It’s been an 8 hour riding day, beset by sun, rain and fog, and my friend Enrico pulls off his helmet to proclaim in surprise: “Usually I die after 3 hours, because I have no butt and my legs are just sticks connected to the torso.” It’s true; In the motorcycle world, offroad competency and comfort are poor bedfellows, but the Norden 901 is ridiculously comfortable for a tanker built to take on the punches of true exploration.
I agree with Enrico; it’s especially delightful to be able to focus on the scenery instead of bum pains. Especially here on Jeju Island, South Korea, where we have been pummelling out long days in the saddle. Deliciously far from the humid tropics, this volcanic isle is a treasure trove for adventurers, offering a dramatic mix of alpine fauna, tortured lava formations and swathes of wild coastal landscape. Also, no speed limits are enforced for motorcycles (!).
Against this postcard backdrop, I’m in good company. We are a mixed bag of automotive media and industry insiders from around Asia; seasoned test-riders and newcomers to offroading, both. Everyone is here to investigate the adventurability of Husqvarna’s first travel motorcycle, and to answer the elephant of a question in the room: is the Norden 901 just a KTM 890 Adventure with a costume change?
For the record, I also recently clocked saddle time with the 2023 KTM 890 Adventure, carving up the Austrian alps in rain, sun, and um, alpine ducks.
Since KTM acquired Husqvarna Motorcycles a decade ago, the 120 year old Swedish brand has simmered in a common pot of rich performance resources, but the resultant similarities across both family lineups certainly beggar comparison. Within the Norden 901 pulses the same 889cc LC8 powerplant as the KTM 890 Adventure and 890 Adventure R, wedged into similar lightweight steel trellis bones, drivetrain, WP suspension and electronic components. And then there’s also the Norden 901 Expedition, which deserves its own fangirl soliloquy. More on that in another article.
On paper, the four models share so much DNA but are quite different in how they hit that 105 HP and 100 NM torque into the playground. Here are notes from the Norden’s saddle:
What becomes quickly obvious is how easy the Norden 901 is to ride, everywhere. Take it from my buddy Terbinder, known back home as the Terbomber for his devastating pantry futsal abilities. He’s also extra suspicious of people who say, “LET’S GO ON A RIDING ADVENTURE”, because his last offroad one was fairly disastrous. Here in Jeju, it’s his first time throwing a leg over a Class 2 motorcycle anywhere wilder than the confines of a driving school.
Well, the Terbomber and other offroad rookies agree on one thing: the Norden 901 offers incredible agility, high-speed stability, and friendly handling, even in the rough stuff. In soft sand, mud, and tight tree corridors, the bike holds the line well, almost as if it auto-corrects minor rider mistakes.
What’s behind this? A winning combo of great balance, lightweightedness, and non-intimidating power delivery.
Thanks to the incredibly low-slung tank, the bike holds its CG close to the ground, while 220/215mm front/rear suspension travel offers enough obstacle-crossing clearance alongside a confidence-inspiring seat height. A 204kg kerb weight (with all fluids, but empty tank) keeps weight penalty at bay while those 105 horses kick out linearly. In comparison, Yamaha’s competing Tenere 700 clocks in at 187kg dry (no fluids) / 204kg wet, with 74 HP.
Make no mistake though – you can still tap into hooliganism when needed. In fact, the street riding is more sporty and agile than the Norden’s bearish silhouette would suggest, and it’s quick to lift the front wheel in second gear, or blast past cagers on the overtaking lane. Usable aggression – that’s the bite.
The stand-out difference between the KTM 890 Adventure and the Norden 901 lies in how well it treats your bum. Even two-up!
All-day rideability comes down to a seriously plush, wide seat, switchable between 854mm and 874mm heights, and an adjustable 43mm WP APEX suspension system that gobbles up the kilometers. It does tend to the softer side, so for hard-charging enduro pursuits in gnarlier terrain, you would be better off on the more offroad-oriented Norden 901 Expedition or the battle-hardened KTM 890 Adventure R. Seat warming is available as an add-on option – for the pillion as well!
The handlebars are adjustable to 6 different positions for all sorts of body types, so there were no complaints of numbness or backaches even in 3 consecutive, hard riding days.
There is just one thing that bugs me about all this, but we’ll get to that in abit.
The rider aids are right there in the Goldilocks spot between overly-complex intrusiveness and intuitive simplicity. There is a host of invisible tech working in the background to keep you safe, including lean-angle sensitive traction control, regulated engine braking and ABS for both street and offroad scenarios.
Things are kept simple with 3 basic ride modes: Street, Rain and Offroad. Thumbing through each will automatically put you into optimised levels of traction control, throttle response, ABS modes and peak power. This is easy enough to do even while on the go – and Jeju’s fickle weather allowed us to test this out many times within a day. Feeling fiddly? The add-on Explorer mode will allow you to customise those settings to an even greater level of detail, with up to 9 levels of rear-wheel slip.
A full-colour 5 inch TFT screen puts your command centre on lush display, with space above for mounting a smartphone or additional nav devices. Other features that set the Norden apart from its price-sensitive competitors include quickshifter tech, LED lights all around, and built-in fog lights. Heated grips and cruise control are an add-on option.
TAKE IT FURTHER
We all want more time chasing horizons, and less time in the workshop. The Norden 901 backs its promise of exploration with a 19L tank, theoretical 400km range, long service intervals of 15,000km, and a service-anywhere cable-operated clutch. Questions of real-world durability await a longer field test, but Husqvarna Motorcycles boasts that each Norden prototype was flogged through 50,000 vigorous kms, out of which 10,000km were offroad with Dakar competitor Quinn Cody.
A handful of bugbears did put a crinkle on our horizon-focused brow: no USB charging port (the 12V port comes standard), noisy chain rattle, inadequate wind protection, and engine heat that radiates from under the seat at slow speeds. Also, the fog light indicator is nearly impossible to read in harsh daylight, so you never really know if they’re switched on.
All that’s minor. A serious flaw, which any offroad-biased human like myself will discover when standing on the footpegs, is that the Norden is too wide in the center. I found myself uncomfortably bow-legged when trying to keep my knees in a vertical above the pegs, and they kept sliding forward into the curve of the upper tank. Mind you, the casual offroader might not even notice this. Many might even overlook it as a happy compromise for the planted, plush perch you get in a seated position. I’m told you can get around this with wider aftermarket footpegs and perhaps a bar riser.
WHO IS THE NORDEN 901 FOR?
It is more than aesthetic preference that defines the minimalist, round-edged Norden against the insectile, angular lines of KTM’s middle-weight adventurers. Husqvarna’s first travel motorcycle elbows into the sweet spot between the road-biased KTM 890 Adventure and the race-inspired 890 Adventure R.
The Norden is by no means a battle-hungry racer, but what it does remarkably well is to take fatigue and tedium out of the traveller’s equation. For most of us who want to discover new worlds, and have hella fun doing it, the Norden 901 punches above its weight. For hard enduro, there are dirtbikes.
Husqvarna Norden 901: Key Specs
|Engine||4 Stroke, parallel twin cylinder, DOHC, Euro 5|
|Max Power & Torque||105 HP @ 8,000 RPM / 100 NM @ 6,500 RPM|
|Weight||204kg without fuel|
|Fuel capacity & consumption||19L / 4.5 L per 100km|
|Front suspension||WP APEX 43mm, adjustable compression, rebound, preload; 220mm front travel|
|Rear suspension||WP APEX monoshock, adjustable rebound, preload; 215mm rear travel|
|Seat height||854mm low setting; 874mm high setting|
|Wheel sizes||Front 21 in, rear 18 in|
Cherie went to school with overachievers. She grew up to fully embrace her wicked, underachieving ways and made art, rode motorcycles, wore dinosaur costumes to inappropriate places, and was generally awesome. She has recently discovered that the optimal number of underpants to pack for world domination on your motorcycle is 2.5.