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2009 Husqvarna SM610: MD First Ride

Remember the opening scene of “On any Sunday I”? The one with the huge guy riding a tiny play bike? Well, after half an hour of riding the SM610 on the highway on my way home from the factory, I pictured myself as being that big man on his little Honda Monkey. This Husky just wasn’t made for me, oh no. Even worse, the ongoing suffering led me to think that maybe I am REALLY getting old and SM toys (supermoto, that is) are not for me anymore. Time to quit? The vibration through the handlebars at 75 mph was getting on my nerves, my very own bottom cushions felt as if they were being split apart by a razor blade of a seat, and my fingertips lost all feel. Maybe I ought to review dressers and cruisers from now on? Two days later, after a few runs up and down the crazy SS338 road leading to Zubiena, Italy, while taking a break to catch my breath, I couldn’t stop mumbling under my helmet: Holy cow! This is the best bike in the world! Confused? So was I, so read on….

Eight years ago I had the privilege of testing Husqvarna’s first big street-legal supermoto, the SM610. That bike, which had been launched back in 1998, wasn’t much more than an enduro TE model shod with 17” rims and sticky road tires . . . yet it performed pretty well. Quite a long time has passed since, and that first SM version got a serious design upgrade in 2005, including all new body pieces that gave it a really aggressive, sharp and up-to-date look. The sculpting of the plastic panels is smart and sophisticated, without getting into wild extremes like KTMs of late. The playful exhaust system design draws a zigzagging line along the left side of the SM, and according to one stylish Milanese neighbor, these matte-black Huskies are becoming the “IN” thing to be seen on in the city.

With all due respect to design issues, you might want to know what’s lurking underneath those plastic covers, too. The main mechanical news for the 2009 model year is the IE acronym added now, which stands for “Iniezione elettronica”, electronic fuel injection, that is. Like many other singles, the 610 motor (576 c.c. in reality, and don’t ask me why) needed a true EFI system to pass current emission controls, and the new system has been developed with Mikuni Japan. Husky’s big single is pretty advanced in it’s architecture, but considering the huge step that KTM took two years ago with it’s new 690 motor, it’s starting to show it’s age in terms of peak performance, a claimed 53 hp. The smaller 450-510 singles have recently been renewed from the ground up, so I guess the big thumpers are next in line.

The bottom line, technically speaking, is that the 2009 SM610 is not so vastly different from the one I tested eight years ago, and that was partly the reason for my initial shock. The 2001 bike I rode was surprisingly smooth (for a big single) at highway speeds, and yet this close cousin rattles me enough to make cruising downright irritating. Just a bad sample then? The SM610 also fails to leave an impression in terms of top speed. It does climb to 90 at a nice rate, but from then on it piles up the MPHs rather slowly . . . touching 100 eventually. Not bad, but I have seen better top speeds from softer tuned singles like BMW’s 650 and Yamaha’s 660. The short gearing might have something to do with it, but in any case, with nil wind protection, stepping down to 80-85 as a cruising speed makes much more sense.

After my first stint, I leave the SM610 in my underground parking space while feeling slightly disappointed. I have some plans for the weekend though: meet my photographer early on Saturday and then take the bike to real twisties some 120 kilometers from Milan. But with that 7” inch wide foam strip called a seat, there is no way I’ll be riding the SM all the way up there, I’m towing her on my trailer!

Early the next day, I start my usual passes for my cameraman, but he is not that happy and neither am I. The tall and lanky SM hasn’t yet inspired the confidence needed to throw it about the way I should. It’s easy enough to flick, but not to lean it down low. Time to move on. We load the bike on the trailer and I have an hour or two to think about it while driving. Is it me? For whatever reason, I don’t get on with the SM610 at this point. My head is full of thoughts while I unload the bike at the next stop. I put on my gear, start the engine and as soon as I hit the first bend on my way up to Zubiena there’s a massive change in the plot.

Vibration? Hard Seat? Limited top speed? Who cares? It’s as if my earlier miles on the 610 never happened! Within minutes the Husky and I are like two old friends with a common obsession: Devilishly bendy roads and the curvier the better. On this crazy strip of tarmac, with hardly any straight bits to speak of, with speeds ranging between 30-60 mph, the SM610 is bliss, pure gold. The puzzle bits that didn’t fit before become one now, and why not start with that peach of an engine. On plain, straight and open roads it didn’t impress, but here the amazing throttle response of the Mikuni EFI system and the perfect gear spacing work flawlessly with the flatish torque curve. Right, the SM610 will not leave you gasping for air with its acceleration, but there is always plenty of available drive that’s accompanied by a raucous bark from that booming silencer. Blipping the throttle while downshifting for turns produces another great soundtrack that puts me in just the right mood. This fuel-injected single is so much more lively than its carburated predecessor. Need to brake rather than accelerate? The Brembo setup at the front end is superb, which supplies stoppie-inducing power with plenty of feel and no fade whatsoever.

My next few passes along this heavenly 10-mile stretch are now accompanied by an interesting sound mix: Big Thumper beats outside my helmet, plenty of oohh!!! and aahh!!! shouts within. Time to play footloose too, sending your inner leg forward doesn’t just look cool, it also loads the front wheel with more weight for better feel. As time passes, I discover that I can flick the SM later and later into apexes, way after the point that I’d use on a 600 supersport mount. The Husky just digs those last second inputs. Yep, this SM thing just begs you to ride like a little hooligan at times. I pull into the local biker cafe at the end of the road and park the SM610 next to a bunch of last-generation 600’s, and next to the lanky Husky they simply look wide and overweight. Who would have thought? Let’s not even talk about the porky GS1200 that was parked a bit further away…..

The day after, I take the SM610 to the snaking little road that goes from Andrate to Oropa. It links nowhere to nowhere and is totally empty. In this environment, the SM turns into a sharp surgeon’s scalpel and lets me dissect the road into tiny bits: braking strips, on & off-camber turns, take-off bumps and rear wheel lock-up slides. Fun stuff all around. The asphalt is far from being in good condition after this year’s heavy snows, and with any other bike, this road would require caution and prudence. The SM Husky takes it all in stride, the suspension swallowing the potholes with ease. Perhaps the rear adjustable shock could use a slightly stiffer damping setting? It does make the whole ride more controlled, but now the smaller bumps make themselves felt through the seat. It’s valving or shim stack just doesn’t feel as sophisticated as an Ohlins. The front fork, on the other hand, is quite good, even if it dives a bit much on heavy breaking.

I was hoping that the latest version of Husqvarna’s SM610 would be a good daily ride, but it’s not and to most riders it would mean a love/hate relationship. But for those Sunday morning hardcore nutters that dig foot-down cornering, wheelies, stoppies and pegs hissing above the tarmac, the Husky really delivers. Strangely enough, it lost the softer touch that I remembered from the 2001 version, but the new barking throttle response would be hard to trade away. Even more addictive than the motor is the way it drills through twisted tarmac. The super quick steering of the SM made my 750 streefighter feel very heavy by comparison. Ten years after it’s inception, the last incarnation of Husqvarna’s SM610 still supplies a unique kind of raw riding experience.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • This was one of the best motocycle reviews, or indeed consumer product reviews, I’ve read. Usually flaws are glossed over in a blizzard of best this and lightest that or some other kind of gobbledygook. This review was crisp, focused and really gave the reader an impression of what this bike is about – and what it’s not. Christian
  • Excellent! You reported exactly the process I went through after falling for and buying an SM510 a few years back. For awhile I commuted to work over a stretch of highway and told everyone it felt like a chainsaw ripping up my cheeks (the Husqvarna tie-in, get it?), then put a 610 rack on the tail and putted about like an old lady gone shopping, but finally figured it all out in downtown San Diego.

    The niche you found for the SM was weekend twisties. I used to do that back in the day, but lately hadn’t straddled a bike except to cross state lines. The niche I found for my SM was that of the café racer. Literally, from downtown café to downtown café. Rectangular street grids are made for this bike – push the bike down by the bars and run the corners. If the rear breaks loose it’ll hook up again and you’ve given the rubes a show. Ride it like a dirt bike. On my bike at least, the gearing is perfect for powering out of corners and lifting the front. And as you noted (and demonstrated), the front disk wants to do stoppies.

    I’ve never ridden a SM610. The racers down at GP Motorcycles told me I’d regret choosing it over the 510, and proceded to sell me the 510 they’d raced for a year and rebuilt. I’m an old man and it’s a hard bike. But there’s nothing like a hard bike and too much caffiene to make an old man laugh like an idiot.

    Thanks for the review. Don