2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 and Vitpilen 401 reviewed
Husqvarna is back with two A2-licence friendly machines aimed at the trendy urban rider.
Why is it that fashionable items cost more than their less publicised rivals? Compare the price of an iPhone to a Samsung, an artisan beer to an old-school hand-pulled pint and a branded T-Shirt to one which lacks the cool name.
Every item does the same basic job, but add a bit of marketing blurb, some surrounding hype and the price suddenly skyrockets.
Why do we mention this? Now, we hate to say it, but Husqvarna are desperately trying to apply the same logic to their two new 401 models.
However, we’re just not convinced the buying motorcycle public will swallow the pill, which could be bad news for Husky’s latest reinvention.
Now under the ownership of KTM, Husqvarna is being reinvented as a ‘cool’ brand with a range of edgy and fashion-conscious street bikes to go alongside the firm’s established off-road bikes.
But there is a very definite split, and not all Husky dealers will sell the road bike.
In fact, only 22 UK dealers will be street franchises for Husqvarna, which is a bit of an issue as very few are located in cities, which isn’t surprising considering the core of their business involves mud and fields.
So why this change of direction?
KTM already have their own range of single cylinder bikes in the shape of the Duke models, however they want to place Husky in a lifestyle market and therefore attract a different target audience.
We are talking young, trendy types and all the associated stereotypes such as tattoos, beards and photos involving cafes in London or brick walled side streets.
To achieve this goal, Husky’s range of bikes are very different to KTM’s. Well, visually they are at least.
Consisting of the Svartpilen (black arrow in Swedish) and Vitpilen (white arrow), the Svartpilen is an urban enduro, while the Vitpilen is a modern café racer.
To be fair, Husky have done a lovely job when it comes to the look and there is also good attention to detail that extends to the spoke wheels, cool exhaust end can and removable pillion peg hangers.
There’s a neat fuel filler cap, wide bars, adjustable levers and each bike even has its name embossed on the top yoke.
All of these details add an element of premium which is what Husky need, as both bikes cost £5599. Why is this significant? The KTM 390 Duke is £4699, £900 cheaper and when you look under the Husqvarna models’ styling you discover they are Dukes in disguise.
The Svartpilen and Vitpilen both use the Duke’s 375cc single, they use its chassis, they use its swingarm, and they even use its WP suspension, ABS, brakes and ride-by-wire throttle system.
What don’t they use? Err, it’s wheels, the cool TFT dash and plastics. And there is another significant difference.
Where the Duke is built in India, the Huskies are ‘assembled’ in Austria.
KTM claim this helps justify the extra cost but delve deeper and you discover most components are still built in India, they are just screwed together in Austria.
And this is the major problem we have with the Svartpilen and Vitpilen – when you ride them they perform just as well as a 390 Duke, but do they perform or look £900 better than a KTM? We’re not convinced.
Starting with the Svartpilen, it is hard not to be charmed by this urban enduro.
The upright riding position is comfortable, and the single-cylinder engine is nice and peppy. Thanks to its 17-inch wheels and Pirelli Scorpion tyres the Svartpilen handles well and merrily zips through traffic while being lovely and light to throw around thanks to a 150kg wet weight.
But there is an issue, which doesn’t take long to discover.
Once you are out of town, or just in the saddle for an extended period of time, you soon start to discover that the Svartpilen’s seat is lacking in any form of padding.
It very quickly becomes uncomfortable and is in desperate need of a bit more foam.
Owners are well advised to drink full-fat lattes and not the skinny variety to build up their own padding on their rears! But in comparison to the cramped Vitpilen, the upright Svartpilen is comfortable.
Cursed with the same seat as the Svartpilen, the Vitpilen’s café racer styling adds an extra element of discomfort thanks to drop bars.
While they look cool, when combined with the more road-orientated Metzeler M5 tyres to give the bike better handling, in town or on long distance runs they cripple your wrists, ruining what is a great looking bike that is bags of fun on twisty roads.
We want to like the Svartpilen and Vitpilen, we really do, but we just can’t see anything they offer that the 390 Duke doesn’t already – and for £900 less.
That will likely make a difference when it comes to insuring the motorcycles, too, as the KTM is a lot cheaper.
In fact, the Husqvarnas are actually worse in some aspects, as their seats are horrible, and they lack the Duke’s TFT dash and its connectivity to a smartphone, which is pretty crucial for a young, trendy customer addicted to showing off on Facegram or Instabook.
So where does this all leave Husky? In our view they are facing an uphill challenge.
If the Svartpilen and Vitpilen were the same price as the KTM Duke you would have the option to go KTM brash or Husky cool, but with that kind of price difference, we can’t see many riders looking past the KTM – especially when you take into account Husqvarna’s limited dealer network.
PUB FACT:Husqvarna was formed in the Swedish village of Huskvarna as a firearms manufacturer in 1689 (the logo is a gun sight) and built its first bike in 1903, technically making it the world’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer. However, Harley-Davidson dispute this claim.
Husqvarna is currently owned by Pierer Industrie AG, a firm headed up by KTM’s boss Stefan Pierer. He purchased the company from BMW in 2013, who took it over from the Cagiva Group in 2007.
The Cagiva Group bought the motorcycle side of Husqvarna in 1986, when the firm split their outdoor and motorcycle business.
So, having been founded in Sweden, Husqvarna moved to Italy, was purchased by a German company and has finally found residence in Austria. Although much of their bike parts are now built in India. Confused? Hopefully that has cleared it up a bit.
Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 and Husqvarna Vitpilen 401
|Engine||375cc, liquid-cooled, 4v DOHC single|
|Max Power||42.4bhp @ 9000rpm|
|Max Torque||27.3ftlb @ 7000rpm|
|Front suspension||43mm inverted WP forks, non-adjustable|
|Rear suspension||WP monoshock, adjustable spring preload|
|Wet weight||150kg (Vitpilen: 148kg)|
|Top speed||100mph (est)|
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