• From Leather to Barbour Suit

    By Kenneth Olausson

    When motorcycling was young, people took part in ‘reliability tests’ in order to prove themselves. A little over a hundred years ago, the International Six Days Trial was born. Husqvarna joined the games in 1922 and were successful at their first international event. In the 1950s, the Six-Days evolved into the Olympics of motorcycling. Here's when and how Husqvarna joined the movement of adventures.

    When the Swedish solo riders Gustaf Göthe, Bernhard Malmberg and David Senning each won gold medals aboard their Husqvarnas back in 1922, Sweden was put on the international two-wheel map. They came third at the fourth ISDT and gained the opportunity to organise the event on home ground the following year. Sweden said ‘thank you’ by winning the international trophy at this gruelling International Six Days Trial event, which was run under challenging conditions. The Husqvarna name was now already mentioned with awe on the continent.

    Thirty years later the riders had changed from wearing miserable leather gear to riding in effective Barbour suit protection. The ‘reliability tests’ had grown in popularity and offroad racing surged immensely in the early days of the 50s. It was a relatively cheap way of competing and most people could afford this kind of racing. The rewards often consisted of honour and trophies since there was little prize money involved in offroad competition at that stage. But it was a popular sport and got people involved in motoring.

    In the period before 1960, the international scene was mostly dominated by the Brits, but the German and Czech offroad riders were also very good. Besides being successful in the ISDT during this era, they also enjoyed good racing equipment in their respective countries. In Sweden, Husqvarna started to manufacture the ‘Dream Machine’ in 1953. This 175cc production motorcycle had an international design and stylish flair, incorporating a stamped-steel frame, dual exhaust pipes and effective front forks. In its first year of competition, the ‘Dream Machine’ won at several important venues and received accolades wherever the bike turned up. In the national 1953 Motoring Six-Days, a nine-man strong Husqvarna team captured seven gold and two bronze medals - talk about superiority!

    The ISDT was held in Czechoslovakia that year and the 281 Sports model, the Dream Machine, was very successful as the Swedish riders won six gold, one silver and two bronze medals. The only modifications to the production version were a revised rear suspension, sawed-off edges of the mud-guards, exchange of the handlebars and a switch to offroad tires. You could also note that a tubular cage was mounted to protect the head-lamp from impact. Consider a 115-kilogram beast with a nine-horsepower power band and you quickly understand that this machine made no thunder in the woods. But the machine was close to production standards and this impressed people in the trade. But despite good and reliable racing results, the Dream Machine never met any great popularity on the market among the young people. The performance was unimpressive and most of the youth now had their eyes set on buying a comfortable car for transport. So, Husqvarna had to come up with new ideas to indulge their future customers.

    Since the Dream Machine never sold to expectations, a new motorcycle was introduced in January 1955, stealing the name ‘Silver Arrow’ from Mercedes’ successful four-wheeled racers. This newcomer had a three-speed 175cc two-stroke engine and the correct styling, which tempted youngsters to become motorcyclists. The model name consisted of the three tiny figures 282 and according to Swedish law, the machine had a weight less than 75 kilos, which was the legal figure for a lightweight bike. But the law was counter-productive as Husqvarna was forced to use inferior components to reach the weight limit. Consequently, the factory used two-ply tires, under-dimensioned brakes, a frame that was not up to standards for this engine and finally front forks that were like rubber bands with poor damping characteristics. The single-exhaust system trimmed weight. However, there was a later Sports model which used double pipes. With some minor modifications however, the Silver Arrow was a perfect competition machine. The front forks would be exchanged for leading links with rubber - in Sweden named ‘Earls-forks’. The rear frame was modified to accommodate more vertical shock absorbers and during the coming years, there were numerous accessories to update this motorcycle. The engine was also updated with well-tuned cylinders and new exhaust pipes – always popular among riders looking for better performance.

    If you wanted to compete in offroad races during the 50s, there were no ready-built racing Husqvarnas to buy from your dealer. Everyone relied on their skills to convert a  Arrow to competition standards as best as they could. However, the sport to ride fast in the woods continued to grow and Husqvarna had to react in order to not lose out to their competitors. In 1957 the factory ordered a batch of 200cc cylinders from the German manufacturer Müller. It led to further developments with the two-stroke engine, which in pair with the new leading-link front forks worked very well. In June 1958, Husqvarna had achieved their very first 250cc competition machine. To the delight of Rolf Tibblin and Torsten Hallman, these bikes were competitive and the two of them won many important offroad events such as the famous ‘Novemberkasan’. There were also a number of international successes for these fine riders, who one day both would become motocross world champions. And the Silver Arrow was a tremendous success in the motorcycle industry with respectable production and sales figures.

    Once again, Husqvarna became famous on the international scene.