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Husqvarna TR650 Terra: A dirt bike for the street?

December 05, 2012|By Charles Fleming
  • Husqvarna is heading into the dual-sport market with its light and lively TR650 Terra.
Husqvarna is heading into the dual-sport market with its light and lively… (Husqvarna Motorcycles )

Husqvarna’s terrific new TR650 Terra is the legendary marque’s attempt at an affordable, entry-level, “dual-purpose” motorcycle, street legal but able to get off the pavement and into the dirt.

But is it a casual road bike for off-road enthusiasts or a dirt bike for street people?

I saw my first Husqvarna in 1969, as a spectator at a motocross championship. It was love at first sight, and the signature red-white-chrome gas tank and green number plates were imprinted on me forever. Torsten Hallman and Bengt Aberg were racing the 250cc and 500cc machines to world championships. J.N. Roberts and Malcolm Smith were winning the Baja 1000.  The company that had started making armaments for the Swedish crown in 1689 and begun making motorcycles in 1903 went on to rule Enduro racing from 1990 to 2010 and became a dominant force in the Supermoto category.

I went on to own or race German, Czech, Italian, British, American, Spanish and Japanese bikes, but I actually never rode a Husky – until last week, when I threw a leg over the TR650 Terra and hit the road.

PHOTO GALLERY

This is a really likable bike – solid, smooth-running, light and nimble for its weight and engine size (407 pounds, 652cc), and very comfortable in traffic and on the open highway. The single-cylinder, four-stroke engine – based on Husky parent company BMW’s G650GS motor -- felt solid, the power spreading nicely over the five-speed, wide-ratio gearbox.

Ergonomically it felt like an off-road adventurer, with the classic dirt bike configuration of an 18-inch spoked wheel in the back and a 21-inch spoked wheel in the front.  Like its motocross cousins, it sits quite high: The seat height of 34.4 inches means you’re really swinging a leg over about 38 inches to get into the saddle.

Stylistically too: the Terra has a high front fender and features upswept twin pipes – odd, for a single-cylinder thumper, but a stylish solution to U.S. emission standards that require either one really big exhaust system or two smaller ones.

Maybe that’s why I was a little disappointed by the Terra’s performance on the terra itself. It felt so much like a dirt bike that I expected it to act like one. It doesn’t. The way the seat widens at the back to accommodate a passenger makes standing-up dirt-bike maneuvering difficult – and a set of whoop-de-do’s dangerous. The wide-ratio gearbox, while delightful for a city slicker, doesn’t deliver enough low-end torque to get you up a rutty incline. And the power-to-weight ratio produced by the reported 58hp engine, while plenty peppy pulling away from a traffic light or merging onto the motorway, doesn’t offer enough horsepower to get the front end up and over an obstacle or blast you out of a sand trap.

I rode half of Saturday and part of Sunday. It was cold and raining and I got soaked. I ran the Terra through some mud, jumped some puddles, crossed a couple of streams and worked a couple of power slides – in the company of a friend on a KTM Adventure, in an area that we later learned was open only to maintenance vehicles. (The Pasadena police were very nice about it.)

Despite the bad weather and the run-in with Johnny Law, I still didn’t want to stop riding. I don’t think I’d want to run the Barstow-to-Vegas on this bike , but I’d sure like to ride a few more miles down a fire road.

Husqvarna is clearly hoping its Terra will attract a certain kind of rider, perhaps nostalgic for the Torsten Hallman period, beyond their dirt-biking days but eager to join the BMWs and KTMs on their adventure rides. They’ll be rewarded by the competitive $6,999 sticker price and appealing promise of 65mpg.

Meanwhile, the company is also unveiling Terra's street-twin, the TR650 Strada. In many ways it's the same bike but with a few key differences that lean it a little more toward the pavement and a little less to the dirt. That model is priced a little higher but offers the same stellar gas mileage.

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