Road Test Review
Different is good. What would our world be like if the only ice cream flavors were chocolate and vanilla? A life without Denali Mint Moose Tracks or Cherry Garcia would be rather bland indeed. And that’s why bikes like Husqvarna’s Svartpilen 701 excite me: it’s a refreshing antidote to the homogeny we can often detect creeping into our lives.
Husqvarna, founded in Sweden in 1689 as a manufacturer of guns and, since 1903, motorcycles, is probably best known for its off-road models, but after its motorcycle division’s acquisition by KTM in 2013 it decided to make a return to the street bike market — with a decidedly Scandinavian flair. Its current lineup of four street models includes the café racer-styled Vitpilen 401 and 701, the Svartpilen 401 scrambler and the Svartpilen 701.
Powered by the 693cc liquid-cooled single used in KTM’s 690 Duke and 690 Enduro, the Svartpilen 701 might be best described as a Swedish street tracker, complete with vestigial number plate on the right side, and its 18-inch front, 17-inch rear cast wheels are shod with the same Pirelli MT60 RS tires as those found on other street-oriented but off-road-flavored bikes like Ducati’s Scrambler lineup.
The harder you look at it, the more oddities — or art, per the eye of the beholder — you see. The engine is clutched within a tubular steel trellis frame — nothing outlandish there, but everything from there up (and back) is rendered in a futuristic blend of straight lines and curves, a departure from the origami angles of its KTM cousins.
The hard, nearly 33-inch-high seat makes ample use of the straight lines, including on its edges: uncomfortable at stops but surprisingly livable with feet on pegs and hands on the wide, slightly swept-back handlebar, at least for an hour or so at a time. No matter, you can’t even pretend that this is a touring bike, and at its intended purpose — carving up city traffic and twisty, technical roads — it succeeds in spades.
Fully adjustable WP suspension, though it boasts 5.9 inches of travel front and rear, is stiff and sporty, even at its softest settings. The throttle-by-wire EFI, pushing high-octane fuel through one big 50mm throttle body, prefers a heavy hand and higher rpm; a couple of times I felt some herky-jerkiness rolling back on out of a corner if I let the engine speed drop too far. There’s a slipper clutch if you like to keep your left hand active, plus an up/down quickshifter if you don’t, and traction control and ABS can be disabled if you so choose, although it’s all or nothing; you can’t disable/enable them separately.
The 4-valve single spins out an entertaining 72.4 horsepower at 8,200 rpm and almost 51 lb-ft of torque at 6,800, making the lithe 368-pound Svartpilen 701 gobs of fun and very easy to toss around, even for someone my size. Speaking of which, you may be looking at these road test photos and wondering if I ate the wrong mushroom in Wonderland, gaining several inches and more than several pounds. Not to worry, that’s Senior Editor Drevenstedt riding as my body double, since I was finishing up a European tour when the photo shoot occurred.
The Svartpilen and I got to know each other on the twisty roads of the Santa Monica Mountains, where I became smitten with its ruthless efficiency and seemingly effortless handling — as long as we were keeping the speeds below about 75 mph. Not a touring bike.
And as its looks might suggest, the Black Arrow (in Swedish, svart = black, pilen = arrow) isn’t without its quirks. For starters, fit-and-finish is a bit hit-or-miss…for example, both the Brembo front brake lever and Magura hydraulic clutch lever are adjustable, but the neighboring switchgear feels cheap and plasticky. The LED headlight and taillight are svelte and modern, but the single round LCD instrument is poorly lit with small numbers that are hard to read at a glance, and the buttons to change/reset the display are difficult to use. I also found the fuel gauge to be a bit pessimistic, with the range to empty requiring about a mile of riding after the bike was shut off/restarted before displaying again.
As personality traits go, these are quirks, however, not fatal flaws, and they disappeared pretty quickly when I was barreling up the canyon with a grin plastered across my silly face. For something so lightweight, the Svartpilen conveys a reassuring stability even as it’s flung left-to-right-to-left, the 72-ish horses being enough to keep an experienced rider entertained without feeling shortchanged by things like speed limits. A big 320mm front brake disc with 4-piston radial Brembo caliper and 240mm rear with a single-piston Brembo are more than up to the task if you do feel things getting out of hand.
After the fun is done, parked at the beach with the sun slipping under the pier and into the Pacific, I could sit and admire its rear three-quarter profile until darkness sent me home. Yes, different is good, and in a vanilla world it’s nice to get a bowl of Sea Salt Caramel now and then.