My house is temptingly close to miles and miles of dirt roads and trails that beckon to me on the weekends. I can see the hills from my backyard, and more than once I’ve wanted to grab whatever dirt bike I have in the garage and go for a rip.
However, I learned my lesson when I was younger when I received a hefty ticket from the Riverside County Sheriff for riding illegally on the street. Now any time I get the itch, I swear up and down I’m going to keep a dual-sport in the garage. After spending a day on the 2015 Husqvarna FE 501S, it is a must.
As Husqvarna made its way into the hands of KTM, white, blue and yellow machines became available in the MX and off-road segments but dual-sport fans were left without a Husky. The BMW-era TE dualies we arguably some of the best in the previous Husqvarna line-up, but those went away with the change in ownership. Now for 2015 the FE 350S and FE 501S have filled in that gap in the line-up.
While both models were available for us to sample, the 501S is the machine I was most interested in. While the lightness of the 350 is great for serious off-road use, the extra grunt of a big-bore is what I want for a dual-sport. Along with a highly capable dirt chassis, the FE 501S sits in the sweet spot of the segment – a goldilocks scenario if you will.
(Above) The 2015 Husqvarna FE 501S is equipped with WP 4CS Forks that feature tool-less rebound and compression adjustment. (Below) While the seat on the 2015 FE 501 S is slim it is also very firm.
Now before the naysayers begin the rant of, “It’s just a KTM 500 EXC with white plastic that costs more,” let’s dispel that misconception. Yes, it has close ties to its orange brethren, but there is plenty to distinguish the two. And even if the FE 501S were a clone of the EXC it wouldn’t be a bad thing as the 500 EXC is one of the very best out there.
In the simplest of terms the FE 501S is a FE 501 Enduro machine with all the necessary bits to make it street legal. . No more, no less. Turn signals, high and low beams, a brake light, mirrors, a horn and DOT approved rubber get you legal in the eyes of the law. This is as close as you can be to a full-on dirt bike that won’t get you pulled over.
A composite subframe houses the airbox on the 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S.
The FE’s chassis is built on a chrome-moly double-cradle frame that is fitted with a composite polymide subframe that houses the airbox. Up front, WP 4CS four-chambered closed-cartridge forks provide tool-free compression and rebound adjustments and are a step up from the KTM EXC equipment. At the rear a WP Dual Compression Control Shock uses linkage to control the rear wheel travel rather than the PDS rear end on the orange dual sport. The FE 501S weighs in slightly heavier than the KTM 500EXC at 251 pounds versus 246 pounds.
The 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S is capable of tackling any trail.
The 510cc SOHC Single powering the FE 501S is the same that resides in the standard FE 501 and KTM 500 EXC, but has a thicker, three-layer head gasket that lowers compression, increasing durability and improving engine smoothness. Power is metered via a 6-speed transmission fed by a Damped Diaphragm Steel (DDS) clutch. A Brembo hydraulic master cylinder actuates the clutch.
Thumb the electric starter and the 501S fires up easily, but we have reservations with Husky forgoing the kickstarter. If fact we ran into trouble when we sat around doing photo passes with the ignition on and the engine off. After 30 minutes or so, the battery was flatter than a pancake. Without a kickstarter you’re only recourse is a few friends or a steep hill for bump start. Personally I would pony up for the available accessory kickstarter.
Clutch engagement is smooth and light as all DDS equipped Husqvarnas and KTMs are. Shifting effort is solid without any issues with missed shifts or false-neutrals. Not that either the clutch or shift lever will get much work as the incredible torque makes for a third-gear-all-day bike. Right from the bottom it grunts off the corners and during roll-ons, continuing to pull up on top. Even with so much on tap the power is very controllable and never feels frantic or out of control. As we gained altitude, the power didn’t suffer much and still had plenty on tap when we neared the 6000-foot mark.
With a stiff seat, the 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S keeps you standing most of the time.
Suspension action is well suited for a dual sport but is on the soft side for race-pace antics. The front drops too far into the stroke on the brakes letting it pack up if the bumps get too big. Adding a few clicks of compression to the front fork sorted out the front, holding it up higher and improving the handling. Overall the ride is compliant and follows the terrain well, but it will blow though on jumps to flat. The rear linkage is much more familiar feeling than the PDS system on the EXC, and it soaks up square-edged bumps better. More time with the clickers front and rear and the FE 501S could be set up well enough for the most rough of rides.
The 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S allows you to get to the trails from your own garage.
One part that is too similar to the dirt-only machines is the seat. While the layout is roomy and the seat allows you to move around with ease, the foam is far too stiff if you plan to sit for long periods. I stand up more than most, and my rear was sore at the end of the day.
Some of my fellow editors had issues with the Michelin Enduro Competion DOT tires, and I do agree that they do not have the best grip. The front tire is vague and it is hard to feels the limits. The rear was acceptable for a DS tire on the street and the dirt. If I was a buyer I could live with them until they wore out. At that point they would be replaced.
There is barely any street compromise on the 2015 Husqvarna FE 501 S.
Even with the stiff seat and so-so tires, the Husqvarna FE 501S is damn near the perfect dual-sport for me and those looking to shred in the dirt with the ability to use the pavement on the way. With just a few personal tweaks on the tires, seat and kickstarter this big-bore Husky can be the only bike in the garage. At $10,249 it’s not a cheap ride, but with the 4CS fork and linkage rear-end the FE 501S is worth the price of admission.