Huskies Unleashed: the ultimate Husqvarna Svartpilen vs Vitpilen twin test
The most powerful single-cylinder machines on the market face off in the UK’s first back-to-back ride of these stylish Swedish street bikes
Leon Poultney is a writer, driver, rider and lover of all things automotive, who writes for the likes of Wired, T3, Stuff, The Sun and DriveTribe.
There has been a real resurgence in retro-inspired motorcycles of late, with industry stalwarts like Triumph, Ducati and Indian Motorcycles cashing in on the fact that old school scramblers, cafe racers and flat tracker machines are very much in vogue.
Unlike the automotive industry, which seems to be pumping out cookie-cutter designs in almost every segment, the bike companies of this world are currently competing to be a little different. Ducati’s idea of a scrambler is poles apart from Triumph’s, for example, while Husqvarna’s line of street bikes gracefully tiptoe the line between neo-futuristic and tastefully throwback. The sheer weight of choice for today’s two-wheeled fanatic is mind-boggling.
But we’re not here to mull over the current state of the motorcycle market, instead we are primed to test two of the most exciting (and most powerful) single-cylinder motorcycles currently on sale – the Husqvarna Svartpilen and Vitpilen 701.
Deep discussions ensue about riding position and the digital clock. Image by: Will van Wingerden/Comex Visuals
Featuring the same unit that propels the zany KTM 690 Duke, this thumping 75bhp single is packaged in two very distinct flavours. And although much of the hardware is shared between the two, they very much boast a distinct character and we have it on good authority that we are among the first to sample the delights back-to-back.
The shred arrows
The Vitpilen, which means ‘White Arrow’ in Swedish, was the first Husky street bike on the scene, boasting hard-edged modern styling that took pinches of cafe racer culture and lavished it with a number of high-tech design elements.
It’s about as close to a motor show concept machine as things can get, with the shapely plastic fuel tank leading in to a sleek seat unit and the rider faced with a compact cockpit, neat round digital display and slightly dropped bars for a racy riding position. An LED headlight at the front and neat tail light strip under the seat top off the package.
The Svartpilen (or Black Arrow), which arrived soon after, takes a slightly more street scrambler approach to its design, with wider, more upright bars and numerous body panels and plastic additions that mimic those found on flat track racers.
Both bikes share the same excellent WP suspension system, although the Svartpilen sits slightly taller than its cafe racer counterpart, and the same intricate trellis frame lies underneath the exterior body work.
The black arrow (Svartpilen) adds touches of flat-tracker and scrambler. Image by: Will van Wingerden/Comex Visuals
To be totally honest, the slightly sleeker Vitpilen is the more visually impressive of the two, with its low slung bars and tapered rear really suiting the overall aesthetic. It’s also the bike that draws the most attention when it is out and about. Perhaps it is the frosted silver paint job with contrasting fluro yellow accents that attracts the eyeballs, as opposed to the stealthy black of its more upright counterpart.
However, the punchy single-cylinder engine remains the same in both machines and it is a ballsy move from the Swedish marque. Often not as refined as their two, three or four-cylinder counterparts, these big singles can prove a bit of a shaky handful in a bike that’s been designed for nippy city riding, but not so here.
There are clever balancer shafts and numerous mechanical trickery to ensure the lone cylinder is as smooth as a waxed dolphin when out on the open road. Granted, low rev motoring certainly reveals the chink in the engine's armour, but it's otherwise sound.
Some will argue that this is merely a KTM 690 in disguise (and to some extent, it is), but that would be doing it a great disservice. Both the Svartpilen and Vitpilen look fantastic in the flesh, boasting enough bodywork and design touches to set them apart from each other, let alone sister brand offerings.
An empty road and two thumping machines. What's not to like? Image by: Will van Wingerden/Comex Visuals
Light and fast
Weighing in at around 166kg, both of the road-going Huskies feel incredibly light and nimble on the road. The frames are so easy to throw in and out of the curves, it sometimes feels like riding a mountain bike with an extremely powerful engine bolted to the frame.
Our day with both bikes took in some of our favourite routes, which are only accessed by first slogging through some busy city traffic. Immediately, the more upright Svartpilen feels like the machine to have around town.
The wider bars and seating position make it more ‘flickable’ than its lower-slung sibling and it wasn’t long before riding buddy Elvis started to complain that a lot of his bodyweight was being transferred to his wrists on the Vitpilen.
Talking shop above the growl from the Akropovic exhaust. Image by: Will van Wingerden/Comex Visuals
However, both machines are extremely easy to live with thanks to a light clutch action (complete with a slipper clutch to assist on the way down the gears) and extremely precise throttle mapping. Anyone hopping off a V-Twin, or anything with more than one cylinder, will note the vibration felt when the revs dip below 3,000rpm.
In fact, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking the bike is going to stall if the clutch isn’t hastily pulled in, but there's no need to worry. It’s just lumpy and lower revs and takes a little bit of getting used to.
Once that’s mastered, it is not long before the engine is begging to be opened up, with both machines doing a great job of becoming an extension of the rider. Corners can be taken with plenty of confidence (and speed), while slow speed manoeuvring is beautifully simple thanks to a lack of kilograms to lug around.
Powerful Brembo brakes as standard across the range. Image by: Will van Wingerden/Comex Visuals
Personally, the Svartpilen felt like the more enjoyable machine to ride around the twisty, tree-laden route we enjoyed, as its scrambler-like configuration just begged for the bum to be shifted forward slightly, elbows extended and bike buried into the tarmac like a motocross machine on a muddy field.
The Vitpilen is more geared towards those who like to get the knee down and the riding position is nice and tucked up behind the clip-on style handlebars. The Brembo brakes are unsurprisingly sharp but progressive, the throttle response is linear and the bike eager to turn.
There’s barely anything in the way of engine braking, which can take little adjusting to, while the exhaust note is irritatingly muffled. Setting that free would be one of the first things on our list.
Gotta love the shadows cast by the awesome tank and frosted paint combo. Image by: Will van Wingerden/Comex Visuals
A lone ranger
It’s very difficult to compare Huskies' range of street bikes to anything else, purely because they don’t look or ride like anything else on the market. They are by far the most entertainingly powerful singles money can buy and their unique take on the scrambler and cafe race genre is tricky to find elsewhere.
We’ve got some beef with some of the finishing kit and switchgear, which feels cheap and plasticky for a bike that costs the best part of £9,000 at full retail price (although you can pick one up much cheaper at the moment). The circular digital clock also doesn’t fit with the rest of the sharp styling and is mounted in a potion that makes it difficult to glance at when riding.
But everything else is refreshingly simple. Traction control is either on or off (hold the blank black button on the clocks to disable it) and Husqvarna even includes its own version of a quick-shifter to make cycling up and down the gears faster and easier.
A brief stop for a bike swap. Image by: Will van Wingerden/Comex Visuals
The chances are that if you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the market to buy one – so which is better? That really comes down to personal tastes, because we feel the Svartpilen makes the most accomplished city machine, purely because it is the easiest and most comfortable to throw in and out of busy city traffic.
But then the Vitpilen is the nicer bike to attack favoured curves and, in our opinion, it looks better. Let’s just say that if you’re looking to buy a sleek street machine, your shopping list just got a little longer.