The Husqvarna Norden 901 and the KTM 890 Adventure R are both outstanding motorcycles. They’re based on the same platform, yet there is enough difference between them that they are unique motorcycles made for different types of riders. Staring at both bikes side by side on the showroom floor, these differences may not be obvious. It’s only when you get out and ride the bikes side by side that you can really take measure of what makes these bikes unique. For the last couple of months we’ve been doing exactly that, all to help prospective buyers make the best choice for themselves between these bikes.

At first glance, the KTM 890 Adventure R looks like a big dirt bike. Its high front fender, angular design and big block knobby tires exude off-road performance. KTM calls this bike a travel capable off-road motorcycle and their marketing material is spot-on. If there is an adventure bike that is targeted squarely at off-road performance out of the box, it’s the 890 R. It’s easy for your mind’s eye to conjure up images of such off-road hoonery: wheelies on the beach in Baja, powerslides on dirt roads, jumping bar ditches in the Rockies, and all other sorts of stand-up attack-mode riding are what the 890 R was made for.

The Husqvarna Norden 901 on the other hand just looks great from any angle. The bike is a unique variant of the 890 platform that’s tailor made to excel at traveling and exploring – and that includes riding both on and off road. Husqvarna’s branding shows the Norden exploring exotic locations like Iceland and the Northern most parts of Sweden. It’s easy to take these cues and imagine exploring similarly awesome places in North America: remote points on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, forging a path to a high alpine lake, or riding to the North Slope of Alaska. The bike is a fusion of capability and comfort rather than being focused on off-road performance.

Throw a leg over the 890 R, and you’ll begin to recognize how the bike’s cockpit is optimized for off-road riding. The seat is narrow and designed to stay out of the rider’s way when standing, but it’s certainly not something that I would describe as comfortable when you’re actually seated. While you’re sitting, take note of how little motorcycle is in front of you, making the bike feel small and more agile. The tradeoff here is that the bike has less wind protection. At highway speed you’ll be catching the airstream coming over the bike’s windshield with some part of your helmet and torso. Yet when you stand on this bike up, it’s remarkable how agile the bike feels.

Next, have a seat on the Norden 901. You’ll instantly notice that the 901 has a much more comfortable and supportive seat, and it’s important to note that it can be set at two different heights. In the lower position the seat is a full inch lower than the 890 R, making the bike more approachable to shorter inseams. Taller riders will appreciate the high position, which also shortens the seated to standing transition. Sitting on the 901, there is more bike in front of you, and combined with a wider seat and tank, the net effect is that the bike has a larger presence than the 890 R. This also translates into better wind protection, which makes hanging out at highway speed more appealing. To be clear, you’ll still catch wind on your visor, but it’s better than the Kato. Jumping back and forth between the two bikes, the difference in forward visibility is noticeable and the Norden feels like a larger bike than the 890 R. Now let’s talk about how these two bikes actually ride.

Both motorcycles are deceptively good road bikes. Their shared powerplants will make your face hurt from grinning with the way they pull increasingly harder all the way to the top. When it’s time to check your speed up, powerful brakes and impressively smart traction control and ABS do a great job of keeping things in control. Any rider who points either of these bikes into a series of twisties with panache will come out the other end a smitten kitten. Seriously, these bikes are awesome ripping canyon roads and paved mountain passes. The Pirelli Rally STR tires on the Norden will provide more on-road performance than the TKC 80s that come stock on the 890 R, which is just another nod to intended use. Tuned in riders will notice that the Norden carries its weight higher than the 890 R, so there is more side to side weight transfer present. Both bikes deliver miles of smiles when you’re linking corners on road. 

Riding standing up on high speed dirt roads, both the 901 and 890 R are brilliant. Here is where you can begin to enjoy the awesome ride modes on these bikes. Explorer mode on the 901 and Rally mode on the 890 R are dealer unlocked optional ride modes that provide nine levels of traction control intervention that you can adjust on the fly. Level 9 is the most aggressive, and it’s a lot like riding in rain mode. As you move up to level 1, the traction control gets increasingly more relaxed, which lets the rider dial-a-powerslide or use the system to help climb up a slippery slope. Once you get the hang of how Explorer / Rally mode works, expect to start consuming tires more quickly, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with wanting to powerslide in every corner.

Whether you’re blasting a dirt road or working your way through a more technical trail, the 890 R feels capable and agile. KTM’s fancy saddle fuel tank and a very well-engineered chassis make the bike incredibly light on its feet, so the rider feels very confident off-road. Only when the bike is really tipped over will you be reminded that you’re on more than 450 pounds of motorcycle. Yet with good technique, the bike just feels like a large 100 + horsepower dirt bike, which means it’s pretty damn awesome. In short, with the 890 R the game becomes “where can I take this thing off-road?”

The Norden provides a similar experience in the dirt, but it’s well described by saying that it’s eight tenths of the off-road performance of the 890 R. The seat and fuel tank make for a wider bike between your knees, restricting your range of motion more than the orange bike. Likewise, the bike is a little heavier and it carries its center of mass higher up. That’s the price you pay for the additional travel/long distance comfort. Riders will still find the Norden quite capable off-road thanks to its great chassis and stock tires that do better than expected in the dirt. There’s something quite fulfilling about getting less capable bikes to the same places as more off-road oriented bikes.

Suspension is arguably the big differentiator between the 901 and the 890 R. The WP Apex suspension on the Norden provides 220mm of front travel with compression and rebound adjustment. Out back, the WP Apex shock provides 215mm of rear wheel travel, but the only adjustments are preload and rebound damping (Dear Husky: Please give Norden the 890R rear shock). The 890 R on the other hand sports 240mm of front and rear travel with full adjustment. Plush is a great way to describe the Norden’s stock suspension, and this setup helps out tremendously with rider fatigue. In other words, the bike doesn’t beat you up as much. Setting the 890 R’s suspension to the comfort setting provides a more compliant ride, but the orange bike can’t compete with the plushness of the Apex suspension.

When it comes to riding aggressively off-road, the 890R has the legs to hold up to much more than the Norden. The Achilles heel is the shock, and jumps, G-outs, or even really smacking into a trail obstacle with the rear wheel will cause the Norden to find it’s bumpstops. Riding the bike through a short section of mellow whoops, the back end cycles through its travel like a stapler. While the bike does stay composed while doing this, it’s an obvious reminder that you’ve reached the limits of what the stock suspension can handle. The 890 R on the other hand, almost looks back at you and asks; “so why aren’t you a good enough rider to hold a wheelie through all of those whoops?”

Adventure bikes are a compromise, and the 890 R delivers outstanding off-road performance at the cost of travel comfort. The Norden gives up off-road performance to provide a more plush and comfortable ride. So how do you know which one is the right bike for you?

Choosing the right bike for each unique rider requires being honest with yourself on what you want out of an adventure bike. You also need to consider how much additional time and effort you want to sink into making the bike exactly what you want it to be. If you are new to this adventure thing, or you want to use your adventure bike to travel and explore and ride a mix of dirt and pavement while remaining comfortable the whole way, the Norden is a great way to go. Its comfortable suspension does a great job on road, and it’s certainly up to off-road riding, you just need to remember where its limits are. The good news is that thanks to its shared platform, both WP Xplor and WP Pro Components suspension can be fit on the Norden 901, so the bike’s off-road performance can grow with the rider.

If you’re an experienced off-road or enduro rider, and you know that the most important thing for you in an adventure bike is off-road performance, consider the KTM 890 Adventure R. The stock suspension is quite impressive off-road, and while the bike is certainly less comfortable than the Norden when you’re cruising or sitting down, when it comes time to stand up and play in the dirt, you’ll be a kid in a candy store. Comfortable seats are easy to install, and if the wind protection thing really gets to you, installing an aftermarket windscreen is certainly an option too.

The KTM 890 Adventure R and the Husqvarna Norden 901 are both outstanding motorcycles. Thanks to an amazing platform and a robust ecosystem of OEM (KTM Powerparts, Husqvarna Technical Accessories, WP Suspension) and aftermarket parts, both of these bikes can be fine-tuned into the perfect adventure bike for so many riders. From Lyndon Poskitt exploring Iceland and Sweden on the 901, to Chris Birch riding an 890 R like it’s a 100-plus horsepower dirt bike videos – both of these machines are awesome and capable of enabling so many great rides. Just be honest with yourself when you are shopping to get started in the best way possible.




This story was originally published in Issue 72