Norden tested by Wayne Vickers – Images Danny Wilkinson
After two days and 700+ kms putting the Norden through its paces in the Victorian high country, it’s hard not to be impressed. The boffins at team Husky have done their homework and produced a quality offering, one that shone on the press launch, both on tarmac and gravel.
I might be in the minority here but I wasn’t 100 per cent convinced of the design treatment from early pics. But seeing it in the metal, as it often is, is something else altogether. It looks pretty schmick. Distinctly Husqvarna. And the fit and finish is premium all over. The colour scheme and topographic lines on the tank easily set this apart from anything else on the market. It’s proper tasty.
Given that the Norden 901 shares its driveline with the KTM 890 Adventure, the big question is where it slots into the mix when compared to the KTM 890 Adventure S and R ‘siblings’.
If you consider the above three bikes as a family, the Adventure S is essentially the ‘entry level’ bike of the trio. The cheapest option with the lowest spec’ is the Adventure S. And as I understand it, it makes up a relatively low percentage of current sales in Australia, unlike much of the rest of the world.
Next up you have the 890 Adventure R, the current big local seller. Noticeably higher spec’ than the S and very much focussed towards the off-road end of the spectrum. As such, it does make some minor concessions to comfort in unlocking as much off-road capability as possible. Riders wanting to take things seriously off the beaten track, will choose the R. And rightly so – it’s astonishingly capable in the dirt. The suspension simply refuses to bottom out regardless of what you throw at it.
Then there’s the new Norden, which is the premium travel/touring oriented ‘all-rounder’. It can’t quite match the off-road capability of the Adventure R, mainly due to a more road oriented suspension spec’, but it is arguably more comfortable, which makes for a better ride on the road and over longer distances.
So, really you have: Base level of the platform (S), Premium off-roader (R) and the Premium all-rounder (Norden 901). We said of the 890 Adventure R on the launch that it was a ‘Travel capable off-road bike’, in that it can do travel but excels off-road. I think you can safely flip that around for the Norden and pigeonhole it as an ‘off-road capable Travel/Touring bike’. If you like some gravel in your travels, but don’t plan on doing much in the way of hard rocky climbs or jumps etc, this is going to be up your alley. Personally I think the three bikes are different enough to not really take sales from each other. The Norden will certainly take sales from other manufacturers though.. we’ll come back to that.
Throwing the leg over the 901 and the immediate reaction is that it feels a little wider between the knees than I remember the Adventure R feeling, which in turn makes the gear lever feel more ‘in-board’. I admit that I missed a shift or two early on, but after some time on the bike, the gear lever location became intuitive and a non-issue.
The other thing you pick up on straight away is that the seat shape feels softer and wider – more so as you go further back. I liked it a lot actually. Not only is it super comfy (even after 700 kilometres in two days), but you can use that extra width further back almost like a faux set of Steg Pegz when standing up on rough terrain. The other trick up its sleeve is that the seat can be quickly raised/lowered by 20 mm without any tools. Just pop the pillion seat off and reposition the front seat into the other slot. Takes about 60 seconds from go to woah. So depending on your leg length and general preference, you’ll likely find a setting that suits you. We started in the low position, then shifted it up and most of us left it there.
Get underway and the quick-shifter lets out a nice pop on full throttle up shifts, I did notice a handful of missed shifts in the higher gears, moreso on day two when the new chains started to stretch a bit. My suspicion is that it was probably equal parts lazy footwork, and that the quick-shifter might be a bit sensitive to chain tension as a brand new chain starts to stretch – that’s quite common. There didn’t seem to be any chatter about it amongst the other riders so I doubt it’ll be an issue.
The general weather protection from that whole front end is pretty solid. We only sampled a small rain shower, but I stayed pretty much dry other than my arms and chest. Headlight is adjustable for height via a dial under the dash which is a nice touch for those loading up with a pillion or gear, and the fog lights throw a nice wide beam so picking out roos should be better than the 890s more focussed beam.
The other call-out here is the screen. As a thing it works just fine and I didn’t notice any buffeting. However – it’s a fixed position jobbie and I think they’ve missed an opportunity for a nice adjustable screen. The Triumph Tiger’s screen for instance is a great design. It’s simple, easily adjustable on the move and works well. And for those who might want to lower it for off-road work then throw it back up for touring that’s an option. I did notice a bit of dust collecting behind the screen and on the dash, but.. we were riding as a group on some very dusty roads… normally you’d be leaving bigger gaps and looking for clearer air, so take that with a grain of salt. And I’m told there’s a higher screen available as an accessory.
Speaking of dust – the Norden come standard with a foam filter in Australia, not the paper one they get overseas, which should be called out and applauded. Great call.
Throttle feel is seamless in all but Rally mode (which is fairly direct), if anything it’s maybe a little softer overall than the 890 R… Rally mode is best kept when you are charging in the gravel. Great fuelling. The engine delivery is virtually identical to the orange bikes from what I can tell, with the same power and torque rating.
The dash design is lovely. I like the size too. It doesn’t need to be any bigger – I’m not watching a movie. Sure, big screens are impressive at first glance, but there’s a part of me that shouts ‘expensive to replace if it fails or is damaged’ when I look at some of the monster screens we’re seeing on bikes these days. I found the lay-out even more user friendly than the Kato dash, which is already up there in terms of favourites. Electronics are shared of course and with it, that class-leading traction control. While the ‘Explorer’ mode that unlocks the adjustable TC is a $324 option, you’d be barking mad not to tick that box. Ignore the Rain, Street and Off-road ride modes, because once Explorer is selected, that’s all you need.
That’s because you get to adjust your TC setting from level 1-9 on the fly, with no need to stop the bike, roll off the gas, hold for 3 seconds, click your heels together or whatever hoops some other bikes make you do. Just prod a button located above the indicator switch to go up a level, or a corresponding button to go down a level. Simples. You don’t even need to look at the dash other than to confirm that you’re in the level you want. Level 9 is nanny mode with the most intervention and level 1 is all but disengaged. I say ‘all but’, because there’s still a tiny, almost imperceptible level of intervention at play. The only reason I picked it was during wheelies… It’ll let you wheelie in level 1.. but if you don’t get the 3rd to 4th gear shift spot-on mid-wheelie, the buzz kill kicks in and the front dips back down to earth. The things I have to do for you lot in the name of testing… It’s hard work… but obviously someone has to do it. You’re welcome.
So occasionally, to be sure of no coitus interruptus I’d dive into the settings and turn the TC off completely, which DOES require a closed throttle for a second or two. And that process there is one of only two things I’d love to see changed on the bike. I can handle having to close the throttle to turn it fully off, if that’s an engineering/system-reset requirement, but if you could activate that from the level adjustment button instead of having to dive into the menu, that’d be perfect. As in – you’d have from 0-9 adjustment, instead of just 1-9.
The reason I bang on about that TC system a bit is this: imagine you’re barrelling along the tarmac with the TC set to #1 and come across a nice piece of gravel road. Hey that looks nice, let’s have some of that… You turn in, two taps of the button to #3 and you’re at a pretty good setting for gravel – a nice little snakey drift on the way out of the first corner puts a smile on your dial. Oooh wait up, there’s a creek crossing here.. tap,tap,tap to #6 and you’ve got some extra traction to help you through the river pebbles/mud. You’ve done all of that, without slowing, barely looking at the screen.
Now I know some people will prefer to swap riding modes and have throttle and ABS all fall in line. But not me. After playing around in a few modes, I left the braking in Off-road mode all the time (which disables rear ABS) and the throttle mostly in Off-road as well – unless I wanted to ride harder in the gravel when I’d opt for Rally throttle. Otherwise, I’d be happy to stick in Explorer mode, with braking and throttle both set to Off-road (they can be individually set). From there I just dial my TC up and down as I needed. ‘But what about Rain mode?’ I hear you ask (which does cut power to 80hp). I’d counter that with ‘Why do you need to cut power when the TC is so good..?’
Over the two days we sampled pretty much every type of surface 98 per cent of Adventure riders would be likely to tackle. Wet and dry tarmac, dusty dirt roads, smooth gravel roads that just whisper ‘lock to lock skids’ in your ears, steep, rough and rocky logging trails, 4wd trails. Hell some of us even rode into a lake. This time I opted out of getting my bike muddy…
On every surface, the chassis was sublimely balanced, brakes felt goldilocks in terms of power and feel – everything just worked. It was two of the best days riding I’ve probably done since, well since the 890 R launch to be fair.
The suspension felt a little soft on factory settings out of the box, and I wasn’t 100 per cent confident with the feel of the front on gravel. It was a touch vague and it was taking some time for me to understand how far I was from the limit. I did manage to bottom out pretty hard launching off a lip that had a hidden dip after it.. I was surprised that the stone guard wasn’t a mangled mess. Dodged a bullet there…
After lunch on the first day I sampled a bike fitted with higher spec WP Apex Pro suspension and saw what was possible. So I went to work on the clickers on the standard suspension and found a much better setting for me that was more composed and communicative on both tarmac and gravel. Two full turns harder on the rear, four clicks more on front compression and two of rebound transformed the ride and gave me the feel I was looking for. From there I didn’t need to touch the clickers again, regardless of what surface I was riding on. So that suspension is nicely sensitive to some adjustment. Once dialled in, it was everything I’d hoped for really. Certainly plusher than the 890 R – you’re not going to be doing big jumps on the Norden, but the flip side of that is that it’s more comfortable for the 99.9 per cent of riding you’re likely to do on this bike. Plenty of feedback on the gravel and still really nicely composed pushing along at decent speeds on the tar. It’s a good set-up.
That bike with the Apex pro suspension was eye opening by the way. The transformation from the stock 43 mm diameter, 220 mm travel suspension which are obviously ‘all around’ and ‘travel’ biassed, to the 48 mm diameter 240 mm travel ‘off-road’ biased forks was nothing short of mind blowing. In hindsight I shouldn’t have been surprised.. I mean the chassis is from the 890 R right? So if you throw better bouncy bits on it, it’ll perform… but wow. The Apex Pro seemed like a level ABOVE the 890 R off road. So if you really want all things… It’s doable. But at a price. I think the suspension was a $6k+ option… And then I reckon you’d want to pick some more bits from the catalogue in terms of crash protection and a sturdier bash plate as the stock one is really more of a stone guard. So it could get spendy. But it’d be a right beast capable of anything you threw at it.
On the tarmac though is where the Norden was unexpectedly good. I’ve probably spent more time on tar in my time than most of the journos in the group that were more dirt focussed, and as such was able to explore the limits a bit further on the sealed stuff. And I know those roads reasonably well having ridden them probably 30 or 40 times. Up Hotham was pretty yummo, and so was Anglers Rest to Falls and down into Mt Beauty. But the run back up and over Tawonga gap chasing the group down after I’d stopped for a photo op was just sublime. With no one around me I was able to find my own rhythm and flow. Oh Lordy. A great road, in great conditions, on a great bike. 100 per cent riding bliss. And if you’re wondering – that was with the brakes still set to off-road mode.
Speaking of Tawonga Gap… I was reminded of the time I spent on Trev’s own 990 SMT fanging around up there and down Hotham. Sure the SMT didn’t have the prettiest face, but it was super comfy, absurdly fun and massively underrated. The Norden reminds me of the fun factor of the old SMT. Only the Norden is even more capable and composed.
Fuel range was surprising actually, given our rather spirited riding. I saw 360 kilometres from the 19 L tank on day two with 20 km still left showing. So more restrained touring would see you give 400 kms a nudge which is plenty. And that super comfy seat would let you do a couple of tanks in a day.
So, where do I think the Norden sits amongst the wider competitors? Well it’s probably closest to the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally and BMW F 850 GS Rallye X. The Tiger has that lovely distinctive triple which will give it an edge for some people, but I reckon the GS is starting to maybe get left a little behind here. It’s not a bad bike by any measure, but I think the 901 has it covered in pretty much every area. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the design brief…
Price-wise it’s an interesting thing compared to the 890 R. It’s close enough to be line-ball once you tick the Explorer mode option when comparing it to the tech packs you need on the KTM to get the same kit. On either bike you’re riding away at 25 big ones. Which just happens to be around the same price point as the Tiger 900 Rally Pro, and not a whole lot more than the 850 GS when you add options to get it up to parity. My advice would be to grab some extended saddle time if you can, to give you a chance of really getting to know the new Norden. The middleweight adventure sector has never had so many great options.
Why I like the Norden…
Great overall balance for 98% of Adventure riding
That 1-9 adjustable TC in Explorer mode
Super comfortable. Easy to do big days in the saddle.
Surprisingly good on tarmac… it can hussle pretty hard…
I’d like the Norden more if…
Can you make the TC adjustment be from 0-9?
Adjustable screen option pls
Personally I’d choose heated grips over cruise control as a factory option.
Nope. That’s it.
2022 Husqvarna Norden Specifications
Engine 899 cc, four-stroke, DOHC parallel twin
Bore/stroke 90.7/68.8 mm
Power 77 kW (105 hp) @ 8000 rpm
Torque 100 Nm @ 6500 rpm
Compression ratio 13.5:1
Starter/battery Electric starter/12V 10Ah
Transmission 6 gears
Fuel system DKK Dellorto (Throttle body 46mm)
Control 4 valves per cylinder / DOHC
Lubrication Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps
Primary drive 39:75
Final drive 16:45
Cooling Liquid cooled with water/oil heat exchanger
Clutch Cable operated PASC Slipper clutch
Engine management/ignition Bosch EMS with RBW
Traction control MTC (lean angle sensitive, 3-Mode, disengageable, Explorer mode optional)
Frame Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel frame using the engine as stressed element, powder coated
Connectivity Turn-by-Turn Navigation, Call-In, Music Selection
Technical Accessories Connectivity Unit, TPMS, heated grips & seats
Priced at $25,050 Ride Away
I can’t sign off without doing a bit of a shoutout to Rosie, Fiona and the support crew on the launch. We were top and tailed by team #sweeplife: Ron McQueen set the route and led like a champion and Lewie Landrigan made sure we left no one behind. Absolute legends. They can steer a bit… and are both funny as hell. Joel ‘Racesafe’ Powell was with us on standby just in case we had any incidents, which we managed to avoid. And then the snappers. Danny ‘one pass’ Wilkinson seemed to be able to get the perfectly timed shot first time every time and Jorden Bethune is a monster with the GoPro and drone footage. His ability to be loaded up like a pack horse with an enormous backpack full of gear, sitting a foot off the back of your bike while you’re both hammering along has to be seen to be believed. Thanks for indulging me and about a thousand wheelies Jordy.
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