Size does matter, and in this case, smaller is better.


It’s no secret that Husqvarna’s dirt bikes and dual sports sell themselves. Touting a storied motocross/scramble history, it’s easy to see why the off-roaders are so popular with the public. On the other hand, the company hasn’t seen much success with its street-oriented lineup. With 2019s still occupying the showroom floor and the pressure of Q3 looming, Husky recently visited Azusa, California to jumpstart the sales of their Svartpilen & Vitpilen lines. Labeled the Real Street tour, the series of demo events featured both models in their 401 & 701 variations, casting a veritable spotlight on their often overlooked street bikes. 

But the Svartpilen & Vitpilen aren’t afraid of the spotlight, you could even say they were crafted to bask in it. The first thing you’ll notice when you gaze at the Svartpilen & Vitpilen is the unconventional design. It’s not a stretch to say that the aesthetics of the lineup resemble something out of a Scandinavian furniture catalog. With minimal, flowing lines, the Svartpilen & Vitpilen would feel right at home with your Poäng and Klippan. 

Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the neo-retro style aims directly at a younger, urban demographic that gravitate toward classic, simplistic forms with a utilitarian edge. Whether you fancy the looks of the bikes or not, you have to admit that the fit and finish is quite impressive. However, I do feel the designers tragically overlooked the speedometer, as its more akin to a gym teacher’s stopwatch than a proper gauge. Not to mention, the highly reflective glass and mounting angle make render the information illegible. Aside from the hideous - and quite useless - instrument cluster, the Svartpilen & Vitpilen reek of smart sophistication.  

But I can see how that elevated design could be a barrier for potential buyers. Due to the refined, “Swedish” aesthetics, one could quickly distinguish these models from their intra-brand cousins, KTM’s Duke and Enduro. With hopes that the public will embrace these models the same vigor as they’ve taken to KTM’s lineups, Husky is just trying to get more booties in the saddle, and I’m more than happy to oblige. 


Sharing the motor of KTM’s 390 Duke and 690 Enduro R, Husky’s Svartpilen & Vitpilens benefit from two well-tested mills. Both engines push the boundaries of power that a single-cylinder engine should produce. Despite the lack of pistons to share the load, the vibrations on the 401 & 701 aren’t excessive (take that assessment with a grain of salt - I ride a Harley). 

While the 701 delivers its power in a smooth, linear fashion, I found myself smitten with the 401′s punchiness. Glancing at the spec sheet, I noticed that the 701 reaches peak torque of 53 ft-lb @ 6,750 rpm with 75 hp topping out @ 8,500 rpm. Comparatively, the 401′s max torque (27 ft-lb) hits @ 6,800 rpm and horsepower (42 hp) @ 8,600 rpm. With about half the power and three-quarters of the weight of the 701, the 401 shouldn’t feel nearly as torquey. Additionally, both motors achieve max torque and horsepower at practically identical rpms, leaving me perplexed with my preference for the 401 - aside from the butt dyno. 

No, I can’t support my fondness of the little thumper with cold hard data, but I can attest that the majority of the riders attending the demo agreed. I know anecdotal evidence is the least persuasive argument, but the 401 simply felt like a more agile from side-to-side and provided great acceleration in short bursts. And I may be rationalizing here, but those darting characteristics seemed appropriate for two models that translate to white arrow (Vitpilen) and black arrow (Svartpilen). The 701s weren’t bad motorcycles in the least, they just didn’t imbue the same excitement as they’re diminutive counterparts. Size does matter, and in this case, smaller is better. 


But the size variation didn’t stop at the engine. The differing braking systems on the bikes occupied two different build quality standards. Even with the 401′s “budget” brakes, both systems felt well-suited for their classes with adial-mounted Brembo clampers blessing the 701s and ByBre calipers getting the job done on the 401s. 

Despite the fact that both models lack dual-discs, the calipers delivered a reassuring bite while riding in urban environments. Yes, an extra rotor and caliper up front would certainly push the models in a more performance direction but we didn’t take the Svartpilen or Vitpilen into the twisties and the stock brakes would suffice where most buyers would ride these bikes - in the city.


When judging the two models on ergonomics, I kept their natural habitat - urban environments - in mind, as both maintain a fairly sporty position. Starting with the Vitpilen, I immediately noticed the aggressive, forward-leaning stance. Positioning my head directly over the front wheel, the Vitpilen made me want to slalom through mid-day traffic at full throttle. However, that state of mind prooved more enslaving than freeing. After all, I was on a demo tour. If “it’s better to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow,” nothing is worse than living that platitude in reverse. If you’re looking for a nimble, aggressive, lane-splitter, the Vitpilen has you covered, but make sure your journey is manageable, as I already felt the tension in my wrists by the time we returned from the short ride.

On the other hand, the Svartpilen utilizes high-rise bars to position the rider at ease. From the upright posture, I was content to stay in line and putt along at a legally acceptable speed. Sure, I tugged on the throttle from time to time, but the relaxed stance felt more conducive to congested road conditions. If the Vitpilen’s ergonomics equate to a Supersport, the Svartpilen would be it’s Naked/Standard counterpart. Both bikes are aimed at city-dwellers and while it would be a stretch to say that either of them let you stretch your legs out, neither of them feel cramped. Though I’d probably opt for the Svartpilen in most situations, if I were visiting one of the local canyons (GMR, HWY 39, etc), I’d certainly side with the Vitpilen.


While the ergonomics shift the rider into different postures - and different states of mind - the road manners of the bikes are quite similar. With all models under 6 inches of travel, I could easily flat-foot each bike. Despite its smaller stature, the 401s benefited from the same WP 43mm inverted forks that graced the front end of the 701s. On the road, each bike was compliant and responded immediately to my every input. Particularly, the Vitpilen - with its clip-ons and head-down posture - reacted to every adjustment of my body. 

Not only did the suspension allow the bikes to cut from side-to-side, it also made the 401s and 701s feel planted. From soaking up potholes to providing stable steering at speed, KTM’s proprietary suspenders highlighted how fun these machines can be. On the contrary, the lack of suspension travel on the Svartpilen did beg the question: couldn’t this model be much more fun? Aside from ergonomics and a few bits of design (paint mainly), how does the Svarpilen distinguish itself from the Vitpilen? 

And that’s where I got to thinking about the lack of sales for these two models. After taking everything into consideration, it seems like Husqvarna’s “Real Street” motorcycles are going through an identity crisis. Are these bikes retro or performance? Can you consider a motorcycle “premium” (as the price would suggest) the dash looks more like a digital alarm clock and it doesn’t come with dual-disc brakes? But maybe it’s less of an identity crisis and more of a false identity. For instance, Husqvarna outfits the Svartpilen with dirt tracker styling yet they can’t endorse taking the low slung machine off-road. Even with the aesthetic hinting at dirt-capabilities, the Svartpilen is essentially a naked bike with knobbies. 


Broadcasting a false image can ensnare potential buyers - or it can turn them off (like it did for me). Intoxicated by the snappy acceleration of the 401, I actually looked into purchasing a Svartpilen following the demo. But the lack of off-road capability soon soured my initial enthusiasm. If it can’t hang in the brown, why outfit it with Pirelli Scorpions? Why adopt tracker design cues? What’s the point of making form decision if it’s contrary to the function? That disillusionment made me look at the Svartpilen & Vitpilen differently. 

With an MSRP of $6,299 for the 401 and $11,999 for the 701, it’s easy to see why the KTM-owned brand is having problems moving units. Coupled with the unconventional design (which I actually love but can understand how some wouldn’t), Husqvarna has it’s work cut out. Along with the lackluster sales figures of the Svartpilen & Vitpilen, the Real Street Demo stop in Azusa failed to highlight the full capabilities of models. With the near highway miles away, riders were relegated to a jaunt around the block. As a result, I never got the gearbox past 3rd and that doesn’t instill much confidence in potential customers. The combination of disorganization, bikes-to-rider ratio, wait times, and early wrap-up, I’d venture to say that the demo barely moved the needle on these two bikes.

With all that said, if you’re looking for a stylish motorcycle to ride in the city, Husky’s street lineup may be a good option. The brand continues to promote their 0% APR (up to 48 months), so you may score a new Svartpilen or Vitpilen for a great price. For my intents, the bikes are too niche in design and too specialized in purpose, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. I guess the best advice I can give to potential buyers is to test ride as many motorcycles as possible. I know I will be!