I don’t like the expression, “It’ll grow on you.” You’ll hear it when someone who likes something that you don’t, tries to force their appreciation of it onto you. Well, fungus can “grow on you,” and that’s really not something I’m keen on experiencing.
I wasn’t fond of the 2019 Husqvarna Svartpilen 701’s styling when I first saw it in pictures, but nothing had to grow on me to appreciate its bold design once I saw it in the metal. It looks really cool in three dimensions. As a bonus, it backs its unique styling with excellent performance. I came here to Lisbon to ride the Svartpilen at its international media launch.
LISBON, Portugal–Svartpilen doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it translates to “black arrow” in Swedish. So now you know.
You should also know that beneath its bold bodywork — in which you’ll see hints of naked bike, dirt tracker, and Mad Max — is a tweaked KTM 690 Duke. And that’s a very good thing.
Unless you’ve been tied up in a basement getting accosted by The Gimp for the last few years, you should know that KTM acquired Husqvarna Motorcycles in 2013. That collaboration has resulted in several street-oriented, KTM-based Huskies, including the Svartpilen.
What is it?
KTM’s 692 cc liquid-cooled single is the most powerful production single ever made — by anyone. It claims 75 horsepower and 53 lbs.-ft. of torque. That’s about the same horsepower as Suzuki’s SV650 V-twin, with about 8 lbs.-ft. more torque. The engine has two counterbalancers: one counters crankshaft vibration, and another in the cylinder head does the same for the valvetrain.
While the frame and swingarm are the same as on the KTM 690 Duke, other chassis components are not. Unlike the Duke’s WP suspension, which is adjustable only for rear preload, the Svartpilen is equipped with higher-spec WP components; the 43 mm inverted fork and single shock are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, with the shock also benefiting from adjustable spring preload. There’s also 15 mm more suspension travel on the Svartpilen, at 150 mm front and rear.
Other chassis changes include a more upright riding position than both the Duke and the Svart’s sibling, the Vitpilen (“white arrow” … huh). An 18-inch front wheel takes the place of the 17-incher on those two bikes. The Vitpilen’s chassis geometry is identical to the Duke, and it has a more masochistic, high-peg, low-bar riding position than the Svartpilen.
The Svartpilen is rather svelte, tipping the scales at 158.5 kg (349 lb) dry, or about 164 kg (362 lb) full of fuel and oil. Traction control is standard on the Svartpilen, whereas it was part of an optional track package on the Duke. It also has an electric quick shifter, though it only works on the upshift. ABS is also standard, and like the traction control, it can be turned off.
Being smart on the Svart
I have to admit that the most exciting press launches I’ve attended have been the ones where the hired route guide rides like he’s trying to escape from the group under his charge. That was the case on this ride.
I followed the lead rider, a local guy, out of the parking lot, and after a brief wait at a traffic light he took off between cars as if he’d just done over a convenience store. Lane splitting and filtering is the norm in Europe, but this was some extreme shit.
The rolling slalom between cars really emphasised the Svartpilen’s nimble handling, slender framework, and torquey engine. The six-speed gearbox shifted with a feathery touch, though I mostly used the clutch in town because it provided smoother gear changes. Using the quick-shifter increased the effort at the shifter, and in town the shifter was slapped around like a dominatrix slaps her slave [Hmmm, seems to be a theme here – Ed.].
Once we got on the highway the speeds increased, and the Svartpilen easily maintained 160 km/h without straining (note that highway traffic in Portugal moves along at about 130 km/h, sometimes faster). While the engine is mostly smooth and revs to 8,000 rpm, some buzzing does transfer through the seat at higher speeds above 6,000 rpm, and the mirrors blur.
The ride only got better when we hit the winding mountain roads north of Cascais. The wide handlebar provides lots of leverage for manoeuvring tighter bends, without inducing a weave through faster sweepers. Rolling on the gas between turns is a blast on this bike, as it lunges forward regardless of the selected gear. Because of the engine’s broad powerband, shifting is mostly optional.
The suspension really impressed me. Usually naked-bike suspension is tuned almost supersport-stiff, which while returning exceptional handling, takes a toll on rider comfort. The Svartpilen has what I’d consider Canada-approved suspension. We took a turn onto a tight, narrow and twisty road, with pavement that was broken, bumpy and patched. Our near-escapee lead rider never slowed, so I just followed, surprised to discover that the Svart railed along, soaking up bumps without upsetting the chassis and returning confidence-inspiring handling. A sport bike would have probably folded in two under these conditions.
The only suspension adjustment I made was to increase the rear rebound damping, which was initially too soft for my weight and caused the bike to wallow a bit at higher speeds. [Too much poutine, Costa? – Ed.] I needed a flat-blade screwdriver to make the adjustment, which nobody had on hand, so I improvised by using the ignition key, which worked remarkably well.
About my only gripe with the bike is with the instrument cluster. While the gauge itself is a large, round item, the display area is actually much smaller. It’s also at an awkward angle that makes it hard to see, and the rubberised trip-meter buttons to the left of the gauge are hard to use, needing a lot of pressure to depress.
Uh-oh… One more gripe
Oh, there’s one more thing that puts me off about the Svartpilen 701. It’s not the handling, which is exceptional. It’s not the engine’s output, which is smooth enough in delivery to make a novice feel at ease, yet more than powerful enough to satisfy an expert. And it’s not the styling, which I consider to be fresh, unique, and quite functional — without experiencing any unpleasant fungal growth.
It’s the price. The 2019 Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 retails for $13,399. That’s a whopping $1,900 more than the 2019 KTM 790 Duke, which features a 799 cc, 103-horsepower liquid-cooled parallel twin. While the 690 Duke has been discontinued for 2019, it sold for $9,999 last year.
So, yes, the price makes the Svartpilen 701 a hard sell. But if you like its styling enough to splurge, you won’t be the least bit disappointed with its performance.