Although from the outside it appears Swapmoto Live’s primary focus is motocross, we actually love all things dirt bike. In fact, the majority of our staff has a pretty deep background in off-road riding as well. With so many So Cal tracks closed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were recently thrilled at the opportunity to head out into the Mojave Desert for some social distancing and to test a couple of Husqvarna’s new off-road models. Aside from building some of the best moto bikes in the business, Husqvarna offers one of the widest model ranges of any dirt bike manufacturer on the market. It seems as though they have a bike for every niche style of riding you can think of – and we love that.
We decided to go as wide on the spectrum as we could get by pitting a TX 300i two-stroke against the FE 350 four-stroke. We also tried to get as diverse as we could with test riders, bringing longtime pro-test rider Pat Foster, and our friendly giant Dominic Gaytan to compare their impressions of where each bike excelled and where the other may perform better. Recent winter storms had left the desert dirt perfectly saturated with unbelievable traction and offered a little twist with fluffy snow over the caps of the foothills.
We spent several hours in the saddle riding in every condition imaginable, from long desert sand whoop sections, rollercoaster-like single track careening through grassy ravines, long soft uphill climbs, steep technical downhills, rocks, sand, water crossings, and the aforementioned snow. The terrain offered a great metric to evaluate all that the Huskys had to offer.
Pat and “Dommer” spent the day trading off bikes and although their size, style, background, and ability may vary, their opinions on each bike were pretty consistent with each other. Starting with the FE350:
2020 Husqvarna FE 350
Dommer chose to start the day on the FE 350 as it would provide a more familiar platform to the standard motocross bikes he’s been spending time on recently. Equipped with a standard headlight, rear tail light, and handguards the 350 looks like a conventional Enduro bike. Armed with the standard electric start and bar-mounted map switches and traction control,the 350 platform is aimed to deliver a balance between the 450 rivaling power and the more nimble, lightweight 250 handling. However, this 350 power delivery is night and day different from the familiar FC 350 motocross bike we have reviewed in the past. Where the FC is quick, explosive, and loves to rev, the FE is mellow, broad, smooth, and easy to manage. This power delivery is the definition of putting easy to manage power to the ground. The crack of the throttle rolls on mildly, with a muted, almost electric feeling surge. The bike is quiet and offers a stealthy sound certain not agitate folks enjoying the outdoors. However, it feels as though the exhaust is extremely choked up, not allowing the engine to rev freely.
Those looking for a smooth comfortable ride will love the long, linear, gradual power delivery offered by the FE. Frankly, it took us a while to get used to it. In situations where we were expecting a quick hit to blip over obstacles, wheelie through whoops, or gas it over fallen logs, the FE wanted to just tractor through things. The power did not offer any snap or excitement down low. This was definitely detrimental to our confidence at times especially when leading up to big hill climbs. Typically when attacking a large hill you want the motor to be singing with plenty of revs and momentum behind you by the time you hit the hill. With the choked up nature of the FE, it never felt as though we were approaching the steep inclines with enough momentum or revs to tackle what loomed in front of us. However, as we affectionately started referring to the FE as the “sewing machine motor” when we got into each climb the sewing machine would turn into a tractor, and the bike would lug down to a lower RPM and then stay there… continuing to quietly pull long beyond what we ever thought was possible. The bike was not screaming or revving it just slowly chugging up every hill we put in front of it. Did we want more power, more zing, more snap? Yes! Absolutely! But as we learned what the FE was capable of, and what to expect, it became a very effective weapon for us in the desert. Much like the power delivery, the suspension is also very soft and compliant. Super plush is the best way to describe the action of the FE. Larger guys and more aggressive riders will certainly long for firmer components as the sand whoops get deeper or the G outs more significant, but those looking for a bike that they can spend several hours on without fatigue will love the docile nature of the FE.
2020 Husqvarna TX 300i
The TX 300i on the other hand offers all of the zappy hit you would expect from a 300 two-stroke. However, this two-stroke is likely different than anything you have ever ridden before. For starters, no mixing gas. What? That’s right. The TX300i utilizes a 39 mm throttle body which regulates the amount of air entering the engine via a butterfly valve, but unlike a four-stroke, fuel is not introduced to the mixture at this point. Rather 2-stroke oil (with a reservoir beneath the fuel tank) is mixed via an oil pump with the air to lubricant the crankshaft, cylinder, and piston. A pair of fuel injectors are mounted on the transfer ports at the rear of the cylinder that delivers fuel down directly into the transfer port. A throttle positioning sensor relays airflow data to the ECU which calculates the amount of oil and fuel delivered to the engine. Very sophisticated system.
Rather than the Enduro platform used by the FE, the TX300i is a purpose-built race bike with off-road specific features like an 18-inch rear wheel, larger fuel tank, and a side stand.
Both of our test riders agreed, the TX300i is just downright fun!
The lively, exciting character of the two-stroke engine brings a smile to your face as soon as you crack the throttle. However, this is not like the typical Motocross two-stroke power you may be used to. The power takes a few positive cues from the new-school four-stroke demeanor we have all become more accustomed to. The low-end on the TX300i offers plenty of torque – much more than any other two-stroke model we have ridden. Although it can still be quick and exciting, the delivery is relatively long and broad and much easier to manage in tricky situations than some of the more conventional “light switch – like” two-stroke powerbands we have battled. It was very confidence-inspiring to know that you had power available quickly if you needed it, however, with a smooth delivery the bike was surprisingly easy to manage even in the most technical situations. But when we needed brute power getting ready to blast up a long soft uphill the bike would rev to the moon and pull as long and hard as we need it to. Where the FE slowly plugged along up the hills the TX300i just straight ripped.
Suspension-wise, the TX300i feels much more like the motocross bikes we were accustomed to with far firmer suspension settings and a more substantial feel than it’s Enduro-based brother.
While we grew to be comfortable with the FE throughout the day and feel that it is the best option for anyone looking so a plush, comfortable, easy to control ride with the ability to go anywhere you want, we left pretty enamored with the TX300i. The quick two-stroke power with extra torque down low was not only effective but extremely fun to ride. The best part, we think it would be pretty effective on the motocross track as well. So if you find yourself looking for that perfect bike to do a little bit of everything…. the TX300i might be the bike for you.
Donn Maeda is a 30-year veteran in moto-journalism, having worked at Cycle News and Dirt Rider before launching MXracer Magazine and TransWorld Motocross Magazine. Maeda is the Editor-In-Chief at Swapmoto Live and you can catch him on a dirt bike or in the saddle of a mountain bike on most days.