I like alternate history stories. You know the type—The Man In The High Castle, that sort of thing. What if the Allies had lost World War II? What if Richard Nixon had never resigned? What if Hunter S. Thompson had won election for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado?
OK, that last idea isn’t actually a book…but it should be. My point is, it’s sometimes fun to conjecture what might have been if history had taken a different twist. And, that’s the cool thing about the Husqvarna 701 Enduro: It shows what could have been, if the moto industry hadn’t basically given up on big-bore single-cylinder engines.
Husky recently sent me a 701 Enduro to test-ride. Here’s what I found out:
When I rode the previous-generation version of this bike in 2017, I wrote “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.” Nothing’s changed there.
Well, actually, a lot has changed. The 701 Enduro now has the same engine as the Duke 690 R, making it currently rated for 74 hp at 8,000 rpm, and 54 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm with little discernible difference from the previous version. It’s still got dual counter balancers, making for a very smooth ride. And, it’s still got a ride-by-wire throttle.
However, on the new bike, that ride-by-wire throttle is now used to enable all sorts of electronic gadgetry. The 701 now has two ride modes (offering different throttle response and traction control interference). There’s leaning-sensitive traction control (which you can turn off). There’s even separate ignition maps for each sparkplug in the dual-spark head.
The result is, the 701 Enduro offers an even more refined ride. You can flog this liquid-cooled 693 cc single even more viciously than before, and that makes it a delight to ride on-pavement.
There’s plenty of torque from the bottom of the rev range, all the way to the top, with surprising strength from the mid-range upwards. While older 650 designs would start to loose steam past the 130 km/h mark, the 701 keeps on pulling. Highway passes are no problem. Wheelies are no problem. Absolutely hoonish backroad behaviour is no problem. This bike is down to clown.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention —it’s got a quickshifter. A quickshifter on a big-bore single. Ahhhhh think of the fun, on a tight rural road! Or rocketing out of a toll booth. Or passing an obnoxious tuner car on the highway. Brap, Braaaap, Braaaaap, turns into BraaAaaaaAaaaAAAPPPPP!
The 701 is also lots of fun on dirt, as long as you don’t run into anything, or inadvertently launch yourself into orbit. This isn’t a bike for the beginner dirt rider; clumsy throttle usage will cost you dearly.
Having said that, the 701 engine will certainly lug along at low rpm. I wouldn’t want to take it down goat trails, but the 701 works well on open ATV tracks and gravel forestry roads. I suspect it would make an excellent dune-blaster, but I didn’t find out for myself—that’s illegal in these parts, and I didn’t need the DFO chasing me.
In short: For off-road riding, you’ll need advanced skills to take full advantage of the 701 engine. On the street, the single-cylinder’s broad band of on-demand power makes it a highly-enjoyable real-world machine. I wish the Japanese OEMs had developed their own 650 singles to this extent—the world would be a brappier place.
Riding on the edge
Whether you’re going fast, or going slow, when you throw a leg over the 701 Enduro, you’re always riding on the edge.
That’s because the 36-inch-high seat is taller than most people’s comfort zones, and it’s also pretty hard. It shows the 701’s dirt bike heritage, for sure.
So does the suspension. The 701 isn’t a total dirt bike, but the WP XPLOR fork and shock are stiff and off-road friendly. Don’t expect the cushy ride that Japanese duallies provide.
The front end in particular can be a bit of a handful, especially when you factor in the torquey engine. The good news is, the forks are easily adjustable; I dialed back the rebound, and everything got a lot more civilized. I didn’t bother tweaking the shock, as I liked it fine as-is.
Thanks to that suspension, you can push the 701 pretty hard offroad, as long as you’ve got the skills to stay in control. With a chrome-moly trellis frame and lightweight plastic subframe that integrates the fuel tank behind/below the rider, the 701 Enduro has excellent mass centralization. That also works to your advantage when street riding; even with knobby dirt tires and its sky-high riding position, the 701 handles well. I can only imagine how sweet the supermoto version would be, on a back road.
At 146 kilos, there’s not a lot of mass to centralize to start with, anyway. Again, the 701 stands in sharp contrast to the Japanese dual sport series, which have tended to gain weight as time goes by, while losing power. Husqvarna has done the reverse.
One trick that Husqvarna used to save weight: Minimal bodywork. When you’re at speed on the 701, you’re really at speed. You take a lot of wind-blast on your chest. Most riders aren’t buying these bikes for all-day highway touring, though, and the wind is a good reminder that maybe you should slow things down, before Johnny Law takes an interest.
So, what about the gadgets? The lights, electronics, etc.?
Considering how easy it is to switch the electronic options on and off on KTM’s adventure series, I found the Husqvarna 701 a tad frustrating. I get it—Husky wants to keep things simple and streamlined, hence the minimalist interface. Same goes for the el cheapo LCD gauge: This works, even if it isn’t fancy, and it’s lightweight. Still, I can’t help feeling I’d want a bit more for my money.
But, again, Husqvarna at least includes switchable ABS and traction control and different ride modes, which nobody else is currently doing for their thumper. And remember, this is a big dirt bike, not a glammed-up
Starbucks cruiser flagship adventure bike.
I liked the 701’s minimalist LED lighting, although I found the headlight output was anemic, certainly not on par with the Honda CRF450L I rode a couple of summers back. Husky could certainly do better here.
One other bummer: I certainly like the handling dynamic of the behind-the-seat fuel tank, however if you did want to use this bike for touring, it would certainly complicate the luggage arrangement since the fill cap is behind the seat, where your luggage would sit. It would also be difficult to expand your fuel capacity (which is why the LR version exists—I’ve yet to see one in the wild, though).
If you’re looking for the raddest single-cylinder on the market, this is it. Personally, after more than a decade of riding big singles, this is exactly the engine I want. The chassis is a bit hard-edged, but if I spent a few weeks on the bike, I know I’d adapt.
My only issue? The $13,399 price tag. That’s a lot of money, and given the 701’s mechanical complexity, I suspect long-term maintenance would also be pricey. However, if you’ve got the cash to pay, then you’ve got the cash to play, and the 701 is worth a test ride.
More details, photos and specs at Husqvarna’s website.