I’d been burning around town on the Svartpilen 401 for a week. The time had finally come to exchange it for the top of the range Husqvarna Vitpilen 701. This was the one I’d be waiting for. Although Husqvarna doesn’t openly state it, this bike is without a doubt a modern interpretation of a cafe racer. It’s powerful, lightweight and minimal; just as any good cafe racer should be. Unfortunately, anything that looks as radical as this bike risks being labelled as a poser. However, just like the Svartpilen 401, the Vitpilen 701 has plenty more to offer than good looks alone.
Unfortunately, the very first experience I had with the 701 was a disappointing one. Turning the key in the ignition revealed the same welcome message on the same digital display as the Svartpilen 401. But a press of the starter revealed an uninspiring engine sound and exhaust note. Unlike the smooth thump of the 401, the 701 has a much more mechanical, dare I say agricultural, sounding engine. Those who know this engine as the KTM 690 Duke power-plant, aka the world’s most powerful single, are sure to write me off for uttering such a thing. But in the world of motorcycles sound is very important. Look at any comments on stories about electric motorcycles and you’ll find bike lovers write them off purely because they don’t make a sound. The engineers at Triumph and Kawasaki sunk huge amounts of cash into getting their modern classics sounding just right and yet this incredibly slick looking machine sounds nothing like you’d expect. Thankfully the ride makes up for it.
The Vitpilen 701 is obviously a bigger bike than the Svartpilen 401. It is longer and heavier, but not by all that much. At 157 kg the 701 carries only 7kg more than the 401. As you would expect this makes it just as easy to manoeuvre. Let’s just say that the Vitpilen 701 loves the corners. It doesn’t have the same overly eager to turn feeling as the Svartpilen, but when you point it somewhere that’s where you’ll end up, no questions asked. The higher spec WP forks on the Vitpilen are fully adjustable. For those who dabble in such things that is sure to be a selling point. I, on the other hand, tend to trust the factory settings. This may mean I wasn’t getting the optimum riding experience, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. The ride was definitely stiffer than on the 401, but never harsh or unwieldy. Things may feel a little light up front at times, but that’s more to do with what’s going on between your knees.
As I already mentioned the Vitpilen’s engine is essentially the KTM Duke 690 powerplant. The highly tuned single punches out 75bhp and 72Nm of torque. This alone should disprove any assumptions that the Vitpilen is simply a styling exercise. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be a wolf in swans clothing. The engine delivers its power smoothly via a ride-by-wire throttle and, thanks to all the counterbalancing inside, it’s relatively vibration free. The big single is definitely most at home in the higher rev range and that’s also where you’ll have the most fun. As you would expect getting up to freeway speed happens a lot faster on the 701, but so does reaching the 8500 rev limit. On more than one occasion I hit the limiter much sooner than expected. A search online revealed that you can reset the Vitpilen’s rev limit to be as high as 12,500rpm. This would definitely have produced a different riding experience, but I didn’t discover this until after the bike had been returned. Do your homework kids!
So it turns out the Vitplien 701 is more about performance than we had all thought. It’s a highly tuned, highly tuneable machine that can pack a punch. Rest assured this bike is very user-friendly and tackling peak hour traffic 5 days a week on it wouldn’t be out of the question. However, the riding position puts weight on your wrists and the seat isn’t the most comfortable.
You can’t talk about this bike without touching on its looks. The Vitpilen is a trendsetter, not a follower. The future-forward styling sets it apart from every other bike on the market. Its monocoque body wears an understated satin silver and black paint scheme. A perfectly balanced bone line and matching wheel diameters set up the classic racer stance. Then there’s the fluorescent diagonal line that cuts the bike in half. It’s an aesthetic stroke of genius. The exhaust may not sound great but it looks the business and the belly pan does a good job of disguising the cat.
Despite the higher performance and price of the Vitpilen 701, comparing it with the Svartpilen 401 resulted in a few disappointments. For starters, those fancy backlit switches are gone and in their place are rather staid-looking, run of the mill items. The 701 also wears the same cheap looking plastic mirrors, but on this platform, they look totally out of place. Husqvarna offers aftermarket bar end items but for the sake of first impressions, they should have made them standard. Take a look in Husqvarnas Vitpilen catalogue and you’ll see a 701 wearing bar end mirrors. The catalogue bike also has a tail mounted rego plate rather than a hugger, which is another huge visual improvement. If Husqvarna felt this was how they wanted the bike to be seen then why sell us something different? I also understand the advantages of cast wheels, but again Husqvarna offer spoked alternatives for the 701. I can only assume this is because they know they look better. Sure the extra money gets you a bigger, more powerful engine, higher spec brakes and suspension but it would have been nice to see these other things come as standard rather than at an extra cost.
After two weeks of daily riding, it was time to ask myself which one of these Husqvarnas I prefer and why. It will come as no surprise that I favour the look of the cafe racer styled Vitpilen over the Svartpilen. Thankfully Husqvarna also offer a 401 version of the Vitpilen and although I haven’t ridden it that’s the one I’d spend my dollars on. Why the smaller bike you ask? Well for starters the price is more attractive. The Vitpilen 701 isn’t cheap at $17,500 AUD ($11,999 USD). That’s a whopping $6,500 more than the $10,990 AUD ($6.299 USD) 401. Also, as fickle as it makes me sound, I like the premium design touches of the 401. I want the pointless backlit switchgear and I need the heavier spoked rims because they look so damn good. And lastly, I’d go with the 401 because I’m an everyday city commuter. Personally, I see the 701 as more of a weekend ride and that’s not what I require from the motorcycles I own. If on the other hand, you’re after a weekend warrior the 701 will allow you to challenge most sports bikes through the twisties while looking infinitely cooler.