With all of the OEMs and just about every other company in the industry rooted in Southern California, it makes sense to introduce a new bike model in the same area. Straight and simple, it’s easier for everyone involved, but when the manufacturers roll out heavy changes, they want to escape the mundane. Kawasaki and Husqvarna did just that for their 2016 models and required roads less traveled by the testing crews from various publications.
With Kawasaki releasing a heavily revised KX450F and Husqvarna putting out four all-new motocross models, the decision was made to head east. A lot of industry members frequent the tracks of Southern California but never really get the opportunity to lay some roost down on some of the iconic tracks on the opposite coast. With Racer X based out of Morgantown, West Virginia, it meant the east coast crew got to step out from behind the desks for a change. With that said, we thought we’d give you a little insight into what happens behind the scenes of these new model launches. Don’t worry; we’ll have video reviews of the bikes coming next week.
Monday’s are typically the worst day of any week, but after serving our time in the office, Racer X Illustrated managing editor Andrew Fredrickson and I threw the bags in the truck and departed for a much anticipated journey to Washington D.C. We made it just in time for Husqvarna’s arrival dinner at the W Washington D.C. hotel just blocks away from the White House. Husqvarna’s media relations manager, Andy Jefferson, greeted us at the door and immediately called me out for wheeling in a Suzuki bag. I considered duct taping the logos but I thought they were too small to notice. Sorry, Andy. It’s all I had.
We head to the dining room and are met by a sea of people wearing Husqvarna shirts. We didn’t know anything about the new bikes leading up to the event, but judging by the upscale hotel and how many staff members were on hand, Andrew and I knew Husqvarna had plenty in store. Austrian-based staff members Paolo Carrubba and Oliver Gohring gave quick speeches before the meal, welcoming and thanking everyone for attending. We don’t get to see them much, but it’s always a pleasure.
The new model presentation followed the next morning and Husqvarna revealed completely new TC 125, FC 250, FC 350, and FC 450 models—quite a move for a company that underwent big changes just two years ago. After the presentation, everyone packed up and headed out to Budds Creek. About 30 bikes and three Husqvarna rigs—one of those being the Rockstar Husqvarna team rig—met us upon arrival. The race rig wasn’t there for show, either. Jason Anderson, Christophe Pourcel, Zach Osborne, and Martin Davalos were all there and took the track just as we walked up.
We found Rockstar’s global motocross manager, James Hanson, standing at the trackside fence basically drooling all over himself as he took in the whole scene. We recruited him as our own so he could transition from spectator to rider. We geared up and took the track, cycling through the models as quick as we could since it was a short one-day event. That proved to be quite the challenge. If you’ve ever been to a Budds Creek National, you know how hot and humid the place can be. Tuesday was no exception, and it was a constant battle to stay hydrated and cool throughout the day’s sweltering heat. James seemed to be doing all right, but with me being a desk jockey, well…
We wrapped up the day without experiencing any severe heat strokes and thanked everyone for having us out. Husqvarna is all about their brand heritage and that always gives a cool and unique vibe to all of their events, and the ’16 launch was no exception. We were scheduled to stay another night, but Andrew and I had to hightail it back to Morgantown. Racer X Online managing editor Chase Stallo was already at the arrival dinner for the 2016 Kawasaki Press Launch in Racer X’s hometown.
Kawasaki’s KX450F presentation was held in a private airplane hangar. Andrew and I were bummed we couldn’t make it in time for that one, but Chase was able to fly the Racer X flag for us. We then met everyone at High Point Wednesday morning for the first day of riding. It was at least 10 degrees cooler than it was at Budds, so that was certainly a relief. MotorRad and Race Awards’ Logan Martin joined us as our main test rider for the day. Him and I geared up and went over initial bike settings with our personal Kawasaki mechanic, Travis Murphy. Travis was on hand both days to see that the bike suited our needs and preferences, and he even had a specific map he made and tested for High Point the previous day.
We definitely got the factory treatment from Kawasaki. Aside from having our own personal mechanic, we were pitted under the Kawasaki rig’s awning not far Jeremy McGrath. Logan and I did our best to play it cool, but that’s not exactly easy when you have a private riding session with The King. He may be retired, but he was riding like he was fresh from the Washougal National and gearing up for Unadilla. Logan and I were now Wayne and Garth, and we weren’t worthy.
The dirt was pretty clumpy in the morning, so we got a good feel for the Showa SFF-TAC forks. The track crew dragged it during lunch and we ended up getting more of a dry, hard-pack track for the afternoon. A lot of the turns were slick on the inside with powdery berms lining the outer edge. The contrast in conditions allowed us to experiment with the various maps Kawasaki had on hand. The second day, however, held absolutely perfect conditions. I’ve never ridden a better High Point track before, and being just 15 minutes away, we’ve rode there a time or two.
We ended up getting rained out in the afternoon, so we packed up a little early and headed for the departure dinner. Kawasaki and the other manufacturers have done this enough to know what’s coming when you get a bunch of motocross guys together for the last night and all they have to do the next day is jump on a plane. With two straight days of having to be critical and dissect a new motorcycle, ambitions tend to steer the other way once it’s all wrapped up. We haven’t heard of anyone that missed their flight yet.
We’re pretty exhausted after the three straight days of riding and shooting. Emails and all of the regular office work have been piling up, but it’s all worth it. Husqvarna and Kawasaki put a lot of time and effort into the new models and subsequent media launches. Every detail from repositioning the crank by a few millimeters to having custom hotel room keys is covered, and it’s always great experience the end result.
Props to a promising 2016.