Once Husqvarna’s Norden 901 Expedition – an evolution of the already impressive Norden 901 introduced last year – was brought to life, the company was so confident in its new hardware that it let a couple loose across the vast and barren expanses of Mongolia to put them to the ultimate test.

The riders weren’t your bread-and-butter variety, either: none other than five-time Dakar Rally winner, Frenchman Cyril Despres, and world-famous explorer Mike Horn. Huge reserves of talent and mental strength on both counts – not too many other people would abseil an Expedition down a sheer cliff face…

As well as showcasing the Expedition’s expertise, the trip was all about adventure, friendship and encapsulating the sheer joy of motorcycling – exactly the narrative that Husqvarna will be promoting to prospective buyers when its new model hits local showrooms (alongside the Norden 901) for $27,840 ride away – only $2800 more than the base Norden 901 with a decent catalogue of additional parts and features.

The global media launch of the Norden 901 Expedition was recently held in South Africa, and watching the trailer for the Despres-Horn YouTube film during the model presentation was certainly an inspirational starting point. Who needs ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for motivation when you have that…

Then it was our turn to sample the Norden 901 Expedition over two days, with the machine displaying a level of temperament, poise and ability that correlates with its status as the new flagship of the Husqvarna adventure touring range. And it has to, in the face of strong opposition from the likes of the Ducati DesertX, the KTM 890 Adventure R, Aprilia Tuareg 660, CFMoto 800MT Explore, BMW F 850 GS Adventure and Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro.

But how exactly does the Norden 901 Expedition differ from the Norden 901? The biggest change is the suspension, which has been uprated to WP Xplor from WP Apex – now replicating the sturdier setup on the 890 Adventure R, and we know how good that machine is off-road, especially in softening the jarring high-compression hits. The only real difference between the suspension in the two models is the damping is softer in the Expedition for extra comfort.

Suspension travel on the Expedition is 240mm at both ends (it’s 220/215mm on the Norden 901), while in the electronics department it gets the ‘Explorer’ ride mode which is an option on the Norden 901. The other ride modes on the Expedition are Street, Off-road and Rain, and it also has cornering ABS and traction control. Meanwhile, the bi-directional quickshifter simply doesn’t miss a beat; it’s one of the best I’ve used, hands down.

Even with the stiffer 48mm Xplor shock to absorb the big hits, the aluminium bashplate still remains a valuable part of the Norden’s protective layer – and it’s huge, enveloping the undercarriage and then working its way up the side of the bike.

The Expedition also has a heated rider’s seat and grips, full smartphone connectivity for the five-inch TFT screen to take/make calls, play music and activate turn-by-turn navigation (with a map download function that can be viewed offline), new bodywork (including a non-adjustable windscreen larger than the standard 901), and 36 litres of soft luggage (and mounting rack) as standard fitment. It’s not the most robust luggage, but still more than a handy addition and a further nod to its long-haul capability.

The dash also has space for an aftermarket-style GPS unit along with a USB jack for power supply.

Tubeless Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 21- and 18-inch tyres remain in Expedition guise, which are a good fit for a machine which is designed to spend as much time on-road as off. Sure, more hardcore off-road riders will fit more aggressive knobbies, as the STRs are biased towards the ‘travel’ side of the adventure-travel – and that was evident a few times on the launch, especially in some sandy sections.

We didn’t adjust tyre pressures as we didn’t want to run the risk of flat tyres, but we still managed to navigate our way through some fairly difficult countryside in the dry. Precipitation would have made it a completely different story

875 mm seat height is 20 mm higher than the regular Norden

Two things that haven’t changed on the Expedition from the base Norden 901 are the engine and frame, with the 899 cc parallel-twin remaining a stressed member in the steel trellis setup. The ride-by-wire engine has dual balance shafts and a power-assist slipper clutch, and produces 103 hp (77kW) at 8000 rpm and 100 Nm at 6500rpm. Redline is 8500 rpm.  Air filter access is convenient (lift seat and undo two screws), although in really dusty conditions the addition of an oiled foam pre-filter would be advantageous.

It really is a sweet and playful engine, and a great fit for adventure riding. The loads of torque make short work of sling-shotting from one corner to another – alongside plenty of top-end poke that can be tamed with nine-level traction control to produce the perfect drift.

In each ride mode, riders can also choose road- or off-road ABS – the latter disabling the function from the rear along with reducing early intervention on the front and disabling the lean angle sensor.

The Expedition really has an eye-catching design, with the blue and white livery (the only one available), rally-style tower and screen promoting a ‘lightlook – I just knew it would steer and handle well.

And that was borne out over two days traversing some magical South African mountains and valleys – it handles phenomenally well, and is agile and nimble even though it’s added an extra 10 kg over the Norden 901. The Expedition weighs in at a claimed 214.5 kg (wet, without fuel).

240 mm of fully-adjustable suspension travel, 270 mm ground clearance

We tackled some long, loose rocky descents where it’s normally easy to become unsettled on a 200kg-plus adventure bike. However, the Expedition ate it up, which was really reassuring.

19 litre fuel tank should be good for almost 400 kilometres on the blacktop

The Norden template is about keeping the weight low as possible – just look at the droopy 19-litre fuel tank, for a start – while the Xplor suspension is super comfy while managing to navigate sharp-edged bumps brilliantly. However, I did get a few little head shakes over some potholes at higher speeds, which was a little disconcerting.

Service intervals are 15,000 kilometres

But all in all, Husqvarna has nailed it: the Expedition is a charm on bitumen, and that polish continues off-road. I was pleasantly surprised with the bike’s off-road ability and, after spending a good chunk of time in recent months on the 890 Adventure R, I certainly had a high-quality marker to compare it against.

The uprated suspension with more travel and ground clearance helps in these shenanigans

I couldn’t see the value of the quickshifter in the dirt, so I turned it off. Even without the electronic aid, the six-speed gearbox is still precise, but on a few occasions I did hit false neutrals when I was transitioning from seated to standing or on uneven ground.

Heated seat for the rider but not for the pillion.

The seat is more of a bucket style rather than flat, and as the terrain became more extreme my knees formed two rounded grooves formed in its flanks – which was a bonus for both comfort and agility.

Off-road ABS switches ABS off on the rear and changes the intervention parameters on the front and takes lean angle out of the equation

I did bump my head on the new touring screen a few times when I was standing, but as far as deflecting wind it works well – aided by the small hole in the middle which helps to reduce turbulence.

103 horsepower at 8000 rpm – 100 Nm of torque at 6500 rpm

With so many options and adjustments available in the electronics suite – I may be old-fashioned but are the electronics on all these new bikes a little overwhelming? – I tinkered away until I ended up in Explore mode with the traction control dialled down to two (i.e. on the less intrusive side of the scale), ABS set to off-road (i.e. disabling the rear) and the throttle setting to Rally. And the wonderful thing? The Expedition remembers all the settings!

Husksy say the Norden 901 Expedition was designed as a 50-50 on/off-road motorcycle

There were a few glitches on the launch with the electronics jumping out of modes and buttons not working, but I’m sure a software upgrade will iron out the bugs.

Riding modes include, Road, Sport, Rain, Off-Road and the Explorer mode

I remember cruising along this sandy trail standing on the pegs, and beside me was Despres – also taking in the backdrop of rock-littered mountains interspersed with sky-blue lakes. A real pinch myself moment, but this is the reason you would own a bike like the Expedition – although riding next to a Dakar legend may not always be guaranteed…

And with a fuel range in the vicinity of 400km, the Norden 901 Expedition is a ‘turn-key’ solution to satisfy your wanderlust – there are no holes to fill. The Expedition certainly lit up my adventure wick.

Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition Specifications
Engine889 cc Liquid-cooled with water/oil heat exchanger 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, parallel twin
Bore x Stroke90.7 mm x 68.8 mm
Power103 horsepower (77 kW) at 8000 rpm
Torque100 nm at 6500 rpm
StarterElectric starter
ClutchPASC anti-hopping clutch, mechanically operated
Emissions105 g/km
EMSBosch EMS with RBW
Fuel Consumption4.5 l/100 km
LubricationForced oil lubrication with 2 oil pumps
Weight214.5 kg (Without Fuel)
Fuel Capacity19 Litres
ABSBosch 9.1 MP (incl. Cornering-ABS and off-road mode, disengageable)
Front Brake320 mm discs, 2x radially mounted 4 piston caliper 
Rear Brakes260 mm disc, 2 piston floating caliper
FrameChromium-Molybdenum-Steel frame using the engine as stressed element, powder coated
Front SuspensionWP XPLOR-USD, Ø 48 mm
Ground Clearance270 mm
Rear SuspensionWP Xplor PDS shock absorber
Steering Head Angle64.2 °
Suspension Travel Front240 mm
Suspension Travel Rear240 mm
Price$27,840 Ride Away

Source: mcnews.com.au