Julian challis travels to the Azores for the launch of Husqvarna’s highly anticipated adventure bike, the Norden 901
OK, I have to come clean here. I’ve been a Husqvarna fan since the ‘70s. From the moment I rode a WR360 when I was 13 and the world blurred into an intoxicating mixture of sound and speed, I’ve loved the brand.
My all-time favourite motocross rider, Brad Lackey, rode for the Swedish manufacturer around that time, and Huskys were also the preferred choice of Steve McQueen, the coolest motorcycle rider in the world. To top it off, the bikes looked drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, what more could a teenage lad want?
Of course, that back story, racing heritage, and transatlantic cool is what ultimately saved the brand too. When the Pierer Mobility Group (which also owns KTM) took ownership of Husqvarna back in 2013, they bought into one of the oldest motorcycle brands in the world, one only matched by Harley-Davidson and Royal Enfield.
And perhaps more importantly, it was an off-road brand with genuine kudos on both sides of the Atlantic.
Fast forward eight years and the success of Husqvarna’s relaunch is quite incredible. In both motocross and enduro, it has topped podiums across the world, taking titles and wins with metronomic regularity. And away from the racetrack, Husqvarna is now almost as popular in the trail bike market as its sister brand KTM ever was or indeed is now.
So, it was only a matter of time before we were presented with an adventure bike. The Norden 901, Husqvarna’s first proper entry into the adventure market, was initially unveiled at the EICMA motorcycle show in 2019 as a concept alongside the avant-garde styling of the Svartpilen and Vitpilen.
Thankfully the styling of the Norden was a little less challenging, effortlessly combining elements of its orange siblings with design nods to classic adventure machines like the Africa Twin, Ténéré, and early BMW GS desert racers. Two years later, the production-ready Norden is here.
For the launch of its new bike, Husqvarna picked São Miguel in the Azores, a tiny Portuguese island in the middle of the Atlantic. It’s a long way from the bike’s spiritual home on the cool trails of Sweden, but its green and verdant landscape looked ripe for adventure.
And the bike, well it’s every bit as good looking as we had hoped. The transition from concept bike to production model often tones down a motorcycle’s styling, but happily, the Norden 901 is almost identical to the model shown in Milan, save for the colour of the handguard inserts and the crash bars.
From the contrast between the black sculpted fairing, the grey graphics, and Norden lettering, to the signature yellow accents and white side panels, it’s very easy on the eye. And with that big round LED headlight, slimline indicators, and it’s two piercing fog lights, the Norden has a fresh and exciting look that is bang on point.
It’s one that maybe won’t divide opinion as much as KTM 890 Adventure models that the Norden 901 is heavily based on, but more on that later.
With the presentations and logistics taken care of the previous night, we finally get to meet our new motorcycles under somewhat leaden November skies. Throwing my leg over the bike, it’s immediately obvious that Husky has long distances in mind with the wide and well-padded two-piece seat, which is quite a contrast from the frequent austerity of KTM perches.
The seat is on the lowest of two settings, and the 854mm height allows my 5’11” frame to plant both feet flat on the floor. It’s also a comfortable reach to the wide tapered aluminium bars and the uncluttered cockpit.
Turning the key brings up the display on the modestly sized 5” TFT screen, the Husqvarna logo flashing up before settling to the clear and well laid out graphics.
The bike has three standard riding modes, Street, Off-road, and Rain. And if you are a would-be Lyndon Poskitt, there’s an optional Explorer mode. Each one varies the way the motor responds, changing the throttle response, traction control, and peak power accordingly. In Explorer or ‘Poskitt’ mode, you can vary all these on the fly.
In terms of its dimensions, the Norden weighs in at 204kg unfuelled, so with the tank brimmed with 19 litres of E10 (which should take you around 250 miles), that’s just under 225kg. Ground clearance is a whopping 252mm, so ideal for those log jumps.
Checking I’m in the correct setting using the left-hand switchgear to scroll through the options, we set off onto the road away from our hotel and towards Ribeira Grande, a coastal resort just to the east. Straightaway, the wonderfully torquey surge of that 889cc parallel-twin DOHC motor is evident and just as enjoyable to use as with the KTM 890 Adventure.
Quite how the engineers have managed to pack so much into this compact little unit and still have it produce a spirited 105bhp and 100Nm of torque is hard to know. But as I snick the effortless quick shifter with power-assisted slipper clutch through the six-speed gearbox, I’m not entirely sure I care.
Into the mountains on the Norden 901
After a mile or so, we head away from the main road and up towards the mountains. Immediately, the evidence of tractors, livestock, and assorted debris on the roads reveals the island’s farming-based economy. Continuing further upwards and inland, our ride leader takes a sharp left that leads to a series of tighter roads and then our first trails of the day.
Quickly toggling into Off-Road mode, it’s just a question of standing on the wide, grippy pegs (which have a removable rubber insert) and getting this bad boy moving.
Husqvarna says it placed the rider’s position relatively far forward to improve front wheel feel and grip, and while seated on the blacktop this works well. However, once up on the pegs on the trails, the stock position of the bars feels too low and too far forward for my liking. It’s OK on the climbs, but on descents and cornering, the position makes the steering a tad snatchy and uncertain.
This feeling is exacerbated by the interaction between the wide blocked Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres and the almost marble-sized volcanic gravel of the Azores. Between the front tyre wanting to tuck and the rear fighting for grip, it’s not quite what I was expecting from my first off-road foray on the bike.
Of course, as with all the off-road bikes in the KTM stable, the Norden’s bars can be mounted in six different positions by moving and/or rotating the clamps on the forged aluminium top yoke. If that still doesn’t do the trick, then there are plenty of aftermarket options in terms of risers and different bar bends. I’m a sucker for a set of Renthal Twin walls with a Windham bend.
As for the tyres, the tubeless dual sport Pirelli’s are standard kit on the Norden’s 21” front and 18” rear spoked wheels. However, if I was considering this bike for serious adventure travel, I’d be swapping out the round profiled STRs for some aggressive big block hoops like the Metzeler Karoo 3s pretty damn sharpish.
For the suspension, Husky has plumped for the Apex kit shared with the KTM 890 Adventure rather than the hardcore Xplor units found on the more off-road focused (and more expensive) 890 Adventure R model.
It’s a decision that will divide opinion, but one that makes sense on a bike that will most likely be used for long-distance road tours, with a few trails thrown in for fun. Committed off-road junkies can always upgrade the suspension, as is the case with any adventure bike.
Up front, there’s a pair of 43mm USD forks with separate fork functions. Splitting damping and rebound between the legs offer a generous 220mm of travel. At the rear, the Apex unit offers 215mm of travel with adjustable rebound and spring preload using the handwheel on the right side of the bike.
The action of the suspension is plush more than taut and if you were riding fast, dry piste then you’d definitely need to wind up the preload to keeps things in line. But for these more sedate trails and these speeds it’s just fine.
With my weight moved back and away from the front as much as I can, the wonderful series of trails and tracks passes easily.
Slippery when wet
Back on the roads once more, we continue to climb up into the clouds that sit on the mountains like an enormous hat. The dampness and relative warmth of the Azores climate not only keeps the island spectacularly green and covered in all kinds of dense and glorious vegetation, it does much the same for the roads.
A fine sheen of moss grows healthily on São Miguel’s highland roads, so I’m pleased that the Norden has the electronic assistance of cornering ABS, MSR (motor slip regulation), and cornering traction control.
When the moss-covered tarmac transitions into wet cobbles, it feels more like an extreme driving test rather than an adventure bike launch, but the Norden and its impressive technology copes admirably without me noticing it working beneath me.
We then drop down from the highlands and onto more predictable roads interspersed with occasional gravel trails, and then down to a larger A-road. With good tarmac and sweeping curves ahead, we can turn up the wick a little and the motor responds with a beautiful surge of power, taking the bike up to and beyond motorway speeds with a comforting stability.
The Norden’s stock screen is a relatively small and not adjustable for height, and although it keeps off a proportion of the wind as the speed increases, the modest dimensions and lack of adjustability seem at odds with the bike’s intended long-range travel aspirations.
Luckily there is a larger option available, along with hard and soft luggage, different seats, lowering kits, heated grips, and a connectivity kit to fully equip your bike for long-distance travel.
As standard, the Norden does however have a very easy to use cruise control and large, effective handguards. These are both welcome additions on any adventure bike.
In terms of the seating position, your legs are a tad more splayed than on similar bikes in this category and the Norden’s tank and bodywork size feel more like a premier class adventure bike than the middleweight it is.
The Husqvarna uses the same saddlebag style tank as the 790 and 890 KTM Adventure models, but on the Norden the lower tanks are smaller and thinner, pushing some of the capacity and inevitably, some of the weight, back up to the top of the bike.
Coupled with the increased weight of the fairing, the Norden lacks some of the almost uncanny lowdown balance and poise of its KTM stablemates, making it drop into turns more noticeably than is the case with the orange iterations of this platform. And, on the trails, it feels less planted and predictable.
As the Norden uses the identical chrome-moly mainframe and steel trellis subframe as the 890 Adventure and Adventure R, which is wrapped around the same engine, it’s evident that Husqvarna has not only created a bike that looks different to its siblings, it also rides and handles differently. This is not just a KTM by another name.
The roads and trails get progressively more twisty as we head around the southeastern tip of the island. So, it’s good to have the predictable feel of the J.Juan four-pot radially mounted callipers and big 320mm brake discs up front, backed up with a two-pot unit at the back with its 260mm rotor, as well as the unflappable Bosch ABS.
From delicate feathering into fast bends, heavy braking for emergencies, or locking the rear into gravel trails, the Norden’s brakes are everything you’d expect from Husqvarna’s racing heritage.
Climbing a volcano
The following morning, the weather has perked up and our route takes us to the west of the island, tracking the coastal road through a series of seemingly identical Azorean villages. We then head inland, the wonderful hydrangea-lined roads the island is famous for taking us swiftly upwards as we climb the side of a long-extinct volcano.
At the top we’re rewarded with the most incredible view into what was the volcano’s crater, with the achingly beautiful Lake Azul below, not to mention an epic trail that is cut into the very rim of the volcano. This scar of red gravel snakes between lush green hedges.
It’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever ridden. Having now worked out how to swiftly toggle into Off-Road mode and switch off the ABS by using the favourites buttons, I’m off at the head of the pack, sliding that big Pirelli from side to side on the wide and glorious track.
We drop down into the crater, pausing at a cracking little lakeside off-road loop for a photo stop, before heading into Sete Cidades for lunch under the now turquoise and cloudless skies.
With most of the riding done for the day, our afternoon takes us on a leisurely route back to base. And armed with warm weather, a powerful adventure bike, and stunning scenery to ride through, life doesn’t get much better.
With the riding action finished, I’m sat at the hotel looking out over the crashing surf of the Atlantic below. It’s been great to ride the new Husqvarna in such a spectacular and unexpected setting. But is it everything I wanted it to be?
Well, as any younger brother or sister will know, trying to get yourself noticed alongside an over-achieving sibling (in this case the KTM 890 Adventure R) is difficult. While you might want to be judged against your peers alone, comparisons closer to home are inevitable.
The Husqvarna Norden 901 is, without doubt, a welcome addition to the ever-burgeoning middleweight sector, and it will find legions of fans across the world for its clean looks, great spec and globe-trotting travel potential.
And as Husqvarna’s first entry into a highly competitive market, it’s an impressive debut. It’s just not as impressive as the KTM.
ABR Verdict – Husqvarna Norden 901
As a commuter
With a punchy motor and nimble chassis, the Norden will excel in the daily rat race, cutting through traffic like an eagle swooping through the northern forests. The problem will be resisting the urge to go adventuring on the way home.
As a weekend tourer
The Husqvarna is made for travel and will be the ideal companion on long weekends away from home. It’s comfortable and powerful enough to cruise along motorways in style, and it will also prove a lot of fun to throw around country lanes and mountain roads. Load up a tent and sleeping bag and head for the hills.
As an off-roader
The Norden loves to get dirty and it would be a crime to keep this bike away from the tracks and trails. In fact, it’s one of the most dirt-ready adventure bikes you can buy, alongside its KTM siblings. We’d change out those tyres and move the bars before getting grubby, but beyond that, it’s game on.
As a continental road tourer
The 901 is going to be well up for the challenge of continental touring. The engine packs more than enough power for motorway cruising and the seat and riding position offer plenty of comfort. Choose from the wide range of luggage in the accessories catalogue, and then it’s just a question of loading up and deciding where to go. Let’s start with the Picos mountains in Northern Spain.
As an RTW overlander
It’s only a matter of time before someone takes a Norden around the world because it’s a bike that would positively excel at the job. Good engine, good frame, big service intervals and a great dealer network. That’s pretty much all you need.
As a pillion carrier
The Norden will fulfil the role of a two-up carrier with ease, the pillion seat being surprisingly wide and comfortable for a middle-weight adventure bike. The rear pegs are well placed, and there are even sensible grab handles. Perfect