Husqvarna 701: My Desert Sled

2 years ago | Words: Robbie Warden | Photos: Matt Huggett, Robbie Warden, Jordan Kightly

A few years back, a bunch of Sydney-based blokes who loved riding started up a Facebook group called Sydney Desert Sleds (SDS). And before they knew what was good for them, they had a bunch of followers; like-minded grassroots riders who were into bikes for nothing more than a bit of fun.

Transmoto’s Robbie Warden recently caught up with SDS’s Matt Huggett to get a better idea of what their posse is all about, and what Matt has done to the latest addition to his garage, a 2017 Husqvarna 701 Enduro.

RW: Who or what are the Sydney Desert Sleds, Matt?
MG: Basically, we’re a bunch of mates who love riding, building bikes and camping. We don’t take ourselves too seriously; we just like to have fun and escape society regularly. The love of riding big old bikes and classic two-strokes off-road brought us all together, but we often organise rides together on our adventure and enduro bikes too.

There are no egos or bullshit; it’s more about the people than the bikes. We’d much rather ride with a cool person on a shit bike than some idiot on a cool new bike. So if you are ever doing an adventure or trailride and see a crew of riders on an odd mix of bikes – Triumph Scramblers, old BMWs, vintage two-strokes and a few moderns – it’s likely to be us. Is the group is followed by a custom turbo vintage Landy, or standing around a pig or lamb on a spit, it’s definitely us.

Tell us more about what you guys get up to?
We ride a mixed bag of disciplines – including, adventure, vinduro, enduro, classic dirt track and VMX. We organise a bunch of our own rides, but also attend many other organised events and club meets. Currently, one of our guys, Holmsey, is riding his Triumph Scrambler overland from London to Wollongong via as many dirt roads as possible. He was inspired by another crew member, Jono, who did Sydney to London on a ’68 Enfield a couple of years back.

What bikes do you guys ride?
That really depends on where and how far we are riding. Our social rides are generally done on short dirt loops, so that means pre-’89 air-cooled bikes or big inappropriate bikes with knobbies – such as Triumphs, BMWs or Yamahas. For our longer rides, we see more purpose-built adventure bikes, as well as some of the big customs. Personally, I have a 1978 Yamaha YZ250 for dirt track and vinduro, a Beta 300RR for enduro, and a 1979 Husqvarna WR390 I’m getting together for social rides. And I just recently replaced my Triumph Scrambler with a Husky 701 Enduro.

Tell us about your new Husky 701 Enduro.
I fell for it when I first saw the pictures of the 2016 model. So last Christmas, I decided to sell my heavily modified Triumph Scrambler to another crew member and got on a 2017-model 701 Enduro. When riding, the ergos feel like a slightly bigger and heavier 450F, but a lot smoother and with more power and much better fuel range. The slipper clutch makes entering corners on the road far smoother (compared with the WR-Fs and EXC-Fs I have previously owned, anyway). The cush-drive rear hub gives you peace of mind you are not trashing your gearbox.

The front brake’s ABS is brilliant – grab a handful and doesn’t lock up. At 10,000km, the service schedule is longer than most 450F last before requiring a rebuild. I plan to service mine every 5000km and do the air filters after each ride. I’ve decked mine out for short adventure rides – generally two to three days, as it’s hard to get away longer with small kids and work. I’ve added Twin Air dual-stage foam filters, racks, crash bars, luggage, luggage plates, tool tube, windshield, Barkbusters, shorty levers, a 5mm bashplate, stepped-down brake tip, and an ABS dongle so I can disable the rear ABS and do skids.

Any other mods you think might help your adventures on the Husky 701?
More aggressive dirt tyres, as the TKC80 Conti that comes stock up front has a very closed pattern and tends to want to wash out in the wet. I love Michelin’s Starcross 5 softs on my YZ, so I may go for a medium or hard up front and potentially a Dunlop D606 on the rear. I’ve had them before on other bikes, but these will be a compromise on the road. I also like the idea of a steering damper as I’ve had multiple shoulder injuries, including a torn rotator cuff.

I’ve tried many models over the years on my other bikes, and am definitely missing it in the high-speed stuff. I stand most the time off-road, but 100km on the road on the standard seat is like sitting on an ironing board without the cover. So I’m looking for a softer seat. Longer term, I also plan to add a case saver, rear master cylinder guard, billet clutch and brake master cylinder covers, heated grips, get the suspension tuned, and fit a slip-on exhaust.

Where have you been on the Husky 701, and where do you want to explore next?
I’ve only had the 701 for a short period of time, and have spent most my riding time in the past few months aboard vintage two-stroke YZs and ITs all over NSW. So far, I’ve had a number of day trips on the 701 – to the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and NSW south coast. And I’ve just returned from a very wet and stormy three-day ride we call ‘Sled and Slide’ to the Jerkyl’s Sunday Slide event – the route was Sydney, Mittagong, Wombeyan Caves, Taralga, Mt Werrong, Jenolan Caves, Hampton, Castlereagh (Sunday Slide) and back to Sydney. Next up, we’re planning an overnighter up around St Albans, and another on the NSW south coast – hopefully on the Monkey Gum firetrail.

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