2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Review - Simply, Beautifully Swedish
Husqvarna stunned audiences at EICMA last year with the Svartpilen and Vitpilen siblings and, better yet, they actually went ahead and built them. We put the Vitpilen 701 through the test gauntlet.
The Vitpilen - Swedish for ‘white arrow’ - comes in two flavours, the LAMS-approved 401, and big-cheese 701. They both lean on sister builder KTM for engines, with the former using the Duke 390 and the latter the Duke 690 mill.
This surely helped expedite development and the three years between concept and production have been spent dialling in the details of the bike. Looking between the concept and the one in the garage, there isn’t all that much between them, road-going necessities aside. That’s a good thing because concepts are usually destined just for an auto show and seldom beyond.
Even those that make it into production often have their designs tweaked and changed before hitting the road. In this case, the tank is covered by hard plastic finished in matte silver with a ‘701’ adorning a protruding oval, while a yellow accent line follows the seat edge down the tank and onto the rear swingarm componentry.
A thick, snaking exhaust winds from the 692cc single-cylinder engine to the blacked-out muffler (also matte, so beware of stone scratches), flanking
a swingarm-mounted fender housing legal details.
The seat flares out a little from the tank, and it tapers into a blunt end that feels plush enough to keep a passenger happy. The headlight houses a Tron-like LED ring for its daytime running lights and the circular motif extends to the dash, which is an attractive disc mounted on the middle of the triple clamp.
Revs move around the outside of the digital screen while the centre is reserved for trip information and tank content. Two buttons are for trip data and the like while a third unmarked button switches off traction control. Feedback from pressing the button could be better, as it’s sometimes difficult to elicit a change in the dash while on the move.
Switchgear is pleasantly minimal, with small buttons on either handlebar offering traditional controls for the indicators, horn, and ignition. In an age where the handlebars are crammed full with buttons and switches, it’s nice to have just the bare necessities.
Standard kit is good, with switchable traction control, ABS, adjustable WP suspension all round and an up/down quickshifter paired with a hydraulic slipper clutch. The throttle is of the ride-by-wire variety, albeit without ride modes. So, how does it all translate to the road?
Despite the engine being a big single, vibrations are pleasantly kept to a minimum, due to a weighted shaft in the cylinder head and two counterbalance shafts. And, since the engine is a big single the midrange is fantastic.
Anywhere above 5000rpm is Vitpilen territory. However, letting things drop below about 3500rpm nets a bit of chugging, meaning urban cruising is best done in third, at the expense of slightly higher fuel consumption.
Total tank capacity is 12 litres, by the by, which is actually alright for this sort of application. The range estimator in the dash can be indecisive but one tank netted us well over 200km of highway and twisty riding. Plus, a small tank means modest fuel bills. Wind the revs out to north of 8000 and all 55 kilowatts come out to play.
Pair that with a 165kg wet weight, and you’ve got a hot little corner carver on your hands. Seriously, don’t be afraid to exorcise this middleweight. With enough bravery, corner speed can equal that of a modern sports bike. The VP might not howl like a similarly-priced R6 or Street Triple, but the thump of a big single is an addictive sound in and of itself. For the daredevils out there, the hefty torque in the midrange - 71Nm at 6750rpm - and light overall weight means you can theoretically rip beautiful wheelies.
We preferred the front forks wound up a few clicks - easily done with the twiddly bits mounted at the top of each leg - and would have done the same with the rear had I a C-spanner. Hard riding can see things getting a little frisky but changing my riding style to a more weight over the front dirtbike technique helped stability and boosted confidence. Chunky Bridgestone S21 Hypersport tyres no doubt help too.
Need to scrub off speed? While the single disc might look lonely on a bike like this, the four-piston Brembo radial caliper bites with authority. The master cylinder is also radial which gives great feel when tweaking the lever.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t test exactly how good the system is during an emergency brake, as the QStarz performance monitoring system we use fell off during 80-120km/h testing and destroyed itself (RIP). Sorry about that, Chief.
Having a quickshifter for both up- and downshifts is rather premium but the system has a habit of finding false neutrals every so often. That just means you need to be extra assertive with gear shifts, or stick with the clutch.
And given how sweetly that works we ended up using it more than the quickshifter, despite the lever being positioned a bit awkwardly. The clip-on handlebars extend from the triple clamp so you get the look of a cafe racer without the back-breaking ergos. It also means sporty riding and easy commuting are equally within reach.
Something about the design of the windshield-less front end does well at dissipating wind at highway speeds, with nary a hint of buffeting or front-end wiggling.
Any issues? Very few. The dash, while aesthetically pleasing, feels almost like an afterthought compared with the rest of the bike. But the numbers around the edge don’t light up and the screen isn’t a colour TFT unit, making it all feel about two years out of date.
The exhaust is also rather muted, meaning the engine whirrings take over as primary audio. Swapping that for a freer-breathing aftermarket unit would let some of those pops and parps loose, and turn the Vitpilen into more of the hoon-machine that the sweet little engine suggests it should be. However, that would add expense, and the bike isn’t cheap to begin with.
At $18,200 (currently on sale for $15,999) it asks a lot for a single-cylinder, and for just under two grand more you can take home Honda’s new CB1000R, another 2018 neo-sports custom-cafe-racer entrant. While we haven’t put that through the ringer properly just yet (preview here) it’s hard to argue against an ex-superbike engine with accompanying electronics.
But let’s be fair. During testing, Husqvarna used various Ducati Scramblers and Monsters, a range of Yamaha’s MTs and XSRs, and middleweight triples as benchmarks. Add to that the KTM Duke 690 with which this shares an engine, although it seems you can’t buy them here new any more.
It’s too early to factor in the just-announced CB650R as pricing is still being worked out. It has all the presence of its elder sibling though, just with a smaller engine. Expect it to be a contender when it arrives.
Looking at the list of bikes currently available, the Huskie performs with the best of them and has killer looks to boot. However, you do pay the price for Swedish sophistication and exclusivity.
Model Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Price $18,200
Engine 692cc, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, single, 55kW / 71Nm
Transmission 6-speed, chain final drive Vitals 3.9s 0-100km/h
2.2s (56m) 80-120km/h, --m 100-0km/h, kg