FIRST RIDE: HUSQVARNA NORDEN 901 EXPEDITION
By CHAD DE ALVA Photos: Marco Campelli, Chad de Alva, Sebas Romero
In November of 2021, Husqvarna Motorcycles launched the Norden 901 – A unique variant of KTM’s 890 platform created to excel at traveling and exploring. You can read our first impressions on the Norden 901 in Issue 64 and how it compares to its orange sibling, the KTM 890 Adventure R, Issue 72. Husqvarna combined the 890’s killer chassis and motor with their own styling and componentry to create a bike that delivers on the advertising: The Norden 901 is an approachable adventure touring bike that crushes miles on road and is capable off-road as long as you’re not smashing whoops or going race pace. In the year and a half since the Norden’s launch, Husqvarna has watched how a growing community of riders has ridden and modified the Norden 901. It’s this community of riders that inspired Husqvarna to create the Norden 901 Expedition – an evolution of the Norden 901 that is a more capable adventure bike. After two days riding the Norden 901 Expedition all over the Western Cape of South Africa, I can confidently say that Husqvarna has clearly been paying attention – and they’ve built an outstanding adventure bike.
The Norden 901 Expedition gives you more Norden 901 much in the way a tall glass of your favorite beer gives you more beer than a pint glass. A pint of your favorite beer will always be a good thing, but a tall glass is more of a good thing. Husqvarna crafted the Expedition by retaining many of the Norden’s great parts like the chassis, motor, and brakes. Husqvarna then went shopping at sister company WP Suspension and in their Technical Accessories catalog. It’s the suspension changes and the parts that they’ve added to the bike that enhance capability and make the Expedition a turn-key adventure machine.
The WP Apex Suspension from the Norden is replaced with fully adjustable WP Xplor suspension. As a result, front and rear travel is increased to 240mm (9.4 inches, up from 220mm or 8.7 inches in front, and 215mm or 8.5 inches rear), and the fork tubes are now 48mm diameter instead of the Apex’s 43mm. This suspension change increases ground clearance to 270mm (10.6 inches, up from 252mm or 9.9 inches) and seat height by 21mm to 874mm (34.4 inches) or 894mm (35.2 inches) depending on which position the seat is in. The wheelbase grows by 16mm to 1529mm. It’s important to note that while this is the exact same suspension found on KTM’s 890 Adventure R, the Norden 901 Expedition has its own Quinn Cody consulted suspension settings that give the bike a distinct difference from the 890R. More on the suspension in a minute.
From the Technical Accessories catalog, Husqvarna has equipped the Norden 901 Expedition with their connectivity unit, heavy duty skid plate, center stand, ergo heated seat, heated grips, touring windshield, and side bag set. Explorer mode, Husqvarna’s version of KTM’s Rally mode, the must have ride mode where you can select nine levels of traction control intervention on the fly is standard. The sum of these parts is that off the dealer’s floor the bike is ready for any sort of ride. Want to go for an afternoon rip? Drop the bags and you’re good to go. Heading out for a multi-day adventure? Load the bags with your personal kit, add your navigation of choice and go have fun. As a result of these added parts, the Norden 901 Expedition gains 23 pounds over the Norden 901. Purchased separately, the sum of these parts is much greater than the $1300 price increase that the Norden 901 Expedition (MSRP $15,799) commands over the Norden 901 (MSRP $14,499).
To understand just what they’ve created in the Norden 901 Expedition, Husqvarna arranged a two-day ride that would cover several hundred Ks of high-speed primary roads, twisty windy canyon roads, big graded dirt roads, and a proper serving of two tracks and technical trails with a few deep sandy sections for good measure. We were instructed to pack our personal effects in the bike’s side bags, as we camped out between the two ride days. To help set the pace for our ride, the man with the world’s strongest handshake, Mike Horne, and Dakar Legend Cyril Despres jumped in with our group.
As an owner of a Norden 901, hopping on the Norden 901 Expedition for the first time felt a little taller, but otherwise very familiar. The ergo heated seat on the Expedition feels like a slightly more plush version of the Norden’s seat – which for the record is an awesome stock seat. The Expedition’s heated grips share the same grip pattern as the non-heated version, and since they mount on the same bars which are connected to a bike that has the same pegs, tank, side shroud geometry, and many other parts, the Expedition has the same neutral, all-day comfortable ergos as the Norden.
The TFT display gets the 2023 model year ABS-Ride Mode linking feature, where selecting street mode will put your ABS in On-Road, and selecting the Off-Road ride mode will give you Off-Road ABS. In Explorer Mode, you still have to manually configure your ABS setting. Otherwise the menu tree and interface is the same as the Norden. In short, the Expedition’s cockpit is ergonomically identical to the Norden’s, save for the taller touring windshield.
Our ride started on a primary highway, and as soon as I was at speed I discovered that I was in for a buzzy ride. There are a number of factors that determine how well a particular windshield works for a given rider, and in my case, my height, riding position, and motocross style helmet all added up to a buzzy riding experience at speed. I quickly found myself wishing for the Norden’s lower windshield, which works well for me on road. The touring windshield is hard to see through when dusty or muddy (the Norden windshield is too short for this to be an issue) and the touring windshield has the potential to smack you in the face off-road. I had a couple of close calls with this in the dirt – but one of the other riders in the group got a face full of windshield on day two. Other riders of different heights and with different helmets reported calm air and great performance out of the touring windshield on the road, so it’s clearly a “your mileage may vary” situation with this windscreen. Thankfully, after a few short Ks on the road, we turned off into the dirt and it was time to answer the question I’ve been eager to know the answer to since this bike was announced: What’s the suspension like?
One of the distinguishing features of the Norden 901 is the comfortable WP Apex suspension that makes the bike great for long days spent riding. The Norden does a great job on road, and off road it does a good job soaking up gravel, corrugations, and small bumps. This balanced suspension setup makes it a great adventure bike for many riders. I say many riders, because aggressive off-road riders who ride the Norden like the 105 horsepower big dirt bike that it is, will quickly find the limits of what the stock suspension can handle. This is precisely why some Norden owners have been sourcing KTM 890 Adventure R suspension (WP Xplor) take-offs, or they’ve been shelling out for the game-changing WP Pro component suspension to make the Norden better off-road Issue 78. By equipping the Norden 901 Expedition with WP Xplor suspension that has unique settings, Husqvarna has upped the bike’s off-road capability and simultaneously managed to retain much of the Norden’s plush and compliant ride.
On high-speed dirt and gravel roads, the Expedition is smooth and hungry for more pace, so carrying speeds that you should neglect to tell you wife about are effortless. Husqvarna’s suspension settings provide good compliance while still being able to soak up the larger hits and G-outs without instantly blowing through the stroke. However, myself and several other riders in our group experienced a few instances of surprise momentary head-shake if we hit a pothole just so or found the right embedded rock hiding in the dust. The chassis always sorted itself out, and playing with suspension settings certainly helped minimize the occurrence of head-shake; so call this one an observation, and not something that eroded anyone’s confidence in the bike off-road
When it comes to jumps and big hits, the Expedition has the legs to soak up much more than the Norden – but the bump-stops are there if you push hard enough. While we were sessioning a loop with a few larger hits for photos, I took a minute to dial in additional compression damping to the shock and was quite pleased with the results. It’s so good to have fully adjustable suspension on this bike, whether you’re just riding more aggressively or compensating for luggage. We didn’t get the chance to run through any whoops or jump anything big, but on everything else ranging from smooth gravel, loose rocky rutted tracks, and plenty of embedded rocks to air out, the Expedition’s suspension worked well and the bike is a ton of fun in the dirt. I’m looking forward to playing with the Expedition’s suspension on familiar ground, just to see how much additional performance can be found by taking the time to completely set the bike up. Speaking of setup, another great thing about the Xplor suspension is that it can be set up for you as a unique rider, and those custom settings can be changed as your skill set grows.
On road, the Expedition is equally composed and confidence inspiring. The 890 platform bikes have always struck me as unreasonably good road bikes, and the Expedition is no exception. Additional travel does mean there is a little more suspension dive when you’re really grabbing a handful of stoppers, but the chassis is perfectly composed and planted so you quickly feel comfortable on road. Husqvarna specs the same Pirelli Rally STR tires on the Expedition as found on the Norden, and these tires do great on the tar. During the Expedition’s development, Husqvarna tested quite a few tire options, but they kept coming back to the Rally STRs. These tires certainly aren’t the best off-road, but they’re predictable, and there’s something fun about riding an adventure bike with not-knobby tires through deep sand and up loose rocky climbs. These tires will also make you feel like a hero with how well they powerslide.
The Norden 901 Expedition is more than a Norden with upgraded suspension. Husqvarna’s selection of Technical Accessories makes the bike adventure ready right from the dealer’s floor. My favorite addition to the bike is the heavy duty skid plate, which during the course of our ride withstood rocks, drops, and Cyril riding over some sizeable logs without issue. We had daytime temperatures in the 70s and 80s, so I didn’t bother to turn on the heated parts, but as someone who has ridden on plenty of cold days, I can certainly appreciate the value they bring to the Expedition. The center stand makes working on the bike easier, but if you’re a rider who is well versed in the ways of a trail stand, or how to tie a bike up to work on it, this may be a superfluous accessory.
The side bag set however, is more of a mixed bag. This luggage system features two waterproof roll top bags with 18 liters of storage each that mount to racks with quick releases so that they can be removed from the bike as needed – and on paper they’re an appealing product. We were the second group of riders to use these pre-production examples, and by the end of our ride most all of the bags were suffering issues such as separating seams and buckles and quick releases that had been jammed up with dirt and mud. A rack or two may have also had a part jump ship during our ride as well. It will be interesting to see what revisions are made to the production version of these bags.
Husqvarna Motorcycles did a great job elevating the performance of the Norden 901 with the Norden 901 Expedition. They’ve kept all of the Norden’s great 890-platform attributes, while enhancing capabilities in key areas. By outfitting the bike with (mostly) solid parts, they’ve made it an appealing fly-and-ride or turn key adventure solution. The Norden 901 Expedition slots squarely in the space between the Norden 901 and KTM’s 890 Adventure R on the scale of off-road performance. The 890 R is still the off-road apex predator, but the Expedition has taken a large step toward the off-road end of the continuum without moving its other foot that provides balanced performance, making the bike even better for traveling and exploring. If you’re a road focused adventure rider who likes to dabble in the dirt, get a Norden 901. If you’re an off-road rider who wants ultimate off-road performance, get an 890 R. If you want a bike that strikes a balance of comfort and capability for riding both on-road and off-road, get a Norden 901 Expedition.
Riding the Norden 901 Expedition does two things: First is that it puts a smile on your face no matter where you’re riding. Whether you’re carving canyons and passing guys on sport bikes or adding your powerslide track to exit off a perfect gravel corner, the bike is just that much fun to ride, which makes you never want to stop. Second, the Expedition inspires your mind to daydream about places to go ride. A great bike will instill confidence in you and make you yearn to explore more of the world by motorcycle, and that is precisely what the Husqvarna Motorcycles Norden 901 Expedition does when you’re riding it.
For our first impressions of the Husqvarna Norden 901: CLICK HERE
For a comparison between the Norden 901 and KTM's 890 Adventure R: CLICK HERE