Story by Kevin Novello
Trying to figure out what bike to ride for the 2014 Red Bull Romaniacs was an easy affair. I knew that I wanted a 300cc two-stroke but was undecided between the KTM EXC 300 (we are talking Europe here, folks) or the Husqvarna TE 300. I knew the EXC to be a fine machine as I have ridden its XC-W cousin back home. But then I researched the 2015 Husqvarna TE 300 and its class-leading 54 horsepower engine, which is the most powerful two-stroke engine available today. The trend in purpose-built enduro bikes is towards a smoother, more linear delivery of power, so I knew that the Husqvarna wouldn’t be a fire-breathing dragon out of the box. A few phone calls later to trusted industry sources confirmed that the delivery of power on the 300 is in fact extremely smooth. Husqvarna is marketing the TE 300 as the bike to “take on extreme Enduro with confidence,” courtesy of its torquey motor and tractability. So it was settled, I’d ride the TE 300. The 2015 model is more about refinements than revolutionary changes, so for now, we’ll focus on the performance of the Husqvarna.
This test took place in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, Romania where the steep terrain requires your motorcycle to put power to the ground. And that’s just what the Husqvarna TE 300 excels at, more so than any other two-stroke I have tested to date. I found the TE 300 to accelerate smoothly and in a controlled manner. I climbed most hills in second or third gear without incident. The power is smoother than the 2014 XC-W 300 we tested earlier this year. The little extra horsepower is expressed via more torque, not wheel spin. We never did get around to trying out the red power valve spring, the conditions in Romania just didn’t warrant it. Another check in the plus column is that the CDI unit features two ignition curves that can be switched by changing the plug connection or via the Husky Power optional handlebar switch, modifying the engine characteristics according to terrain and rider preference. I kept it in the softer ignition curve for Romania. Turning the Husqvarna in to fire-breathing dragon would not be difficult or expensive. I did notice that my 250 XC has longer legs up top, which is a normal difference between 250s and 300s. Still, I wouldn’t have traded the TE 300 for any other two-stoke.
The forks are plush enough that the front end absorbed the rocks and roots while at a brisk trail riding pace. Many riders on other stock two stroke machines would get derailed by the rocks when making a run at a steep hill or along the technical woods trails. The Husqvarna, by contrast, with its plush suspension and smooth motor allowed for a smooth approach and then chugged to the top of the nastiest hills without incident. The valving allowed for a smooth transition through the travel while doing a decent job standing up in the stroke. To address the steep downhills, I ran extra rebound in the forks and was generally happy with them. The trade-off with the forks is that they are too soft for when things open up. I found myself running out of travel quickly along the faster cart roads and meadows. The shock by contrast would soak up the trail junk and stay straight in most situations.
One trade off with the linkage is that it tends to make the back end sit more squat, which alters the turning characteristics slightly. Because much of the riding we did in Romania was on thin trails carved in to a mountainside, I needed the bike to turn sharply. With that in mind, I ended up running 102mm of sag, which is less than I run at home on my linkage bike. The back end was still settled, but it was a trade-off from the 105mm I started with. I also raised the forks 3mm in the triple clamps. Overall, the turning characteristics are decent. Not quite as sharp as the PDS KTMs but on par with every other linkage bike out there. And what about the heavy feel we complained about with the 2014 TE 250? You wont confuse this bike for a 200 but it isn’t cumbersome in any way; I rode it for four straight days and had no complaints.
Overall the Husqvarna is a comfortable bike to ride. The plastic subframe widens slightly in the rear which provides something to grip with your knees when standing or parked on the back of the seat during down hills. The controlled power and plush suspension make it easy to spend an entire day on without feeling fatigued. To date, it’s the best two stroke for tackling the toughest terrain on earth. In a stacked field of two-strokes to choose from, most of which I’ve ridden, I came away thinking the TE 300 was the best tool for the job, hands down.