THE GOLDEN PAGE
BACK IN THE DAY BACK IN THE DAY
Today, anyone riding a two-stroke sees himself as an underdog. But it wasn’t always that way. Back
in 1988, it was a two-stroke world and thumpers
were only seen as play bikes and street machines.
There were just a few people who saw any potential
in them for racing in the dirt. Among them was
Swedish enduro champion Thomas Gustavsson,
who had been instrumental in the development of
the Husqvarna 510 four-stroke a few years earlier.
Gustavsson and a group of Husqvarna employees
were left out in the cold when Cagiva purchased
the company and moved it to Italy in 1987, so they
decided to start their own firm. The design would
be loosely based on that of the Husqvarna, with a
greater emphasis on weight reduction and more
devoted to racing. The Husky, on the other hand,
went in the other direction in the hands of the Italians,
so in a very short period of time, Husaberg became
known as the four-stroke to have if you wanted to
go racing. In world enduro competitions, Husaberg
immediately racked up championships with riders like
Anders Ericksson and Kent Karlsson. The company
really caught the attention of the world when Joel
Smets won the Open-class World MX Championship
in ’ 95, ’ 97 and ’ 98.
For all its racing success, Husaberg was never a
very profitable company and struggled to produce
a few hundred motorcycles in any given year. In
1995, KTM purchased the company in order to
jump-start its own four-stroke line. The very first
KTM 525EXC of 2000 actually shared many parts
with the Husaberg. In 2003, production was moved
to Austria, but it wasn’t a repeat of the Cagiva
scenario. KTM maintained an engineering staff in
Sweden that was a sort of “skunk works” for new
designs. The result was the 70-degree motor of 2008.
The motor was reconfigured with the cylinder laid
down over the gearbox. The bike was well received
by the press, and the design probably influenced
Yamaha’s reverse-cylinder layout. Still, the cost
of manufacturing the motor made it impractical in
the long run. In later years, Husaberg motorcycles
became rebadged KTMs, some of them were even
Motorcycles with the Husaberg name were
discontinued in 2014. KTM had purchased Husqvarna
from BMW, and there was no practical reason to
continue with two former Swedish brands. KTM
called it a “reunification” of Husqvarna and Husaberg,
even though they had never been united at any time.
But the legacy, at least, lives on. Without Husaberg,
the KTMs and Husqvarnas of today would be very
different—and probably not nearly as good. ❏
In 1988 Husaberg was founded, dedicated to making competitive
four-stroke dirt bikes.
The early ’Berg made us four-stroke fans before it was fashionable.