En­gag­ing White Ar­row

‘Vitpilen has done a great job of high­light­ing the old Swedish brand’s re­launch fol­low­ing its Aus­trian takeover in 2013.’ We had an op­por­tu­nity to put it through its paces in the hills north of Barcelona


Two thoughts oc­cur in quick suc­ces­sion, up in the hills north of Barcelona, as the Vitpilen 701 slices through an­other set of bends with thrilling ease and ac­cu­racy. the first is a ques­tion, but pro­vides an an­swer in it­self as i mo­men­tar­ily find myself won­der­ing whether any other street bike would have dis­patched that sin­u­ous sec­tion with quite as much panache as the supremely light, taut, and flick­able husq­varna sin­gle.

the sec­ond thought is sim­ple recog­ni­tion that this is the Vitpilen’s nat­u­ral habi­tat: twisty, flow­ing, traf­fic-free tar­mac — not the choked streets of the cata­lan cap­i­tal, where we’d be­gun the ride, and cer­tainly not the glit­ter­ing ex­hi­bi­tion halls and city-cen­tre bou­tiques where the Vitpilen’s strik­ing lines seem to have been end­lessly dis­played and dis­cussed in re­cent years.

in other words, the Vitpilen is a light and sweet-han­dling ma­chine that is at its best on fine mo­tor­cy­cling roads rather than merely a less prac­ti­cal ktM in an ex­pen­sive de­signer suit. Although if you had a cynic’s de­sire to prick the bub­ble of hype that has been in­flated around husq­varna’s street bike re­nais­sance, you could ar­gue that it’s both of those things.

what’s for sure is that the Vitpilen and its equally stylish, soon-to-be-re­leased svart­pilen sib­ling (“Black Ar­row” in swedish, to the Vit’s white) have done a great job of high­light­ing the old swedish brand’s re­launch fol­low­ing its Aus­trian takeover in 2013. Both mod­els have al­ready man­aged to give husq­varna an edgy street bike im­age — softer than ktM’s ready-to-race ethos — de­spite shar­ing most parts with orange mod­els.

husq­varna’s de­vel­op­ment team must be com­mended for cre­at­ing a pro­duc­tion-ready Vitpilen 701 that re­mains faith­ful to the con­cept bike un­veiled in Mi­lan in 2015. the dis­tinc­tive tank shape (it’s ac­tu­ally a plas­tic cover), min­i­mal­ist seat and clip-on bars give a modern take on the old café racer theme. the pro­to­type’s retro-style pa­per air­fil­ters are gone and the slash-cut si­lencer has grown in length, but the bold Vitpilen look has barely been di­luted.

husq­varna’s mar­ket­ing is equally creative, claim­ing that the Vitpilen 're­flects the at­ti­tude of a more modern and free­think­ing rider', and was de­signed to of­fer a 'purer, more thrilling and hon­est rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence'. All in­tended to give

the im­pres­sion that the husky of­fers some­thing rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent, although its ma­jor com­po­nents are bor­rowed from the two-year-old 690 Duke.

the 693-cc Dohc, four-valve sin­gle en­gine is me­chan­i­cally un­changed from its ktM spec­i­fi­ca­tion, although the ride-by-wire in­jec­tion sys­tem is tweaked to give a slightly softer re­sponse. the air-box is re­shaped and a new ex­haust sys­tem with ini­tial cham­ber un­der the en­gine helps give a claimed max­i­mum of 75 Ps at 8,500 rpm, match­ing that of the dis­con­tin­ued 690 Duke r. the only me­chan­i­cal change is to the six-speed gear­box, which is mod­i­fied to im­prove se­lec­tion and to ac­com­mo­date the Vitpilen’s ad­di­tion of a two-way quick-shifter as stan­dard fit­ment.

the trel­lis frame of chrome-molyb­de­num steel tubes also comes from the Duke, mod­i­fied only to fit a new fuel tank that re­duces ca­pac­ity from 14 to 12 litres. there’s also a new alu­minium rear sub-frame to sup­port the Vitpilen’s min­i­mal­ist seat unit. sus­pen­sion fol­lows the stan­dard 690 Duke’s by com­ing from in-house sup­plier wP and giv­ing 135 millimetres of travel at each end. But the 43-mm usD forks are higher-spec units, more like those of the old 690 Duke r, fea­tur­ing damp­ing ad­just­ment via hand-turn­able knobs at the top of each leg.

that neatly shaped seat is thin and firm but, at 830 mm, is slightly lower than the Duke’s and helps make the Vitpilen feel man­age­able when you climb aboard, helped by fairly

Husq­varna’s mar­ket­ing is equally creative, claim­ing that the Vitpilen 're­flects the at­ti­tude of a more modern and free-think­ing rider'

gen­er­ous steer­ing lock and a light weight of just 157 kg with­out fuel. No bike with clip-ons is go­ing to be suited to city rid­ing but the Vitpilen’s bars are mounted level with the top yoke, rather than be­low it, so the rid­ing po­si­tion wasn’t too harsh on the wrists as we headed out of Barcelona.

Fu­elling is crisp and the Husq­varna felt very re­fined pro­vided its en­gine was kept above about 4,000 rpm. How­ever, there’s still some big-sin­gle jud­der­ing at low revs, so a few times I found myself hastily treading down a gear to calm the shakes through bars and seat. Pre­dictably, the Vitpilen was hap­pier when speeds in­creased. With clear road ahead, it leapt for­ward with enough ur­gency to re­mind me that its en­gine might have only one cylin­der, but KTM’s LC4 unit is sim­ply not like or­di­nary sin­gles.

It’s much more pow­er­ful and re­spon­sive, for one thing; es­pe­cially above about 6,000 rpm when its re­sponse to a tweak of the throt­tle is to send the Vitpilen shoot­ing for­ward, even in the higher gears. There’s enough top-end power for easy 130 km/h cruis­ing — by which time there’s enough wind pres­sure to take the weight off your wrists — and ac­cel­er­a­tion from there to­wards a top speed of about 200 km/h.

Equally im­por­tantly, ever since the LC4 en­gine’s 2016 up­grade, which added a sec­ond bal­ancer shaft in the cylin­der-head, the sin­gle has been suf­fi­ciently smooth to make us­ing its per­for­mance a plea­sure rather than a teethrat­tling pain. And the Vitpilen gains over the sim­i­larly freespin­ning and en­ter­tain­ing 690 Duke with its quick-shifter, which re­sponded flaw­lessly to my big left boot although a cou­ple of rid­ers re­ported an oc­ca­sional missed shift.

The Husky also matched and pos­si­bly even ex­ceeded the KTM when we reached twisty roads near the Catalunya cir­cuit. On mostly smooth sur­faces here its ag­gres­sive rid­ing po­si­tion, light weight, sporty steer­ing ge­om­e­try and so­phis­ti­cated, well-damped sus­pen­sion com­bined to give su­perbly taut and con­trol­lable han­dling, along with a re­spectably good ride qual­ity.

The fairly wide bars gen­er­ate plenty of lever­age, which doubt­less helped, as did the min­i­mal in­er­tia from a sim­ple front end with just a sin­gle disc. I don’t re­call even the mem­o­rably sweet-steer­ing 690 Duke R, with its more wind­blown rid­ing po­si­tion and 15 mm more sus­pen­sion travel at each end, feel­ing quite as flick­able yet sta­ble as the Vitpilen did on the wind­ing road head­ing from Mataró on the coast to­wards Gra­nollers.

If the Husky had a slight edge there, the KTM would have hit back un­der brak­ing when its Brembo M50 Monobloc caliper would have bit­ten the 320-mm disc harder than the Vitpilen’s con­ven­tional four-pot Brembo caliper. The 701 was ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing se­ri­ous stop­ping power but re­quired a fairly firm squeeze of the lever to do so. And it doesn’t match the Duke R by in­cor­po­rat­ing Bosch’s bril­liant cor­ner­ing ABS.

Less help­fully it fol­lowed the KTM by hav­ing mir­rors that blurred use­lessly at high revs. I wasn’t trou­bled by its han­dle­bar levers, which are ad­justable, but which some rid­ers found slightly short. I also had no com­plaints about the Bridge­stone S21 tyres, which gripped well enough to ex­ploit the slim sin­gle’s gen­er­ous ground clear­ance. The only other mildly dis­ap­point­ing fea­ture was the in­stru­ment panel — a round, per­spex-cov­ered dial that pro­vides the ba­sic in­for­ma­tion but is less at­trac­tive and com­pre­hen­sive than the 690 Duke’s TFT dis­play.

The Husq­varna’s two-litre smaller tank is also hardly an as­set, although the sin­gle’s five litres/100 km econ­omy should still give a re­al­is­tic range of about 200 km — ar­guably am­ple for a bike like this. Even so, that re­duced fuel ca­pac­ity high­lights one draw­back of cre­at­ing a café racer, which ap­plies whether you’re work­ing for Kiska or bend­ing metal in a shed: fea­tures such as clip-on bars and small tanks, seats, and mud­guards look cool but aren’t very prac­ti­cal.

There’s no doubt that Husq­varna’s new flag­ship is stylish, en­joy­able and en­gag­ing, but it’s a sin­gle-minded, sin­gle­cylin­der sports bike. It’s also ex­pen­sive, cost­ing roughly 10 per cent more than the 690 Duke and more than KTM’s bril­liant and versatile new 790 Duke twin. The Vitpilen has suc­ceeded in put­ting Husky back in the spot­light. Whether there are enough style-con­scious, af­flu­ent café-racer en­thu­si­asts to make it a sales suc­cess is an­other mat­ter.

The Vitpilen is a light and sweet-han­dling ma­chine that is at its best on fine mo­tor­cy­cling roads

Shapely fuel-tank, restyled from the one on the Duke, holds 12 litres Ad­justable damp­ing via hand-turn­able knob Huge 693-cc sin­gle-pot makes 75 PS; me­chan­i­cally, only the gear­box has been changed and in­cor­po­rates a quick-shifter High-qual­ity WP 43-mm...

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