2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen & Svartpilen 401 First Ride Review

Brent Jaswinski
by Brent Jaswinski

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

Editor Score: 89.75%
Engine 18.5/20
Suspension/Handling 14.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 9.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 8.75/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score89.75/100

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 401

Editor Score: 85.75%
Engine 18.5/20
Suspension/Handling 14.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 9.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 7.0/10
Appearance/Quality 7.75/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 8.5/10
Overall Score85.75/100

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.

By no means a torture chair, the Vitpilen 401’s clip-ons definitely pitch the rider forward, especially for an entry-level motorcycle. Also, I’m 6’1, so it might not seem as exaggerated here, but for shorter riders it’s even more noticeable.

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.

Slicing and dicing congested traffic so you can end up at places like this is what the ‘Pilen brothers are all about.

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.

In the twists and turns is where the ‘Pilen brothers’ sporty character is most appreciated, especially the Vit, who’s clip-on bars really give the rider a commanding grip over the controls.

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?

Well, Husqvarna has every right to do whatever it wants with the Duke, since KTM’s owned Husqvarna since 2013. What’s going on is the same as when Toyota came out with its Scion line – avant garde bodywork on top of pre-existing cars, designed to appeal to younger buyers. Why not? Well, I think the Scions were less expensive, too, which is not the case with the ’Pilen brothers.

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.

With its weight almost equally distributed front to back (169 lbs front /170 lbs rear) the Vitpilen is incredibly well balanced, and it pays dividends in the handling department.

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.

A WP inverted cartridge fork, ByBre radially-mounted four-piston caliper, 320mm rotor, steel-braided brake lines and a Bosch 9M+ two-channel ABS system – there’s a lot going on here in this picture. Also, this is the Svartpilen, with its Pirelli Rally STR tires.

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.

Café racer or scrambler ergos – the choice is yours.

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.

Notice how much more of a relaxed rider triangle the Svartpilen provides compared to the Vitpilen. With an easy reach to the bars and a relaxed knee bend, John’s 5’8 frame seems to fit the Svart just right.

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.

Adding to the clean lines of the bikes, the gauge is out of the way and compact, but can be difficult to read. See what I mean?

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.

The driver’s seat, though not the plushest, offers plenty of room, and the passenger pillion is removable (for another rack, we presume) but doesn’t offer a passenger much real estate or anything other than the driver to hold on to.

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

+ Highs

  • Spunky motor
  • Great brakes
  • Super flickable

– Sighs

  • Hit or miss styling, but we like its originality
  • Gauge is difficult to read
  • Tube-type wheels

Engine TypeSingle cylinder, 4-stroke
Displacement373.2 cc
Bore/Stroke89 / 60 mm
Power40.7 hp at 8800 rpm (measured)
Torque25.8 lb-ft. at 7000 rpm (measured)
Compression Ratio12.6:1
Starter/BatteryElectric starter / 12V, 8 Ah
Transmission6 gears
Fuel SystemBosch EFI (throttle body 46 mm)
Control4 V / DOHC
LubricationWet sump with 2 oil pumps
Engine OilMotorex Formula 4T
Primary Drive30:80
Final Drive15:45
CoolingLiquid cooling
Clutchmulti-disc slipper clutch, mechanically operated
Engine ManagementBosch EMS with Ride-by-wire
FrameSteel trellis frame, powder coated
SubframeSteel trellis frame, powder coated
HandlebarVitpilen: Clip-on | Svartpilen: Dirtbike style w/crossbar
Front SuspensionWP-USD Ø 43 mm, 5.6 inches travel
Rear SuspensionWP monoshock, 5.9 inches travel
Front BrakeByBre four piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm
Rear BrakeByBre single piston, floating caliper, brake disc Ø 230 mm
ABSBosch 9.1MP Two Channel (disengageable)
Front WheelSpoked aluminum, 3.00 x 17″
Rear WheelSpoked aluminum, 4.00 x 17″
FrontTireVitpilen: Metzeler M5 110/70 R 17 | Svartpilen: Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 110/70 R 17
Rear TireVitpilen: Metzeler M5 150/60 R 17 | Svartpilen: Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR 150/60 R 17
ChainX-Ring 5/8 x 1/4″
SilencerStainless steel primary and aluminum secondary silencer
Steering Head Angle25°
Trail3.7 inches | 95mm
Wheel Base53.4 ± 0.6 inches
Ground Clearance6.7 inches
Seat Height32.9 inches
Fuel Tank Capacity2.5 gallons
Wet WeightVitpilen: 339 lbs | Svartpilen: 343 lbs
Brent Jaswinski
Brent Jaswinski

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  • Wickedstock Wickedstock on Sep 03, 2019

    Valuable information,Thanks a lot for sharing them with us. This is the easy way to find best deal.

  • Tom Tam Tom Tam on Aug 13, 2020

    It;s a nice looking motorcycles !!! I like the new way of Husqvarna. They gonna be a leader in motorcycle worlds !!!