WORDS: Ari Henning
Dirt-Based and Proud Of It
Exploring the labyrinth of trails in the Big Bear backcountry can either be enjoyable or terrifying. It all depends on your choice of equipment. On Husqvarna’s TE449, it’s downright exciting. The Husqvarna isn’t just a long-travel streetbike with suggestive styling and acceptable fireroad manners; it’s a bona fide dirtbike with the minimum legal accoutrements needed to span the paved bits between trailheads. It suits the geography of Big Bear—or any other small town surrounded by accessible wilderness—perfectly.
How did a Husky make it into this mix? Previously owned by MV Agusta, née Cagiva, the formerly Swedish company was bought by BMW in 2007. After struggling to find a foothold for their G450X enduro in the competitive off-road market, the Germans discontinued that bike in favor of their subsidiary’s already-established TE449. The Husqvarna was pretty well sorted, but the engineers shoehorned their 450cc engine into the Husky’s chassis to make it their own, and created an excellent all-surface exploratory machine in the process.
Navigating tight trails and cleaning loose climbs and descents is a mainstay of my repertoire—but only on a mountain bike! With limited motorized off-road experience, I naturally gravitated toward the lightweight Husky rather than the titanic Adventure and its GS siblings. Tricky terrain is no match for the TE’s low center of gravity, sub-300-lb. wet weight and tractable power. Its capabilities are easy to exploit and it’s willing to take you wherever you want to go, assuming you’re tall enough to swing a leg over the 37-inch-high seat.
For any rider with more than a mild appetite for dirt, the BMWs are too much of a compromise. Then again, for fanatical off-roaders, the Husky is a compromise as well. In order to meet emissions regulations, the TE has been pretty severely restricted. Thankfully the bike comes with a de-restriction kit in the crate (for dedicated off-road use) that should liven it up a bit. As delivered the Husky lacks the snap of its motocross siblings, but its power is evenly spread across the rev range. You can lug it or scream it; the engine works well both ways.
If you're and MX guy whose definition of dual-sport entails 85 percent dirt.
On loose, rocky trails the motor’s gentle power delivery gives good traction and steady forward motion, not roosts and slides. Getting the front wheel up onto an obstacle takes a tug on the bars, but even so the TE feels like a toy compared to the other three bikes in this group, which is exactly what you want when you’re airing off stumps and planing through rock gardens and streams.
A headlight, taillight and other legally necessary electronics let the TE449 roll on blacktop, but if your planned route involves pavement—especially if it’s the faster, four-lane variety—you’re in for an uncomfortable ride. The hard, narrow seat threatens to cleave you in two and the engine vibrates to the point of pain, and then, mercifully, numbness. Cruising at 50 mph or below will avoid the worst of it, as well as keep the single-disc front brake within its effective operating range. The Husky carries 2.2 gallons of gas under its seat, but the payload needs to be replenished every 100 miles or so, and more frequently in the dirt.
Riding along the meandering, lakeshore road after an afternoon in the dirt, I’m convinced I couldn’t have chosen a better partner for this adventure. It might have something to do with the 12-pack I’ve got balanced on the tank for the post-ride "debriefing," but I think the TE449 is the ideal bike for Big Bear. It’s capable of getting you where you need to go around town and then getting you away from it all when the desire strikes you. No wonder we saw so many dual-sport bikes around town.