The Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 (which means “Black Arrow” in Swedish, since you’re wondering) is one of the few motorcycles that looks as good, or even better than, the concept that preceded it. It’s a Scandinavian interpretation of naked-bike-meets-flat-tracker. Build materials and components are of high quality, which they damn well should be for the high $13,399 sticker price.
Its stablemate the Vitpilen 701 (“White Arrow”, well duh!) differs in its design and riding position, making it more of a café racer if we’re keeping to traditional terms. They’re both representations of the modern neo-classic movement, if you will. (Dustin, are you wearing a turtleneck and swirling a glass of oaky Chardonnay? – Ed.)
I’m not alone in my adoration of the Svartpilen’s appearance. Each and every time I returned to the stationary 701 it was being checked out by a curious passerby who wanted to know all about it. Most of them had no idea what a Husqvarna is, but approval of the design was unanimously positive.
As we became more intimate, I found a treasure trove of cool details: things like LED lighting that’s integrated into the rear end, accentuated by the ring-shaped daytime running light on the front. This is a unique and distinctive signature across the lineup. Also, the swingarm-mounted licence plate and turn signals that keeps the design of the tail free of visual disruption – something you’d expect on a high-end custom rather than a production bike. There are lots of little Easter eggs to be found all around the bike, like tiny 701 decals, stamped Husqvarna logos or imprints that show a keen attention to detail.
Form meets function
The pseudo solo seat is more comfortable than it looks, though it’s better suited for shorter distances. The minimalist design allows you to change positions easily for upright riding or more aggressive turns. In any case, the small, 12-litre fuel tank will dictate the time spent on the saddle between stops, which isn’t long if you’re riding with an eager right wrist.
The Svartpilen is a very manageable 164 kg (362 lb) in running order. Essentially a KTM 690 Duke under its futuristic veneer, the large displacement single fires up eagerly and thumps as you’d expect from a single-piston engine producing 75 horsepower and 53 lbs.-ft. of torque.
Turn the key and, if the engine stop switch is down, you’ll be greeted with the message “Kill Switch” on the digital dash. This is a curiously blunt sentiment on a motorized vehicle where an internal combustion engine and a fuel tank are located snugly between one’s legs. There’s also an alert if the kickstand is down when you attempt to start the motor.
The location of the large digital display is convenient, but the tiny font used to showcase the information makes reading it a challenge. That, and the trip meter buttons are so firm that they’re virtually unusable. It features both a digital fuel level and numeric range-to-empty figure, which rarely provided an accurate reading. Or often a distance reading at all.
Beautiful, yes – but how does it ride?
It was fair to say that our proportions were well suited to one another. The swept back off-road style handlebars on risers make for an upright, versatile riding position. Both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable, so it’s easy to get comfortable behind the bars.
Setting off, the hydraulically actuated slipper clutch feels smooth and quick, but not abrupt. The ride-by-wire throttle is also linear and precise. Torque is available immediately and in abundant supply throughout the rev range. It pulls enthusiastically up to and beyond the legal highway speed limit. The 693 cc power plant features multiple counter balancers, but vibration is evident at idle and escalates from there, to the point that the mirrors become useless above 6,000 rpm.
Getting the 18-inch front wheel up off the ground when applying the throttle is shockingly easy, even when you’re not trying. The six-speed transmission features Easy Shift, which gives you clutch-free shifts on the way up and rev-matching on the way down. Shifter feel is precise for the most part, but I hit a false neutral several times between fifth and sixth gear when not engaged with enough gusto.
Thankfully, I didn’t encounter a situation where the traction control and Bosch ABS revealed themselves, but both are standard equipment and can be overridden. Braking is rapid and predictable, with Brembo four-piston radial fixed calipers on front and a single-piston floating caliper out back.
Despite the rugged appearance of the Pirelli MT60 RS tires, the Svartpilen is a street-focused package and suspension is decidedly firm. Equipped with WP components, the 43 mm inverted front fork gets adjustable compression and rebound damping while the single rear shock also gets adjustable spring preload. I played around with the settings to accommodate for rough roads in and around the city that helped soften the ride, but it was just as satisfying to firm things up for smooth serpentine roads.
In the long-term …
There are few bikes I’ve enjoyed ripping around the city on as much as the 701. Light, nimble and slender, the Svartpilen rolls easily into turns with ease and grace. It’s a unique and minimally styled two-wheeled hooligan machine that doesn’t object to getting frisky and being tossed around playfully, either.
Having a short-term dalliance with a stunning Swedish model is one thing but living with one is quite another. The Svartpilen 701 doesn’t come cheap. There are much less expensive motorcycles in this segment, but it’s unlikely any of them have as much character or will put as big a smile on your face. If you’re happy with a less powerful bike but you still want the Husky’s looks, there’s also the little brother Svartpilen 401 to consider, at almost half the price.
Of course, shortcomings and idiosyncrasies can easily be overlooked when you’re in the tender grips of the early, blissful stages of a relationship. I may be getting on in years, but squinting to read the Svartpilen’s digital dash while struggling to use the mirrors, all while enduring heavy vibrations at highway speeds, became draining on longer rides.
Nevertheless, I’ll sing the Husky’s praises and look back upon our time together fondly, wondering what could have been had we spent more time together.