Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 & Svartpilen 401: Stockholm Syndrome
How’s this for a pair of singles: the Svartpilen 401, or Black Arrow, and Vitpilen 701, or Silver Arrow. Never before have I ridden such statements of industrial design. Husqvarna says its designers wanted to challenge the status quo and I reckon they’ve achieved that through simple, sculpted surfaces and clean, well-defined lines. It’s motorcycling meets Scandinavian design. Whaddiyareckon, Sven?
The Svartpilen 401 is a lot of fun – it’s a revvy, buzzy motor in a flickable, nimble package – but I can’t stop thinking about its donor bike, the KTM 390 Duke. I want more to justify the Svartpilen’s $10,495 price tag (plus on-road costs), but that’s only because I’ve ridden the $3200-cheaper Duke (from $6995).
That’s a good point because the 390 Duke gets the TFT colour dash, which is far more upmarket – and more legible – than the Husky’s.
But have a look at the Vitpilen 701. Hats off to Husqvarna for having the creativity and courage to bring such an amazing-looking bike to market.
It’s such a unique design, which might be polarising for some. Would they actually pay $18,337 (rideaway) for one? For a single-cylinder bike, I’m not sure. But they should because, as we found out, it’s an absolute hoot. I think it comes back to that ‘less is more’ approach.
From a mechanical point of view, they’re stripped of the unnecessary, back to the essence of motorcycling.
I haven’t smiled this much on a day’s ride in a long time. When we were cruising along in sixth at 110-120km/h, the 701 was sitting on about 5000-6000rpm going ‘bop, bop, bop, bop’. It’s such a visceral feeling.
Speaking of feeling, how’s your bum?
Yeah, the 401’s seat is firmish, but the riding position is very upright with an open cockpit for a small bike, and the suspension is very plush. At times I thought it was undersprung, but when we were pushing it through the corners it seemed to handle it fine – very much like the KTM 390 Duke.
The Vitpilen 701 to me felt a tad firm, but the WP suspension is fully adjustable and I like the fact that there’s a sticker under the seat with recommended settings for Standard, Comfort and Sport.
Could that be to do with our weight difference? I didn’t find it too firm.
Probably. In any case, the 701’s ride isn’t to the point of being harsh. And besides, a soft ride wouldn’t suit the bike’s sharp edges. I love the styling of the Vitpilen 701, even the design of the standard muffler, but it’s too quiet.
The attention to detail on both bikes is incredible – the more you look, the more you find.
The switchblocks aren’t the same semi-faded black plastic of the KTM and the switchgear is backlit, which is handy at night. Nothing’s rough around the edges, and that’s probably also why they aren’t cheap motorcycles. But that dash … as good as it looks and as functional as it may be, it’s not easy to read on the move and can reflect like a mirror.
Agreed. Unsurprisingly, the Svartpilen 401’s suspension is non-adjustable, but I don’t think it needs to be. We were flicking it through the twisties at speed and, sure, it’s plush, but it held up – it never bottomed out, the rear didn’t sag or force me to run wide. It delivers what it needs to.
A lot of fork dive, though.
True, which you get with road bikes with longer-travel suspension (142/150mm front/rear). The 401’s ‘ByBre’ front brake has a lot more initial bite whereas the Vitpilen 701 has a Brembo monobloc caliper matched to a Brembo radial master cylinder, yet it doesn’t have half the bite.
I found myself using a fair amount of rear brake to stretch out the Svartpilen 401 and help keep the rear squat.
Me too, just like my Buell Lightning: a little bit of rear brake before applying the front as you corner to balance the bike longitudinally. What must be commended for a big-bore single is the lack of vibration. Sitting at highway speeds, it’s not long before your hands are tingling, but I didn’t get any of that. Really impressive.
I didn’t have a numb bum or sore wrists either and we did quite a few kays. They’re both deceivingly comfortable, despite their skinny-looking seats.
It took me a little while to get used to the Svartpilen’s upswept tracker ’bars – you can’t help but ride with your elbows out. The Vitpilen changes direction with incredible nimbleness, undoubtedly helped by the sensible 160-section rear tyre, which is nice to see for once. There’s no steering damper, but there’s not the slightest sense of instability whatsoever. Even over high-speed bumps. It begs you to put more load on the inside of the tyre and tip in harder through the corners.
They’re very confidence-inspiring – especially the Vitpilen 701 – for that reason.
Coming back to the smile, we were riding medium-tight roads at speeds only marginally above road-legal yet we were having such a blast. Had we been going through there on a 1000cc naked or sportsbike, to get that same buzz, you’d have to be going a helluva lot faster.
Top speed on the Svartpilen 401 was around 178km/h, which is bloody quick, but that’s all it’s got. That’s only second gear on a 1000. It just goes to show how little you actually need to enjoy your riding. It also improves your riding finesse because everything needs to be more accurate: your corning lines, braking points and gear selection.
If you go into a corner in the wrong gear on the 401, you need to flick down a cog. But I was surprised by how low in the rev range you can go on the 701. Even from 2500rpm, it really tractors out of corners.
It reminded me of riding a 300 on a tight and twisting circuit like Broadford – you have to be a lot more precise, but it rewards you.
I didn’t miss not having a quickshifter on the 401, maybe because it feels like a motard. The 701’s two-way quickshifter, on the other hand, is faultless, and if you want to use the clutch, it’s a hydraulic unit so it’s very light. For the amount of torque the 401 produces, I’m surprised by how little engine braking it has, and it revs up quickly as you click through the gears.
In these two bikes, Husqvarna is on a winner. But wait, there’s more! There’s also the Vitpilen 401 ($10,495), the recently unveiled Vitpilen 401 Aero (with a bikini fairing) and Svartpilen 701 (see breakout, left), which are different again.
They’re definitely on a winner, but it just comes back to justifying the price for a single-cylinder. The specs don’t grab you, but it just goes to show there’s so much more to a bike than a spec sheet. A single-cylinder engine is as basic as it gets, but the fun they produce is incredible.
At first I thought customers were being robbed by not getting the bigger, more powerful 799cc parallel twin from KTM’s recently released 790 Duke. After our time riding it, though, that’s definitely not the case.
Singles are the ultimate machines for good reason: the fun, the character and power they produce is so different to a multi-cylinder engine. On your favourite twisty scratch road, the 701 would keep any naked or sportsbike honest. You could shame them in the corners.
It’s got a fraction of the power, which means you’d be lucky to go through a set of tyres every two years no matter how hard you rode it. It’s all about momentum and corner speed, and that’s their strong point. Unfortunately, though, there are so many people who’d turn their nose up at a single-cylinder as if it’s beneath them.
But they’re missing out. They’d have a different opinion if they actually tried it.
I’d love to see a proper adventure pair of the 401 and 701s. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they see the light of day. That’s unless Husqvarna gives it the parallel twin to mimic the KTM 790 Adventure R, which arrives in June.
In the meantime, the Svartpilen is as dirty as it gets but, for all its purposeful dirty-going demeanour, it’s a shame the ABS can’t be disengaged. It should really have the 390 Duke’s switchable ABS, which has a Supermoto mode to lock the rear.
Modes are few, with traction control easy to disengage on the 701. Do you need to switch ABS off on the 701? Probably not, but it’d be nice.
As impractical as the 701 looks, it’s amazing how practical it is to ride. Throttle connection on both bikes is very good too, which is quite a feat for a big single.
I compliment the 701 more because it’s hard to get a smooth throttle connection and fuel application with big singles, which tend to hunt. The 701 hasn’t the slightest inclination.
Fuel capacity is modest, though – 12 litres for the Vitpilen 701 (and 401) and 9.5L for the Svartpilen 401 (701 12L) and the tank is beneath the seat for a nice low centre of gravity.
They’re not going to chew through fuel. I saw a distance-to-empty range of 270km which, for a bike like this, is plenty.
My only criticisms are the near-silent pipes (which can easily be fixed), the sun glare from the dash (which cannot be as easily fixed) and the dicky- looking mirrors, which spoil their looks so badly we ripped them off for this photoshoot. So stretch the budget for bar-end mirrors and an Akrapovic pipe.
I also found the 701’s clutch lever a bit short and could only reach it with two fingers. Gearing on the 701 is quite tall, too. Most will be ridden in and around town, but the gearing on each is too close and more like a dirt bike’s. That engine has oodles of torque, so it could’ve had much wider ratios.
The Svartpilen is the pick for city work for its easy ergonomics, punchy gutter-hopping suspension and nice, tight turning circle. But I reckon performance, lower gearing, soft if we only rode the 401 here, we’d be loving it even more. It’s just that it’s been overshadowed by the Vitpilen 701, which is next-level. I wonder how the two 701s will compare.
I’m pleased to see a major manufacturer produce a big single with the performance and handling to backs up its looks. It doesn’t leave you disappointed. I can’t believe how much fun they were; how much fun we’ve had. This is a reoccurring theme with small-capacity bikes, but there’s nothing like a single to take it to the next level of enjoyment.
For that very reason, these felt like trials bikes as being like tuning forks to show up your strengths and weaknesses.
There’s no sense of missing out, even for the experienced rider. On your favourite scratching road, the Vitpilen 701 is going to highlight your weaknesses very quickly. If you’re braking too early, getting on the gas too late – a 200hp bike masks all that. It’s all about carrying that momentum, smooth braking, smooth throttle application. This is going to improve your riding.
Thanks to its geometry and skinny tyres, the Vitpilen is very well balanced with so much agility and stability. And that’s hard to find. If you threw 150hp at the package, you’d spoil it.
The more we ride and talk about them, the more I love them.
I love that 701. It’s made a massive impact on me. It’s absolute horn. Well done, Husqvarna.]