Husqvarna's SM510R is a supermotard in the simplest sense of the word, a big four-stroke enduro race bike with 17" wheels, street tyres, hellacious brakes and the bare minimum of concessions to legality.

It has lights, mirrors and a hooter but the speedo is a digital pod no bigger than a wristwatch and there's no ignition key; don't ever park the big Husky where you can't see it unless it's behind a lock.

So what's it about, this rude, vibratious, noisy, uncomfortable so-called street bike?

It's about control, that's what, from the most precise throttle response I've experienced on a carburettor-fed bike through wide, low handlebars that give pinpoint, predictable steering, to top-drawer brakes capable of precise, planned stoppies.

It'll bring out the hooligan in you simply because it does all that nasty stuff so easily. The front wheel comes up just about automatically in the first two gears - as high as you want.

A dab on the firm, progressive rear brake going into a corner will step out the rear wheel just enough that everyone can see it without making you feel like you're about to lose the plot. The SM510R is one of the most forgiving bikes I've ever ridden and at the same time one of the most demanding.

It's just no fun to ride slowly.

Let's start with the engine, a compact, busy-looking lump with lots of external plumbing. It has an impressively large Kehin FCR 41mm carb rather than fashionable fuel-injection, two overhead camshafts and four titanium valves to reduce reciprocating mass.

Its maker claims 45kW but isn't saying at what revs; it feeds huge gobs of slightly jerky torque through a conventional but rather grabby clutch and slick six-speed gearbox with a short, positive action that lends itself to clutchless changes in both directions.

The gearlever, however, is short and has a motocross-style folding tip that can sometimes slide off the toe of a street-riding boot; this is not a box you can shift on autopilot - you need to focus on what you're doing to avoid the occasional missed shift.

There's some power-thudding at low revs - up to about 50km/h in top - and the engine begins to feel and sound harsh around 120km/h; the SM510R vibrates enough that you're always aware of it throughout the rev range.

It runs sweetest at around 90-95km/h but will pull up to 145km/h fast enough to surprise you if you're not used to competition bikes and top out at 162km/h after a fairly short run.


But it's far more satisfying to crack it wide open through the gears and surf the wave of torque, short-shifting to stay in the meat of the curve - that's about once every two seconds after third gear, which will take you over the national speed limit in considerably less time than it took you to read this sentence.

You'll also find yourself leaning forward as you wind up the twist-grip, partly to keep the front wheel from getting too light and partly just to stay aboard. This is in many ways a very physical bike.

It's also thirsty, notably so for a half-litre single when pushed hard. I took it over's standard test route, hooliganising all the way, and paid for it when the bike ran its 9.2-litre tank almost dry in 125km - that's 6.8 litres/100km.

The suspension is stiffer than on the corresponding TE510 enduro machine, of course, but still distinctly long and soft by sports-bike standards, especially in front.

This is not always a bad thing; the bike soaked up the worst of our bumpy test road at 105km/h where most race replicas will toss you out of the saddle at 80.

Quick steering

The extravagant nosedive the bike exhibits under hard braking steepens the steering head angle by a couple of degrees and makes the bike turn in even quicker.

Or, if you keep the handlebars straight and the four-pot Brembo front brake on hard, it pulls the most enjoyable, controllable, in-your-face stoppies you've ever done - you can stop within 15cm of the white line at the lights with the rear wheel half a metre in the air and put it down gently, under perfect control.

Doesn't half intimidate the GTI Joes in their hatchbacks.

Shaped for off-road

The plastic bodywork is narrow and flat, the seat stiff and thinly padded. It's shaped for off-road work, for sliding back on jumps and sitting well forward through a berm.

Nevertheless it works well on the street, adding to the machine's uncanny controllability - but it's not very comfortable. The seat is too narrow and too hard for touring but the SM510R will soak up as much hard riding as you can dish out.

The seating position also places the hands too far apart for comfort at moe than 130km/h and I was more comfortable during sustained hard riding with my feet on the pillion pegs - though that's not a recommended way to ride.

The tapered rear end of the double seat is in any case even harder than the front, fit for neither man nor beast - unless they're both tough and brave - despite the presence of slimline pillion grab handles.

Clever styling

The bike is unusually handsome, however, thanks to the clever use of red and black plastic components; Husqvarna's stylists have managed to avoid the slab-sided look of most liquid-cooled off-roaders where sides of the tank are extended to form radiator shrouds.

The SM510R's shrouds are separate elements, reaching down from the front of the fuel tank like the Nike tick and leaving the sculptured cylinder head on display.

The small, trapezoidal headlight nestles in a vestigial white flyscreen; its beam is very diffused, especially on high beam, and doesn't provide the crisp illumination we've come to expect from today's projector headlights.

Read your speed

The switchgear is plain and straightforward (other than an unusual pushbutton kill-switch) but the instrument pod will surprise you - once you find it.

No bigger than a large wristwatch, it has a three warning icons (indicator repeater, headlight and high beam but no neutral light) and a small LCD display for a handful of different functions including speed, odometer, two trip meters and a clock.

The display is, however, masked by the brake hose and clutch cable when the rider is sitting upright; you have to duck your head to read your speed.

But that's not what this bike is about; its precision of control allows you to ride by the seat of your pants, to put this bike exactly where you want while the upright seating position lets you look far enough ahead to plot the cleanest course through the urban minefield.

It's an inner-city hooligan tool for a control freak.

  • Test bike from MotoZone, Cape Town

    Price: R74 000.

    Husqvarna SM510R specifications