Photographer, Videographer, Writer, Motorcycle Racer, Dakar Rally Finisher and BRAKE Magazine's big dog, Llewelyn really likes to do things involving motorcycles. He also likes bicycles, coffee, pop punk and making horrendous puns.
The KTM 690 has made a great base for an adventure bike since it joined the marketplace. Husqvarna have tweaked the base platform, changed the aesthetic and called it a 701 Enduro. We took it to Southern Portugal with a four man test team to find out if it’s got the skills to match its looks.
Husqvarna is not a name that’ll be familiar to those from the adventure and tarmac side of the fence. The brand name has bounced around between different owners since the original company suffered financial problems in the 1980’s. After a long period under the ownership of Cagiva, BMW purchased the brand and naming rights. After a period of mixed success under the German brands guidance, the Husqvarna name was purchased by rivals KTM. The existing factory in Italy was then sold to the holding company that own the SWM name. Husqvarna production was moved to Austria, alongside the KTM brand and the marketing spiel took the direction returning the brand it’s Swedish roots.
From that point the brand has flourished. The KTM group have been savvy, taking great models and fettling them into pretty, slightly more premium versions. In the dirtbike sphere it’s been a huge success. The 701 model line is Husqvarna’s first foray into the market beyond pure dirt bikes and it’ll doubtful be their last. The core DNA of the machine is KTM’s 690 Enduro R, however, the suspension is different with 25mm more travel front and rear and WP’s 4CS fork that is shared with the enduro models. Despite the longer travel, the wheel base remains identical to the 690, as does the seat height (910mm). There is a larger fuel tank with a total of 13 litres as standard and an entirely different, pretty damn attractive aesthetic. On paper, the 701 Enduro has an identical engine to the 690R. Its also got a funky, square LED rear light.
“As the revs climb a dragon unleashes from its bowels and the 701 rips.”
The Ride Report
While it probably goes without saying, the 701 is an extremely off-road biased motorcycle. Even sat in the garage, the dirt focused direction shines through. The tall, straight handlebar and long flat seat hark back to the brand’s off-road roots. Add in long travel suspension, a lack of wind protection, the 21/18 inch wheel combo and even on paper the 701 doesn’t lend itself to sledging out hundreds of kilometres on the freeway. So we didn’t do that. Instead we headed to the endless off-road trails and twisty tarmac of southern Portugal to see how useful the 701 Enduro would be at carting you around the back roads of our fine planet.
If there is one thing that KTM Group have made a name for in recent years, it’s been building engines that make ridiculous power. As a single cylinder 600cc engine, revving high and making stacks of power isn’t what’d typically pop to mind. BMW’s G650 GS or Kawasaki KLR650, with their agricultural, lumpy and functional motors are generally the norm. However, the 701 is far from normal. From the bottom end the power it is smooth and predictable. It is not an attention grabbing thing, possibly striking as a little freer and smoother than its class rivals but the change in character as the throttle winds back is something entirely different.
Where many large capacity singles make thumpy, chunky low end power that quickly signs off, the 701 motor does the exact opposite. As the revs climb a dragon unleashes from its bowels and the 701 rips. The change in personality that a couple of thousand RPM’s brings is utterly astonishing.
It probably doesn’t fall under the category of forgiving in the same way a KLR or DR might be.
The headline figure of 69hp sounds balmy next to bikes just a little bigger in size but the way in which the 701 produces its horses is utterly key. That free revving nature of the engine allows a snap and bark to be found that makes it feel far more like a large capacity dirtbike than a small adventure bike. It also allows you to ride in a more aggressive, positive and exciting manner. When you ride the bike with that excitement and aggression it responds far better and is an intensely fun machine. It lifts the front with incredible ease, making wheelies, puddles, logs and everything else in between extremely easy to manage. That is helped along by the supremely light Brembo hydraulic clutch, which has exceptional feedback and delivery and the spongy, pliable and fast rebounding suspension.
The barky engine and excitable riding style that is encouraged by the 701 Enduro isn’t the only way the bike can be ridden. When chugged low in the RPM it’s smooth and controllable. It probably doesn’t fall under the category of forgiving in the same way a KLR or DR might be. You can’t be ham fisted with the Husky. Doing that will quite quickly see the bike darting off exactly where you pointed it but if you’ve got some degree of finesse the engine can worked at low speed with ease. It’s pretty difficult to stall and the fuelling is top notch too, providing consistent, glitch free motorcycling right through the rev range.
As we began to push the riding technicality, the Husky punished us for being ham fisted luddites on more than one occasion. The main cause of this is focussed around the fact that 701 doesn’t break traction very easily; in fact it does quite the opposite. Driving forward with torque and tremendous grip has plus sides, I mean, who the hell doesn’t want the bike to get good grip? However, the 701 makes such torquey power when low in the rev range that it adds a side order of confusion to mix. There were plenty of moments where the 701 caught us unaware. Moments where you expect the rear wheel to break a little traction, where you might use it to slide around a corner or scrabble up a hill, but it simply didn’t happen. The rear would dig in, and drive forward with unexpected vigour. This combines with the long travel, plush shock to cause highly comical mid corner ejections. For the most part it’s harmless and highly amusing.
This character extrapolates out when you start riding more difficult hills. The 701 feels a relatively long bike to ride and that soft rear shock melds together. That and the immense bottom end grip of the thumping single cylinder combine, causing the front to lift extremely easily when going uphill. This was on occasion a frustrating characteristic that made hill climbs a little more of a battle than they should be. It wasn’t too challenging to ride around the problem and attack more difficult terrain with extra vim, but it can and probably will catch you out. That isn’t to say the bike doesn’t work. It’s an awesome motor. From a performance perspective it’s undoubtedly the best in class, providing an extremely spritely and hugely fun ride.
From an adventure bike perspective, the off-road handling is fantastic. The low weight and dirtbike style geometry result in a bike that changes direction quickly and responds fantastically to input. Tight, twisty dirt roads are a joy to ride on the 701, as it leaps, skips and hops off anything with an ease and joy that is unrivalled. This makes for an excitable and entertaining ride as it flits down the trail, shooting from corner to corner like a small child overdosed on sugar.
When the terrain becomes more difficult the 701 Enduro ultimately comes into its own. While this isn’t a surprise, the Husqvarna makes comparatively light work of more twisty, technical single track. It feels like an excitable puppy with lots of sensory input, even when its probably unjustified. The ride feels fast and dramatic at all times and that’s something I loved. The downside to this is that it’s an intense ride when compared with other bikes and that really split the test team down the middle.
Ergonomically the 701 is extremely different to the typical adventure bike. Even alongside class competitors or smaller units such as DR 400’s or CRF 250L’s, the off-road roots are immediately evident. The seat height is tall and mated with a long, flat seat that allows you to move very far forward on the bike. The handlebars are straight from the enduro bike range; tall, relatively flat and not very swept back. It’s an extremely different experience to a typical ADV setup but; for the off-road riders that will be a refreshing thing. For those moving toward more challenging dirt riding, it my feel odd and require some serious riding style adjustment.
The ride feels fast and dramatic at all times and that’s something I loved.
The standing position likewise, is aggressive and dirt-bike like. Everything lets you place your body weight toward the front wheel and that allows the grip off-road to soar. The long, flat seat is also compliant in allowing you to ride in a dirtbike style, sitting in the corners and pushing the speed. It feels like a dirtbike, only it reaches its limits more quickly.
The long feeling and raked out steering doesn’t lend itself as well to corners as a full blown dirtbike but for the most part it handles them really well. The soft rear shock spring increases the raked feeling for our heavier riders and the 701 has a tendency to wash the front end. The seriousness of this problem is very perspective relevant. From an adventure bike comparison, the 701 Enduro is incredibly light and fast turning, but for the dual sport rider it can push the front end. That would be improved by making sure the rear shock preload was set properly, possibly by changing the rear shock spring. For those planning on travelling with any form of luggage getting that correct would be imperative to maintaining any kind of performance enjoyment.
One of the biggest let downs on the 701 Enduro is the gorgeous seat. Long, flat, hard and incredibly opulent in design, it also has a several key design flaws. For adventure riding the foam is too dense and puts the seat at the uncomfortable end of the spectrum. After a long day of riding, it wasn’t the most pleasant and while that is a personal preference issue, the bigger problem is just how slippery the cover is. It’s officially the slickest seat cover since the vinyl beauties of the 1990’s dirtbikes and is a right pain. While it can almost be forgiven for looking so cool, it makes being sat down and riding a much more physical task. Always sliding backward on the seat also means you’re always holding on and really, it’s unnecessary.
The Road Performance
Road work is an inevitable and essential part of adventure riding, be it loving the hell out of some mountain twisties, searching broken little back roads or the suffering of putting some highway miles down. And quite simply, the tarmac isn’t the where the 701 performs best. It isn’t bad at all, especially on the twistier roads but it always feels like a bike destined to turn 90 degrees away from the black top toward a dirt track.
The tighter the tarmac is, the comfier the 701 is. As the road becomes smaller and slower the enjoyment factor increases. The 701 Enduro is incredibly nimble with the big front wheel, wide bars and light weight allowing it to change direction immediately. This makes it very easy to manage in the more challenging back roads and makes twisty, alpine style tarmac easy to ride. You can ride it at a really good pace too. The front can feel a little vague and uninspiring at speed, with its narrow profile undoubtedly not aiding but on the whole it was more than happy.
The engine also does a decent job, with the 690 making plenty of power to pull hard from corner to corner if you so desire. Likewise, it’s happy to trundle along in a taller gear and let you look at the world as you ride. The only little caveat is the damn slippery seat cover, as even accelerating out of corners on the road can see you sliding ever closer to the back mudguard.
Once the speed of the road steps over 100km/h it becomes a little more of a chore. The engine revs hard, the bike is a little too nimble and it lacks any form of wind protection, but honestly I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this. Attacking tarmac and trying to force distance to happen on the 701 Enduro is the wrong approach. You’d be much better off forgoing time goals and letting thing tick along at an enjoyable pace.
As you’d expect, any kind of freeway riding is manageable, but not pleasant. At 110KM/H (70 MPH) it’ll live but the lack of wind protection and hard seat do grate with time. It’s not designed to be ridden in the same way an R 1200 GS is and forcing it to do so will not bring happiness.
The suspension, for long travel stuff, is pretty comfortable on the road, providing a bouncy but generally good ride. It did feel a bit confused if you pushed the envelope, with a fair bit of wallow but as we’ve said, this isn’t a road biased machine.
The Other Bits
Husqvarna have also fitted an ABS system to the 701. It’s simple to turn on and off, via the dashboard button, although the bike must be stationary. The biggest frustration is that the system returns to being active as default when the bike it turned off. On the tarmac the ABS never kicked in and with the big front wheel it’s a pleasant safety net to have.
On the dirt, the ABS wasn’t such a positive thing. It’s a rudimental system and we quickly reached the limits of its performance. Like a lot of more basic ABS systems, its approach to deciding there isn’t much grip is to reduce braking power more than necessary and that created a few heart stopping moments. For the price range the ABS is about right but it’d be even better if there was an option to stop it re-activating after turning off the ignition without unplugging the system.
The tyres are the only other question mark. As stock its fitted with TKC 80’s. They performed okay on gravel and okay on tarmac. However they didn’t not setting us on fire with excitement and more to the point when the ground became wet they were truly, utterly dire. Frankly, there are better tyre options available for that wheel size. Something like the more aggressive Pirelli Scorpion Rally would work well, or if you’re fully committed to the dirt then the 90/90 21” front and 140/80 18” rear provides a wealth of options.
The 701 Enduro is an odd machine. Among the testing crew it divided opinion because we struggled to see who would buy one. If you’ve made it this far down the review, then that could be you. The problem from a travel perspective is a lack of fuel, comfort or wind protection. If you’re dual-sport, trail-ride kinda guy, it’s not far enough removed from a Husky 501 to say categorically that the enduro model wouldn’t be a good shout. The difficulty I’m having is that I absolutely loved the 701. I had a brilliant few days hoping off every rock in sight, doing wheelies, stoppies and skids and struggling to keep my grin inside my helmet,but a lot of bikes do that and are also better at other things. When I think of travelling to somewhere, it’s not the bike that pops into my head as my go to option.
But if you’re still reading, then it’s worth understanding that the 701 is a really, really good bike. It’s fun, exciting and fast. The ergos are good, the components too. The suspension is plush, effective and playful. It’s probably a little under damped and definitely under sprung if you plan on weighing more than 90kg’s or adding luggage but that is rectifiable. The engine has a generally reliable history (issues can be found through google) and for the guy who wants to push the limits of adventure and travel light it’ll serve as a fantastic bike.
If you’re not that guy and are looking for a 650 to hit dirt roads on, maybe do a little more road miles, or stretch out big distance across the deserts, then maybe you need to move toward a KLR 650 with a little more fairing and fuel range. Otherwise, the 701 Enduro will give you a huge amount of fun, even if it is a little compromise.
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