The thumper is in decline. The Japanese OEMs aren’t updating their big singles, and no new 650-class singles have come from the major manufacturers for years.
The Husqvarna 701 Enduro is the exception to this trend. Packed with high-spec components and technological advancement over its peers, the 701 platform takes the 650 class forward at a time when almost everyone seems to have given up on this class of motorcycles. The 701 is based on the KTM 690 series, but with enough changes that you won’t mistake them for the same bike.
The 701 showed up in showrooms in 2015; the version I rode was the updated 2017 model, with only slight changes over the original model and a list price of $14,049.
Visually, the new 701 is barely changed over the outgoing model. Most of this year’s updates were aimed at making the machine compliant with the Euro4 emissions standards. This meant Husky included a new 50 mm Keihin throttle body and made some top-end changes, which had a pleasant side effect: the engine makes more power now. Max output is now 74 hp at 8,000 rpm (up 6 hp) and 52.6 ft-lb of torque at 6,750 rpm (up 4.4 ft-lb).
That means the 701 is the most powerful single-cylinder machine in our market (the 690 Duke R makes 75 hp, but is not available in Canada). That power doesn’t equal a rougher ride, though; vibrations are kept in check with a secondary balancer shaft. Now, the engine redlines 1,000 rpm higher thanks to the updates, which accounts for the horsepower gain.
The power delivery is also smoothed out with a throttle-by-wire mechanism with no mechanical linkages.
Another important change: Husqvarna’s previous versions of this bike included selectable engine modes. There was considerable online griping about the adjustment mechanism, which was only accessible by removing the seat. Husqvarna has silenced the critics by deleting the feature from the 2017 model.
Less than a minute into my first ride aboard the 701 Enduro, I knew the machine would be a wild ride. I grabbed a fistful of throttle leaving Adair’s Wilderness Lodge, then backed off, and saw the handlebars quickly get squirrelly. Interesting…
You’re getting a complete package when you buy this Husqvarna. It has great brakes, high-quality suspension, lots of power, razor-sharp handling and it’s very light. That means you’ve got to pay more attention than you do on board your old KLR. However, it also means you can absolutely rail on this machine if the street or trail permits.
The 701’s incredibly smooth engine makes it a dream to ride aggressively on back roads; you’re able to push the bike far beyond what you’d expect of a thumper (the slipper clutch smooths things out too). The gearshift lever throw is a bit long, but you get used to that quickly. There’s a lot of power on tap, and all without the usual hours of carb tweaking and the annoyingly loud exhaust necessary for performance improvements on your garden-variety 650 duallie. This machine will challenge your preconceptions of what a single-cylinder engine can do.
Although the suspension is definitely on the stiff side, it keeps the power to the ground nicely, and you’re able to flick the bike nicely through the twisties. Although it’s rated at 145 kg (dry weight), the attention paid to mass centralization pays off. That’s a light bike, but it feels even lighter thanks to touches like a rear-mounted fuel tank.
If you want to move around on the seat, it’s easy: the oddly-styled pad extends further forward than any other motorcycle seat I’ve used (which might make aftermarket replacement complicated), allowing you to get your weight way, way forward. That helps, if you’re into hooligan riding. And you’re probably going to want to move around on the seat anyway because it isn’t super-comfortable (although better than some of the 650-class competition).
My only real complaint for street riding was the handlebar twitch I mentioned earlier. I had this happen several times, and I suspect the 701 would benefit from a steering damper. This isn’t rare with European enduros.
Most people aren’t buying this machine for the street, though (that’s where the 701 Supermoto model comes in). Everyone I talked to wanted to know about the bike’s performance in the dirt.
Off-road, the 701 is a good-and-bad, Jekyll-and-Hyde affair. Or, maybe it’s all Mr. Hyde (remember, he was the villain in the story). On the open trails, you’re able to harness all that brutish nature, flogging this beast to your will. Thanks to the fully-adjustable WP suspension, you’re able to keep all that power to the ground; my test bike had Michelin Desert Race tires, and I never felt like I lacked traction.
Along with forks and shock, a few design features make the 701 much more dirt-friendly than the competition. For one, the bike comes set up for off-road use out of the crate, with proper handguards and a skid plate. With the fuel tank in the back, the front end is quite slim and the radiator is nicely tucked away, out of harm’s way.
The 701 also has switchable ABS, a feature lacking from even some pricier adventure bikes.
The trouble with the 701 Enduro is that when the trail narrows, you can’t change basic physics. This machine is still heavy by trail bike standards, and it’s tall (910 mm seat height). There’s no way to smooth out power delivery when you’re in tight quarters, with the engine mapping feature deleted. Accidentally grab a fistful of throttle while you’re single-tracking, and you’re into the weeds.
The bike’s brutish Mr. Hyde nature means you have to be hyper-focused if you want to ride this in close quarters. The suspension that works so well at speed in the open stuff is far less fun at slower speed: even at the plushest setting, it’s still pretty stiff. The only way to keep things smooth is to keep your speed up, which terrain might not always permit. Not every rider can do that either, especially on a bike this big.
Still, the 701 Enduro is out-of-the-box easier to work offroad than any other 650 thumper. Just because it’s not the best tool for the job doesn’t mean it can’t work in a pinch, and as the rider gains familiarity with the bike and its capabilities, even the tighter trails will become much easier.
Overall, the 701 Enduro is a very fast, fun bike to ride, on street or trail. For most existing 650 riders, it’s a vast upgrade from their current machine, one that might surprise them with both its capability and the skill required to ride it well. One of the more sedate mid-sized adventure bikes, like the BMW F800 GS, would be an easier transition, although those bikes are less capable off-road than the 701.
I love the bike’s space-age styling. I think it’s probably the best-looking duallie on the market. However, when you get close, you do notice the gauges are a tad chintzy. The LCD speedo, with only basic tripmeter, odometer and clock functions and no tach, looks like something pulled off a much lighter dirt bike, and maybe that’s what Husky’s designers wanted to convey. However, on a bike at this price point, it’s just not up to par.
I also found the switchgear a bit finicky (the signal lights didn’t like to switch off), and I think the bike should have heated grips as standard equipment. These are nitpicky comments, but at this price point, those shouldn’t be issues. And like I said above, I think Husky should have included a steering damper and kept the selectable engine modes on the 2017 model.
But overall, the 701 Enduro is a beautiful machine with gobs of smooth power and on the appropriate roads, it was a dream to ride. In all honesty, I would have loved another couple of weeks aboard the bike, to gain a better feel for its handling and usability in the tight stuff.
But with the few days that I did have aboard the machine, I’d have to say my final verdict is that if you’re up to this machine, then it will please you immensely. If you’re not sure you want or need this much performance, then I’d recommend a test ride. If that leaves you with an insatiable lust for the bike, then it’s time to start arranging a loan, or raiding your RRSPs.
Check out all the pics that go with this story!