I’ve had a too-often repeating realization lately: I’m getting “older.” I’m healthy, keep active and I have a wonderful life, but in the last few years, I’ve noticed I’ve started wearing jeans with stretchy waistbands, and on some days, I wake up with strange “how did I hurt that?” aches and pains with no apparent cause. While chatting with a Husqvarna crew member on this Norden 901 review ride, he asked how long I’ve been riding motorcycles. He blinked at my answer. “That’s longer than I’ve been alive,” he said with either a modicum of awe or derision, I wasn’t sure which. So like I said: Gettin’ older.
I’ve been riding a Suzuki DR650 for well over a decade now (can’t seem to kill it, but I’m also not really trying to), and on some long rides lately, the stock seat has seemed a bit more masochistic than I remember it being in years past. Still looks the same, but I’ve been putting a gel seat pad in the panniers on recent rides, you know, “just in case.” And that case has been required more often than not as of late, and truthfully, I’ve been eyeing other bikes that can get me and my stretchy waistband pants where I want to go with a bit more comfort.
I’m a big guy, and while I love the svelte and simple DR, recent rides on the Harley Pan America and some other mounts have me reconsidering my I’ll-never-sell-the-DR mantra. The 901 is bigger than the DR, clearly, but also smaller, lighter and more affordable than the Pan Am, with many of the same features. Two key qualities that consistently stood out over a full day of riding: capability, and comfort. There, I said it. And having just returned from some quality Southern California mountain miles on the Norden 901, I’m now wondering: Is this the Next Adventure Bike for me?
Norden 901 Overview
The KTM corporate umbrella includes Husqvarna, WP suspension and now GasGas, and it would be easy to say the $13,999USD/$15,199CAN Husqvarna Norden 901 is some sort of marketing department badge slap of the KTM 890 Adventure and call it good—but it’s clearly not the same bike.
The 901 is Husky’s first big entry into the white-hot ADV market after decades of making enduro and motocross bikes and yes, both bikes share the 889cc “890” motor, which makes 105 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 73 pound-feet of torque, and it’s a reliable lump that can both tiptoe through tight trails or blast down the interstate all day. It has range, both in terms of performance and distance; the special engine-straddling 5-gallon gas tank should send it over 250 miles with a light throttle hand before things get critical. A slick-shifting six-speed gearbox helps of course, as does a new six-axis IMU, adjustable suspension and a bevy of electronic parameters riders can customize for various riding scenarios.
Husqvarna put a lot of effort into making the 450lb/205kg Norden 901 a turn-key, do-anything, go-anywhere motorcycle instead of holding focus on just the adventure touring aspect or erring too far on the side of pavement prowess. In fact, Husqvarna product manager Ryan Sarancha said up front the 901 was a “50/50” bike, designed to both get dirty, get you to work or to a far away point on the globe with comfort and precision, and even a smattering of style. While most ADV bikes are more form-follows-function in terms of visual design, the Norden 901 is a bit more dressed up while still clearly a distant destination-reaching tool.
The 901 includes a lot of goodies as stock, including a pair of bright LED projection aux lights tucked inside the brief fairing, a slipper clutch and a clutchless quick-shift system called Easy Shift. But Husqvarna has also joined a short but growing list of bike makers that have opted to offer software-based point-of-purchase upgrades. In Husky’s case it’s “Explorer Mode,” which when activated by a dealer for $189, gives riders even more fine-tuning ability over things like throttle handle behavior and traction control levels, among other more granular tweaks. All of the press bikes in our group had Explorer Mode activated, but were otherwise stock with no panniers or other obvious options.
Saddle up the 901 and the bike’s more comfort-forward approach is almost immediately apparent. The seat is … actually comfortable, well-shaped and supportive. Roomy, even, if a bit tall at 33.6 inches in the lowest setting.
I had a quick side conversation with a corporate higher-up who readily admitted past Husky and KTM seats could border on torture racks, and he said the new seat and overall ergos were a focus point for the 901 design team. Additionally, you can option up to heated rider and passenger perches (and grips), but our press bikes all had standard seats without the bun warmers. The front rider’s seat adjust quickly via a quick-release across a low-or-high option with 20mm of movement. It doesn’t sound like much but even that amount—about an inch—can make a big difference at the end of a long riding day.
And while Husky took pains to coddle rider’s posteriors, the 901’s running gear is also thankfully adjustable. WP Suspension is another brand under the Pierer Mobility Group umbrella, and the 901 wears a WP Apex fork and rear shock. The forks feature simple tool-less rebound and compression damping adjusters while the shock sports a quick-adjust preload control handle. I toyed with the settings since I’m a large, heavy rider and it made a significant difference in the bike’s manners, especially in the dirt.
Thumb the starter and the liquid-cooled 4-valve P-twin quickly settles into an agreeable idle. While the press bikes were all stock, the ride leader’s bike was wearing an Akrapovič exhaust system that sounded a bit more robust, but still plenty polite. We lit out of Murrieta, California, and headed for the mountain hamlet of Idyllwild by the most round-about route possible. Shortly after leaving the KTM HQ, we hopped onto dirt roads and I shifted the 901 into Offroad mode. Our bikes wore Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires on the 21-inch front and 18-inch rear hoops, and they had good bite in the silt and sand that dotted the rocky backroads, while also providing solid grip in aggressive corners on pavement.
The 901 lets riders adjust ABS, but once set, it’s not tied to the ride mode (same for traction controls), except apparently in the optional Explorer mode. When we transitioned back to pavement and I slipped the bike back into Street mode, ABS and TC remained set for my Offroad preference, which was minimal for the front and none in the rear so I could lock and slide the back tire as needed in the dirt.
To me, this is a bit of a flaw, as changing modes should also change other dynamics instead of requiring more thumb tap dancing on the control pad on the left bar – often while riding. I asked about this reasoning and the answer was that they wanted riders to have complete control under all modes.
I get the appeal of all the adjustments. However, I feel it creates unneeded confusion around what’s included in the ride modes and what riders can expect when they put the key in and head into traffic. This makes me see the appeal of having none of those options, as on my long-serving all-analog DR650, of which the spark plug is likely the most high-tech part on the bike. But I also enjoyed tweaking the settings, and the tech really makes a big practical difference while transitioning between riding environments. But I feel Husqvarna could simplify things here, including offering custom rider-settable modes as some other brands do.
On our lengthy test ride, we transitioned from pavement to dirt to crumbling rural roads, and none of it upset the sure-footed 901. I fussed with damping settings after the fork chattered through a section of washboard, and it settled down nicely. The fork’s dampening adjusters – rebound on one leg, compression on the other – are easy to turn, even with winter gloves on, so it only took seconds to change. It would certainly be nice to have electronically controllable suspension, but that’s not happening at this price point and I was thankful for what adjustments it offered at all as well as for the simplicity – there’s just less to break or malfunction.
Out on the paved highway, fellow rider, moto journalist and experienced off-road racer Rodrigo Ohara, who told me he is hoping to race in Dakar in the coming years, lofted monster 11-o’clock wheelie after wheelie pulling away from stop signs and stop lights, making us all feel inadequate to some degree, and the feeling was compounded as he tore off ahead on the dirt sections to catch our very fast guide leader, an experienced racer and platform tester for KTM.
After the umpteenth license plate-scraping wheelie by Rodrigo, I finally checked my ego and focused on my own riding and the 901’s charms came into better focus. As stock, the 901 fit me best when I was sitting down. In stand-up position off the pavement, the stock bars were just a bit short for me, but only just, and after I and the other riders removed the rubber “comfort” inserts in the cleated pegs, I had an even more solid grip on the bike. If I were to buy a 901, I’d install some slightly taller bars, maybe an inch or so. Vibration on the 901 was never an issue, even at higher rpm, and on a stretch of highway coming back into town, I briefly crested triple digits without much effort, the 901 staying stable and responsive at speed. J. Juan triple discs scrubbed off speed with good feel and power.
Returning to more normal California highway speeds (about 80 mph), I ticked on the cruise control and turned up the volume on the music in my Bluetooth-equipped helmet, the 901 ticking down the road without stress or drama. At those higher speeds, I was wanting the small bug screen to have a bit of upward adjustability, similar to the screen on the Harley-Davidson Pan America that spoiled me when I recently had it in for an extended review period. That said, the 901’s stock screen is a good height as is and the generous lower fairing does a good job of protecting the rider. The stock screen is too short to cause helmet buffering, but it would have been nice to have some options on height. While I’m sure the aftermarket will provide choices in the future, it seems a small thing to include as stock. I also rode the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R while on this trip, and even though the screen on that bike is tiny, it raises by about four inches using a simple knob, and it made a difference while riding into a stout headwind.
Strafing tight turns coming down out of the mountains, the 901 felt planted, confident … and comfortable. The LCD screen is configurable in several ways, and the left bar pods’ up and down keys can be “favorited” to allow quick access to several controls, such as screen configuration, ABS setup, traction control and so on. At stopping points, I poked around in the menus and settings to further configure the 901, and by the time we rolled back into the Husqvarna/KTM facility at the end of the day, I had the bike’s brains and legs fairly dialed in to my preferences. Given more time to fine-tune things, this already capable and comfortable motorcycle can really be tweaked to your own parameters, and it’s really only some hard luggage away from being ready to transport you to the ends of the earth in comfort. A full set of hard panniers with a mounting kit will set you back about another $1,000USD.
And just how comfortable the Norden 901 can be is what really stuck me after a day’s worth of riding through various climates, altitudes, road types and traffic scenarios. I was a bit sad to see the KTM parking lot come into view as the day waned, as I could have easily tacked on another 100 miles or more of riding given time, as those aches and pains I usually encounter after a day on my DR were absent. Yes, the big bikes like the Pan America, BMW’s GS and even the KTM 1290 Super Adventure I rode the next day were also comfortable, but the Norden 901 offers much of what those larger, heavier, more expensive machines offer in a speedy middle-weight package that is thousands of dollars less and even easier to ride, while still offering stout performance and perhaps a bit more agility off-road as well.
A one-bike solution for every day commuting, open-road tours and border-crossing adventure rides? The Norden 901 hits pretty close to the bullseye.
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Husqvarna’s Norden 901 hits the sweet (and comfy) spot – Adventure Rider
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