2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen & Svartpilen 401 First Ride Review
Fresh Swedish styling on proven Austrian performance
Husqvarna, a company better known for its off-road bikes – or chainsaws, depending on who you ask – made big waves in the motorcycle world three years ago when the Austrian-owned Swedish brand announced it would enter the street bike market with concepts of its Vitpilen and Svartpilen models. Fast forward to EICMA last November, and there they were, in the flesh and on the floor – real motorcycles.
2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401
2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 401
Admittedly, at first I was less than impressed, and after elbowing my way through the crowd to see what all the fuss was about, I was still left scratching my head, somewhat disappointed – like a kid who got Irish Spring soap and a pack of fresh tighty-whiteys for Christmas. What are you trying to say, Mom? True story. Anyway, perhaps it was more the result of my tired eyes having seen a thousand other equally cool or cooler bikes that day – I don’t know.
Our own John Burns had a similar first impression: Really, I confess I was underwhelmed by the Vitpilen as soon as I sat on the one bolted to the floor last November at EICMA. Low-ish clip-on handlebars and quite a stretch from the seat, oh dear, what year is it? I know there’s a fair bit of sadomasochism circulating in youth motoculture, but I’ve paid my debt to society. I don’t want to suffer anymore when I go out for a nice motorcycle ride – not unless we’re circulating the Contidrome or something.
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It’s true. The first thing you notice after swinging a leg over the Vitpilen 401, is how far forward you have to bend to reach the clip-ons, and while at first they may seem a little too racy, once things get moving, the Vitpilen 401 quickly transforms into a seriously athletic little demon that enjoys the whip. The ‘Pilen brothers share the same blood and bones as their KTM 390 Duke stepbrother – a bike whose tires are flat from all the praise we’ve heaped onto it lately – and if the Duke was born and raised in the Austrian countryside, its Swedish-born brothers grew up in the city, raising hell in Stockholm.
Their motor and chassis are the same: A spunky 373cc thumper supported within a steel trellis frame with WP bump sticks at both ends. From there, however, is where their DNA begins to differ. The 390 Duke, Vitpilen and Svartpilen 401s are anything but conventional looking motorcycles. The Duke is sharp and edgy, whereas the 401s are more svelte and contemporary looking, blending softer, yet equally striking lines. Husqvarna’s goal was to create something decidedly different – something fresh – with a new-age styling perspective while stripping the motorcycle of anything unnecessary that didn’t enhance the riding experience. The end result is a raw, no-frills motorcycle designed to surgically knife its way through all the potholes and obstacles of the urban jungle.
At 339 lbs soaking wet, the Vitpilen 401 is an incredibly flickable motorcycle. Its weight, or lack thereof, paired with its commanding, forward-leaning riding position means you can put the bike wherever you want, turning effortlessly with scalpel-like precision. Picking lines and shooting gaps in the city feels something like how I’d imagine flying a TIE fighter or X-Wing through an asteroid field during a dogfight would feel – that’s a Star Wars reference, but if you have some time to kill, click here to see what I mean. According to our dyno, the 373cc single pumps out just under 40.8 hp and 25.8 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough snot to hustle both the Vit and Svartpilen 401s through any sort of city traffic. They put a fun spin on city riding because physically, they’re smaller bikes, and they’re super nimble.
Speaking of hustling, it’s on the curvy back roads out of town where the ‘Pilens really get your blood pumping. I hate to beat the dead horse old adage of riding a slow bike fast, but man do these 401s love to be hammered on. Their motor has the best midrange punch of any entry-level displacement motorcycle I’ve ridden. Sure, it might give up some top-end pull to bikes like the Ninja 400, but its 6-speed tranny is always there with another cog just a click away. Also, for what it’s worth, they top out at 115 – plenty fast for bikes their size.
While the Vitpilen definitely has the most aggressive ergonomics of any entry-level bike, I didn’t mind it at all for shorter and around town rides, but the Vit would be rather punishing for longer slogs. That’s ok, because Husqvarna didn’t design it with touring in mind whatsoever, and fortunately, that’s why they offer the more relaxed Svartpilen.
Here’s JB’s take: In actual use, the Vitpilen 401’s not so bad once you get rolling and the airstream props you up a bit, but I say unto you, it would be miserable stuck in stop and go traffic on a hot day in a state where you can’t lane-split. I hate to complain, but it’s impossible not to when I know the Vitpilen’s basically a styling exercise grafted onto one of the sweetest little runabout/sportybikes out there – the KTM 390 Duke. The Duke’s seat is a bit thin and its suspension is a little crude (but effective), but its ergonomics are so spot-on you don’t care, as you shoot the traffic gaps with all the fury its 40-horse Thumper can muster. If you’re gonna modify one of our favorite bikes, you better make it better, or what do you expect us to say?
John makes a valid point – several, actually. Yes, the Vit and Svartpilens are styling exercises designed to push boundaries and challenge the status quo within the industry. And yes, both bikes are directly aimed at younger, progressive-thinking, fashion-forward, urban-dwelling riders – so all you disapproving old farts can put a sock in it! I’m only kidding, I’d actually love to hear what everyone thinks about the new Huskys. Personally, I’m not crazy or over the moon about their looks. They’re a little too IKEA for me, but they sure as hell ride nice.
As far as pricing goes? Both the Vitpilen and Svartpilen 401 go for $6,299 – a whole grand more than the KTM 390 Duke. What’s your opinion on that, John?
Whatever. You almost couldn’t go wrong building on the 390 Duke platform, and Husqvarna hasn’t. A thousand bucks is a small price to pay for being on the cutting edge of hip, though. So if either of the Pilens are calling out to you, have at it!
Husqvarna has definitely created something original with the Vit and Svartpilen 401s, and like anything rare, it comes with its cost. Included in the $6,299 price tag, though, is some top-shelf componentry that works really well. Bump absorption is handled by a WP 43mm non-adjustable inverted cartridge fork in front and a linkless WP monoshock out back that’s adjustable for preload only. Some have found the ‘Pilens’ bump sticks to be relatively stiff, but I thought they were rather spot on, despite their lack of adjustability (I’m 180 lbs). Around town, the ride may feel somewhat harsh, but surely you won’t be complaining when the pace picks up.
ByBre calipers handle the stopping duties, squeezing a 320mm rotor up front and a 230mm rear. The four-piston front caliper is radially mounted and both ends are fed via steel-braided lines for a real nice and connected feel at the levers. ByBre (ByBrembo for those unfamiliar) is a Brembo subdivision dedicated to lightweight bikes. Adding to the lil Huskys’ stopping power is a two-channel Bosch 9M+ ABS system, which can be disengaged for more advanced riders; however, I never felt the urge to switch it off because I barely ever felt it engaging. The ByBres are that good.
The 17-inch supermoto-style spoked wheels may be more for style than performance, but I’m a huge fan of the way they differentiate the look of both the ‘Pilen brothers from other bikes. But hope you don’t get a flat because those sleek spoked wheels come with tubes inside, which could prematurely put an end to your day.
The Vitpilen definitely has the more aggressive, café racer-type ergonomics, whereas the scrambler-inspired Svartpilen sits its rider more upright, and is kinder to your back. Between the two ‘Pilens, the Svartpilen was hands down JB’s choice, and for everyday use, I couldn’t agree more.
JB: The Svartpilen even I can get behind. It’s as simple as having a real dirtbike-style handlebar that meets you halfway, which transforms the bike from a rolling piece of exercise equipment to a natural-riding motorcycle right up there with the Duke 390, putting you in the kind of control mindset that makes you want to twist the throttle cable and abuse those knobbyish Pirelli Rally STRs wherever you go. “Punches above its weight” is getting to be a moto-cliche, but the Duke motor truly does lay down a broad swath of smooth power that feels like it’s being produced by more than 373cc.
Besides the handlebar and tires, other differences between the Vit and Svart are a tank rack, split seat, skid plate and color. These add-ons only account for a 4-pound difference, increasing the Svartpilen’s weight to 343 lbs on our official scales.
The KTM 390 Duke is built in India, but the Husky 401s are put together in Austria. I’m not one to stress over where a bike is assembled, but the fit and finish on both the Vit and Svartpilen truly stands out and feels more like that of a non-entry level motorcycle. However, I do have some gripes. A $6,299 price tag isn’t exactly pocket change, and two areas in which I thought the 401s could have had higher quality components are its dash and mirrors. The mirrors are buzzy and pretty much useless at any speed above idle, plus they only give me a view of my elbows. The Svart’s rear vision, however, is better than the Vit’s. Their gauge provides you with the necessary information, but it’s hard to read at a glance (particularly the tach) and especially so when the sun is hitting it. Those are pretty much my only complaints.
All in all, both the 2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen and Svartpilen 401s are incredibly well built motorcycles with top-notch parts usually reserved for bigger, more expensive bikes, and they’re both a ton of fun to ride. Styling is obviously in the eye of the beholder, but the Svartpilen definitely had me looking back while walking away more so than the Vit. Other passersby were very inquisitive of the bikes as well – they are rather striking, after all – so be prepared to answer a lot of questions if you decide to pull the trigger on one.
With its tank rack, the Svart could be a very practical, multi-use motorcycle. From commuting duties to camping trips, there’s very little I imagine the Svartpilen can’t do. During our limited testing, we were able to average about 58 mpg, which paired with their 2.5-gallon tanks, could yield a range of 145 miles or more. Given that both bikes are designed with urban life in mind, a 145-mile range is more than adequate. Getting out of town out west, however, could induce range anxiety.
Husqvarna set out to break the mold and offer a product that didn’t exist, until now. We applaud their efforts to intrigue and entice prospective riders from different and/or unique demographics into riding motorcycles. The Vitpilen and Svartpilen 401s aren’t for everyone – Husqvarna knows that – but given the amount of interest and buzz they’ve generated so far, we won’t be surprised to see a new generation of riders taking to the streets.
2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen & Svartpilen 401
- Spunky motor
- Great brakes
- Super flickable
- Hit or miss styling, but we like its originality
- Gauge is difficult to read
- Tube-type wheels
|Engine Type||Single cylinder, 4-stroke|
|Bore/Stroke||89 / 60 mm|
|Power||40.7 hp at 8800 rpm (measured)|
|Torque||25.8 lb-ft. at 7000 rpm (measured)|
|Starter/Battery||Electric starter / 12V, 8 Ah|
|Fuel System||Bosch EFI (throttle body 46 mm)|
|Control||4 V / DOHC|
|Lubrication||Wet sump with 2 oil pumps|
|Engine Oil||Motorex Formula 4T|
|Clutch||multi-disc slipper clutch, mechanically operated|
|Engine Management||Bosch EMS with Ride-by-wire|
|Frame||Steel trellis frame, powder coated|
|Subframe||Steel trellis frame, powder coated|
|Handlebar||Vitpilen: Clip-on | Svartpilen: Dirtbike style w/crossbar|
|Front Suspension||WP-USD Ø 43 mm, 5.6 inches travel|
|Rear Suspension||WP monoshock, 5.9 inches travel|
|Front Brake||ByBre four piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm|
|Rear Brake||ByBre single piston, floating caliper, brake disc Ø 230 mm|
|ABS||Bosch 9.1MP Two Channel (disengageable)|
|Front Wheel||Spoked aluminum, 3.00 x 17″|
|Rear Wheel||Spoked aluminum, 4.00 x 17″|
|FrontTire||Vitpilen: Metzeler M5 110/70 R 17 | Svartpilen: Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 110/70 R 17|
|Rear Tire||Vitpilen: Metzeler M5 150/60 R 17 | Svartpilen: Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 150/60 R 17|
|Chain||X-Ring 5/8 x 1/4″|
|Silencer||Stainless steel primary and aluminum secondary silencer|
|Steering Head Angle||25°|
|Trail||3.7 inches | 95mm|
|Wheel Base||53.4 ± 0.6 inches|
|Ground Clearance||6.7 inches|
|Seat Height||32.9 inches|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||2.5 gallons|
|Wet Weight||Vitpilen: 339 lbs | Svartpilen: 343 lbs|
More by Brent Jaswinski