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First Ride: Husqvarna Svartpilen 401

Published: 29 March 2018

This is the second time in six years that I have been at the unveiling of a new range of Husqvarna street motorcycles. The last time, which was in 2012, involved BMW talking about the Nuda 900. Now, in 2018, we have a KTM man in a Husqvarna shirt introducing a range of single cylinder models inspired by the brand’s heritage. To be fair, Husky do have a two-wheeled history spanning back to 1903, so they have a lot of heritage to draw inspiration from – it’s just their parentage in recent times that gets somewhat confusing!

To clear matters up, Husqvarna is now owned by KTM and as a result their bikes share several major components. The Vitpilen 701, which MCN tested a few weeks ago, borrows KTM’s 690 Duke motor while the Vitpilen 401 and Svartpilen 401 use the 390 Duke engine. And that’s not the only similarities…

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As well as the motor, the Husqvarna model share the Duke’s chassis, brakes, WP suspension, most of the exhaust and its ride-by-wire throttle system. But there is a major difference, where the 390 Duke is entirely built in India by Bajaj before being shipped to Europe, Husqvarna’s models are assembled in Austria. Although this is a bit of a charade as lot of the components are prebuilt in India, but more on that later…

Consisting of the Svartpilen (black arrow in Swedish) and Vitpilen (white arrow), Husqvarna’s two new 401 models are designed to appeal to fashion-conscious urban riders. They are machines that rely more on their funky styling to sell rather than their actual performance. Much like an Apple product, Husky are hoping riders will buy into the lifestyle (and be prepared to pay a premium for it) as much as the fact that they deliver excellent urban commuting potential. Is this a wise move? That remains to be seen, but at least the basics are there for those wishing to exploit their congestion-busting ability.

Styled to look like an urban enduro, the Svartpilen does have some nice touches. Wire wheels, Pirelli tyres, a cool exhaust end can, removable pillion peg hangers, neat fuel filler cap, wide bars, adjustable levers and its name embossed on the top yoke add an element of ‘premium’ while its stubby look is sleek and modern. But this style comes at a cost and not only a financial one…

While the Svartpilen’s riding position is roomy, its seat is little more than a thin pad of foam and it isn’t long until you are squirming in discomfort. Distance work is a real pain in the bum – literally – which is a shame as the rest of the bike works so well.

Highlights:

  • Liquid-cooled DOHC single cylinder
  • 42.4bhp with 27.3ft.lb of torque, A2-legal
  • Slipper clutch and Bosch ABS
  • WP suspension
  • Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyres

Using the 390 Duke as a base has ensured that the Husqvarna rides and drives excellently. The 390 single has enough grunt for urban use and its ride-by-wire throttle is spot on in terms of feel and connection. The gearbox is a little on the clunky side, but this is a bike at the budget end of the spectrum and it is nothing that will ruin the experience for newer riders. And the same goes for its handling.

Despite its off-road look, the Svartpilen rides well and its 17-inch wheels with only marginally chunky-style rubber ensures it handles naturally and doesn’t forsake agility in the name of fashion. The WP suspension delivers a nice balance between sports and comfort, the brakes and ABS are good and if it wasn’t for that hideous seat, there is little to complain about. Which is a bit of a recurring theme for both of the Husqvarna 401 models – they are good, just not outstanding and that could be their greatest issue.

While the Svartpilen rides well, I fear Husqvarna will still face an uphill struggle to break the UK market. For a start there is the issue of the dealer network. Husky only have 22 UK dealers, most of which aren’t by Husky’s own admission based in major cities. Considering the targeting of the 401 models at urban riders, this is a major issue, or ‘challenge’ as Husky diplomatically described it. And then there is the price.

Neither the Vitpilen nor Svartpilen do anything that the KTM 390 Duke doesn’t already achieve, aside from looking different, however they are nearly £1000 more expensive due to the fact they are ‘Austrian’ built. I’d much rather Husqvarna dropped this charade (let’s face facts, the are only bolted together in Austria using mainly Indian-built parts, even the tyres are Chinese!) and instead built them in India and charged only a few hundred quid more than the KTM, not nearly a grand. You can only demand a premium when your product is a clear market leader, and at the moment while they look cool, the Husky models are only on a par with the KTM 390, certainly not above it. However as Husqvarna point out, this is a lifestyle product as much as a motorcycle and for some buyers, that price hike isn’t an issue. It’s an Apple phone versus a Samsung one debate, both do the same job – but the white one costs more as you are buying into that brand’s lifestyle…

 

Facts:

  • Price: £5599
  • Engine: 375cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valve, single
  • Power: 42.4bhp @ 9000rpm
  • Torque: 27.3ftlb @7000rpm
  • Frame: Tubular steel trellis
  • Seat height: 835mm
  • Suspension: 43mm inverted WP forks, non-adjustable. Rear: WP monoshock, adjustable spring preload.
  • Brakes: 1 x 320mm disc, four-piston ByBre radial caliper; 230mm disc, one-piston caliper. Bosch ABS
  • Weight: 150kg (wet)
  • Tank capacity: 9.5 litres
  • Colours: Black
  • Available: Now

 

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