Many groups have bought and sold Husqvarna over the years. Initially Cagiva/MV Agusta, BMW and now owned by orange Austrian superpower KTM. Synonymous with producing Enduro and Motocross machinery, the list of championship victories in competitions is endless. However, road going street bikes have never been their forte. Under the BMW ownership era, they created the 900R AKA the Nuda. I’ve never seen one in the flesh but it’s becoming a cult icon in certain circles. It sold in small numbers. Enter the 701 Vitpilen
Determined to become one of the big boys Husqvarna aims to battle it out with the large European bike manufacturers.
Husqvarna teased the 701 Vitpilen concept around at EICMA 2015. Borrowing parts from KTM range, but styled to suit a different audience, with a twist of modern design. The prototype was realistic too. Most of the styling and tech on the prototype has remained on the fully-fledged road-going model. It looks stylish and futuristic while still having that cafe racer charm, that seems to be in every manufacturer’s model range.
The 693cc single cylinder engine is derived from the KTM 690, with a redesigned tank and airbox. It is nothing short of fantastic, producing 75hp and more torque than you would expect. This engine is responsive and feels packed full of grunt; it just wants to be at wide open throttle, all the time. It isn’t a fan of being below 3000RPM, it gets juddery. This is an excellent excuse to get the needle up the gauge where it feels like it wants to be. The engine loves to be revved hard up to the red line. You get a beautiful shift light prompting you to change cog. The gearbox itself is mint. The wicked acceleration is thanks to the perfectly sized ratios. It pulls from higher gears for overtaking.
Up and down quickshifter as standard!
Also equipped with an ‘Easyshift’ up and down the box quick-shifter. For me, it worked effortlessly and when coupled with the Akrapovic end can produce some sweet pops. This makes you feel like an immature teenager all over again. The overall noise does still have the dirtbike brappy tone, but more refined, to suit a road going bike.
The Chassis is a trellis frame similar to the 690 Duke. The rear end is shortened giving a more stout look. I found the riding position comfortable, but a longer legged rider may have a different experience. I can’t see racking up the miles being an issue. The seat is comfy, the footpegs are in a great position. It combines comfort with sportiness, while the bars take most of the weight off the wrists.
There is ample steering lock for the tight manoeuvring and filtering. The WP suspension soaks up bumps and gives a good robust platform, which inspires confidence when throwing this bike around. Initially, it feels quite heavily sprung and awkwardly stiff for slow speed around town riding. It makes up for it when the road opens up, the suspension becomes perfect. Launching this bike over speed bumps gives massive satisfaction. It feels like one of Husqvarna’s motocross bikes, just in a more sensible disguise.
701 Vitpilen, a motocross bike for short people.
I took it down some real dodgy single lane roads, caked in muck and water, the kind of road frequently only traversed by 4×4’s and tractors. You can tell the motocross heritage was paying off. I had a massive grin on my face and not a nervous one out of fear. Getting soaked and puddle jumping has never been more fun. Contrary to other people’s opinion that this is just a hipster bike for posing around town, I had a great time riding it properly out in the sticks.
This bike was designed to play on twisty A and B roads. When a grunty engine and a solid chassis link together to make a truly wicked riding experience. The bars are wide and flat giving plenty of leverage to throw the bike into bends. The Bridgestone S21 hoops give plenty of feedback and confidence even on muddy and wet roads.
Brembo brakes and shorty levers
The brakes are from Brembo, complete with great looking shorty style levers and the now mandatory ABS. Switchable between on and off if you want to get a bit more rebellious and throw some stoppies. It is not cornering ABS, just the straight line variant. It kicks in quite early. I noticed it on the rear more so the front, but it’s there and all works as you would expect it to.
Being only a single front disc which filled me with apprehension, but Husqvarna claims it isn’t a sporty bike so a single disc is all it needs coupled with the fact the 690 Duke has been running the same setup for years with no drama. Personally, I have never been a fan of shorty levers but these worked without any drama and they help with the styling of the bike so it gets a pass on that one.
TFT dash needed!
It’s got an LCD screen, with a shift light and has lots of the standard equipment you would expect including a fuel gauge and multiple trip readouts. I just feel it’s a shame that It thought it really didn’t suit the rest of the tech-filled and futuristic looking bike, and without a slight cover over the instrument cover, the glare from the sun over the display was blinding. I was really hoping the dash from the 690, or even the 790 but sadly not. Maybe this was a little too far from the cafe racer styling but I remain hopeful for an update to give it a more modern and readable dash.
Becoming more commonplace these days is the massive catalogue of factory aftermarket parts, everything from bar end mirrors, a soft luggage upgrade, the must-have Akrapovic can and crash protection is available. Equipped with bar end mirrors and the Akra can, I loved the one I borrowed. The can improves the styling dramatically, over the stock pipe.
That Akrapovic is a must!
Overall I found the Vitpilen 701 a very nice place to be, the fit and comfort for me are perfect and I could quite happily have spent all day B road blasting. Motorways might be more uncomfortable due to a lack of windscreen but definitely not enough of a negative to stop me giving it a go. Fuel range was about 80 miles to a tank slightly down from the 690 Duke, I’d imagine its capacity is slightly smaller to account for the airbox changes, and also I really did wring its neck so if you are more gentle on the throttle that figure would definitely go up.
Husqvarna claims the Vitpilen isn’t a sporty bike, but I completely disagree, the only real way to describe how this bike feels is a massive surprise. The fit and feel of the machine feel so sports bike like, admittedly the engine feels different to a conventional 4 cylinder, but it still likes to rev and makes very good power and torque for its displacement combined with the lightweight and slim packaging the combo is obscene. It corners hard, you can really throw it around, and that in itself brings massive satisfaction, and it can really get stuck in with others too.
701 Vitpilen more expensive than some, cheaper than others.
The only real downside comes down to price. When compared to other bikes it feels to me like it sits slap bang in between two current markets. It feels more bike than the likes of an XSR thanks to the addition of a quickshifter and personally I like the styling more, but then I don’t honestly think the 701 was more bike than the likes of a Thruxton R (review here) or an R9T. The Vitpilen is down on power compared to that pair, but some people say power isn’t everything, and in this case, I’m quite likely to agree. For what it is the 701 Vitpilen is a great bike, one I could happily see in my garage, and one I really wouldn’t regret.
What’s next from Husqvarna and their European domination? Well, I think everybody would like to see a Vitpilen 1290…. wouldn’t they?
For more information check it out here!