accomplishing what is desired means going through a sequence of inputs that’s somewhat clumsy, not very instinctive and inefficient because too many steps are needed. It could and should be better.

Riding up-strait on the Norden feels natural. From the grip offered to the rider’s boots by the spiked metal pegs (with rubber inserts) to the way the handlebar falls naturally in the hands while standing up, everything feels exactly where and how it should the instant you get in the dirt. And just as they did on pavement, the Pirellis keep impressing off road. You can find more aggressive street-legal off-road tires that provide more traction in sand and mud. But what the Rally STRs offer is very decent traction in those conditions versus essentially no traction in sand or mud with average road-biased ADV rubber. Without ever airing the tires up or down when we switched between pavement and dirt, they allowed us to climb all the way up to the rim of a huge volcano, then ride down the crater. The trail was mostly hard-packed dirt and gravel with scattered bigger rocks where we could easily get the speed up, but there were steeper sections where deep ruts had been dug by the heavy rains. We also encountered mud and deep sand. These parts of the test required good riding technique, but they would have been impossible to deal with without proper tires and suspension. And they would have literally broken bikes not built to take serious off-road abuse. Not only did the Norden get through them, it did it at a pretty aggressive pace with no harm to the hardware and no stress on the rider thanks to its reasonable mass and predictable off-road handling.

And so, for two days, we tore up the back roads of São Miguel as if we were qualifying for the Isle of Man TT and used its trails to rip up and down its volcanos. Through it all, the Norden 901 shined. Off-road, it may not quite be the post-apocalyptic tool that the 890 Adventure R is, but it’s not that far behind, which is saying a whole lot about its dirt abilities. Actually, for the adventure rider of average to good skills, but not quite of Dakar expertise, it’s a more approachable and practical option than the 890 R, if only because its seat isn’t sky high (in the lower of two settings) and because its suspension doesn’t need insane abuse before it begins to work. But the most formidable quality of the Norden is how seamlessly it transitions between trail and pavement, a feat even more remarkable as the entire test went without as much as a click of adjustment to the suspension and with stock tires, with stock air pressure. Meaning there’s actually quite a bit more potential in the Norden. When also taking into account that the 901 turned out to be a comfy, cooperative and practical daily rider in town and on the highway at a normal pace, that it’s one fine-looking machine and that it’s priced right at $15199, what you end up with is easily one of the very best ADV buys of the moment.

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