Husqvarna are back – and not for the first time. However this time they are under the ownership of KTM and not BMW, and that means the firm has had a change of focus. Again, not for the first time…
When BMW bought Husqvarna from the MV Agusta Group in 2007, the plan was to create a range of modern-styled bikes powered by BMW motors but carrying the Husqvarna brand name to help them appeal to younger riders. In the end that plan turned sour and BMW off-loaded Husky in 2013 to KTM. Now, five years later, KTM are relaunching a range of Husqvarna road bikes that borrow heavily from KTM’s product line-up in terms of technology, but take a very different path when it comes to styling. And guess what, yep, they are targeting younger riders. But this time the bike market may very well play into Husqvarna’s hands as they aren’t just targeting young consumers, they are after the fashionable ones…
According to Husky, the Svartpilen and Vitpilen are as much fashion accessories as they are motorcycles and that means that they are hoping they will sell as such. What Husky are planning to do is appeal to fashion- conscious urban riders who want a bike that looks cool and will make them stand out. I hate to use the term hipster, but there are a lot of ‘cool types’ in Husky’s marketing campaigns. Is this a good sales plan for a company that is attempting to rekindle interest in its brand after a fair few years in the wilderness? Only time will tell, and the firm certainly has a few stumbling blocks to overcome along the way, but at least they have the bare bones in place as both the Svartpilen and Vitpilen tick most of the correct boxes. Most…
While they are two distinct models, the Svartpilen and Vitpilen can basically be talked about as one bike due to the fact the majority of their components are shared. Both bikes are powered by KTM’s 390 Duke single cylinder motor, they have the same trellis frame as the Duke, similar WP suspension, the same swingarm and the same ride-by-wire throttle system. But what separates them from the KTM is their styling, which it has to be said is very appealing and ultra modern.
The Svartpilen (black arrow in Swedish) is the, err, black one and is styled to look like an urban enduro while the Vitpilen (white arrow in Swedish) is a modern take on a café racer, which comes in white. Both bikes have spoke wheels where the Duke has cast items, and on the Svartpilen they are shod in chunky Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyres where the Vitpilen gets road-orientated Metzeler M5s. Other than that, the Huskies get an LCD dash, LED lights, cool bodywork and the Svartpilen high bars where the Vitpilen has lower clip-on style items. And there is one final difference.
KTM’s small capacity Duke models are built in India before being shipped to Europe, where both Husqvarna models are assembled in Austria. This is important because Husky are using this, alongside their funky styling, to justify the fact that the Vitpilen and Svartpilen cost £5599 where the 390 Duke is £4699, which is a £900 difference. Are they worth the premium?
If we are talking purely styling, the Husky models do look fantastic. They both have a lovely attention to detail that extends to such things as the bike’s name cast into the top yoke, the Husky-branded engine cases, stylish fuel filler caps and the cool spoke wheels. Their plastics are also really funky with the tank and seat unit giving the bikes a modern style that is unique in the bike market. They are certainly visually interesting, which is one box ticked, and they ride well too.
Considering they share so many components with the 390 Duke, it should come as no surprise the Husqvarnas ride well. The 375cc single cylinder motor has bags of punch with an excellent throttle connection and real feeling of drive while the chassis is also very accomplished. The Svartpilen with its high bars and chunky tyres is the more relaxed bike and is wonderfully suited to urban riding thanks to its more upright riding position. The Vitpilen is a little bit compromised by its lower bars, which are pretty uncomfortable in town, but get it on the open road and it is better in bends thanks to that focused riding position and road tyres. However both bikes suffer from a seat unit that is woefully lacking in padding, making distance work a right pain in the bum. Maybe fashionable people have more padded bums than me, I suspect not due to skinny lattes being their preferred drink over a full-fat coke, so this is one area Husqvarna really need to address on their new bikes. And sales is another…
At the moment, Husky has 22 UK dealers, the majority of which aren’t based in major cities. Why would they be, they traditionally sell dirt bikes. If you are targeting a new range of street bikes at fashionable urban riders, this is a major issue. Or ‘challenge’ if you are a diplomatic Husky spokesperson… But is it a challenge they will overcome?
Aside from the seat, there is nothing physically wrong with Husky’s 401 models. They look great, ride well and would be excellent urban commuters. But there is an issue when it comes not only to the sales network, but also the price tag. Are they worth £900 more than a 390 Duke? In my opinion, no. But there again, is an Apple iPhone worth three times as much as Samsung’s equivalent? Again, no, but that doesn’t stop people buying them. If Husky’s marketing people can convince fashionable types that the Svartpilen and Vitpilen are worth a premium then they may well succeed, but personally I’d rather have seen them built in India and priced competitively with the 390 Duke to offer riders an alternative. You could have the brash and sporty Duke, or the cool and stylish Husqvarna. If this were the option, I could see far more Huskies being sold in the UK, as it currently stands I fear they will face a tough uphill struggle. Which is exactly the issue BMW encountered…
Engine: 375cc, liquid-cooled, 4v DOHC single
Power: 42.4bhp @ 9000rpm
Torque: 27.3ftlb @7000rpm
Weight: 150kg (Vitpilen 148kg)
Claimed economy: 60mpg
Motorbike Insurance through Carole Nash.