Review: Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition

Uh-oh! A closed road and surrounded by forest fire smoke. My test on the Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition was cut short by the James Bay-area fires. Credit: Zac Kurylyk

It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” Thus Ferris Bueller described a rare Ferrari belonging to his pal Cameron’s dad… before he woodsed it. And I’d say the same about the Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition, a bike that I thankfully avoided woodsing, although I’ve just come back from taking this new adventure tourer on the sketchiest ride of my life. And without hyperbole, I would like to say this bike is a big part of why I survived that ride.

Let’s back it up, though, and start with the bike’s basics, to give you an idea of what it’s all about.

Familiar foundation

While some people might be surprised to even see Husqvarna making adventure bikes (“Aren’t they a chainsaw company?“… “Aren’t they a dirt bike company?“), other in-the-know readers will remember that the Norden 901 Expedition debuted back in March, 2023 as a touring-oriented version of the machine that originally broke cover in fall of 2021. As with everything else in the Husqvarna lineup, the Norden is basically a re-skinned KTM, although the 901 Expedition might diverge farther from KTM than most of its counterparts.

The engine itself is the same liquid-cooled DOHC parallel twin LC8c engine that KTM first introduced in the 790 Duke/Adventure series, then big-bored for the 890 series, then transplanted sideways into the 901 Husqvarna models. It’s got four-valve heads. dual oil pumps, and is 889cc capacity. Of course electronic fuel injection, and ride-by-wire throttle, with slip-assist clutch mated to a six-speed gearbox. Max output is about 105 hp at 8,000 rpm, and 73.7 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm.

The same parallel twin engine that KTM uses in the 890 series (and similar to the 790s). Credit: KTM

The Expedition also gets a quickshifter, which allows you to bang between the gears without using the clutch—the ride-by-wire throttle is key here, and it also allows Husky to program in Street, Offroad, Rain and Explorer riding modes into the bike. These are basically the same as KTM’s modes for the 890.

These modes adjust throttle response and also juggle the bike’s electronic safety systems to match rider’s preference (and also the terrain they’re on). Rain dials up the safety of the leaning-sensitive ABS and traction control, while taking the edge off the throttle. Offroad configures those systems to better suit dirt riding (including freeing up the ABS to allow more slippage, particularly in rear). Street allows you to get more aggressive on hard-paved surfaces.

Explorer allows you to mix-and-match various safety settings, or adjust them. In Explorer mode, riders can choose from Rain, Street, Offroad or Rally (more aggressive) throttle response, either Street or Offroad ABS, and dial traction control in from Level 0-9. The TC can even be adjusted on-the-fly, allowing you to mess with settings as needed on the trail. In other words, Explorer mode is pretty much the same thing as Rally mode on the 890 series; experienced, skilled riders can use it to dial the bike’s response in real-time as needed.

Click-adjustable cruise control is also standard (and works very  nicely).

Those saddlebags, the skidplate and the oversized windscreen are all standard on the Expedition model. Credit: Husqvarna

Moving on from the engine and its management systems, we see a 48mm WP XPLOR fork, adjustable for compression, rebound and preload (to help you dial in weight of a passenger or luggage). The shock is also a WP XPLOR unit, with rebound and preload adjustability, along with both high-speed and low-speed compression adjustment. Front and rear suspension have 240mm of travel.

Fuel capacity is 19 litres, in a tank that wraps low around the engine similar to KTM’s 890 series.

The frame itself is chrome-moly steel, with chrome-moly subframe and the engine as a stressed unit. Seat height is adjustable from 875 to 895 mm. The front 320 mm brake discs are squeezed by radial-mount, four-piston calipers; in back, there’s a single 260 mm disc mated to a semi-floating, two-piston caliper. Bosch 9.1 ABS is standard.

The Expedition has a 21-18 wheelset, shod in tubeless Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires.

Wet weight is a claimed 214.5 kg.

There’s a low-mount front fender, but the styling team managed to avoid the “beak” that visually typifies the ADV genre. Credit: Husqvarna

A different feel

While much of the bike is the same as KTM 890 Adventure, Husqvarna said from the start that the Norden series was intended to be more than blue/yellow/white clones of the orange bikes. After putting in a few days of hard riding through central and northern Quebec, I would say the engineers succeeded.

I didn’t take the bike on the usual pre-planned launch route–the journos did that ride months ago. Instead, Husky let me load up the machine (they included soft bags and a rack, I added a duffel) and head to James Bay from the KTM Rally. Or at least, that was the plan.

The route included a wide range of surfaces, from bumpy, twisty back roads to smooth, crowded highways, to the mild bends of the Trans-Canada through Zecs and the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, to gravel roads between northern communities—along with some jaunts off the roads, to scope out stealth camping spots or fishing holes. The 901 Expedition handled it all admirably, so much so that I almost forgot I had a load of luggage on the back, and that I was on a big adventure bike, not a middleweight dual-sport.

Uh… did you remember to fill up? I can tell you that if you’re easy on the throttle, you can get at least 444 km on a tank of fuel, because that’s what I managed. Credit: Zac Kurylyk

And yet, it lacked the aggression of the 890 series. Or at least, that was more buried away, in Expedition mode. But even there, the Husqvarna’s chassis seemed to encourage a less adrenaline-charged, energy-drink-chugging approach to life.

Not that you can’t have fun. This bike isn’t boring, and with the same engine as the 890s, you can have the same grip-it-to-rip-it fun. But I found the handling was less frantic, and that meant I was willing to go down tighter side-tracks than I might have on the KTM. And when I was on those side investigations, whether I was looking for a place to throw up a tent or throw in a fishing line, I found the 901 was the most sure-footed “big” bike I’ve ever taken off-pavement.

On-pavement, it was the same story, generally, although I did have one beef with the machine during my short time aboard it. The fork had too much dive under braking, and the shock had too much squat under hard acceleration. I fully believe I could have sorted these out with a quick tweak of the clickers, though. Adjusting the suspension is easy. I just knew my time aboard the machine was short enough that I wasn’t interested in fiddling with it all afternoon to dial it in.

While it looks big, the Husky’s narrow waist makes it easy to move around once you leave pavement. I felt extremely comfortable exploring the willywacks on this machine. Credit: Husqvarna

Creature comforts

So this Husqvarna is different from the 890, but how is it as a touring bike? That is, after all the implication of the “Expedition” name.

Touring bikes need long legs and a sturdy back, and this machine has both. It will run across Canada at extra-legal highway speeds hour after hour after hour, all while hauling enough luggage to support a weeks-long tour. And it’ll get fuel efficiency of 5ish liters per 100 km if you’re bagging on it, and even better if you aren’t.

The windscreen isn’t adjustable, but at no time did I feel adjustment was necessary. No buffeting, and minimal wind noise—I could put in long days at high speeds without the ringing in my ears that other bikes leave me with. And yet, a mid-shield cutout still provided cooling airflow when needed. I suppose some riders may want a shorter windshield if they are doing serious off-roading, but on this trip, it was perfect. Paired with the slightly flared-out sides of the tank bodywork, it did an excellent job of keeping elements off me while I rode. If I didn’t see raindrops accumulating on the windshield, it could take me several minutes before I actually had them soaking into my gear.

Filling up that 19-litre tank isn’t cheap, especially in the north, but you’ve got enough range for most people’s use. On this ride, I used a Giant Loop gas bag to extend my range, a much cheaper option than an auxiliary tank with capacity you rarely need. Credit: Zac Kurylyk

The 901 Expedition comes with heated grips and seat as standard, controlled by the left-hand switchgear and the TFT screen interface (same as all the bike’s other electro-trickery). It’s all very simple, and allows you to have roasty-toasty heat with only a couple of buttons pressed.

The protection of the bodwork/windshield and the heated seat were welcome when it rained, but especially so when I was caught in forest fire smoke mid-trip. On the Billy Diamond Highway, just a few klicks short of my goal, a wind change took out-of-control wildfire smoke across the road for hundreds of kilometers. I had to ride in this high-stress, low-visibility smog for hours to escape, navigating at times with only a few feet of centreline to guide me. And then it started to rain, too. Having all that protection from the elements only a few buttons away were a big part of why I was able to put in the miles I did, getting off that highway to safety.

It was perhaps the most dangerous situation I have ever been in on a motorcycle, with a very urgent need to press forward, but conditions that barely let me see a few feet ahead at a time. I was very fortunate to escape, and I credit the Husky with a large part of that survival.

I was in a bad, bad situation on this trip, and I give the Norden 901 Expedition full credit for helping me escape danger. Credit: Zac Kurylyk

Closing thoughts

In 2022, I kitted out a KTM 690 Adventure and rode it all over Newfoundland, thinking I’d built the ultimate go-anywhere tourer. I now believe the bone-stock 901 Norden Explorer is just about the equivalent, with some serious advantages of its own (it’s a lot more comfortable). Would I buy it? Not unless moto journos start getting paid like CEOs of grocery store and gas station chains. But like I said in the opening para: If you have the means, I highly reccommend picking one up.

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