2020 Husqvarna FE 501s Dual-Sport: My First Impression Test
By Scott Hoffman, Photos, Jana Bond and Jim Carley
It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to spend more than a day or two with a specific dual-sport test bike. For the new, almost totally updated 2020 Husqvarna FE 501s, it’s a different story. In fact, I could probably write a full regular DirtBikeTest evaluation but I wanted to tell the story from an over 200-lb vet rider’s perspective. DBT has probably put 500+ miles on this Husky consisting of dual-sport rides, Nevada desert, and even the single- and some double-diamond loops at the famed Soboba Trail Ride in So Cal.
The ’20 501s is a revamped model for Husky’s dual-sport line and has adopted a lot of the changes that the motocross line had received over the last few years. The first being the more compact head, new chassis, new plastic, higher compression piston, newer-style carbon composite subframe to name a few.
The brakes are all Magura as is the clutch master cylinder. Suspension differs compared to the full race bikes with the spring WP XPLOR fork and WP XACT shock. Both have been dialed in for the new chassis. And unlike the KTM, the Husky has a linkage rear suspension over PDS. Its sibling shares many similar components but the two bikes are also very different.
This is a dual-sport so it meets all of the proper guidelines to be ridden on the street in all 50 states. The stock tires are very middle of the road and not great for the street but also not great for the dirt either. Exhaust is very quiet. I would say the Husky is not race-ready but it’s totally fun and trail ready. The engine is choked up a tad to meet regulations, can run a tad warm and the radiator fan gets a workout on tight trials.
Right from the get-go this Husky doesn’t feel like it sports 510cc, it feels more like a 350. It’s called a 501 but it’s really a 510. The new chassis, even in dual-sport trim with the larger motor, is so light feeling and easy to toss around—it was kind of an unexpected sensation. The 2020 is a few pounds shy of being 10 pounds lighter than the 2019 and right around 35 pounds lighter than the Honda CRF450L. The engine is more free revving than the prior dual-sport version of the Husky or KTM that I have ridden and puts out greater performance than expected. Yes it feels choked up but that is to be expected, yet bottom and mid are really strong for a DS. At the rear wheel it feels like it puts down low to mid 40s for horsepower. Yet for what it’s intended for, it works very well.
Mellow dual-sport rides are not my thing so one of the first things we did was to swap out the stock tires for more aggressive DOT-legal Kenda Parker DT knobs. The tires alone gave the Husky 501s the off-road feel I was looking for.
The suspension is very plush on small bumps and trails but too soft for my larger frame, especially when I wanted to push the bike into a faster mode. I will probably need springs, maybe raise the oil height, or perform further mods to handle more aggressive types of riding. You can still ride a decent pace but you just have to be aware of how fast you hit G-outs, or hit certain obstacles or jumps. This bike is awesome for dual-sport, just a little soft for more aggressive off-road. The fork and shock have a tendency to blow through the second half of the stroke on bigger hits or more aggressive riding. Springs would be the first upgrade I would try.
The power is kind of deceptive, it’s more lively than expected and has a nice amount of bottom to mid but because it’s choked up it kind of falls flat on top and does not have that big burst of power past the mid. But again, it’s a legal dual-sport bike so we have to take this into consideration. I was able to run this bike up to nearly 90mph in the desert and it still can handle tight, technical single track and rock sections. No it’s not perfect, but it’s totally capable. The only real complaint I had was when traction was not ideal. In technical sections or on steep hills when the engine had a big load on it, when it broke traction it had a tendency to want to spin the rear tire too quickly. Over time you are able to adapt by backing off the throttle more when it starts to spin, or you can slip the clutch slightly until the rear regains traction. It feels like a lean fuel condition or needs a little more flywheel weight. I know clutch weights are available in the aftermarket sector. In tight trails the engine did stall or flame-out a few times but over time you could change your riding style to avoid it in most conditions. It again feels like it could be a lean fuel/air issue.
Depending on what form of riding I tossed the new Husky 501 into, my evaluation might differ slightly. As a fully legal dual-sport machine it’s really good and can be taken pretty much anywhere your ability can take you with the proper tires. It is light feeling, has ample low-end power, suspension is plush and works really well for DS even if you are over 200 lb.
Now if I tested it as an off-road or race bike only, there are some limitations to what it can do in stock trim. Suspension is too soft for more aggressive and faster riding, the rear taillight can hit a full knobby tire and even came loose on our first ride. The engine runs a tiny bit lean and can go a little flat on top and runs a little hot in tighter conditions. Most of the above can be fixed if that is what you desire. If I owned this bike I would mod the suspension for myself and I would probably get a closed-course ignition box and exhaust setup for events like Soboba or racing a grand prix.
Even with the emission restrictions for a dual-sport, the 2020 Husqvarna 501s is a plenty capable bike for anything I ride these days. The light-feeling chassis for a big-bore four-stroke is amazing. Other than getting a few items dialed in for my liking, the only thing stopping an adventure on this ride is when I run out of talent on the trail –it won’t be the bike.
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