Bikes > Motor

Riding the Husqvarna Norden 901 in Korea

A long-distance tourer that is not afraid to go off-road

Husqvarna's fetching Norden 901 strikes a balance between on- and off-road adventure. PHOTO FROM HUSQVARNA

It’s a point of pride for any Filipino rider that locally available KTMs and Husqvarnas are also assembled here and for export to the region. And it only takes a few minutes sitting on the bikes to see that the quality is up to world-class standards.

At the Makina Moto Show last April, one of the highlights was the Husqvarna Norden 901, a premium middleweight ADV bike assembled at the KAMMI plant in Laguna.

Swedish for “the North,” the Norden has a distinctive style and is a mechanical twin in most respects to the KTM 890 Adventure. It goes up against the F-series BMW GS and the Suzuki V-Strom 1080. At P950,000, it’s quite a jump from more affordable middleweights like the Yamaha Ténéré 700, the Honda Transalp 750, or even the KTM 790 Adventure R.

Husqvarna says that, as ADV bikes go, the Norden is positioned more on the “touring” side of bikes rather than “off-road,” although it can still do that if you really wanted to.

The bodywork is all smooth curves compared to the edgier style of KTM. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

So, on Husqvarna’s invite, I got on a plane to Jeju Island, Korea, for a daylong test ride of the big Husky. “Why Jeju?” I asked Cherie Tan, KTM SEA’s marketing manager. “Because it’s really beautiful here, and you will just want to ride and ride,” she enthused.

The last time I visited Jeju was back in the early 2000s to test-drive a bunch of Kia automobiles. I remembered lovely cliffside vistas, bracing winds, and plenty of twisties. The morning of the test ride, a small fleet of Nordens was parked in the gravel lot, and it was “pick any bike you want, it’s yours for the day.”

I made sure to remember the plate on mine so I wouldn’t get another guy’s bike by accident. At least for the first model year, you can get any Norden 901 color as long as it’s black.

Aluminum panels protect the sides of the engine, and there's a full-length belly pan. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The single colorway looks very nice anyway—a combination of black, gray, and neon green. The Norden is replete with many pleasing details that give it a more mature and refined look compared to its sibling at KTM.

The tank fairing has topographical contour lines with Husqvarna’s gun barrel logo; small auxiliary lights are smoothly integrated beside the big, round LED headlamp that has its own DRL ring; and an integrated skid plate protects the engine while running completely under the belly.

The sculpted seat is very comfortable and is wrapped in a suede-like material. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The saddle is covered in a classy, Alcantara-ish material, too. While the switch pods and levers come from the same parts bin as KTM, the 6.5-inch TFT dash is specific to the Husky and is all the better for it. The circular tachometer occupies two-thirds of the dash with the speedometer at the bottom and the gear indicator near the top. Primary information is crisp and easily readable under all light conditions, but secondary info like trip data and battery voltage takes some squinting if your eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

There are three basic ride modes—Street, Rain and Off-Road—as well as selectable ABS and traction control. Your choice of riding mode determines the throttle response and the peak output, and you can choose to disable rear-wheel ABS and switch off traction control. An “Explorer” option gives you more customizability for the level of traction control and ABS intervention if the factory settings leave you wanting.

Primary information from the TFT dash is crisp and highly readable. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Firing up the 889cc parallel twin emits a satisfying rumble that just burbles along as you wind up the engine. Sharing the same motor as the 890 Adventure (which we don’t have in the Philippines yet), it’s paired with a quickshifter and slipper clutch to make gear changes idiot-proof. Apart from a notably big gap between first and second that could land you in Neutral if you don’t tap the shifter hard enough, working the drivetrain is a pleasure.

Power delivery in “Street” is quick and smooth. There’s no drivetrain lash or whiskey throttle at low speeds, but a hard whack to the throttle stop in first gear will lift the front wheel if you’re into stoplight bursts of lunacy.

The bike is very stable and comfortable at speed. PHOTO FROM HUSQVARNA

Our riding covered more than 160km of highways and secondary roads, lots of scenic coastal areas, a fair amount of twisties, and even several kilometers of grassy and muddy fields. With moderate traffic and a fair bit of fun when the road was clear, I got around 24km/L. More than the power or the handling prowess of the bike, I appreciated how comfortable it all felt.

The Norden has a slightly steeper rake and a shorter wheelbase compared to the 790/890, which helps to give it a nimble feel off-road despite its heft. The standard 854mm seat height is manageable for riders 5’8″ or taller, and can also be raised to 874mm if you need more legroom. I found the seat-to-peg distance just right, and paired with the raised handlebars also made stand-up riding feel natural and comfortable.

A 21-inch front tire helps the Norden roll over most obstacles with ease. PHOTO FROM HUSQVARNA

The clear windscreen reaches up to my collarbone when seated, and though I can still feel windblast by my shoulders at high speed, the way it smoothly channels air over and around my helmet is remarkable.

I purposely left the visor on my Bell MX-9 helmet to see if the wind would catch it and pull my head up, but even a brief burst to 160km/h felt relatively calm. Top speed is around 200km/h. The 19L tank is slightly smaller than the 890’s, shaped very well to let your knees hug it in corners.

The Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs are fine on dry roads and gravel, but flail about in the mud. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Off-road, the bike feels ponderous just like any other 210kg machine. With the appropriate settings for engine mode, traction control, and ABS, confident prods of throttle, brake, and body positioning will get the Norden moving at a brisk pace.

In “Off-road” mode with the traction control off and enough throttle, you can get the tail to slide around corners, though the standard Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires don’t handle very well in the mud.

Still, the fitment of a 21-inch front tire and fully adjustable WP Apex suspension means the Norden has a lot of untapped off-road potential for the very adventurous.

The WP Apex suspension has excellent damping and rebound control over the rough stuff. PHOTO FROM HUSQVARNA

Suspension travel of 8.6 inches at the front and 8.4 inches at the rear is about an inch less than a 790 Adventure R, and ground clearance of 9.9 inches is just slightly lower than the 790 Adventure R’s 10.35 inches.

These are still pretty good numbers, and so long as you don’t plan on regularly blasting through rock gardens and jumping off mounds, then the bike is more than good enough for what the majority of adventure riders really do.

Stand-up riding feels natural and comfortable on the Norden. PHOTO FROM HUSQVARNA
A great candidate for touring the countryside. PHOTO FROM HUSQVARNA

Overall, the big Husky does a great balancing act between excelling at long-distance road touring and being competent enough off-road. It has the power, the comfort, and the efficiency to tackle long stints on the road without feeling strained while having enough character to be entertaining when the mood hits.

More than simply being a “KTM that doesn’t look like a KTM,” the Husqvarna manages to look and feel genuinely distinct from its mechanical sibling while still providing that high fun-to-ride quotient that Huskies are known for.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.