MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2023
Q: WHAT DIFFERS ON THE 2023-1/2 FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION FROM THE 2022-1/2 ROCKSTAR EDITION?
A: There are absolutely no mechanical changes visible to the naked eye save for the Takasago Excel rims (instead of D.I.D Dirt Star rims), Rekluse clutch cover (instead of last year's stock clutch cover) and the blue-anodized FMF Factory 4.1 titanium muffler (instead of last year's stock black-anodized muffler).
The lack of major engine, chassis or running gear updates seems like a step backwards, but you should remember that last year's Rockstar Edition had a totally new engine, electronics, frame, shock, swingarm, axles, airbox, subframe and plastic bodywork. It would be unrealistic to expect major updates on a bike that was totally new 12 months ago.
Q: WHAT ADDED VALUE DOES THE 2023-1/2 HUSQVARNA FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION OFFER OVER THE STOCK FC450?
A: Given that the 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition is mechanically identical to the 2023 FC450, the majority of differences are in bolt-on parts.
Cosmetics. The Rockstar Edition's black and white color scheme is much starker than the lollipop yellow/gray plastic components on the production FC450, plus the rear fender and forks guards are white instead of the yellow components on the stocker. Additionally, a large Rockstar logo sticks out on the radiator shrouds, while various team sponsors have small logos on the swingarm (Brembo, RK chain, Excel, Haan wheels), front fender (FMF), rear fender (Pro Taper, Dunlop) airbox cover (Twin Air, Paradise Chevy), fork guards (Motorex) and front number plate (Motorex).
Frame. The Rockstar frame is black, while the production 2023 frame is blue.
Seat. The Rockstar Edition has a black Guts seat cover with seven anti-slip pleats. The production seat is gray with a light gripper texture.
Wheels. The Rockstar wheels feature black-anodized, CNC-machined Factory hubs laced to black Takasago Excel rims (in a cross-three spoke pattern on the front). The stock wheels have silver hubs laced to black D.I.D, DirtStar rims (in a cross-two spoke pattern on the front).
Triple clamps. The black-anodized, split Power Parts and Factory triple clamps offer adjustable offset at 20mm and 22mm. The stock Neken triple clamps are not adjustable nor are they split.
Exhaust. Although the Rockstar Edition still uses the stock FC450 head pipe (with resonance chamber), the stock muffler is replaced by a blue-anodized, titanium, FMF Factory 4.1 muffler with a carbon fiber end cap.
Clutch cover. Although there are no parts from Rekluse in the FC450 engine, the clutch cover is engraved with the Husqvarna and Rekluse logos. The stock clutch cover has an embossed Husqvarna gun-sight logo on it.
Miscellaneous. The Rockstar Edition comes with a Factory holeshot device, ProTaper handlebars, gray ODI grips, semi-floating front brake rotor, Power Parts Factory polyamide composite skid plate and a Power Parts Factory front rotor guard.
Q: HOW DOES IT RUN ON THE DYNO?
A: The 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition is actually down slightly to its orange brother in horsepower at virtually every rpm from bottom to top, but the FC450 doesn't play second fiddle to any other bike in the 450 class when it comes to peak horsepower. It produces 59.30 horses at 9600 rpm.
The real scientific reason that Husky does not stay even with the 59.94 horsepower of the virtually identical KTM Factory Edition engine is the airbox. Well, more accurately, because of power politics back at the Mattighofen, Austrian, factory. The Husqvarna airbox looks identical to the KTM airbox until you get up close. Then you can see that the large handhold indentation just below the seat is molded shut on the Husky but wide open on the KTM. Throttle response is muted because the Husky engine doesn't get adequate airflow.
Q: HOW DOES IT RUN ON THE TRACK?
A: On the track, the Husky was smoother, mellower and easier to ride at the crack of the throttle, whereas the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition was more responsive. Surprisingly, KTM management's jerry-rigging of the airflow on the Husky produced a powerband that is almost perfect for the average racer. The FC450 engine combines manageable low-to-mid power with forceful mid-to-top acceleration. It makes going faster easier because the Husky has more usable roll-on power.
The KTM 450SXF's peak number may have been higher, but there is give and take between the two limited-edition engines, with the KTM 450SXF being more responsive down low while the Husqvarna power delivery was more linear from bottom to top. Powerful, yet manageable versus manageable, but powerful.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE MAPS?
A: For several years MXA has been asking for a larger difference between the Mellow map (Map 1) and Aggressive map (Map 2). Often the difference between the two maps is infinitesimal. Finally, on the 2023 production bike and the 2023-1/2 FC450 Rockstar Edition, the Austrian engineers gave riders two distinctly different maps. The Mellow map was, in fact, mellow, although it still had a significant hit, while the Aggressive map was much more usable down low and then built serious power in a progressive surge from the mid to top. The two KTM maps gave riders of different skill levels options.
When we compared the 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition's two maps against the identical maps on the 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition, we found that the KTM's two maps were livelier, and there was more difference between them. That said, every MXA test rider ran Map 2 (some with traction control engaged).
Q: HOW GOOD IS THE HUSQVARNA ROCKSTAR EDITION SUSPENSION?
A: Let's be honest, the forks, shock and linkage on the 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition are not really Husqvarna suspension. Yes, the suspension is WP, but it is not the plusher and lower Husqvarna suspension from the 2023 FC450. Instead, it is the stiffer and taller KTM suspension components.
Why does the high-profile Husqvarna not come with the highly regarded Husqvarna suspension setup? The best answer we could get from Husqvarna was that, "In order to get the Factory Editions and Rockstar Editions on the showroom floors as early as possible, the factory had to start procuring and stockpiling parts before November of last year. Given that there are now 450 and 250 versions of Special Editions for KTM, Husqvarna and GasGas, it was more expedient to order 1600 of the same forks and shocks instead of 400 of this one and 400 of that one."
Would we prefer that the FC450 Rockstar Edition had the 1-inch-lower overall chassis height of the stock 2023 Husky-spec forks, shock and linkage? Yes, because we love the lowered chassis’ turning prowess, plusher feel, and increased comfort for slower, shorter or older riders; however, none of our Pro riders wanted to race with Husky's softer suspension.
Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE 2023-1/2 FACTORY EDITION FORKS AND SHOCK?
A: The forks and shock on the 2023-1/2 FC450 Rockstar Edition will be the 2024 forks and shock. WP reworked the forks and shock for the 2023-1/2 Factory Edition with the goal of increasing comfort and adjustability at both ends for 2024. Both the shock and fork valving are different from the 2023 production FC450, but the changes are limited to places where WP felt they could make the suspension less finicky to set-up changes.
Forks. WP says they made "minor refinements" to the compression shim stack in the mid-valve to make the damping feel more fluid and comfortable. They did not touch the rebound side of the fork's damping, nor are there any alterations to the suggested air pressure or clicker settings. Husky just advises that the rider should be willing to fine-tune the feel by making clicker adjustments based on track conditions.
Shock. On the soon-to-be 2024 WP shock, the high-speed compression damping settings were updated because Husky felt the 2023 settings had too big a gap per adjustment. WP's goal was to get the high-speed compression dial to make smaller adjustments per dial movement. How much smaller? Each incremental change was reduced by 50 percent. This gave the rider the ability to fine tune the compression changes in smaller increments. On last year's shock, it was easy to go too far with each adjustment, but on the 2023-1/2 Rockstar Edition, it is easier to find a better setting. The high-speed compression damping is controlled by a spring pressing on the shim stack. WP didn't change the adjuster or the spring but instead went from 15 shims to 23 shims to offer more delineation in adjustment.
Given that many riders don't utilize the high-speed compression adjuster, or fully understand its function, this shock change only comes into play if you turn the high-speed compression dial. The recommended setting is 1-1/2 turns out.
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT ROCKSTAR EDITION FORKS?
A: Be forewarned that the first ride on WP XACT AER air forks will be the worst ride of your life. Husqvarna and KTM forks come off the assembly line with very tight tolerances. This is great in the long run but absolutely horrible for the first few hours of riding. Luckily, the MXA test riders don't worry about seeking the best possible setup in the first few rides because the forks will be changing with every ride. In truth, the forks don't fully achieve the plushness they are capable of until after five hours of break-in time.
Test riders who raced the bike at two hours hated it, but two weeks later, when the forks had four hours on them, the exact same test rider, on the exact same bike, on the exact same track, loved it.
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT THE ROCKSTAR EDITION FRAME?
A: The 2023-1/2 Rockstar Edition frame has ultra-strong, forged-steel brackets on top of the frame's backbone (behind the head tube), and, no surprise, forged brackets on the downtube (below the head tube). These forged pieces make the frame more durable and stronger, but because of them, this frame needs a lot of break-in time. The five hours on the WP forks is just a warm-up for the frame. Our frame got closer to its natural resilience with the passing of every hour of saddle time. It was perfect at the 10-hour mark.
These may sound like crazy break-in times, but you don't have to wait for 10 hours. The chassis will feel better every time you ride it. You’d be amazed how many first-time 2023 KTM/Husky owners sold their brand-new KTM or Husky after the first couple rides because it was too stiff. All they really had to do was ride it more.
Q: WHAT DID WE THINK OF QUICK SHIFT?
A: Quick Shift is an electronic cut-off switch that interrupts the ignition when a sensor on the shift drum signals the ECU that an upshift is about to happen. This reduces the load on the shift drum to allow faster clutch-less shifting. Quick Shift is only active on upshifts. It can be turned on or off by pressing the "QS" button on the map switch, and it can be changed on the fly.
Quick Shift is at its best on long, fast, wide-open, high-speed straights, especially long start straights where the rider has to row through the gearbox from second to fifth. After the start, opinions are mixed. Only half of the MXA test riders liked Quick Shift for the rest of the track.
Q: WHAT DID IT WEIGH?
A: The 2023-1/2 Rockstar Edition weighs a surprising 229 pounds. Even at that weight, it is still lighter than every Japanese-built 450, but 7 pounds heavier than a 2023 GasGas MC450F.
Q: WHAT IS THE MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE (MSRP)?
A: The 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition's retail price is $12,199, which is $100 more expensive than the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition. Yes, we think that the price is ridiculously high, but if you priced out all of the value-added components, it is actually a good deal, but only if Husqvarna chose the same aftermarket parts that you would have wanted.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Seat height. The 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition is skyscraper tall, but it wouldn't be if it had been spec’ed with actual Husqvarna suspension.
(2) Push buttons. Initially, the MXA test riders liked the push buttons on the new electronics for start, stop, Traction Control, maps, Launch Control and Quick Shift, but that changed quickly because the buttons were so low-profile that getting them depressed with a gloved hand was often hit or miss. To get to our Quick Shift button, we had to rotate the map switch forward to bring the LC and QS buttons within easier reach.
(3) Start/stop/die. We don't like the kill button on the right side of the handlebars. Worse yet, if you get the start/stop switchgear wet, it can short out the ECU. We never spray the start/stop button when cleaning the bike post-race.
(4) Weight. One of KTM's, Husky's and GasGas’ claims to fame has been their incredible light weight. Well, at least GasGas can still claim that achievement.
(5) Chain slack. The Rockstar Edition owner's manual says to measure chain slack at 58mm at the back of the chain buffer pad, but the true number is 65 to 70mm.
(6) Buffer pad. Where the chain bends downward onto the countershaft sprocket, it will eat through the swingarm buffer pad in 20 hours. Watch it closely, because after it eats through the buffer, it starts eating through the swingarm.
(7) Airbox. The Husqvarna looks like it has the same large, KTM-style airbox vents just below the seat on both sides of the FC450, but it doesn't. Husqvarna's airbox vents are molded shut.
(8) Shock adjuster cover. This Kiska-designed cover that protects the high- and low-speed compression adjusters from being hit by the rider's boot is a giant irritant. It wiggles around, often comes loose, and must be removed to make a simple clicker adjustment.
(9) Frame guards. We love the frame guards because they lessen boot rub against the frame's paint, but we hate them because they move our feet outward too much. Without them, the bike feels narrower, and you can easily check the torque on the swingarm pivot bolt, which has been known to come loose.
(10) Shock linkage. On an undetermined number of Husqvarnas and KTMs, the needle bearings in the shock linkage walk out and bind up the shock linkage. MXA replaces the needle bearings with a new caged bearing (KTM part number 58033097000).
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Chain torque. Husky moved the countershaft sprocket down 3mm to reduce rear-end squat under full power. This is most noticeable in whoops, consecutive bumps and under hard acceleration in a rut.
(2) Cross-three spokes. The more spokes that an individual spoke crosses over on the way from the hub to the rim, the stronger and more forgiving the wheel. The Rockstar Edition front wheel is laced cross-three.
(3) Frame backbone. The 2023 frame's backbone and shock tower have been separated to reduce the effect of square-edge bumps and whoops thrusting the energy of the blow to the front end, which in turn makes the rear end kick.
(4) Adjustable offset. The Rockstar Edition triple clamps can be changed from 22mm offset to 20mm offset.
(5) Roll-over sensor. As a safety feature, there is a sensor that shuts the engine off if the bike is laying on the ground for more than seven seconds.
(6) Air filter. No air filter is easier to put in or take out than the Husqvarna design, except, of course, the KTM and GasGas air filters.
(7) Everything Brembo. The brake master cylinders, clutch and brake levers, and clutch slave cylinder are all the best.
(8) Idiot light. In 2022, the FI diagnostic's LED light fell out of its holders constantly. On the Rockstar Edition, the idiot light has been moved to the triple-clamp-mounted hour meter.
(9) Engine castings. The totally new 450 engine cases were downsized so that the motor-mount bosses would be in the exact same location as the new 250 engine cases. This allowed Husky to use the same frame for the FC250 and FC450.
(10) Footpegs. The die-cast footpegs are 7.5mm longer, but they do not stick out farther. Instead, they stick in closer to the frame. We like the feeling of having our feet tucked in closer to the frame, especially MXA test riders who remove the plastic frame guards to get their boots even closer.
(11) Clutch. It's great
(12) No-tools clickers. The fork's rebound and compression are all adjusted by hand, and the shock's low-speed compression and high-speed compression are hand adjustable (once you get the white plastic cover off). The shock's rebound clicker can also be turned by hand, but because of its location it is easier to use the supplied screwdriver slot.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: This stock 2023 Husqvarna FC450 is the perfect Vet bike. It has an incredibly manageable powerband. There is no burst-and-wheelie syndrome. It simply pulls more and more as you roll the throttle on. Husqvarna should own the Vet market because they have the best option for riders looking for a bike they can touch the ground on. It offers incredible handling and has a powerband that is supremely manageable. It is unique in that it offers distinct characteristics that no one else provides.
However, the 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition isn't as unique as the stock 2023 FC450, since it shares all of KTM's suspension settings. The 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition is just a Husky for people who don't want an orange bike.
This is how we set up our 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition suspension for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.
WP AER FORK SETTINGSThere is a learning curve to getting the most out of the WP XACT air forks. The KTM WP XACT air fork has one Schrader valve to put air in or take air out. The right fork leg is strictly damping, and the left leg is air only. KTM has a sticker on the air leg to guide you to the recommended air pressure. It is a very good starting point, but it's just a suggestion, not an ironclad law. MXA has test riders who run as much as 165 psi and test riders who run as low as 135 psi. The 2023 forks have the potential to be great. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2023-1/2 Rockstar Edition:
Spring rate: 158 psi (Expert), 152 psi (Intermediate), 145 psi (Vet), 138 psi (Novice)Compression: 14 clicks out (12 clicks out)Rebound: 15 clicks out (18 clicks out)Fork-leg height: Third lineNotes: The 2023-1/2 Rockstar Edition comes with rubber rings on each leg to allow the rider to see how much travel he is getting at a given pressure, but the orange rings wear out and slide down by themselves after a couple of hours. The forks need five hours of break-in time before they smooth out and work to their fullest.
WP SHOCK SETTINGSMost MXA test riders liked the overall feel of the WP rear shock, especially after Husqvarna lowered the shock spring rate in 2017 from 48 N/mm to 45 N/mm. WP did make some technical changes to the 2023-1/2 Rockstar Edition shock to make high-speed compression damping less finicky. We run the low-speed compression on 15 clicks out, the high-speed compression 1-1/2 turns out, the rebound on 15 clicks out, and set the sag at 105mm. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition:
Spring rate: 45 N/mm (for 175 and up pounds), 42 N/mm (for riders under 175 pounds)Race sag: 105mmHi-compression: 1-1/2 turns outLo-compression: 15 clicks outRebound: 15 clicks outNotes: When we have doubts about the shock's compression, we focus on changing the high-speed compression, not the low-speed. If your static sag is more than the recommended 40mm, your spring may be too stiff for your weight. In this case, the spring is not compressed enough to allow the suspension to extend far enough on its own. If your static sag is less than 30mm in the rear, the spring may be too soft for your weight. In this case, the spring requires so much preload to achieve the proper race sag that it makes the rear suspension prone to topping out under a load.THE GEAR: Jersey: FXR Racing Helium, Pants: FXR Racing Helium, Helmet: 6D ATR-2, Goggles: Factory Ride Prime, Boots: Sidi Atojo. Gone is the all-plastic subframe/airbox combo that was spun off from Husaberg. This subframe is a hybrid of an aluminum structure reinforced by a polyamide plastic covering. Be very careful not to get the fancy start/stop switchgear wet when washing the bike. It can short out. The 2023-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition doesn't run its proprietary shortened front and rear suspension; instead, the Rockstar Edition has the KTM forks and shock. The FC450 engine is small enough that it fits in the FC250 frame. It is also tilted back 2 degrees, and the countershaft sprocket is lowered 3mm. To cut down on rear brake spring breakages, the 2023 spring is cantilevered to move in a less stressful arc. The Rockstar Edition comes with a holeshot device. That's a nice touch.