There’s a massive shift happening right now in the motorcycle industry that’s changing the entire landscape of a market that’s grown complacent with the ‘bigger is better’ school of thought. Smaller, more approachable street bikes, with a healthy dose of youthful design like scramblers, sport-standards and cafe racers continue to see a steady rise in popularity with each big manufacturer offering more options each year. Now it’s the off-road adventure riding world’s turn to get the attention and bikes like the Husqvarna 701 Enduro are perfectly poised to lead the pack in the changing of the guard.
The off-road situation is a little different than on-road motorcycles. Bikes like the gargantuan BMW R 1200 GS, KTM 1290 Super Adventure and Honda Africa Twin are the poster children for ADV motorcycles. But, the big bikes are still the headlining acts that stole the majority of attention of their respective manufacturers as far as performance and development went. If you wanted something smaller, the middleweight class didn’t offer much; go any smaller than that and you’re looking at dirt bikes. That’s starting to change. ADV riders are becoming wise to the weight advantages of the Enduro class motorcycle, which can still carry gear, and when taken it off road don’t make you wrestle with 700lbs worth of motorcycle.
Enduro or middleweight adventure bikes, when properly outfitted, are not only thousands of dollars more affordable than the typical liter-plus ADVs, but can be more capable, less stressful and wildly more entertaining off-road. I’m here to say: the 2018 Husqvarna 701 Enduro, with a set of saddlebags, is a dream come true for any minimalist overlander.
The Good: The engine is the headlining act with the 2018 Husqvarna 701 Enduro. Though it is based on the same bike as the KTM 690 Enduro R, the Husqvarna get its own, all-new, refined and slightly larger 693cc engine. It was hard to find a situation where power wasn’t readily available. On the highway, out to Conserve the Ride in Woodward, Pennsylvania, even in sixth gear, doing 60-70mph, the single-cylinder still found enough shove to get me past slower traffic. Then once off-road, chugging along in first gear, weaving around and navigating oil-pan-killing rocks, barely on-throttle, there was no hesitation. The sweeping, open gravel fire roads and single track trails are what this bike was built for — it was completely in its element powering out of tight turns and floating the front wheel.
In the world of 500-600lbs ADV bikes, the 344lbs 701 Enduro is a svelt featherweight. Out on the trails, threading through trees and trail gates, making my way up rutted inclines littered with rocks trying to unsettle the bike, the 701 Enduro was the envy of the biggest of its companions. Because when you’re riding off-road it’s a matter of when, not if, you go down (hopefully at a slow speed), and when you have to pick your bike up off its side — possibly by yourself — you’ll wish you weren’t riding around with 300 extra pounds of bike.
The adventure rider who still wants to load up their bike with a couple bags and camping gear, but pines for a less exhausting bike on the trails once HQ is set up.
Watch Out For: Even at six-foot-one, I was forced by the 37.5-inch seat to either tippy toe or one-foot it at stop lights. On the trail, there were a handful of times I went to touch the ground for stability, but between the height of the bike and an unfortunately placed rut in the road, I was left back-kicking at the air until the bike leaned over enough. With a heavier bike, that could mean a sprained ankle or worse, but holding up most of the 701’s weight with one leg never felt like a workout.
Secondly, as far as adventure riding goes, the 701 is incredibly well balanced, but that’s in part to the rear subframe doubles as the gas tank. Now, ingeniously balancing the bike by putting the gas tank in the back isn’t a drawback. But having to unstrap your 90-liter dry bag from the seat every time you need to fill up can be a nuisance.
Alternatives: In the middle-weight adventure bike category, the 701 Enduro’s direct competitor is the KTM 690 Enduro R, seeing as that’s what the Husqvarna is based on. The engine in the Husqvarna gives it a leg up being that it’s all-new, refined and a gets a hair more displacement. Other similarly sized enduros, like the Suzuki DR650Sand Honda XR650L come in at nearly half the price of the 701 Enduro, just under $7,000, but the two Japanese bikes have nowhere near the performance of the Husqvarna.
Review: In the world of overlanding, at first it’s easy to be drawn to the idea of wheeling an over-blown, lifted Baja-grade truck because that’s what you heard you need. But, spend enough time off-road in the wild and priorities switch. Vehicle shortcomings become glaring attributes and genuine capability turns into a godsend. Vintage Defenders fall short and towering Ford Raptors prove to be too much anywhere outside of an open desert. On two-wheels, some will lead you to believe you need a BMW R 1200 GS, but even the adventure riding community is starting to switch priorities. Light weight is becoming more critical and the appeal of bikes like the Husqvarna 701 Enduro increase 10-fold. Not only can it hold all of your gear like a larger ADV, it can tackle freeways nearly as superbly as it can fire trails and single tracks.
Verdict: One person who’s watching the ADV landscape change from the front lines is Jeremy LeBreton, founder and president of Alt Rider. Speaking to LeBreton at Conserve the Ride 2018 in Woodward, Pennsylvania, he said “when I started this around six years ago, it was probably 98 percent BMW GSs and big ADV bikes. Each year that comes down and now I’d say it’s 60/40 ADV to Enduro.” And that’s because more riders are becoming wise to the fact you can still load up a mid-sized enduro like the Husqvarna with camping gear, set out, not be miserable on the highway, get to camp, unpack and then hit the trails with what amounts to a super-lightweight off-roader. And that’s where the new Husqvarna shines.
The 701 Enduro might not have the long-distance fuel tanks (I managed 150 miles on one tank) or all the wind protection, heated seats and grips or other creature comforts of the big BMW and KTM. But, when it comes to overlanding essentials — carrying enough gear for the weekend, holding its own on the road and off — the Husqvarna 701 is at the top of its class.