Husqvarna has been best known for off-road competition bikes through much of a trophy-laden 117-year history that has seen its home move from Sweden via Italy to Austria. Dirtbikes remain Husky’s focus but since the Pierer Mobility Group took over in 2013 the brand has been growing its streetbike range, aiming to establish an edgy, upmarket image aimed at urban hipsters and hardcore hedonists.
Two contrasting models, both powered by the Mattighofen factory’s proven 693cc single-cylinder engine, highlight this approach. The Svartpilen 701 – “Black Arrow” in Husqvarna’s once-native Swedish – is a stylish naked roadster. The 701 Supermoto is a more aggressive sports machine created to bash handlebars on street or multi-surfaced racetrack.
If the Svartpilen looks familiar that’s perhaps because it is closely related to the Vitpilen 701, the White Arrow café-racer launched two years ago. The Svartpilen has a raised, one-piece handlebar instead of clip-ons but shares many street-smart styling touches, blending futurism and retro cool with its metallic-and-black finish and the way its dummy petrol tank (fuel lives under the seat) merges with the seat and sidepanels.
There’s a hint of flat-track racer about the Svartpilen, whose wire-spoked wheels wear distinctively patterned Pirelli MT60 tyres. And the sohc, four-valve LC4 powerplant packs sufficient punch to back it up. The 74bhp, liquid-cooled single provides pleasingly lively performance to a bike that weighs just 161kg, enabling effortless 80mph cruising and a top speed of about 120mph.
The Svartpilen gets there enjoyably rapidly, especially when revved enthusiastically with the help of the gearbox’s slick two-way quick-shifter. Twin balancer shafts keep vibration to a minimum, though the mirrors blur at speed and there’s some juddering below 3500rpm. And you’ll need to turn off the Bosch traction control before living up to the urban hooligan look by pulling a wheelie.
Handling is excellent, thanks to the Svartpilen’s blend of rigid tubular steel frame and high-quality WP suspension. The wide bars and light weight mean you can flick it around effortlessly despite the 18in front wheel. Although those Pirellis are quite narrow there’s sufficient grip and ground clearance for plenty of cornering fun, backed up by sharp braking from the single front disc and Brembo caliper.
The roomy, upright riding position is more wind-blown than the Vitpilen’s at high speed but works better the rest of the time, making this the more practical ’Pilen. The fairly slim, low seat helps aids manoeuvrability, if not comfort; the under-seat tank holds just 11.2 litres but the economical single is still good for over 100 miles. More to the point it’s as entertaining as it’s distinctive, and will rarely fail to put a smile on its rider’s face.
That’s also true of the 701 Supermoto, although its competition-inspired design, complete with large white sidepanels seemingly waiting for the application of racing numbers, confirms a more serious character. Like the KTM 690 SMC R whose engine and many other parts it shares, the Supermoto would be perfectly happy being skidded into a turn then broadsided out amid a pack of angry racers, but it’s equally at home being caned down a bumpy back-road.
In contrast to the Svartpilen, the focus is not on street style but on agility and control at high cornering speeds. Instead of a shapely dummy fuel tank there’s a slim seat extension that allows the rider to shift forward in turns, inside leg thrust out in supermoto style. In the absence of a handy circuit, my attempts at mastering this technique on a local roundabout probably didn’t impress the hi-vis wearing workers who emerged from their van to spectate before I got giddy and cleared off, but the bike can’t be blamed for that.
When ridden with both feet on the pegs the 701 was huge fun on twisty roads, where its typical supermoto blend of long-travel but well-controlled WP suspension, sticky Conti tyres and light weight made it arguably as quick as a sports bike, despite the slightly less precise feeling through the bars. The Husky adds a sophisticated traction control system, plus cornering ABS to complement the powerful braking from a big front disc and chunky Brembo caliper.
Straight-line performance is near-identical to the Svartpilen’s, although the taller seat makes the Supermoto more windblown at speed, as well as less manageable in town for the short of leg. Basic instrumentation is a legacy of its enduro bike roots, and this 701 doesn’t even have the option of carrying a pillion. But for urban or back-road blasts, few bikes are either quicker or more rewarding.
At £9799 in the UK, the 701 Supermoto currently costs £1500 more than the SMC R, while the Svartpilen 701, at £7999 (not including accessory Akrapovic silencer), is more expensive than the outstanding KTM 790 Duke parallel twin. You’d need to value Husky’s sense of exclusivity or distinctive style highly for that to make financial sense. For those who do, the 701s are unlikely to disappoint.
By Roland Brown @rolandbrown1
Photos by Husqvarna Motorcycles