Husqvarna’s new Vitpilen and Svartpilen were some of the most hotly anticipated machines of 2018 when they were unveiled at the big bike shows at the tail-end of last year. With their sharp, futuristic styling, and tried and tested KTM bones, the bike industry en-masse couldn’t wait to swing their leg over one of the most innovative introductions to motorcycling in recent years (from a styling perspective, at least). And my first impression of the ‘White Arrow’ as it rolled out of the van at O2W HQ was one of admiration.
Husqvarna has been very brave with the styling – the Vitpilen looks like nothing else on the market. Simple, stripped back, free from clutter and surprisingly compact, there’s no doubt you’ll get ogled as you pass through towns and villages. In fact, at a couple of recent bike nights, I’ve come back to find it surrounded by groups of sportbike nuts, who were very complimentary about the little ‘Pilen.
Out on the road for the first time, the Vitpilen’s single cylinder engine is surprisingly capable – particularly considering its 43bhp A2 licence-compliance. It’s punchy and responsive enough to make blasting along country lanes great, great fun. And until the road opens out, you’ll have no problem keeping up with much larger and more powerful machines. It’s no real surprise that the engine is such a peach though – Husky and KTM know a thing or two about single cylinder motors. In fact, the motor’s pulled pretty much straight from the tried and tested, and hugely successful KTM Duke 390, which is renowned for being extremely capable when pushed hard.
Suspension is decent too. The WP forks and shock are surprisingly stiff, but that helps the bike to offer exceptional levels of performance out on the road. It’s an impressive feat, particularly considering the bike’s ‘budget’ nature and its learner credentials. Brakes come from Bybre (Brembo’s Chinese subsidiary) – and I’ve found them top notch, capable of stopping the Husky on a sixpence – with plenty of feel on offer.
The riding position is surprisingly sporty for what Husqvarna has touted as a street-oriented machine – with drop down clip on bars encouraging you to lean right over the front end. But you need to be; with the front end desperate to lift as you wind on the throttle out of corners. It all works though, there’s a sharp, clinical feel to the handling – and even in town at lower speeds, it’s lightweight and nimble enough to manoeuvre your way through the traffic.
I’ve had the pleasure of riding Husqvarna’s all-new Vitpilen 401 for a few months, and I’ve really grown to love the compact Austrian-built weapon. It’s quick, capable, sporty, stylish and lots and lots of fun – but it’s important to talk about the things it doesn’t do quite so well too. Don’t get me wrong, the negatives are few and far between – and pretty insubstantial in the grand scheme of things. But they’re worth mentioning.
First, let’s talk about styling. Overall, the sharp, compact and uncluttered Vitpilen is a sight to behold. It looks fantastic in the flesh – but, in my opinion, its ‘poop scoop’ style rear hugger on the back wheel just doesn’t blend in with the rest of the bike. Of course, it’s a necessary evil, carrying the bikes license place, indicators while catching mud, all without cluttering the rear end.
Next up is comfort. After around 45 minutes in the saddle, it quickly becomes apparent that the Vitpilen’s seat has very, very little padding. I’ve done a handful of 300 mile journeys recently, and while sat on the motorway in a fairly static riding position the bike doesn’t offer the most comfortable of rides. Equally, I have found its café racer-style drop bars to be hard on my wrists when in the saddle for extended periods of time. I am tall though, and have no question that someone a little shorter would have less of an issue. Regardless, you soon forget it all when you get the chance start pushing hard on a twisty piece of tarmac, and move around the bike as you throw the lightweight machine into corners. You’ll be having too much fun. As for carrying a pillion, if your passenger is any normal sized adult – you better be prepared for a fairly intimate ride. Neither of you should expect to be particularly comfortable. You could probably get away with it to nip to the shops or pop into town, but any further is going to be a challenge.
Minor criticisms aside – there’s no denying Husqvarna’s Vitpilen 401 offers a completely fresh perspective on modern motorcycling. It’s truly like nothing else on the market, and is even A2 licence friendly. It’s compact, stylish and very cool. And best of all, if you put the Husky on a twisty piece of road, it’s a revelation. It’ll have no trouble at all keeping up with much bigger and much quicker machines. Considering it’s touted as being perfect for the urban sprawl (and of course, it’s exceptional in that environment), it goes better than you’d ever expect it to out on the open road. Try one. It’ll surprise you.
HUSQVARNA VITPILEN 401
ENGINE: 373cc liquid cooled, single cylinder four-stroke
TORQUE: 37Nm torque
BRAKES: (F) 320mm disc with four-piston radial fixed hydraulic ByBre caliper (R) 230mm disc with single-piston floating hydraulic ByBre caliper
SUSPENSION: (F) WP USD forks with 142mm of travel (R) WP Monoshock with 150mm of travel
KERB WEIGHT: 148kg
FUEL CAPACITY: 9.5 litres
SEAT HEIGHT: 835mm
O2W RATING: 8/10