Husqvarna has certainly been willing to follow its own direction when it comes to styling the Svartpilen and Vitpilen models. So much so that many motorcycle enthusiasts will overlook the appealing riding dynamics of the powerful single-cylinder machines. It’s a shame … no, really, it is. Read on.
First, a bit about that controversial styling. Husqvarna has its roots in Sweden, a society known for its affinity to sparse, minimalistic designs. The four new models, including the Svartpilen 701 and 401, along with the Vitpilen 701 and 401, are, according to Husqvarna, intended to “challenge all current design trends and use a clean, smart and less complicated way of creating a motorcycle.” The simplicity and purity of the look is intended to carry over to the riding experience provided by these extremely lightweight singles (the Svartpilen 701 is claimed to be 349 pounds dry).
We have already tested the sibling of the subject of this review, the Vitpilen 701 with its café racer ergonomics, and came away impressed. The motor in both bikes is a gem, and is shared with a third model we have tested, the KTM 690 SMC R.
That engine is a 693cc single that is smooth (excellent use of counter-balancers), full of all the single-cylinder character you could ask for, and blessed with near perfect throttle response. It also makes huge power for a single … a claimed 75 HP at the crank, and 53 pound/feet of torque.
Sharing the chrome-moly trellis frame with the Vitpilen, the Svartpilen 701 gets unique, longer travel suspension (5.9″, front and rear), including a fully adjustable 43mm WP fork (thumb operated compression and rebound adjustment sit on top of each fork leg, allowing the rider to make changes on the fly). The rear shock is adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping.
The high quality suspension is matched by an excellent four-piston Brembo front caliper that operates on a single 320mm front disc for strong, controlled braking. Those brakes, and everything else, operate through the contact patches beneath 17″ rear and 18″ front Pirelli MT 60 RS tires, which have a semi-knobby pattern befitting the scrambler ethos of the Svartpilen.
The ergonomics of the Svartpilen are much more comfortable than the Vitpilen. The rider sits upright, as if on a dirt bike, with decent legroom. The seat looks impossibly thin, but proves comfortable and supportive. The reach is adjustable to both the clutch and brake levers.
Pulling away from a stop on the Svartpilen reveals a smooth, broad spread of torque combined with good top-end power. The distinct thump of the big single piston beneath you is combined with an almost eerie, unexpected smoothness.
As you start to rip off upshifts, the quality of the quick-shifter impresses. The clutch is rarely needed while riding.
From a near bolt upright position, the rider is surprised by the playful, nimble character of the 701. Together with the awesome motor, it made this author think about a natural, thorough progression (more than an evolution) of the sensations brought by riding a big British single from 50 years ago. The essence of motorcycling … sort of like Husqvarna’s tag line for the Svartpilen 701.
Dismiss these thoughts as reckless hyperbole, if you will, but I stand by them. I was less than 5 minutes into my ride home from Husqvarna headquarters when I fell in love with the Svartpilen 701. Granted, I have ridden every type of motorcycle, from supercharged Kawasakis with mind boggling acceleration to the Honda Grom, and I am far removed from the need to judge motorcycles by their outright horsepower, power-to-weight ratio … or even their aesthetic beauty. There is really one issue for me these days … how does it make me feel when I ride?
The scrambler-style Pirellis grip surprisingly well on the street. Indeed, we were surprised by the street cornering grip of the Ducati Scrambler 1100 with the same tires. When you get the balance right (we added 1 click of preload to the rear shock) the Svartpilen turns in with little effort, and allows you to precisely hit the apex and get on the gas early on the exit of corners. It has nearly the flickability of a Kawasaki Z400, but far more power, better brakes and suspension (that all comes with the price tag – see below).
The suspension is both supple and firm, with the slightly longer travel (5.9″, as stated earlier) dialed in nicely. It is far from sloppy, unlike some longer travel bikes can be on the street. Stiction, in the fork particularly, is very low, and the suspension components just exude a quality feel.
The front brake has enough power to save you when you enter a corner faster than expected, or need to make a panic stop, but still offers good modulation and feel.
The cornering is aided, of course, by the wide handlebar and the leverage it provides. The seating position places the rider’s weight almost ideally for both aggressive corner carving and straight line cruising. The rider rarely feels the need to shift weight forward or backward to suit the conditions.
As we said earlier, we were very pleased with the performance of the quick-shifter. The only problem we encountered was catching a false neutral between second and third, on occasion, which we attribute to the as-delivered positioning of the shift lever (it needed to be lowered, slightly). Quick-shifters keep getting better, and the Svartpilen has one of the best currently available. The six-speed transmission offers a good range of gear choices, and highway cruising occurs at a comfortable rpm level in sixth gear.
The Svartpilen 701 has the power to run with bigger bikes during group rides. The sport bikes may walk away from you on the straightaways (although, not as quickly as you expect), but you can easily make up for it on the brakes and through the corners. This motor provides more usable power than any single cylinder engine we have previously sampled, and highway cruising at elevated speeds doesn’t cause it to break a sweat.
Disappointments are few. First and foremost, in an age where TFT displays are becoming relatively common, the Svartpilen 701 has a dull, low contrast instrument display. Also, given the core abilities of the bike, we would love to see higher quality street rubber replace the dual sport tires, which are, to some extent, a fashion statement for riders who will never truly need their capabilities off-road.
At an U.S. MSRP of $11,999, many potential buyers will balk at the cost of this bike, admittedly a single-cylinder intended to be simple and unpretentious. But the “simple and unpretentious” aspect is really the whole point of this bike, isn’t it?
Take a look at Husqvarna’s web site for additional details and specifications. We will have a follow-up story after further riding.
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