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First ride: Husqvarna 701 Vitpilen 'best road-going single ever'

Published: 22 March 2018

Updated: 07 September 2017

What can we say about Husqvarna's new 701 Vitpilen? Lightness, combined with a punchy, single-cylinder engine equals fun and creates the best road-going single we’ve ever ridden.

The concept Husky was dramatic and eye-catching. Husqvarna wanted to keep things simple, minimalistic and to appeal to a new audience of non-motorcyclists. The philosophy was to create something ‘pure’, or, as Maxime Thouvenin, Creative Lead on the Husqvarna Motorcycles street motorcycles put it, “A mighty single-cylinder motor with a tank, tail and a little seat – that’s it.”

But even without the marketing hype and jargon the Vitpilen is an impressive bike. Despite taking over three years to get production-ready, Husqvarna haven’t deviated from the original concept. It still looks fresh, new and unique. On the streets of fashionable Barcelona, it constantly drew attention.

Simply: it doesn’t look like anything else on the market.

But it’s not all about the looks

The light 11kg trellis chassis houses the most powerful single-cylinder motor on the market. Husqvarna are claiming 75bhp from the KTM unit (KTM owns Husqvarna – Ed) and it’s identical to the 43kg engine found in KTM’s 690 Duke and Husqvarna’s own Supermoto 701. But thanks to revised fueling, different exhaust and air-box it produces a vital one more bhp than the Duke.

Husky have also improved the gearbox to give a more positive change between second and third and added ‘Easy-shift’, their name for their up-and-down quick-shifter.

The WP suspension (also owned by KTM) is also near identical to that of the 690 Duke. The front 43mm USD forks are fully-adjustable while the WP rear shock, which operates through a linkage, is adjustable for rebound and preload only.

The brakes are the same as those on the 690 Duke and comprise: a 320mm disc with four-piston Brembo caliper at the front and a smaller disc with single piston caliper at the rear. ABS is standard as is basic traction control, although this isn’t lean sensitive. Thankfully, you can de-activate the traction control on the move and even turn off the ABS at a standstill.

What hasn’t, obviously, been taken from the 690 Duke, though, is the Vitpilen’s styling. There’s a unique 12-litre fuel tank, bespoke exhaust, attractive sub-frame with minimal seat and distinctive headlights with daytime running lights and is all very eye-catching.

On the downside, though, there is a temptation to conclude that the new Husqvarna is little more than a KTM 690 Duke in fancy dress. Yes, the Vitpilen has a shorter wheelbase, steeper head angle and different suspension but once you look past the radical styling it’s really not too dissimilar from the KTM 690 which is £900 cheaper.

The elephant in the room

Because yes, at £8899, the Vitpilen’s pretty pricey, too – especially when you consider the clocks are a rather dull, there’s no mode button on the bars, the ignition barrel looks like an afterthought, the clutch lever is too short and above 70mph mirrors vibrated so badly they’re useless.

Yes, the Vitpilen’s designed to be minimalistic and pure but at some point that becomes basic and spartan. After all, some similar-priced multi-cylinder bikes have things like full-colour clocks and rider modes.

However those concerns don’t diminish how the Vitpilen rides as a bike – and it has to be said it’s pretty impressive. Around town, the single is responsive and surprisingly smooth above 3000rpm – so much so you could easily be mistaken for thinking you’re riding a twin. Below that, of course, the delivery’s a little lumpy, as you’d expect from a big single, but above that it’s faultless, with impeccable fueling.

The plush suspension is soft enough to take on the harsh city environment, bouncing over speed humps, and not jolting over huge pot holes. While the rider aids control any wheelspin over white lines and the ABS-assisted Brembo brakes are progressive, strong and user-friendly. The Husky’s ‘Easy-shift’ is a joy to use and once moving it negates the need for a clutch.

Unlike some quick-shifters it’ll even downshift on part throttle and doesn’t require to be fully closed. There’s even a fun little ‘pop’ from the fruity exhaust between up-shifts. And while the Vitpilen may look dinky is reality it’s quite substantial with a seat that quite high at 830mm and also fairly wide. Anyone under 5’5 will be on tip-toes.

Let’s get out of town

The Husky will also cruise comfortably at motorway speeds and is pretty fast, too. If you stretch out prone on the tank it should be good for an indicated 120mph.

That riding position feels natural and not too upright, as well. And while not as the 690 Duke the Husky’s seat is quite hard meaning that the chance to stretch my legs when the fuel light came on at between 75 and 85 miles was very welcome.

Husky claim the Vitpilen isn’t a sporty bike, but it still does a pretty good impression of one. It’s light and flickable, allowing you to change lines with ease. It darts from one side to the other like a toy and turns so quick it took me by surprise on more than one occasion. The clip-on bars give excellent feedback about what the fully-adjustable WP forks are doing and although the rear shock is a little soft it does transmit what the rear Bridgestone is doing. Fit some stickier, take it to a track day and you’d embarrass a few big capacity sports bikes, too.

But the overall beauty of the Vitpilen underneath that radical bodywork is how easy it is to ride and how much fun it is – and all without the need to double the speed limit. It reminds me of an old Honda VFR400 or well-sorted Yamaha 350LC, from the days when you could have fun below 100mph.

It’s also good around town and is just as much at home chasing up mountain passes. It was even reasonably comfortable on the motorway. Overall? The best road-going single I’ve ever ridden – but there’s no hiding that steep price tag.

The 701 Vitpilen fact

  • Price: £8899 
  • Engine: 692.7cc 4v single-cylinder 
  • Frame: Trellis Seat height 830mm 
  • Suspension: 43mm WP front forks, fully-adjustable; single WP rear shock adjustable rebound and preload
  • Brakes: 320mm discs with four-piston radial Brembo calipers; 240mm rear disc with single-piston Brembo caliper 
  • Available: Later this month 
  • Power: 75bhp @ 8500rpm 
  • Torque: 53.1ftlb @ 6750rpm 
  • Weight: 157kg (dry) 
  • Tank capacity: 12 litres

The MCN verdict

There’s no denying the new Husqvarna is fun and very eye-catching. It has much wider abilities than I expected and will appeal to everyone from fashionable commuters to new bikers. That said, at nearly £9000, you’re really going to have to want one.

It’s pricier than Yamaha’s brilliant XSR900, Triumph’s outstanding 765 Speed Triple S and even £900 more than Ducati’s base 797 Monster and it really doesn’t deliver more than any of those.

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