2023 Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition Review – First Ride

2023 Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition review

For miles, we rode into a dense cloud of ruddy South African dust. Those dusty roads connected rocky trails and choice stretches of pavement like the famed Franschhoek pass which, on a Saturday, was reminiscent of California’s own Angeles Crest Highway. We watched eclectic groups of open topped roadsters interspersed with an equally varied slew of two-wheelers strafe from apex to apex while we made photo passes. Husqvarna had invited the world’s press to experience the new Norden 901 Expedition amongst epic terrain at the southernmost tip of the African continent.

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The Norden 901 Expedition is little more than the base model with bolt-on bits from the accessory catalog. The thing is, that “little more” makes a big difference. Since its inception, I’ve been a fan of the Norden, in theory anyway. Admittedly, I hadn’t spent much time on the bike ahead of this trip. That said, the Norden is heavily based on the existing KTM 890 Adventure platform which I’ve spent a lot of time with and find myself gravitating toward as a fan of the pointedly off-road end of the ADV spectrum. When reading Scott Rousseau’s (former EiC of Dirtbikes.com) tongue-in-cheek “letter” to me/review of the Norden 901, his words “gentlemanly character” struck me the wrong way. A gentleman, I am not. Word of the WP Apex suspension’s limits off-road spread and my interest feigned. A fantastic street bike with a proven foundation and its own unique style, undoubtedly, but a redressed base 890 Adventure simply didn’t sway me. 

2022 Husqvarna Norden 901 Review – First Ride

The Expedition model has since reignited my vigor. The Norden 901 Expedition comes standard with useful bits and bobs like a center stand, taller windscreen, soft bags with the requisite rack, Bluetooth connectivity and heated grips and rider seat. All of these things are nice to have, but where my interest piqued was the inclusion of the uber-customizable Explorer ride mode (Rally in KTM speak), a substantial 4mm thick aluminum skid plate, and most of all, WP XPLOR suspension. Considering that the Expedition model only carries a $1,300 premium over the base model – and that the accessories not including the suspension retail for much more than that amount – the new Norden variant should be an excellent choice for those looking to eke out more off-road performance from their Swedish-gone-Austrian adventure bikes. 

Getting amped for an Expedition

Husqvarna once again brought out the adventurous duo of Mike Horn and Cyril Despres to discuss their more recent voyage through Mongolia to promote the new Norden 901 Expedition. Inspiring on their own, professional adventurer Mike Horn’’s accolades include things like crossing both poles, using a hydrospeed to travel 7,000 km down the length of the Amazon river, and plenty of sailing trips around the globe. Mike is an inspiration and has a view of life and adventure that has landed him motivational coaching gigs. Of course, Cyril Despres might be more familiar to a motorsports audience as a five-time Dakar champion with a hard enduro background who has now contested the famed race 24 times on two and four wheels. 

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It’s hard not to get excited listening to these two unlikely friends banter. When I met Horn he nearly crushed my soft editor hand with his grip strength and I watched him do the same to my compatriots as he made the rounds introducing himself. Watching Horn jump over motorcycles during the presentation and listening to him tell stories from their expedition while also throwing gibes Cyril’s way for using pampers (while he raced, of course), Mike exudes a youthful immaturity that lights up the room and gets you excited to be in it with him. 

Back on track… or trail

Cyril and Mike would be with our chase riders during our two days of riding, but after some fun during the technical presentation, it was time for the Norden 901 Expedition to shine. During the morning of our departure we were advised that it would likely be quite warm during portions of our ride since summer had just ended in the southern hemisphere. We only needed to pack for an evening of glamping so the roll-top Givi-made 18L (each) soft luggage attached to my machine was mostly full of GoPro equipment, and later, extra layers that I had peeled off as the temperatures rose.

Not only does the five-gallon tank keep the bike’s CoG low resulting in excellent off-road handling, it also keeps your feet from getting splashed when riding into a lake.

The two-position adjustable seat height on the Norden Expedition can be set at 34.4 or 35.2 inches, a stretch for some, but being a mere  5-foot 8-inches tall with a 30-inch inseam, most of these bikes are a stretch for me – I’m just used to dealing with it. The seat is quite wide toward the rear which makes it comfortable during longer stints, but also the curve from the front to rear allows you to securely hold onto the bike with your legs while standing as well. The windscreen is nearly three inches taller than that on the base model and it ended up being more of a detriment when riding off-road than it was useful, in my experience. That said, I didn’t have any buffeting even while using an off-road helmet.  At one point as I slipped into a center rain rut and popped the bike up out of it on the other end, I didn’t account for the windscreen height and smacked my helmet’s chinbar hard. Also, once the windscreen was dirty, it was hard for a lil guy like me to see around the front of the bike. 

The Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition’s valves should be spec’d every 15,000 km (9,320 miles).

The 48mm XPLOR fork offers 9.4 inches of travel and is adjustable for compression, rebound, and preload whereas the 43mm Apex units of the base model offered only compression and rebound with 8.7 inches of travel. Out back, the XPLOR PDS monoshock also delivers 9.4 inches of travel with adjustability for high and low speed compression, rebound, and preload. The base model’s Apex shock provides 8.5 inches of travel with rebound and preload adjustment available. Husqvarna and WP told us that while the suspension is similar to the stuff on the orange-clad R bike, the Norden does get bike-specific valving, though better hydrostop bottoming resistance has been worked in across the WP board for 2023. 

The Norden 901 Expedition can now handle more abuse thanks to its WP XPLOR suspension and beefy skid plate. That said, it didn’t keep one of the guys in our group from bending his kickstand after a hard hit.

Despite the frame-mounted steering stabilizer, myself and more than a few riders complained of head shake at speed on the Expedition. I opted to add a bit of preload to the shock to help get some more weight onto the front tire and slowed down the rebound a few clicks, too. While this was a step in the right direction, it would have been nice to spend a bit more time working through the copious amounts of adjustment the suspension offered. In the twistier road sections, one of the bigger guys on our ride ended up dragging his center stand as the pace heated up (his suspension was set in the “standard” settings). 

The LC8c motor is just as much fun on-road as it is off. The same can be said for the tubeless Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR rubber which delivers an excellent balance of performance in both scenarios.

On a most excellent stretch of tarmac, Franschhoek pass, the Norden shined as the excellent streetbike it is capable of being. With perfectly neutral ergos and a stable chassis, the punchy 889cc Twin engine and adjustable electronics made the Norden a fantastic bike to jump between dirt and pavement. It was another reminder that the LC8c engine is just as adept at slaying apexes à la Duke, as it is ripping off-road. Husqvarna says the Expedition is meant to be more of a 50/50 bike compared to the more street focused base model. 

Fork preload is adjustable at the top of each leg while the separate function damping sees compression on the left and rebound on the right. Shock preload requires a 5mm allen wrench.

The J.Juan brakes provide good bite and plenty of power, even if they can feel somewhat vague. On road, the fork does tend to dive under hard braking, but for a bike pulling double duty, it seemed like a reasonable compromise. Speaking of brakes, the dual-channel ABS modes (Street and Off-road) are now linked to the ride modes (this will be standard across all Husqvarna and KTM models moving forward). Street and Rain modes use the Street ABS function while Off-road uses, you guessed it, Off-road ABS which reigns in intervention at the front and disables the cornering function as well as completely disabling ABS at the rear wheel. The Explorer ride mode is the only mode that allows the rider to choose between Street and Off-road ABS though it defaults to Street.

As expected, the suspension and Explorer ride mode – which lets you tailor traction control on the fly between nine levels, gives you three options of throttle response, and adjustable ABS – were the Expedition’s features I found most useful. The only thing I would really feel the need to change would be the windshield, so I would (hopefully) be less likely to smack myself in the face off-road. 

Every bike in our group had a seam on the soft luggage failing at the exact same spot.

Unfortunately, the soft luggage on every bike in our group had begun to tear at the top seam. Clearly this wasn’t a one-off issue. The metal buckles were pretty slick in their action initially, but perhaps too intricate as they became harder to use once they were inundated with dust. I was told these were pre-production, but they look pretty similar to Husqvarna luggage that was previously available for the Norden and I found reviews describing the same issues. We also had some electronic bugs with ride modes changing after the bike was keyed off. Husqvarna reps told us everything should remain in the selected settings (TC and ABS included) when the bike is keyed off or turned off with the kill switch and that our pre-production machines were, just that, pre-pro. “We’ll work out the kinks,” the reps promised.

During my time on the #16 Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition, I was pretty happy with the transmission and the up/down quickshifter. I had little to no issues aside from when I was being perfunctory with the lever. Things mostly worked as they should, but still not so slickly snickety as the best of moto-trans these days. More worrying was another rider echoing the same transmission issues I experienced during the latest

KTM 890 Adventure test that saw the bike being intermittently difficult to get into gear and falling out of second when it would shift. Since we all know Pierer is sourcing parts from the same pool, it wasn’t terribly surprising to hear of the same issues I had previously, as the issues appear to be somewhat sporadic. KTM mentioned that it was likely the quickshifter calibration, but I can’t say for sure.  

Even with a few niggles, the Norden 901 Expedition is the Norden that I always wanted – and apparently I wasn’t alone in this. Myself and like-minded dudes and dudettes are interested in adventure bikes for their off-road prowess, so bolstering that makes this model more enticing. The trend in adventure motorcycling of manufacturers adding touring accoutrement but then also off-road upgrades is somewhat puzzling but, whaddya gonna do? This stylish bike can now handle the rigors of some willing participant to smash his or her new $15,800 investment through terrain their skill can or perhaps can’t cash, while hoping the bike’s prowess will help keep them upright. I think the adv scene is all the better for it, after all, more choices is more better. 

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