First Look: Husqvarna’s Vitpilen 701, a Motorcycle for Road Riders

Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
 Courtesy of Husqvarna


Irony is not dead after all, it turns out. As most of the world’s motorcycle makers scramble to conceive new models with desert-ready personas, one of the most revered names in off-road machines is rolling out a line of street-focused bikes. To newer riders, the name Husqvarna is probably linked more closely to chain saws and snow blowers than to fun transportation, but additions to the company’s 2018 model line are likely to change that.

The new road models carry the names Svartpilen and Vitpilen for Black Arrow and White Arrow. And like those opaque labels, the bikes’ singular styling defies simple translation; you’ll probably want to stick with “naked” to be safe. This much is certain: There are two variations, a 401 and a 701. Both are based on the single-cylinder foundation of cycles from KTM, which just happens to be the parent company. And they are lustworthy, products of the Austrian design shop Kiska, whose work is also seen on products from Audi, Adidas, and Zeiss.

Husqvarna motocross machines are longtime champions, of course, and road-legal bikes, including a brilliant 701 Supermoto, are hardly new to the catalog. But the latest bikes are considerable departures, both for Husqvarna and the market. The Svartpilen 401 and Vitpilen 401 were first unveiled as design studies in 2014, and the fresh line, including the Vitpilen 701, will be available in the United States in May. A Svartpilen 701, shown last fall at the EICMA trade show in Italy, remains a design concept for now.

The theme—what distinguishes the modern Huskies from almost anything now available—is the design theme of “reduced to the essence,” as Reinhold Zens, Husqvarna’s managing director, puts it. “It has what a modern bike must have, but remains uncomplicated.”

Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
Courtesy of Husqvarna

The spec sheets bear this philosophy of creating bikes that are nimble and narrow. The 401, following the auto industry’s “shared platform” strategy, picks up KTM’s liquid-cooled 373cc engine, which makes 43 horsepower. Husqvarna says the 401 weighs 326 pounds, competitive with entries in this displacement class from BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha (as well as the KTM 390 Duke). The Vitpilen and Svartpilen 401s use a sweeping body panel that serves as a tank cover and seat base. The main differences, beyond the color schemes, are found in their intended usage, with the ruggedized Svartpilen getting higher handlebars, gnarlier tires, and a two-piece seat, while the Vitpilen gets a tucked-in stance tilted toward the café racer ethos.

The 701 has a clearer path in the market, as it largely stands alone in being a pure road bike powered by a big single. Like the 401s, it’s based on KTM components, in this case borrowing the 75-horsepower single from the 690 Duke. Every bit of hardware is top-rung: a trellis frame of chrome-moly steel (and a swingarm with exposed gussets), Brembo brakes (with ABS), and a slipper clutch (to smooth out lurching downshifts).

Still, it’s the distinctive styling that sets the 346-pound 701 model apart—and promises to be its main draw. The striking headlight design starts with a traditional round shape, but leaps toward the future with an LED ring surrounding the beam. The gas tank enclosure bulges laterally like the 401, and copper-toned highlights offset the matte-silver finish of the bodywork. There’s little cover-up here: Mechanical details are proudly displayed and thoughtfully rendered, from the lollipop mirrors to the upswept muffler to the truncated tail.

Pricing has not been announced for the Vitpilen 701, but based on the 701 Supermoto, it should come in around $12,000. That’s definitely premium class, but then there’s not much in the way of competitors to cross-shop. “Our goal is to restore what was lost over time,” says Zens, referring to the bulk and technical complexity of other current motorcycles. But for Husqvarna it goes beyond the appeal of a single model line: “We’re offering another gateway to motorcycle culture.”