Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 - Ride Report
By Anthony van Someren - 03 Apr 19
Let’s start with the obvious stuff. The Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 is based around a proven engine & chassis platform that form the basis of KTM’s newer 690s, as well as Husky’s much-loved 701 street-legal Supermoto and the Vitpilen 701 that was launched last year – and they’re all great machines – so what’s this Svartpilen, or Black Arrow, all about, and who’s it for? This was the challenge that came from my fellow journo/pilots ahead of the test ride… Why buy this instead of a KTM 690 variant? For me, the question was answered within about ten minutes of seeing the bike in the flesh, and riding-off up the road. Forget the roots, component parts or making model comparisons, this bike is about brand and style. Visually, I think the Svartpilen is much classier than it’s KTM cousin, with a design that feels more contemporary, but less likely to look outdated in a year or two, and while it’s another Kiska-designed machine, it looks a lot less, well, er… Kiska. ...While there is a lot of creative design involved in the heavily-sculpted and stylised tank, seat and side-panels, with a nod to flat-track shapes and single-sided number-boards, the stealthy matte-black and industrial finish feels purposeful and workmanlike. It’s a bit less of a shouty Tonka-Toy than a KTM, but still looks built to use and abuse with practical finishes and tough-looking materials. … Whereas KTMs might inspire a smash’n’grab raid on a Bond Street jewellers, the Svartpilen is definitely more likely to be ridden by a cat-burglar making-off with the Hope diamond via the pedestrianised streets and steps of central Paris. However, what I really like is that the Svartpilen looks like a complete and holistic design, driven by a single creative vision, whereas the recent evolution of KTM’s black’n’orange machines look like they were designed by committee. The Husky is also a lot closer to the original concept bike, which is unusual these days, but good news, because the concept was way cool. Let’s talk about that, because being cool, is a legitimate "thing” so let’s not shy away from it and pretend we don’t care. To me this bike looks cool enough for a bond villain, Matrix re-make, or a spot in the opening sequence of Tron 3. My first impression of the production bike, parked-up outside our Lisbon hotel, was simply; Wow, that looks great, …and I genuinely couldn’t wait to swing a leg over it and head through town.
I had pre-conceived ideas about the Svartpilen, because I’m a KTM & Husky fan, I love the 701 Supermoto, and I enjoyed riding the Vitpilen or ‘White Arrow’ 701 in Spain last year (review here), but the design – especially in silver & white – wasn’t quite to my taste, and while it was fantastic to ride out of the city, I found the clip-ons made it a real compromise in town, which is – to me – where big capacity singles usually make the most sense. My conclusion at the end of the Vitpilen 701 test ride was; “Great bike, but please can I have a black one with handlebars?” – cut-to, Lisbon, March 2019, and my request has been belatedly fulfilled. Ta very much.
What’s it like to ride? If you’ve ridden any other bike with this 693cc engine and chassis, you already know. It’s fantastic. All the fun and soul of a torquey, big-bore, single-cylinder thumper, with a class-beating 75bhp and a whopping 72Nm of torque at around 5,000rpm, on a bike that weighs just 150kg. Connect that setup to the tarmac via a chromoly frame, fully adjustable dual-purpose WP suspension, and a natural riding position, giving heaps of feedback, comfort and leverage, and the world seems like a much better place the second you let out the clutch.
Apart from the alternative matte black bodywork and handlebars, the Svartpilen has an additional 15mm of suspension travel at both ends (150mm/6 inches in total) over it’s White-Arrow sister, and a bigger 18inch front wheel, (17 at the back) shod with Pirelli MT60s, which are ok. The traction control stepped-in often, mostly on Lisbon’s smooth cobblestones and steel tram-lines, and then again up the twisties above Cascais, where the tarmac was broken-up on the tight turns between hillside villages. If you want to push the bike hard, stickier rubber might be a good upgrade, but the Pirellis do look the part and work well enough.
The radial Brembos did what they do best, stopping the bike with plenty of feedback on a 320mm disc at the front and 240mm at the back. Another performance tick, but these days, I'd expect no less on a bike at this price point.
These days, exhaust pipes on modern bikes are usually a bit of a disappointment. We know it's all down to noise and emissions, but they are the first thing you'd want to change. The Svartpilen's pipe is well made, but it’s also long and complicated, and some sections need hiding behind low-level bodywork where the cat also resides. There's a lot of heavy metal down there, but having said that, the whole bike only weighs 150kg... On the plus side, the OEM end-can is almost as pretty as the posh aftermarket Akrapovič, and there is no discernible performance or sound advantage in the upgrade, as the cat and most of the sound baffling is hidden within the complex snaking pipework that goes around and under the bike. Carpark chat with the Husky reps suggested that a set of straight-through pipes would release several more ponies, maybe in the double digits, while making your ears bleed, and it's a common mod on the Supermoto. Yes please Mr Husky-Bossman.
Going out on test rides with a bunch of professional journalists, who go from launch-to-launch, back-to-back, means a very fast riding-pace from the outset, but it also means I also get to judge a bike by how the experts ride, the banter between the lads at coffee stops, lunch, and the inevitable post-ride beers each evening. As with last year’s Vitpilen, it was obvious to me that the often-cynical crew of moto-pros were having a great time, and loved the bike. Most of the pack switched the traction control off before we even left the city, pulling massive wheelies out of every corner. I bottled it, and despite having been to wheelie school, twice, and being a proper ex-KTM Supermoto owner who used to love departing every set of traffic lights with the front aloft, but I didn’t want to start stunting in this company. In one of the other groups a guy crashed, and I DID NOT want to be “that guy” in the UK posse, so I spent most of my ride simply trying to match the speedy pace, safely, and get enough feedback to be able to write a decent review on the actual performance of the machine.
Turning the TC off was unusually simple for a road bike. Just press and hold the unmarked black button on the upright, circular clocks. This simple route to turning off the on-board health & safety feels like a direct nod to the Husky/KTM hooligan credentials that must lie behind their team of development engineers and riders. Bikes like this are made to wheelie, slide, screech and hoon through cities, the B roads that connect small towns, and any place that has enough hills to generate corners, big and small.
The Svartpilen and Vitpilen are “riders” bikes. …Ok, so the flat-track looks are slightly contrived, but you don’t buy one of these bikes for a gentle commute, or to cruise from café to café checking your reflection in big shop windows. You buy a big-bore Husky to either show off your skills, ...or to flatter your lack of skill, letting you ride more aggressively than you normally might. The quality package and setup allows plenty of room for emergency late braking, or bad landings from crap wheelies. If someone asked me to ride a bike for a Bond film, I’d pick this one.
Over the day we travelled 140km, in traffic, the mountainous, wooded twisties, wide sweepers along the coast, and a fair chunk of 150km speeds on the busy motorways. I was generally very impressed by the flexibility of this bike. While it’s never going the be a mile-muncher, even when speeding down dual carriageways at 150 I was comfortable and stable, and felt like I could have sat for a couple of hours at legal-ish speeds without needing to pin my chin to the tank or shake out my legs every ten minutes. The seat did remind me that I have a bony arse at the very end of the day, but considering the slimline design it’s actually very comfy and compliant. Who knew a gentleman hooligan thumper might also be a bit of an all-rounder.
In summary, I subjectively really like the Svartpilen 701, and objectively I find it hard to fault. I could gripe a little about the plasticky switchgear and the giant plastic speedo, but those items don’t need to be expensive premium components, and they are fit-for purpose, so I’d prefer to focus on all the good bits - and I'd prefer Husqvarna to spend my money on components that make the bike go faster, better.
What Husky have done is built a very stylish and purposeful version of the KTM690, with their own take on the design package, and a subtly different target market than the crowd who buy Black & Orange “Ready To race” machines. In my view, the more curvy lines coming out of the Husky-half of the Kiska design studio have created a much more classy looking machine, but make no mistake - it’s still an animal.
What I’m looking forward to next is checking-out what aftermarket options become available, as this bike is crying out for personalisation. At the end of the day’s riding, we were also presented with the Svartpilen 701 “Style” which is the same bike, sporting a metallic grey paintjob, blacked-out footrest holders and wire-spoke wheels (with tubeless tyres), which look much more fitting on this bike than the OEM cast items. If I was buying one, this switch would be on the top of my aftermarket wish-list.
The optional Akrapovich looks superb, but mainly in close-up, as the OEM end-can is almost the same shape, and the sound and power appear unchanged. I doubt there’s even a weight advantage, but if money was no issue, I’d fit one, because I like the extra details and finish. I also asked whether it was possible to lose the mock one-sided number-board, not because I don’t like it, but because I also like a big gap around the rear wheel of a modern bike. It turns out the Vitpilen’s rear-end bodywork, would easily swap out, and I’d like to see how that looks - painted black of course. Finally – and obviously – THAT plate hanger. Similar floating combos exist on many similar European bikes, and I can see the designers are trying keep the ugly bits from spoiling their concept sketches, but we do all need to hang a plate, and let people know we are turning right on a dark road at night, so I’d like to bin this heavy chunk of plastic and get something simpler bolted to the underside of the tail. I reckon that with a bit of ingenuity, the theft of a few parts from some other models, and a few choice components from third-party aftermarket catalogues, and this bike could look even cooler. And there’s nowt wrong with that. …Would I buy one? Yes I would.
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