FACTORY TEST: MXGP Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s | Bike Reviews | Features
ADB's Paul Malin tests the Rockstar Energy Drink Husqvarna MXGP race bikes.
This feature was first published in ADB issue #461 – February 2018.
Words: Paul Malin
Since its arrival in MXGP in 2014, Husqvarna has quickly built a very impressive track record. Last season was its best, with two riders making it to the overall podium with Gautier Paulin and Thomas Kjer Olsen placing third in MXGP and MX2 respectively.
Of its three riders in MXGP, Paulin was a Husky newcomer and Max Anstie was a class rookie, while Max Nagl was the wet. After finishing third in MXGP in 2016, Nagl was joined by former MXGP runner-up Paulin and British rider Anstie.
Of those three riders, you have a tall one, the average one and a smaller one. All three have vastly different riding styles, none of them were of similar weight. For team manager Antti Pyrhönen, the off-season proved to be fairly interesting, particularly when it came to setting up the suspension and rider heights.
“Max Nagl is quite small and Gautier is bigger and heavier; he also likes his bike much harder and much higher than Nagl,” he said. “Max Anstie is in between them settings-wise and it was quite an interesting challenge … because our bike was heavily based on how Max Nagl was riding it in 2016 and he, of course, likes it very powerful, quite soft and quite low. And then we brought in Gautier who is a big guy and so we needed to change the bike quite a lot; balance wise, height wise and suspension wise.”
For Paulin, the WP suspension technicians started with a blank canvas and, since they can make whatever they want, set about creating the perfect fork for the Frenchman; they eventually came up with a fork leg that was about 1cm longer than Nagl and Anstie’s.
As well as the outer body being longer, the internals were too, with different size axle clamps as well. All three riders started the year on WP AER forks but Paulin and Nagl both reverted to springs at different stages of the season; for Nagl it was just before the French GP at Ernee, where he took a race win. For Paulin it was around Ottobiano. The difference between the two is vast, with Nagl opting for 4.5 springs while Paulin uses 4.9.
Anstie started with WP AER and, other than a change of clicks here and there, the Brit continued to use the same settings. In terms of Anstie’s set up it’s not straightforward trying to equate it with the Cone Valve forks. According to WP technician Serge Dijsselbloem: “It is a more complicated fork, with four chambers to control balance, compression and rebound pressure as well as preload”. However, if Anstie were to run a standard AER fork, he would run it at 10.3 bar.
The 52mm WP fork might look the same as at any point over the past 10 years, but there have been a few upgrades, including different valving, piston sizes and diameters. The down tubes are aluminium and are probably the most expensive part of the fork leg due to the hard coating that makes the alloy durable and resistant to stone chips that could ultimately damage the fork seals, but as a unit they are as strong and as stable as ever.
At the rear Nagl runs a titanium 42kg spring as opposed to the steel 42kg that Anstie prefers, and yes, you guessed it, for Paulin it is much stiffer, opting for a steel 48kg spring.
All riders use the WP Trax factory shock, a damper that was developed by WP and has now been 10 years in development.
As the newcomer to Husqvarna and tallest member of the squad, Paulin probably had the most work to do to get his bike the way he wanted it. Nagl’s ergonomics aside, it was clear what Paulin wanted from his engine; he wanted it to be powerful like Nagl’s, but with more controllability.
That’s exactly what he got. His overall set up is taller, but it was actually quite forgiving, and his power is right there when he needs it. You can ride it, or you can ride it hard. This bike does both very well.
When it comes to engine set up, every rider has their own preference; Paulin and Anstie have the same engine settings which are smoother than Nagl’s, whose engine has the most torque but they are still very similar.
In terms of gearing Anstie favours 14/49 compared to the 14/50 and 14/51 of Nagl and Paulin respectively so, in some ways, Anstie is still very much in tune with his 250 days, riding at higher revs and using all four gears. Maybe that will change as he becomes more used to the bigger bike, where second and third gear are the preferred gears of choice.
While the three bikes had similar power, you can feel both the obvious and the subtle differences. They all pull in an incredibly insane manner; these factory bikes just keep getting better and better. These three Huskies are absolute rocket ships.
Paulin’s bike was interesting. While it was fast in a straight line it just felt a little nervous coming into turns. Maybe it was because of his harder settings. As a MXGP racer he rides this thing to its limit; he is used to pushing the suspension far harder than we had the chance to on the test.
For him it would be stable, no doubt. For any of us who race or have raced, your overall set-up is based on how you race, not how you ride. Racing is always at 100 per cent and so how hard or soft your suspension is is determined by that. Paulin is tall, he is heavy. He also knows how to race a motorcycle with 100% commitment and his set up clearly reflects that. With the aggressive map, it was fierce. In smooth mode there was a noticeable difference but it was still pretty hardcore.
Anstie’s bike was a cheeky little diamond to ride, the engine was the easiest to manage; remember, we were riding the bikes how they ride them. It cornered well at Lommel and covered the ground as you would expect it to.
Entering turns felt nice and stable, maybe because of his settings, maybe because the overall set up and balance of the bike felt more comfortable, whereas Nagl’s wanted to dive as soon as you got off the gas but that is relative to his set-up, something that clearly works for him. Nagl’s power, though, it’s a wonder he still has normal-length arms.
Overall, it was difficult to pick a winner, but what was clear was the FC450 factory engine is phenomenally strong. It’s amazing to feel all the different personal touches that each rider has introduced that makes each bike their own. These bikes are unique to them.
At the end of the day these are their race bikes, only they can race them in the manner in which they are meant to be raced. Each set-up works for them individually but it’s great to be able to get a snap-shot of what makes these riders tick. In 2018 they will do it again where they will be hoping to win the ultimate prize in MXGP.