The Irresistible Allure of the Impractical.
By Sam Quarelli Fleming
One day in July of 2006 I was visiting with an associate in his offices, which were understatedly decorated to resemble a post industrial revitalized art gallery. We were, as was our custom, shooting the shit about the potential for a currency crisis in the dollar due to: oil prices; current account deficits; the inability for American high tech companies to staff on shore due to inane limits on highly skilled immigrants; and general animosity towards all things American. Once we had that settled we turned to more important topics.
He usually had his finger on whatever the antonym for zeitgeist was when it came to motorcycles. As such, his advice to me was to purchase a Husqvarna super motard bike for general day-to-day commuting around Washington DC. The next day I spent a few minutes cursorily examining the Husqvarna website before determining that I didn’t have the patience to research and implement all the modifications which were going to be required to de-restrict and, honestly, learn to ride a motard.
I did, however, learn that they made three models of street legal SM. A 610 that looked a little too, well, tame. A 510 that was significantly lighter but listed at a higher price, and a 410 that didn’t seem to have much on the way of the 510. I also learned that, unlike the chainsaw that we have long used to cut firewood in West Virginia, Husky motorbikes were owned by Cagiva and built in Varese, Italy in 2006. That would make them the Swedish cousins to MV Agusta. In 2007 Cagiva sold Husqvarna to BMW but I am not sure if BMW culture follows corporate ownership or tank badges.
A few months later I was catching up with another member of the AOD syndicate. We’ll call him ‘Roman’. Roman has an insatiable appetite for all things motor related. Roman has bought and sold more cars, bikes (race, sport, dirt, custom), trucks and quads than any individual I know. He does such, not for profit, but just because he wants to sample everything possible during our flickering flames of mortality.
Roman and I were chatting in a loud corner of a louder house party when I idly threw out the idea that I was idly contemplating the notion that one day in the future I might like to buy, perhaps, a 510 for use around town. Roman said simply: “That sounds like a good idea”.
Poor impulse control. Photo by Susan Whitney.
The next day was a suit and tie day for me. I was walking past the solemn marble and granite of our nation’s capitol’s austere faux Roman architecture when I had to break away from my business associates to field a call from ‘caller id withheld’.
“Everyone is full list except ‘Harold’ in West Virginia. He can get us two of them for about $1,000 off MSRP. $300 deposit on a credit card and cash to settle. We can pick them up in two weeks. We good?”
Having not given the party conversation another moment’s thought, it actually took me a moment to figure out who was on the phone and what the hell he was talking about. I held up a finger in the universal “one sec” while looking stern and serious at the two attorneys waiting for me on the sidewalk.
“You have my proxy on this matter. Just let me know when you needs the funds transferred,” I said while nodding my head reassuringly to let the two lawyers know that I was a man of substance dealing with important matters of a timely nature.
I have no idea what happened in any of the meetings following that call.
Now I have owned a fair number of motorbikes and I have ridden countless models in countless locations from the exotic to the banal. However, for the last decade or so I have been weighted towards supersport bikes in particular and, as a reflection of market share, Japanese bikes in particular. I had not, to date, owned an Italian motorcycle and certainly not something that looked and felt more like my WR rather than a GSX-R.
I was not sure what to expect but it turned out that I was expecting to get something that had an ignition switch and, barring that, maybe all the bodywork fasteners, a straight sub-frame, tightened brake components, and no broken off bolts holding on things like, say, the handlebars. I probably expected the sidestand to function for more than five times before tearing the bolts out of the frame and to not have the breather line burn through on the exhaust pipe after ten miles, spewing crankcase oil all over the engine, exhaust pipe and my leg.
One year and counting and the handlebar bolt is still broken off in the lower bar mounts. Photo by AOD Ministry of Information.
Italian motorcycles, even ones with Swedish names, have this weird reality distortion field around them. The innate Italian character and beauty has a way of making all of those faults seem sort of quirky and cute. For instance, if my R1 had been delivered with a bent subframe and missing bodywork fasteners I would have found it totally unacceptable and refused delivery. With the SM it just seemed, well, kinda like the beauty mark(s) on a striking, fire-eyed, raven-haired woman on the Piazza Maggiore. Even the turn signals that were installed upside down (for reference you usually want the water to egress out the bottom through the little slot in the lens, not ingress through the top) seemed liked the patina of imperfection on a Venetian plaster wall.
As with any group of motorbike enthusiasts, we all had to establish de facto “No Trick” zones around each of our permanent residences. Unless otherwise specified this means there is about a one block radius around each house where it is strongly discouraged to wheelie, burn out, slide, speed, or make a lot of noise. Apparently one of Roman’s associates did not get that memo and promptly cart wheeled his SM forward in the ‘No Trick Zone’ in front of his house while attempting a rolling stoppie. Despite scrubbing off the instrument cluster the bike really didn’t look any worse for wear. Photo by Susan Whitney.
Multifunction instrument cluster is configurable for a variety of displays and relatively inexpensive when your friend endos your SM. Photo by AOD-MOI.
Fortunately I had Roman to not only do the legwork on the purchase but also to research and procure jets and a variety of suspension settings. He delivered the following to my doorstep with detailed instructions for installation. To wit: Remove throttle stop, install an OBDVP needle with the clip 5 from top, #60 accelerator pump jet, #50 pilot jet, #182 main jet, de-restrict the accelerator pump circuit by removing the cover on the right side of the carb and pulling the restrictor with needle nose pliers, set the fuel screw one turn out and lose all the carbon canister plumbing.
High tech cutaway of muffler showing the restricted and derestricted versions. Photo by AOD-MOI.
The muffler has an insert that allows the low pressure from the center of the muffler to exhaust to atmosphere while containing the high pressure sound waves within the aluminum muffler’s packing. This creates a pretty civilized exhaust note that is reasonably unobtrusive. However, if one is planning on riding with the tires smoking and squealing when not lane splitting or pulling wheelies, a nod to the social contract on noise seems like ordering a diet Coke with a cheeseburger. With that in mind I chucked a disk cutting tool into my air grinder (Dremel sized) and slit the pressure reducer around its circumference, then dropped it out the entrance of the muffler. Husky has got a little more bark now.
I guess you can call that an airbox. Photo by AOD-MOI.
After the sidestand tore off the side of the bike (luckily it is light so I caught it as it was going over) I ditched the inane auto flip up feature by replacing the special pivot bolt with a pedestrian variety, and I fitted longer bolts with nuts on the back of the frame with blue locking compound to hold it all together.
Extensively modified sidestand mounting to keep the bike off the pavement. Photo by AOD-MOI.
The handlebar still had a broken bolt on one of the clamps as it was delivered from the dealer. I have the parts so I will fix that one day. Roman warranteed his bent subframe. I couldn’t be bothered to unbolt everything so mine has still got a tilt to the side. I carry a disk lock as there is no ignition switch and the fork lock is a little fiddly. After the breather burned through I shortened it to clear the pipe and pieced it back together with a thin and large diameter internal metal coupler.
Stainless steel pipe and a shortened breather hose to keep the two apart. Photo by AOD-MOI.
I set up the suspension damping action to mimic a roadrace bike instead of a dirt bike, drained the tire pressures down to 18psi R and 20psi F and set off to learn to ride it.
Lock it up, throw it sideways. Photo by Susan Whitney.
Every parking lot is a race track. Photo by Susan Whitney.
With its hulking 41mm flat slide FCR accelerator pump equipped carburetor and 12.9:1 compression ratio I expected some occasional recalcitrance to starting the engine but my reservations proved to be unfounded. The carburetor is equipped with a manual enrichment circuit (black knob) for cold starts and a lean circuit (red knob) for hot starts. I use the black knob below 60 degrees briefly and have never had to use the red knob. A twist of the throttle dumps raw fuel into the intake tract and that is the moment-to-moment starting procedure. The compression release on the handlebar that opens an exhaust valve to let compression out of the cylinder is handy on really hot days if you end up with the bike on the compression stroke. Otherwise the electric start makes it a joy to get fired up.
That is a lot of motor for a 263lb motorcycle. Photo by AOD-MOI.
One ride through the park and I had to ditch the stock headlight because it was the only headlight I had ever ridden with at night that was worse than my R1. I mounted an aftermarket set up from Acerbis that appears in all the photographs. The brake light pulls 21 watts which is about 19 too many for the charging system so I replaced it with an LED tail light so braking for turns does not rob amperage from the headlight.
It is not surprising from its look that it feels like a big single cylinder dirt bike with street tires and brakes. Compared to a sportbike there is basically no front end feel and the suspension travel encourages ridiculous amounts of weight transfer which allows one to easily lift either wheel off the ground at pretty much any speed.
The SM is fitted with top quality details like a floating rear disk, stainless brake lines, Sachs/Marzocchi suspension and a stainless steel exhaust pipe. But then, at $7,800, it better. Photo by AOD-MOI.
Adjustable rear brake lever to keep the pedal right under your toe at all incline angles of the front wheel. Photo by AOD-MOI.
In moderate speed sweepers (60-90mph) the bike feels loose and nervous and at highway speeds (80-100) the single cylinder runs out of its 51bhp. The wind blast with the sit up handlebars is potent and the light weight of the bike allows it to be blown around from both Chinese butterflies and passing trucks.
This bike was not built for the suburbs; it was built for the city. It the opposite of the sportbike riding experience. The more stop signs the better, the more pot holes the better, jumping curbs, tight lane splitting, 90 degree J hook rear brake turns are the tools of the trade. The railroad bridge becomes a jump; every pavement rise is a power lift. Alleys become trail rides. Jaywalking pedestrians stranded on the double yellow line become the reference points for smoking-tired u-turns. Sitting up high allows you to see over the cars and the handlebars are higher than the car mirrors so traffic jams melt away. Of course, your friends on less nimble mounts will soon be overcome with envy and express sentiments like Melissa’s when she says, “I hate riding with you when you are on that, but it is kind of fun to hang back and watch bystander’s reactions.”
Photos depict a professional rider in a closed course situation or have been extensively digitally manipulated to give the illusion of less than responsible riding in public places. Photo by Susan Whitney.
The bike’s lightweight, powerful, responsive engine and fast weight exchange allows the rider to rapidly transfer 100% of all weight to either tire at will. That means using body English to steer the bike while wheelie-ing out of turns. That means being very careful when lifting the rear off the ground because the weight transfers much much faster than on a sportbike. It also means that one needs to become very familiar with all of the different types of police in your area and their relative diligence in responding to traffic offences. In DC we have no fewer than twenty distinct police jurisdictions requiring constant geographic awareness when simply running errands around town.
Improper? That was four gears bro! Ticket by United States Park Police.
Legal consequences aside, it is impossible to get through an urban environment more efficiently or more enjoyably than on this style of motorcycle. Judging from DC there are only a few other motards around and the Husqvarna attracts a crowd wherever it is parked.
Under normal conditions you are in second gear before you clear the other side of the intersection, under good conditions you are still on the rear wheel when you catch fifth another 150 feet after that. The transmission is a little gritty feeling and sometimes hangs between first and second but, although it is never good, it gets better with synthetic engine oil.
Supermotard leathers by Vanson, Supermotard helmet by Arai, Supermotard wheelie by Husqvarna, photo by Susan Whitney.
The massive 320mm single Brembo radial front brake is extremely competent for a bike this light. The rear floating (!) 240mm rear disk is very powerful but since I mainly just stomp on it to lock the rear wheel for steering (or effect) its relatively small window of feel is moot.
That is a lot of brake for a 263lb motorcycle. Photo by AOD-MOI.
The two gallon tank does not last too long, there is no gas gauge, the reserve petcock is a little tricky to hit fast and the elapsed time from start to finish for running out of gas is about 2.2 seconds, leaving you dead-engined, losing speed fast and groping for the petcock. Learn to run off the trip meter and refill every 100km (60 miles). The SM has no temperature gauge or fan on its dual radiators but since there is rarely traffic that is tight enough to halt your progress, there is never a blinking LCD as the sportbike goes past 250 degrees in the stop and go traffic.
The seat is narrow, hard and textured and is dreadfully uncomfortable after 20 to 30 minutes. Roman replaced his with one from Gutz racing. I will ultimately follow suit.
With the revised jetting the bike pops a little on deceleration (pull in the clutch if it annoys you) but otherwise seems to run just about perfect, at least at 300 feet above sea level.
“Impetuous fun loving single seeks same for urban exploration, no law enforcement please, meet at Tryst for espresso?” Photo by Susan Whitney.
Despite the draw backs of riding an open class supermotard race bike on the street the upsides are apparent in the first 100 yards. If I am not straying outside of the Beltway I rarely reach for the R1 keys when the SM represents the physical manifestation of hooligan fun. Even seasoned, jaded, scoot jockey friends get a little weak and wiggly about the SM after one jaunt through the city.
Roman lives out in the ex-urbs and he has found, after a year, that it takes him too long to get to an area that is tight enough to warrant the SM so he is reluctantly letting his go.
I plan on keeping mine until the rod comes through the case.