Words: Brian Catterson
Photos: Andrea Wilson & Husqvarna
Pop quiz: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name “Husqvarna?” If you’re like most
red-blooded American motorcyclists, you’ll likely think On Any Sunday, Malcolm Smith or Steve McQueen. But virtually no one would equate Husqvarna with streetbikes—never mind that the 108-year-old marque once built roadracers that competed in the world championship.
Husqvarna’s new owners at BMW don’t see it that way. To them, Husky is as much a street brand as a dirt brand. More to the point, they envision Husky as an iconic marque with retro appeal that could entice hip, young buyers, thus serving as a stepping stone to BMW motorcycles.
BMW applied much this same logic when it re-launched the Mini car brand in 2001. Although the second-generation Mini was all-new, its retro styling paid homage to the original—much as Volkswagen had done with the New Beetle in 1998. Affordably priced, the new Mini likewise went on to become a huge sales success.
Now it appears that BMW is looking to do the same with Husqvarna. The Germans purchased the formerly Swedish
marque from Italy’s MV Agusta (nee Cagiva) in 2008. The downturned economy delayed development, but there has been some movement lately with the launch of two new street models powered by BMW engines. Unfortunately, the Nuda 900 twin and Strada 650 single are so out of line with Americans’ perceptions of the brand that Husqvarna North America isn’t even planning to import them.
Closer to the American ideal is the Concept Moab unveiled at last November’s Milan Show. Based on the same under-pinnings as the Strada, this pays lip service to the classic Husky desert racers of the ’60s and ’70s, with a silver frame, yellow side numberplates and a slightly overwrought muffler heat shield. Street-legal courtesy of an LED headlight, it rolls on semi-knobby 17-inch Pirelli MT60s.
The Moab didn’t sit well with the Husqvarna N.A. staff, not least because it was named after a town better known for mountain biking than dirtbiking. Thus it was re-configured and re-launched at the New York International Motorcycle Show in January. Now called the Baja, it gained a high-mounted front fender, period-looking skidplate and adventure bike-sized 19-inch front/17-inch re
ar wheels shod with proper off-road Metzeler Karoos. Looking like a modern rendition of a classic desert sled, it’s nonetheless more street scrambler than supermoto.
“If our TE dual-sports are 90 percent dirt and 10 percent street, then the Baja is more like 50/50,” says Kris Odwarka,President of Husqvarna N.A. “An owner might take it off-road, but he’s just as likely not to. Still, he wants his bike to look like it could.”
Range Rover Syndrome, it’s called. And hmmm, wasn’t Rover the very company that BMW bought to acquire the Mini brand?
The Concept Baja prototype has been making the rounds at various motorcycle gathering places recently, and the Husqvarna N.A. staff has been taking dutiful notes. Will it make it to production? Stay tuned…