Husqvarna is back in the street-bike game with a motorcycle that’s been teased for an age. Finally, at long last, we can welcome the Vitpilen 701 to the universe.
This is the first street bike to bear the famous Husqvarna badge since KTM took ownership of the 104-year-old company in 2013. The Vitpilen and pending Svartpilen range represent a clean slate for Husqvarna, and their importance should not be underestimated.
Click here to read this in the Cycle News Digital Edition Magazine.
By Shelina Moreda | Photos by Husqvarna
This new Vitpilen 701 speaks to the commuter, the speed freak, cafe racer, scooter boy, even the tatted-up hooligan. It’s a new gateway into motorcycle culture that crushes stereotypes, inviting everyone and excluding no one.
Importantly, Husqvarna is aiming at non-riders with this machine to open the motorcycle industry up and get more bums on seats.
The Vitpilen 701 uses the current generation KTM 690 Duke single-cylinder motor as its heart, with a modified 690 Duke frame wrapped around it. “It has been reduced to the essence of what a motorcycle used to be, what it should be,” the Husqvarna PR team told us at the intro.
It’s a slick and minimalistic design, coupled with the slogan “Simple. Progressive,” which is exactly what this bike is about.
The guys and girls at Husqvarna got this little devil of a grin each time we’d point out some secret gem we spotted on this motorcycle, because while the Vitpilen is simple, it is indeed progressive at the same time. There are modern trinkets like a slipper clutch, a quickshifter and an auto-blip on the downshift, which, considering my racing background, was music to my ears.
Don’t Fight The Chaos. Ride It
Looking at press photos of this bike over the months and years before its release, I was expecting the Vitpilen’s simple side to show up more than its progressive. I expected this cool little bike to be more of a looker than a fun ride. I anticipated it would be rigid and fun for about half a day on the back roads—thankfully, the Vitpilen proved to be much more than just a pretty face around Barcelona’s beautiful mountain roads.
Within a few Barcelona blocks I noticed the ride position was quite comfortable despite the cafe racer stance. The Vitpilen’s Mokka leather fabric seat had the perfect level of support and cushioning and the Magura clutch had a nice, easy pull.
Throttle response was smooth for a big single, making for a confidence-inspiring ride.
But it’s out of town that the Vitpilen—which means “white arrow” in Swedish—began to show its teeth. Each time I pushed, the machine performed better and better.
The suspension is set from the factory for a rider between 165-185 pounds, but the chassis still responded beautifully even though I’m about 50 pounds lighter than what Husqvarna set the springs for.
The Vitpilen flicked through the mountain roads like something between a supermoto and a superbike, and I caught myself wondering what my friends would think when I could keep up with them on their liter bikes on the little white arrow. It handles so well, and the more I pushed it, the more it proved itself.
Our lead rider was Javier Echevarria Ruiz of Black & Rad, a local well versed in the Barcelona back roads. He led my group, and with each check in his rearview mirror I could see his smile growing bigger under his helmet as he saw me right behind, taking to the Vitpilen with pure excitement, ready to push through the next canyon at the head of our little Husqvarna biker gang.
We stopped at an old-fashioned coffee truck at the top of the mountain, where I chatted up the bike with Justin Maxwell, one of the main figures at Husqvarna who made the Vitpilen a reality.
He told me that despite KTM bones in the motor and base chassis, everything else, from the exhaust and the lights to the gas tank and the tailpiece, is designed purposely for that sleek and minimalist feel, and to challenge the status quo.
I felt the gas tank’s shape would lock my knees in brilliantly for cornering, although Maxwell told me the tank was more an aesthetic exercise than for hooking a knee. We agreed it was a nice little combo, even if by chance.
The Vitpilen had my back with the traction control system, which I could feel working underneath me when we hit some sections of the road with sand and debris. There’s ABS, too, and going super-hot into a turn after the coffee stint, I could feel the system kick in. That area of the road was a bit slick, and with the tires being cold, the Vitpilen probably kept me from having to test out my new Arai.
I didn’t exactly like how the brakes felt in that moment, as I’m used to doing the saving myself, but having ABS is a neat feature and is ideal for a street rider. It’s something I could get used to.
One thing that had Justin and myself talking was the quick transitions the Vitpilen offered. It took a little getting used to as at first it seemed a tad abrupt, but when you settle in, it really moves well with you through the corners. I found riding with a more forward position suited me best on this bike—elbows up seemed to make it happy.
Something I didn’t particularly love were the mirrors as they were quite jittery when riding at a good pace and difficult to make out what was going on behind me. At slower speeds they seemed better, but I’d like to see upgrades for those.
At one of our photo breaks at the end of the day, Paulo Carrubba, head of media and public relations at Husqvarna, saw the massive grin on my face and asked, “did you think this bike would be so good?”
I looked at him and said “Honestly, I expected a more rigid motorcycle by the pictures, I didn’t think it would be so much fun and handle so well, but now I don’t want to get off the bike!”
The Vitpilen 701 was a total surprise. Each time I rode the motorcycle, the white arrow felt better. It handled city streets beautifully, was comfortable over a full day’s riding, and has absolutely stunning looks. It’s a bike that wants to please. It wants to have fun, which, for me, is what riding is all about. CN
2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 First Ride
Chatting to Justin Maxwell
When picking Vitpilen Project Manager Justin Maxwell’s brain on the technical details of the bike, he made a point about the KTM-derived twin-spark 690 engine being the most modern and powerful production single-cylinder available. The motor only weighs 94 pounds and comes with a 6200-mile service interval.
I wanted to know what he thought the coolest thing about the engine was that people might not know.
“For me, the coolest thing about the engine is it’s a single but it is also very modern. We have the ride-by-wire throttle and dual counter balancer shafts, so it’s very smooth and the vibration is closer to a V-twin, making it very comfortable to ride.”
Justin went on to say the one-of-a-kind LED lights were incorporated into the design from the beginning. “This is one of the main identifying features of the bike as this design runs through the complete Vitpilen and Svartpilen range,” Justin said. “The goal is when someone sees this light they immediately identify the bike as a Husqvarna.”
I found it amazing how close the production Vitpilen is to the concept bike. Husqvarna made every effort to ensure they stayed as true as possible to the first drawings shown to the public nearly four years ago. It’s amazing they could take something created from an aesthetic angle and make it into something so friendly and fun to ride.
As an instructor of a females-only motorcycle school, I always look for bikes I can recommend to beginners on the street, and the Vitpilen is comfortable, smooth, and confidence inspiring. On the flip side, as a MotoAmerica racer personally fit in the “speed freak” category, I am less worried about the appearance and more worried about the handling. Thankfully, this bike nails that for me, with the bonus that it looks cool, too.
I wanted to know what stood out to Justin, as someone who had a major say in how this bike finally turned out. “My favorite part when conceptualizing this bike was the ability to create something new and fresh that is a true riders’ bike—free of all the gimmicks and overloaded complexity we find in motorcycles today.”
I loved being able to hear what went on in the minds of the guys creating this beautiful masterpiece.
Pioneering Since 1903
Husqvarna is the oldest motorcycle brand with uninterrupted production, established three months before our own Harley-Davidson in 1903. The Swedish company was actually established centuries ago—1689 to be exact—and originated as a musket manufacturer, gradually moving into other markets like sewing machines, kitchen appliances, and eventually chainsaws, bicycles and of course, motorcycles.
Although many of us recognize Husqvarna as an off-road motorcycle, the company competed in Grand Prix road racing in the 1930s in the 350cc and 500cc classes. They also dominated the Swedish Ice Racing scene at the time and competed heavily in off-road racing.
Nowadays, Husqvarna’s bread and butter is motocross and off-road competition, and the production machines that follow in the wheel tracks of Jason Anderson and Pablo Quintanilla. But in 1955, Husqvarna came out with the cousin of the Vitpilen, the Silverpilen (Silver Arrow). This was primarily an off-road/scrambler motorcycle, but had the same properties of the present-day Vitpilen and Svartpilen—aiming to be a bike for everyone.
Creative lead for the current generation of Husqvarna street bikes, Maxime Thouvenin, has reached his goal of capturing the essence of the past in the Vitpilen and Svartpilen, infusing Husqvarna’s heritage in new motorcycles that are sexy, innovative, enticing and fun.
To me, the most impressive thing about these bikes is how Husqvarna has woven its history into the design, and created something that pays tribute to the past while also acknowledging the things that are missing today in the art of motorcycling.
Husqvarna Motorcycles has created something that appeals to the masses; it includes everyone, from the design to the marketing, all the way to the handling and feel of the motorcycle itself. CN
||2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 ($11,999)
||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single cylinder
|Bore x stroke:
||105 x 80mm
||73.8 hp @ 8500 rpm
||53.1 lb-ft. @ 6750 rpm
||Chrome-moly trellis frame, powder-coated
||43mm WP inverted fork
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
||Radial-mount Brembo four-piston caliper, 320mm disc, ABS
||Brembo single-piston caliper, 240mm disc, ABS
|Steering head angle:
|Weight (curb, claimed):