The Scan­di­na­vian ex­per­i­ment

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by GAVIN FOS­TER | Im­ages © HUSQ­VARNA

If you en­joy a lit­tle his­tory mixed in with your motorcycling, you could do worse than cast your gaze upon Husq­varna. Al­though the mo­tor­cy­cle di­vi­sion is now owned by KTM and thus has strong ties with Aus­tria and In­dia, the Husq­varna brand was born in the Swedish town of that name, 329 years ago in 1689, when the state-owned com­pany started pro­duc­ing flint­lock mus­kets.

Within a few years, Husq­varna em­ployed 1,000 peo­ple and over the decades – and cen­turies – be­gan adding to their in­ven­tory pots and pans, gas stoves, sewing ma­chines, bi­cy­cles, chain­saws, lawn­mow­ers and a host of other items in­clud­ing, in 1903, mo­tor­cy­cles.

Husq­varna has al­ways been recog­nised as a su­pe­rior per­for­mance brand in mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing, and be­tween 1960 and 1999, won 16 mo­tocross world cham­pi­onships in the 125, 250 and 500 cc classes, along with an­other 30 or so en­duro and su­per­moto world ti­tles be­tween 1990 and 2015. The mo­tor­cy­cle di­vi­sion’s for­tunes waxed and waned for a cou­ple of decades along the way, though, with

own­er­ship slip­ping from Swedish fin­gers to Ca­giva / MV Agusta (1987), BMW (2007) and, most re­cently, KTM in 2013. So far, KTM prom­ises to be ca­pa­ble of do­ing the most with the brand, and the most ex­cit­ing thing about this, for Husky fans, is that the par­ent com­pany is quite happy to sup­ply its pow­er­ful and bul­let­proof sin­gle and twin-cylin­der en­gines to its smaller side­kick.


Husq­varna is best known for build­ing dirt bikes, with an oc­ca­sional half-hearted foray into the road bike mar­ket. Then, be­tween 2014 and 2016, the fac­tory re­vealed pro­to­type sin­gle-cylin­der road bikes that tossed any no­tion of tra­di­tional styling to the winds. The Vitpilen (White Ar­row) and Svart­pilen (Black Ar­row) 401 and 701 con­cept bikes looked like they were the prod­uct of the fren­zied mat­ing of a Mad Max movie prop, with the very ex­pen­sive Brough Su­pe­rior retro-bike that was an­nounced with much fan­fare a few years ago be­fore fad­ing into ob­scu­rity. What was in­ter­est­ing, though, was that their en­gines were lifted from the KTM Duke 390 and its big bore sib­ling, the Duke 690.


The bike we’re zon­ing in on here is the Vitpilen 701, which boasts a very healthy 75 hp tucked away in­side a sin­gle-cylin­der en­gine in an ag­gres­sively styled but min­i­mal­is­tic pack­age. Weigh­ing just 157 kg, it prom­ises to be a very lively street bike.

The en­gine, used by KTM in the KTM 690 Duke since 2012, has gained a claimed sin­gle horse­power in the tran­si­tion, thanks to its air­box and ex­haust sys­tem, mak­ing it the most po­tent sin­gle-cylin­der mo­tor­cy­cle out there.

Mated with its de­li­cious light­weight trel­lis frame is WP sus­pen­sion in the form of fullyad­justable 43 mm up­side-down front forks and a rear monoshock op­er­at­ing through a link­age that is ad­justable for re­bound and preload only. Brakes are com­pli­ments of Brembo with a sin­gle 320 mm front disc clamped by a fourpis­ton ra­dial fixed cal­liper, while the rear disc re­lies on a sin­gle pis­ton cal­liper. ABS and ba­sic trac­tion con­trol are stan­dard, with the trac­tion con­trol able to be de­ac­ti­vated on the fly. The ABS too can be dis­abled, but for that, the bike needs to be sta­tion­ary. A very pleas­ing fea­ture is a quick-shifter that al­lows clutch­less gear-changes both up, and down, through the gear­box.


The Husq­varna Vitpilen is a deca­dent, das­tardly down­right dan­ger­ous look­ing city bike that could quickly be­come an ur­ban le­gend in the real sense of the term. At R140,000 it’s one of the most pricey sin­gle­cylin­der mo­tor­cy­cles that money can buy, but it’s also the most pow­er­ful, and its sim­plic­ity – en­gine, frame, tank, seat and wheels – will ap­peal to bik­ing purists. Its 12-litre fuel tank, un­com­pro­mis­ing seat and lack of weather pro­tec­tion mean it’s un­likely to be used for tour­ing, but as an edgy city-bike and back-road scratcher with im­mense at­ti­tude, it’ll be hard to beat.

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