Originally published on Canada Moto Guide: Test Ride: 2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
You don’t have to be kinky to enjoy the sharp crack of a whip. It’s okay to be excited by the sharp bark of a big-bore single cracking open.
It’s also okay to stare with adoration at a naked motorcycle. The 2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen takes its cues from every café-racered/street-fightered bike in modern history, and distills that inspiration into a brutalist, minimalist machine.
Fortunately, that yellow line cutting a swathe through the middle of the bike is laser etched onto the aluminum, and is not a sticker or paint job. That means it should be less prone to fading, scratching, or rubbing off when you clean the fingerprints and residue left by the parade of awe-struck gawkers.
The commitment to aesthetic austerity is borne out by the integrated handlebar mounts, which are molded into the simple flat triple-clamp top. The light splashes of brushed aluminum and copper accents leave you wanting more. Even the fuel cap demonstrates deep attention to detail with its subtle “H” logo and unique, bevelled shape. And in places where function dictates extra cladding or attachments – for example the heat shields on the exhaust – Husqvarna has done it simply, and cleanly.
As a result, the $13,399 Vitpilen weighs in at a svelte 164 kg.
Mostly because of the whopping great single cylinder mounted upright in the trellis frame, the Vitpilen is far taller than you might expect. The 830 mm seat height is a challenge. More than that, the Vitpilen’s svelte frame feels heavier than it should in rapid transitions. At 1,434 mm, the wheelbase is also longer than expected but it’s worth noting that there’s a lot of room out of the box to shorten the chain and tighten that distance by 15–20 mm. It’s the first mod I’d do.
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The heavier Yamaha XSR700 feels lighter and more agile than the Vitpilen – but packs nowhere near the Vitpilen’s aesthetic punch or curb appeal. And while the XSR700 has the adorable Yamaha twin, the 693 cc single is its own unique animal. The 75 hp and 53 lb-ft output is decent, but the angry snapping bark you get any time you crack the throttle wide is downright intoxicating.
The engine is fitted with dual counter-balancers, which do a lot to even out the single’s thumping cadence. Vibrations through the rider touchpoints are minimal, which is just as well, because the seat employs the same austere ethos as the rest of the bike’s design, and it’s too firm for long rides.
Also, the mirrors are in dire need of a rubber mount, as our tester’s units were rigid-mounted, and completely useless over 3,500 rpm.
Ride comfort overall is very good. The upside-down 43mm WP forks (with easy-to-use rebound and damping controls) soak up bumps with ease, and limit dive under braking.
A twin disc-brake setup is usually better than a single, but the 320 mm single disc and Brembo calipers do a decent job of arresting the Vitpilen’s momentum. Grab those brakes (or stomp on the 240 mm rear) too hard and the Bosch ABS system keeps your wheels rotating and your bike upright.
Combining non-switchable ABS with a slipper clutch means your rear tire is never in danger of locking, which is a positive in most situations. There’s a traction control system too, which is honestly overkill on a 75 hp bike. Traction control can be turned off via an unmarked button on the simplistic dashboard.
The quick-shifter works in both directions, allowing clutchless riding in the cut-and-thrust of city traffic. It’s in urban environments where the Husqvarna street fighter shines brightest.
This bike is the first street bike from Husqvarna in a long time, and also a bike that Husqvarna hopes will extract it from the shadows of KTM. Since KTM took ownership of the brand in 2013, the orange DNA has dominated the white bikes: the Vitpilen ("White Arrow" in Swedish) is Husqvarna’s promise to remain its own thing.
There’s enough bike here to justify the spend, and on looks alone, it will give most owners warm, fuzzy feelings every time they pull it out of storage. There are less-expensive options in this segment, (the XSR700 comes to mind) but none that have the wow factor of this rig.
It’s a stunning piece of design, backed up by strong bones. It is a good first execution, but needs tweaking to bring the ride experience up to par with the Vitpilen’s spectacular looks. With a little less of the dirt-bike ethos in its veins, the Vitpilen lineup – which Husqvarna hints will expand – will be a formidable offering.
Key Specs: 2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen
Engine: 693 cc single
Curb weight: 164 kg
Power: 75 hp @ 8,500 rpm
Torque: 53 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,434 mm
Length: 1,451 mm
Seat height: 830 mm
Brakes: 320mm disc with four-piston Brembo radial caliper front/single-piston 240 mm disc rear.
Front suspension: 43 mm inverted WP fork with adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single rear WP shock, adjustable preload and rebound
Tires: 120/70/17 front, 160/60/17 rear