Say someone handed you a massive dirt bike, and told you it was a touring bike.
A). Think it was a touring bike, despite the looks of the thing?
B). Think you were being misled, and this motorcycle really was an overgrown dirt bike?
That’s the choice you get with the Husqvarna 701 Enduro. It looks like a massive honkin’ enduro bike, but Husqvarna’s website says it’s a “Travel” bike. So what’s the story?
Not your average thumper
The defining feature of the Husqvarna 701 Enduro is its 693 cc single-cylinder engine. This is the most advanced big-bore single on the market. It’s the most powerful production thumper ever built, rated for 74 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 54 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm. The engine has a four-valve head, dual counterbalancers and dual spark head, with both sparks receiving individual ignition timing, for optimized fuel burn. There’s even a quickshifter (Husqvarna calls it Easy Shift) Very trick.
Of course, this all adds complexity. It’s great to have lots of muscle, it’s great to have leaning-sensitive traction control and two switchable riding modes. However, this means a lot of extra electronics on-board. This isn’t your old-school simplistic KLR/DR/XR. It’s not as complicated as a modern adventure bike with a twin-cylinder engine, but it’s definitely not a Keep-It-Simple-Stupid design.
However, it’s refreshing to see KTM develop this engine as far as it has (remember: KTM controls Husqvarna now, and this 701 engine is the same as KTM’s latest-generation 690). While the rest of the mainstream motorcycle manufacturers have done little or nothing to improve their big-bore singles since the 1990s, KTM continued to pump R&D into the LC4 platform.
As a result, the 701 Enduro is a very fun bike to ride, if you like thumpers. You’ve got gobs of torque off the line; the bike lugs along smoothly at low rpm. However, where other big single-cylinder engines used to run out of steam at higher rpm, the 701 just keeps pulling hard. It’s got fistfuls of roll-on power at extra-legal speeds on the highway, where your older carbureted 650 would be wheezing and asking for a break. I last rode a 701 in 2017, and remembered it as the most enjoyable thumper I ever rode. Four years later, aboard the 2021 model, I still feel the same way.
The beauty of the 701’s power curve is, on the street, you run out of steam at roughly the same speed that a ticket would get really expensive. Up until that point, the 701 is mega-fun. After that speed, who cares? You’re not going to be riding around forever at speeds much over 100 mph without losing your license, your bike, or both. Getting to that danger-zone speed is where the real fun is in motorcycling. That’s how I see it, anyway.
Offroad, the traction control system is a handy helper on gravel roads; you can switch it off, if you want to use the rear wheel to powerslide around corners. It’s a bit less convenient than the easy interface on KTM’s adventure bikes, but it’s not too tricky.
However, the motor is so torquey that if you have crappy dirt riding technique (like I do, alas!), the 701 is a handful once you get into bumpy, rocky terrain, and I suspect it would be very tricky on tight single-track (unless your initials are Scott Summers, maybe). A ham-fisted approach could result in a narsty case of whiskey throttle. What I’m saying is: If you’re an expert, you could have lots of fun offroad with the 701. If you’re a noob, better start with something easier.
Unfortunately, due to local laws, I wasn’t able to try any dunes or sand with the 701. I suspect the motor would prove to be ridiculously fun in those conditions.
An aggressive chassis
Typically, when you see a dual sport or adventure bike oriented for touring/travel usage, you see the chassis is softened a bit around the edges. The Japanese duallies come with downright soggy forks and shocks; the Euros keep things a bit stiffer, but still, you don’t expect dirt bike performance from a heavy street-legal ADV. Road comfort is the priority.
The 701’s suspension is instead biased towards dirt use. Hairy-chested enduro junkies will tell you it’s a compromise, but when you’re riding the 701, you feel like you’re riding a dirt bike, not a tourer. Again, if you’re an inexperienced dirt rider, you might find the stiff suspenders make the 701 a handful, and I would not recommend it to learners.
Personally, I found that some tinkering with the rebound adjustments made the machine much more enjoyable to ride.
One thing I was happy to note: The 2017 model I tested would go into a wobbly headshake sometimes, on quick deceleration. The 2021 model did not do that. I presume Husqvarna has changed some part of the design here; whatever the engineers did, it worked.
What about the rest of the machine? Husqvarna went with the same chrome-moly trellis frame arrangement, and the same plastic subframe with integrated 3.4-gallon fuel tank. This cuts weight, and allows mass centralization. It also means that, with the fuel tank sitting behind and below the seat, it’s difficult to add extra fuel capacity, and throw-over soft luggage also presents a challenge. That means this might not be such a fun “travel bike” after all.
The seat is just as user-unfriendly as before, at a sky-high 36.2 inches, with plank-like padding. You don’t buy this bike expecting all-day comfort, though, and that seat stretches very far forward, almost to the headstock, making it easy to move around for maximum control.
Finally, there’s basically zero wind protection on this bike. I think that’s a good thing; extra plastic would make the 701 heavier, bulkier, and more breakable in the woods. However, if you’re behind the handlebars on this at high speed all day, the windblast will wear you out.
With all that in mind, I don’t think I’d purchase the 701 specifically as a travel bike—but I do think it makes an excellent dual sport, especially if you’re riding in an area with lots of wide-open offroad riding spaces. You can purchase aftermarket fuel tanks, mini-fairings and other bits to make travel easier, but I’m not sure I’d do so. If I was traveling to a place like the Sahara, maybe, and I wanted a powerful dual sport when I got there—but in that case, I might want a bike that with less electro-mechanical complexity.
If I lived around Baja? Or SoCal, or somewhere else with big sand dunes? I’d love a 701. Even here in the northeast, with much tighter trails, the 701 definitely makes a great backroad blaster, and it’s mega-fun on woods roads. If I could find a beach that’s legal to ride on, this machine would be a gas.
Know what else I would love? I think it would be very cool if Husqvarna built a real travel bike around this engine, with some concessions towards comfort and street handling. A 19-inch front wheel, maybe; a small fairing, a bit more fuel capacity. Something along the lines of KTM’s 390 Adventure, but with less compromise.
Without that option, I must confess that if I could only own one motorcycle, the 701 Enduro would still be a strong contender. It’s the thumper that the Japanese OEMs should be aiming for, instead of letting their 650 designs stagnate. Even if it isn’t a great travel bike, I could travel on it, and if I needed to used the aftermarket to improve the bike’s long-mileage capability, well—that sounds like a fun project.