For Husqvarna, this journey of making things that count began way, way back in 1689. Founded in the Swedish town of Huskvarna, they originally began producing muskets for the Swedish army. In fact, their logo is still an H with a set of gun sights on top of it! Their march towards domination of the off-road motorcycle racing world wouldn’t take place until well into the mid-1950s when a new form of racing known as “Motor - Cross” (today known as “Motocross”) was taking over post World War II Europe.
At the core of their growth and dominance was the 250CC off-road motorcycle. Later known as the CR 250, it was simple, durable, and fast. We can’t wait to tell you all about this amazing machine:
- Emergence Of Motocross
- 250 CC Husky Dominance
- Birth Of The CR 250
Emergence Of Motocross
Although the United States is absolutely ground - zero for all things motocross today, its origins can be traced all the way back to the early 1900s United Kingdom. Originally planned as time trials, these events eventually gave way to all-out races that pitted man against man, and machine against the machine for an all-out sprint to the finish. These crazy races became known as “Hare Scrambles”, divulged from the rabbit hunting spectacles of the era where hounds and hunters would run through muddy fields after game. The first official scramble took place in Surrey in 1924. Eventually, scrambles gave way to the term “motocross” which was a newly created word that combined the French word “motocyclette” with the more commonly known “cross country”.
By the 1930s, popularity was growing throughout the countryside, and teams from Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), Norton, Matchless, Rudge, and AJS dominated the circuits. Innovations such as a forked front suspension, and lightweight yet powerful engines allowed this unique sport to blossom into a phenomenon throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Post World II, motorcycle popularity and production were both at a fever pitch throughout Europe, and various road racing and off-road style events were starting to gain credibility. In 1952 the FIM (motorcycles official governing body) officially recognized Motocross and creates the World Championship in 1957.
Let’s just be frank here: Early on, Husqvarna dominated the motocross circuit throughout Europe, but how did it get there? Starting off as a bicycle manufacturer, Husky built their first motorized bicycle in 1903 and by 1939, they were the largest motorcycle manufacturer in Sweden. Although the first bikes were powered by engines produced by other manufacturers, in 1920, Husky began producing a 550 cc four-stroke 50-degree side-valve V-twin engine (similar to ones in Triumph and Harley - Davidson). Their motorcycles would go on to beat dominant teams like Norton until the factory pulled back racing efforts in 1935.
Once motocross became popular in Europe, Husky began to shift focus to lightweight racing bikes built off their commuter style 2 stroke engine, and strong lightweight frame.
In 1955, Husky dropped the “Silverpilen” on the world which combined an incredibly lightweight (75 KG) frame with a powerful 175 CC engine and key innovations like telescoping front forks and a hydraulically dampened rear suspension that was designed to rip off-road. Entering into the late 1950s, the first 250 CC models from Husky (based on the Silverpilen) began to dominate the motocross circuits across Europe. 250 CC, 2 stroke bikes easily eclipsed their 4 stroke counterparts due to rapid developments in both engine power and lightweight construction.
How dominant were the 250 CC Husqvarna bikes in these years? Names like Rolf Tibblin, Bill Nilsson, and Torsten Hallman rode Husky motorcycles to a staggering number of victories:
- 1959 – Rolf Tibblin, European Motocross Champion, 250 cc class.
- 1962 – Torsten Hallman, Motocross World Champion, 250 cc class.
- 1963 – Torsten Hallman, Motocross World Champion, 250 cc class.
- 1966 – Torsten Hallman, Motocross World Champion, 250 cc class.
- 1967 – Torsten Hallman, Motocross World Champion, 250 cc class.
- 1967 – J.N. Roberts, Malcolm Smith
- 1969 – Gunnar Nilsson, J.N. Roberts
- 1971 – Malcolm Smith, Gunnar Nilsson
- 1972 – Gunnar Nilsson, Rolf Tibblin
- 1973 – Mitch Mayes, A.C. Bakken
Unique elements to the CR were a magnesium crankcase (often leading to these being called “Mag”s) and a reed valve induction system.
Birth Of The CR 250
1970 Husky CR 250
1966 saw the very first motocross race in the United States, and within a few short years, enthusiasm for this new motorsport had taken over suburban cities all over the United States. To capitalize on the popularity of this new sport, Husqvarna entered the United States market with a variety of bikes, including the CR 250. Built from 1965 to 1983 and displacing 250 CC; the CR (Close Ratio) 250 motorcycle rolled in much of the technology from the dominant ’60s and ’70s and fitted it to a small, lightweight bike that was designed to compete in motocross events with a ripping close-ratio, 5-speed gearbox. Although sales numbers are a bit murky today, in general, these were well-loved bikes that had many fans all over the globe.
Check out this original cut sheet from the 1974 CR 250’s brochure:
The AMA (American Motorcycle Association) officially sanctioned events in 1972, and almost immediately, the series was dominated by Japanese manufacturers like Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha. Although the 250 CC had dominated Europe for so many years, the Japanese manufacturers quickly beat Husky at their own game and a cut-rate price (10% to 20% cheaper than the venerable Husky CR 250). Even though they were competitive in other venues like Enduro, Husqvarna never quite lived up to their 1960’s and 1970’s motocross dominance in the prime of the motocross era. This doesn’t mean they didn’t compete, and that they didn’t have their fans but they were simply no longer dominant.
What can never be denied is the absolute influence of the 250CC class Husqvarna motorcycles and their predecessors (like the 1955 Silverpilen) which brought innovations like a hydraulically suspended rear suspension and telescoping front suspension to the mainstream. Without these simple innovations (that were far from simple at the time) motocross would have not blossomed into the phenomenon that it is today.