More Off-Road Ability And Increased Long-Distance Practicality. The Goals: Comprising Subtle But Important Upgrades To The Suspension, Bike and Rider Protection, Luggage Carrying Capacity And Rider Comfort.
Manufacturers these days are great at telling us the motorcycle they’ve just launched isn’t quite as good as it could be and persuading us to part with more of our hard-earned cash to buy an upgraded model almost before the ink has dried on the purchase agreement of the original!
In the cold light of examination, there is nothing wrong with the standard Norden 901 and neither has it been out long enough for criticism to have stung the factory into action, which makes us think that the Expedition model was part of the plan all along. The heart of the bike – frame and engine – remains the same, but the suspension has been upgraded and a bunch of accessories added as standard, to improve off-road ability while adding features that will improve the long-distance riding experience.
The engine remains the KTM LC8, 889 cc parallel twin as found in the Norden 901 and the 890 Adventure and 890 Adventure R. 105 bhp and 100 Nm are the figures and it is hard to think of a riding situation that would require you to need more. There’s a pair of balancer shafts to keep things commendably smooth and, if the sound of the engine and exhaust combined is a little underwhelming, it’s nothing that should put you off. The fuelling is spot on and there are no unwelcome flat spots as it spins around to the red line in any gear. Whether chugging along at low revs or singing its heart out near the red line, there just seems to be power available. Service intervals are excellent at 15,000 km, definitely one area where a dedicated adventure bike scores over an enduro model, even one as powerful as a Husqvarna 701 Enduro.
The most noticeable change – from an off-road riding viewpoint – lies in the suspension department. The supplier is still KTM-owned WP but this has been upgraded from Apex 43 forks and rear shock to fully-adjustable Xplor 48 (48 mm, that is) forks and an Xplor rear shock, also with full adjustment. While the Apex gear had preload and rebound adjustment, the Xplor offers preload, compression and high- and low-speed rebound damping adjustment. Suspension travel has increased by 20 mm at the front and 25 mm at the rear, while ground clearance has increased to 270 mm.
There is no change to the chrome-moly steel tube frame over the standard Norden 901, which means the engine is used as a stressed member of the frame. The rake of the front forks is 25.8°, with 4.2 inches of trail. The swing arm remains a die-cast aluminium item. Wheel sizes are standard (for off-road) 21 inches at the front and 18 inches at the back. The Norden 901 Expedition comes fitted as standard with Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires which have a huge central block that might not be great at dissipating surface water on the road but offers huge grip on the dirt.
In terms of braking equipment, it’s always a little disconcerting to have brake callipers with no brake manufacturer branding on them although, in reality, we really should stop being so judgemental. The front callipers on the Norden 901 Expedition have a simple Husqvarna ‘H’ marking but they are ‘actually’ made by Brembo subsidiary J.Juan of Spain. The four-piston front callipers are radially mounted and clamp 320 mm discs, while the rear brake features a 260 mm clamped by a twin-piston calliper. In use, the brakes have more than enough stopping power, with a great feel at the front lever and progressive action.
It almost goes without saying but the electronics package is simply staggering! The level of electronic adjustability makes you wonder how much further manufacturers can go in this department. The 901 Expedition gets four riding modes: Street, Rain, Offroad and Explorer. That latter is a user-customisable mode, with adjustments to traction control (lean-sensitive and with nine levels), throttle response, peak power, slip control and ABS. A neat feature is being able to adjust the traction control/slip control on the fly using the left-hand buttons according to surface and riding conditions. Engine braking can be adjusted, and the ABS is cornering sensitive and can be turned off at the rear wheel. Cruise control is a welcome addition.
Adventure bikes are, by their very nature, tall, and there’s no escaping the fact that the 901 Expedition conforms to this pattern, especially with the longer suspension travel and increased ground clearance: that is just one of the penalties for better off-road performance but does mean that shorter riders simply won’t be able to live with it. The seat has two height settings, at 875 mm and 895 mm and is unusually broad at the rear, while not being too wide at the front for better control, and is surprisingly comfortable for long days in the saddle. The foot pegs have easily-removable rubber inserts which give a few millimetres more leg room, while the reach to the wide bars is easy and natural and they can be adjusted fore and aft by 30 mm. Overall, if you have the height, the Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition offers a great cockpit from which to control the bike.
Husqvarna has really gone to town on equipping the Expedition. Upfront and for the rider are heated grips (and seat) and a much taller Touring windshield, giving excellent protection, certainly much better than the KTM 890 Adventure models. There is very little buffeting and the vertical top edge tips wind over the rider’s helmet nicely. For all that, however, it doesn’t in any way compromise visibility and is high enough to keep the wind off the chest when standing while riding.
There’s a built-in GPS bracket which will accept a variety of mounting options depending on which brand of GPS you use and whether phone connectivity has been upgraded. Underneath the bike is a centre stand which many riders consider essential and certainly it does make chain maintenance and puncture mending easier. The engine and pannier petrol tanks are protected by a beefy-looking aluminium bash plate.
The most noticeable addition is a set of soft panniers mounted on their own dedicated mounting brackets. Combined capacity is 36 litres and they promise to be dust- and water-proof to a certain extent, although probably not for several minutes of full immersion in water. Given the way the pannier bags jiggle around alarmingly when riding over rough terrain, we would perhaps question their ability to carry heavy items and stay attached or even intact while, of course, a crash could easily tear them or rip them off completely. Husqvarna staff acknowledged the problem and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect an uprated bag to be fitted in the future.
It is possible to mount hard aluminium panniers but this requires a whole new mounting system which will not come cheaply, even if they will be a lot more practical and hard-wearing.
There is no doubt that the Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition is sufficiently different to the standard Norden 901 to justify its existence. Husky really has built in a whole new level of comfort, practicality and ability to what was already an impressive adventure bike, one that continues to bolster the argument for these middleweight models against the huge, heavy and expensive 1200 cc+ models.
If anything, the 901 Expedition is even better value than the standard Norden 901: to equip the standard bike to the level of the Expedition would surely take more than the R17,000 price difference (R279,699 for the Expedition against R262,699 for the standard model). With the Norden 901 Expedition, Husqvarna might have given itself the headache of selling standard Norden 901 models but, at the same time, it has also given the market an impressive new flavour of a long-distance-ready adventure motorcycle.
Husqvarna Nordon 901 Expedition
For more information on the bike that we tested in this article, click on the link below…