[Long-term Bikes]

Project 2017 FE450: Suspension

5 years ago | Photos: M. Campelli, S.Romero

Husqvarna’s 2017 FE450 has recently joined Transmoto’s stable of long-term test bikes. It’s been used to cut a few laps late in 2016 at the Transmoto 6-Hour events at both Conondale and Stroud, and it’s been acquainted with the trails and grasstrack loops we regularly use to test enduro models. Here’s our initial feedback about how WP’s all-new ‘Xplor’ fork and shock perform on the machine…

THE XPLOR FORK

Having been refined over the past few years, the WP 4CS (4 Chamber System) fork fitted to Husqvarna’s enduro models got a lot better. But now that it’s gone, everyone seems happy the see the back of the thing (it no longer appears on any Husky or KTM model, enduro or MXer). In its place for the 2017 FE450 is all-new WP XPlor 48mm USD fork – an open-cartridge fork with compression and rebound functions split between the fork legs, both of which have coil springs and a new hydraulic bottoming system. There’s no doubt the move to WP’s XPlor componentry has been a positive one because its ride seems to be just as sensitive over small bumps, and yet it offers significantly more damping progression and bottoming resistance for big hits or accidental flat-landings.

As an added benefit, the new WP fork saves 300g and and improves adjustability, because both compression and rebound clickers are now within easy reach on the fork caps (a la WP’s 4CS fork). This encourages you to experiment with the fork’s set-up and get it dialled to suit you and the terrain. And if you want to take your adjustment a step further, an ingenious tool-free fork spring preload adjuster allows you to dial the preload setting to 0, 3 or 6mm by hand (simply take the weight off the front wheel and turn the dial). It’s the first tool-free fork preload adjuster we’ve ever heard of, and an ingenious solution from WP.

THE XPLOR SHOCK ABSORBER

For the past three years, Husqvarna’s enduro models may have shared the shock linkage with their MX-model brethren, but the behaviour of their rear-ends has still been hard to fault. Now, though, with a linkage designed specifically for enduro – plus WP’s more sophisticated DCC (Dual Compression Control) shock, and a frame designed with additional flex to help the suspension absorb hits – the bikes’ rear-ends seem to behave even more predictably.

It could be argued that KTM’s no-linkage PDS shock still has a more sensitive action over the smaller bumps at slower speeds, but the new rear-end set-up on both the TE and FE models undoubtedly helps anchor the rear wheel to the ground through a series of big braking bumps, and controls its rebound action when you slam a big log sitting across the trail a little too vigorously.

THE HANDLING

With an all-new frame, subframe, shock, linkage, swingarm and fork, it’s impossible to isolate the impact of each component on the overall handling. But what we can say is that the combination of these much-updated elements of the 2017 chassis gives the new FE450 noticeably more agility at slow speeds, plus a more stable and sure-footed ride at high speeds. Both ends of the 2017 bike are just as plush and planted over small bumps as its predecessor, but it is now a lot more capable of absorbing bigger hits without bottoming. And that broader operating range makes the 2017 bike much more versatile across a greater variety of terrain, rider weights and abilities.

WP’s all-new 48mm XPlor fork, revised DCC shock, and the new enduro-specific linkage ratio all play a part in producing that more compliant, forgiving feel to the chassis. And shaving 6kg off the new FE450’s curb weight has also made a contribution to improved handling. But there’s no doubt that the design team’s obsession with mass centralisation has also paid handling dividends. With its lower seat and tank, shorter muffler and, more critically, the relocation of the engines’ biggest rotating masses (the crankshaft and clutch) toward the motorcycle’s centre of gravity (or the ‘dynamic fulcrum point’, as we like to call it), the gyroscopic effect of this new 450’s engine has been reduced drastically for 2017; the result of which is that the 2017 bike can be flicked from side to side or thrown around in the air with noticeably less rider input.

Do yourself a favour and take a look at this video of the comparative flex characteristics of the 2016 and 2017 frames. By making the chromoly tubing 6mm wider and 2mm lower, and altering its architecture, the 2017 frame is 30% more flexible in the longitudinal plane (which assists the suspension’s ability to absorb hits) and yet it’s 20% more torsionally rigid for better stability and to help the bike turn faster for a given rider input. They are radical changes in anybody’s language.

Stay tuned for updates as we fine-tune the FE450’s clicker settings to optimise the ride of the Xplor fork and shock for various rider weights and conditions.

For more on the Husqvarna FE450 check our ride impressionobservations and power characteristics pieces on the 2017 machine.

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