With a new range of road bikes aimed at a new breed of Husqvarna rider, Husqvarna is back with its new Svartpilen and Vitpilen 401. We had an exclusive insight into the bikes at a fancy launch in London.
With a history dating back to 1903, Husqvarna is one of the oldest motorcycle manufacturers in the world.
Starting out as a multi-faceted manufacturing company, the Swedish brand was a regular competitor in the early years of the Isle of Man TT, before switching its attentions to motocross and off-road machines after World War II.
Huskies were one of the bikes to have in the off-road world, dominating the 250 and 500cc world championships in the early 1960s. In 1983 they developed the first four-stroke motocross bike but the company went into decline soon after. Parent company Electrolux sold off the Husqvarna bike division to Cagiva in 1987, with bikes made in Northern Italy for two decades before the brand was sold on to BMW in 2007. Despite big plans for Husqvarna, BMW disposed of the brand in 2013, when it came under the stewardship of Austrian off-road giants KTM.
Recent years have seen Husqvarna produce what it’s best known for: full on motocrossers and thumping great singles with tall suspension and plenty of off-road capability, but for 2018 KTM is taking Husqvarna in a new direction – producing trendy urban roadsters in the form of the new Vitpilen and Svartpilen.
It’s a brave move, but then KTM boss Stefan Pierer didn’t get to where he is today by playing it safe.
Based around the KTM Duke 390 engine, the Vitpilen (translated from Swedish as White Arrow) 401 and Svartpilen (Black Arrow) 401 are styled like pretty much nothing out there. The Vitpilen is the sportier of the two, with low slung clip on bars that put the rider right over the front of the bike. It’s like a modern café racer, a mini BMW R nineT, while the Svartpilen runs on a trendy scrambler style setup with higher bars, semi-knobbly tyres and engine bash plates. It’s a style that KTM, with its ‘Ready to Race’ philosophy, would struggle to get away with, but the look works well with the Husqvarna badge and not a hint of orange in sight.
Both bikes are a curious (but strangely cohesive) blend of retro and modern, with sawn off rear ends, spoked wheels and exposed trellis frames looking right at home with the futuristic LED headlamps, minimalist instrumentation and neat WP upside down forks. Both bikes, which retail at the same £5599, exude the kind of hipster appeal that wouldn’t look out of place down at the Bike Shed.
Also available is the £8899 Vitpilen 701, which runs the 75bhp 693cc single from the 701 range of enduro and supermoto bikes. This retains the style of the smaller Vitpilen, albeit with cast rather than spoked wheels. What’s clear is that Husqvarna is being repositioned as a company that makes bikes for the street, just like it did in its formative years.
What’s particularly interesting is the way in which KTM is bravely marketing its offspring brand to a new audience. The Austro/Swedish company held a media evening in London’s West End earlier this week, inviting a whole host of lifestyle journalists and social influencers alongside the usual motorbike press corps.
Husqvarna believes, rightly or wrongly, that the new models can attract new riders to motorcycling providing, in their own words a ‘new gateway to motorcycle culture’.
They go on to say that “The approach was not to make a bike for a certain type of person but rather to make one for any kind of person. Thus, opening up an entirely new gateway into the world of motorcycle culture. A culture that is accepting, non-specific and purely for the love of being on two wheels, seated on a tiny seat and behind a set of handlebars.”
The new Husqvarnas are a pretty major departure, not only for the KTM but for the motorcycle industry as a whole. The Vitpilen and Svartpilen takes a new style of bike, previously only really seen from low volume boutique manufacturers and custom builders and mass produces it.
At £5599, £1000 more than the Duke 390, the 401 models are certainly not cheap, but they’re cool things and might just see a few more urban dwelling young professionals discovering the joy of getting around with two wheels and an engine.