2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 Review | My Aim Is True
After a 50+ year absence from the pure-street motorcycle market, Husqvarna returns to the pavement with the 2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 (along with the Vitpilen 401 and 701).Despite its rugged look and Husqvarna’s competition heritage—the Svartpilen 401 is not a scrambler or sport bike. Instead, it is designed for new riders looking for a stylish urban motorcycle. We tested as a commuter and urban battler, along with some forays into the local canyons.
1. It is based on the KTM 390 Duke, yet the 2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is truly its own motorcycle. Despite sharing a chassis and motor with the KTM 390 Duke, the Husqvarna Svartpilen has a personality unlike its Austrian brother. If you’re looking for a sport bike that will aggressively take you through the twisties, you can stop right here and read our latest test of the KTM 390 Duke. At the time, we thought the 390 Duke was the Mayor of Urban Motorcycling, but there’s a new political boss in the neighborhood—the Svartpilen 401. Oh, and you will want to know that Svartpilen is Swedish for Black Arrow.2. Husqvarna made the Svartpilen 401 a softer and friendlier motorcycle. The 373cc DOHC single has had the top end power reduced a bit from the 390 Duke, and the torque increased. Further, the power comes on a bit earlier, making the Svartpilen 401 an easy ride in crowded urban conditions, while still retaining the performance you would expect from 43 horses and a curb weight of just 347 pounds. An easy-shifting six-speed transmission means you can always find the right gear. The suspension is also softer on the Svartpilen, and it has high-profile chunky Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires.3. Don’t be fooled by the Rally tires—the Svartpilen 401 is street-only. In an effort to entice new riders, the Svartpilen has steampunk styling with a dose of zombie apocalypse thrown in. The knobby tires might tempt you to hit the dirt, but Husqvarna says no. Beyond that, the dirt-bike style crossbar handlebars, distinctive fuel tank, severely bobbed tail section, and thin seat all give the Svartpilen a personality unlike any other motorcycle. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to keep the reanimated corpses at bay while staying on the pavement.4. The soft suspension does exactly what it’s supposed to do—provide a smooth ride on rough urban streets. While sport bike riders will complain about the happily compliant suspension, the 2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is not built for them. Instead, it is for a new rider who doesn’t want to get beaten up by the potholes, dips, and ripples on criminally under-maintained streets. The Svartpilen excels at its mission of sucking up the nasties, including brutal expansion joints on the worst metropolitan freeways.5. In-town agility is what the 2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 is all about. It feels like a small motorcycle with no intruding accouterments to impede the rider. The ergonomics are almost dirt-bike like, especially with the wide flat-bend handlebars. The short wheelbase and moderate rake make sliding between four (and more) wheeled vehicles a fun, practical and, if you want, exhilarating experience—replacing the awkward and useless mirrors will help. When you get to your destination, the small footprint of the Svartpilen 401 makes parking easy—a good number of garages will let you put the kickstand down gratis.6. Braking is highly progressive, and Bosch ABS is standard. There’s a soft initial bite from the Bybre (short for By Brembo) calipers at both ends, with deceleration increasing quickly as you work the hand lever and foot pedal. While strong brakes can intimidate a newer rider, the combination of gentle initial engagement and two-channel ABS to bail you out should you get too exuberant is just about perfect. Both experienced and new riders can take on the town with confidence that they can stop quickly when needed, though the soft fork will compress readily during hard braking.7. The slightly cupped seat is stylish, and comfortable enough for most runs around town. The ribbed seat is built more for looks than comfort, so you aren’t likely to empty the 2.5-gallon gas tank without stopping on jaunts between distant neighborhoods. Any passenger is going to feel a bit exposed at the back end, as there is zero fender, with a tire hugger doing the job of mounting the license plate and rear lighting. Instruct your passenger to hold on tight.8. A newer rider should find satisfaction in the canyons. As long as you aren’t pushing too hard, the soft suspension won’t be a liability. In fact, it will feel good on rougher roads. The Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires have a fat footprint and slow down the handling compared to the KTM 390 Duke. That’s a good thing for budding sport riders, who won’t find any shortcomings in the behavior of the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401. Sure fast guys will complain about the tires and suspension, but they should have bought the Duke in the first place.9. The controls are simple and unintimidating for the new riders. There are no modes to select or settings to alter. All you do is start the bike up and go for a ride. If you happen to have the kill switch on or the kickstand down, the round dash will remind you that there’s a reason the 401 won’t fire up. Once underway, however, the dash is difficult to read due to a thin LCD font. Certainly, the speed indicator is large enough, though still not easily read at a glance. Both the clutch and brake levers are easily adjustable for smaller or larger hands.10. While you don’t expect a beginner street bike from Husqvarna, that’s exactly what the Svartpilen 401 is. With a $6299 sticker price, we see the 2018 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 as an inspirational motorcycle for the budding pilot. It is a fully functional urban motorcycle that is also selling exclusivity and style, along with easy performance. If you pull into the local boutique coffee purveyor and the Svartpilen doesn’t start up a conversation, you’ve picked the wrong pit stop for caffeine. This bike is about getting around town efficiently, and making a not-so-subtle entrance at your destination.Action photography by Don Williams RIDING STYLE
Ducati Scrambler Icon Dark + Chip Doherty with Neale Bayly
byMotos and Friends by Ultimate Motorcycle
The Motos & Friends Podcast is brought to you by the Yamaha YZF-R7. The R7 is a brilliant supersport machine that is also comfortable. Now there’s an idea! Check it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or you can see it for yourself at your local Yamaha dealer.
This week, in the first segment Senior Editor Nic de Sena talks to us about the new Ducati Scrambler Icon Dark. This somewhat entry-level machine still comes with all the great Ducati hallmarks of excellent low down torque and impeccable handling. If you like to hear about fun motorcycles, then you’ll enjoy this one.
In the second segment, Editor-at-Large Neale Bayly brings us another of his interviews, this time it’s with Chip Doherty.
Chip’s amazing resume includes motorcycle racer, restorer and collector. Back in the early 2000s he used his engineering background to start motorcycle clothing manufacturer Motophoria.
After selling that company in 2007, Chip’s resume gained him entry to NASA where for 7 years he was responsible for launching the space shuttle! Since moving on from NASA, Chip expanded his collection of classic British bikes. Eventually Neale persuaded him to ride to Peru and help Neale’s Wellspring Foundation raise money for the orphanage there.
So, from all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!