Courtesy of Husqvarna

Husqvarna’s 2018 Vitpilen 701 Rides As Good As It Looks

We finally get to throw a leg over the long-awaited Vitpilen 701, and it’s a ripper

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f it seems like we’ve all been waiting ages for the Vitpilen to arrive, that’s probably just because it’s so damn droolworthy. The reality is that Husqvarna first showed the 701 concept at EICMA in late 2015, and now here we are, a shade more than two years later, with units due in US dealerships in April. It usually takes four years to move from concept to production (that’s certainly the schedule Yamaha appears to be keeping with the T7 adventure bike, another eagerly awaited model) so 28 months is a quick turnaround. Building the Vit around the frame and engine of the KTM Duke 690 surely helped expedite things, leaving more development time to dial in the details of the design. Sure enough, the 701 I got to rip around Barcelona, Spain, was the spitting image of the lean and futuristic concept first seen in Milan back in fall of ’15.

Call the Vit a cafe racer or an exotic naked or whatever you want—part of the appeal is that its avant-garde style makes it impossible to pigeonhole. The Husky's personality and performance are difficult to pin down too. After blitzing around the Catalan capital and unraveling kilometers of deliciously twisty roads in the mountains above the city, however, I think the 701 is best described as a joyous mash-up of supermoto rowdiness and sportbike performance. If you thought the Vitpilen was going to be more style than substance (like I did), you're wrong. As it turns out, it's as functional as it is fashionable, and so much fun to ride.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
The Vit’s round headlight appears retro, but the LED lighting and perimeter illumination are thoroughly modern.Courtesy of Husqvarna

The Vitpilen looks long and low and that’s how it feels when you sit on it, even though the seat is almost 33 inches high. Chalk it up to a fairly long reach to low clip-on bars that project from the triple clamp, à la RC390. That seat, whose lines form the upper portion of the bike’s trademark diagonal “split,” appears rigid and unforgiving, but it’s softer than it looks. It’s also long enough that you can sit toward the front or the back, so the bike accepts riders of varying torso length readily enough. Unfortunately, those taller than 6 feet looked pretty goofy on such a wisp of a bike. That’s what stands out most when you first hop on the 701—it’s tiny and incredibly light. As it turns out, it weighs just 362 pounds with a full tank. (We weighed Husqvarna North America’s homologation bike back in California.) That’s less than an RC390, yet the Vit makes 75 percent more power. Those are some pretty exciting specs.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Engine
Previously seen in the KTM Duke 690, the Vit’s 693cc engine makes 71 hp and 51 pound-feet of torque on our dyno.Courtesy of Husqvarna

Husqvarna positions the Vitpilen as an urban bike, and if you intend to ride it primarily in the city, you're in luck. For starters, it's got a striking style that turns heads and sets it apart from the two-wheeled crowd, which in Barcelona includes machines of every shape and size parked two rows deep along curbs all over the city. Then there's that ripping 693cc single-cylinder engine that fires the bike forward like a cannonball. Release the light-action hydraulic clutch and there's wheel-lofting grunt right off idle and exciting power all the way to the 9,000-rpm rev limiter, all accompanied by an appealing, albeit thoroughly muffled, exhaust note.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Seat
How often does a seat catch your eye? Don’t worry, it’s more comfortable than it looks.Courtesy of Husqvarna

Wrangling the Vit’s feisty engine is easy to thanks to precise ride-by-wire throttling. It’s also surprisingly smooth for a big single, feeling more like a V-twin at idle and at speed thanks to comprehensive counterbalancing that includes a weighted shaft in the cylinder head. The engine has a few other tricks up its sleeve in the form of integrated coolant passages (for compactness and a clean appearance), a slipper clutch, dual-spark combustion chamber, traction control, and even a quickshifter and auto-blip downshifting. You won’t see a sensor on the shift linkage though. Husky tucked the sensor into the clutch cover on the other side of the bike where it takes its signal from the right side of the shift shaft. Clever.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
You really can’t take a bad picture of the Vitpilen.Courtesy of Husqvarna

City streets are usually beat up and bumpy, so you want your urban runabout to have a compliant ride, especially if you’re carrying a fair amount of weight on your wrists like you do on the Husky. The Vitpilen’s suspension is on the firm side but refused to jolt my wrists, even when provoked with potholes. That combination of plushness and support is a hard line to walk for suspension, but the folks at WP did a great job selecting settings for this bike. If for some reason you want to fine-tune the setup, you’ve got adjustable compression and rebound damping up front as well as spring preload and rebound adjustments out back.

A comfy ride is important, but so is good handling. It’d be hard for the Husky not to turn quickly with a 362-pound curb weight, but the Vit brings more than just snappy, taxi-dodging steering to the table. The bike changes direction with a thought and holds a line around a rotary so well that you could almost take your hands off the slim, Husqvarna-embossed grips. Need to stop quickly because a trash truck just lumbered out of an alley? There may only be one disc affixed to the front wheel, but it’s a killer setup composed of top-shelf Italian componentry. Two fingers is all it takes to extract maximum stopping power, and ABS has your back if you happen to brake across something slippery. Better still, ABS (as well as TC) can be disabled for unfiltered fun by pressing a hidden button on the dash.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 throttle
Check out the details on the grips. Damping adjustments are readily accessible on top of the fork legs.Courtesy of Husqvarna

Okay, the Vitpilen is great for getting around the city and looks good doing it. So does a Vespa. What about getting out of the city? To my surprise, the Vit has pretty long legs. Big singles usually vibrate like a paint shaker at high revs and feel strained at highway speeds, but the Husqvarna easily cruised 85 mph along the autopista with just the faintest vibration in the footpegs. The mirrors, on the other hand, are affected by some unfelt buzzing that renders them blurry and fairly useless. And while the Vit has nothing in the way of wind protection, the forward-leaning riding position braces you against the breeze so freeway riding isn’t that unpleasant.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
We were surprised by how sporty the 701 is. This thing devours curves.Courtesy of Husqvarna

Barcelona is a beautiful place that I’d move to in an instant, and the city is made all the more appealing by its proximity to intensely curvy roads in the mountains just outside of town. For a supposed city bike, the Vitpilen is a hell of a sport machine, which was totally unexpected. It only took a few bends for me to be reduced to a grinning idiot as I dove into corners and braaaaaaped off apexes. The 701 comes into its own on winding roads, and the tighter the curves, the more you’re going to enjoy the engine’s torque, the quickshifter, and the speed and ease with which the 701 lunges from one side of its Bridgestone S21 Hypersport tires to the other. This is one of those bikes (like Triumph’s Street Triple) that is effortless to ride quickly. I would have been very happy to stay in the hills all day ripping wheelies and wearing out the shoulders of the Vit’s tires, but sadly, our test ride in Spain was over.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Dash
A disc-shaped LCD display serves as a dash.Courtesy of Husqvarna

Complaints? I’ve got a few, but a lot fewer than I was expecting, and they’re really just nits. For one, the disc-like dash seems out of place and uninspired compared to the rest of the bike, which is so refined and sophisticated. I would love to see a slim TFT screen nestled against the triple clamp, but of course that would add expense. Another expensive feature that would suit the futuristic and “Simple. Progressive.” mantra of the Vitpilen is keyless ignition. Instead, a standard ignition switch sticks up from the right side of triple clamp, looking a little like an afterthought. Also, while the hot air that wafted off the 701’s engine in stop-and-go traffic felt pleasant during my chilly March ride in Barcelona, it’s bound to be uncomfortable in August. Not much you can do about that but to keep moving so the radiator gets air.

In the end, the Vitpilen 701—this bike we’ve been staring at and lusting after for so long—performs as good as it looks. And some will say that it damn well should for $11,999. That’s no small chunk of change, especially for a 700cc single. But in my mind the Vitpilen is ready to go toe to toe with bikes like BMW’s R nineT and Triumph’s Thruxton R, both of which ring in close to $15,000, and that’s impressive. It’s also impressive that Husqvarna has created a motorcycle so distinctive that it defies categorization. It uses some familiar parts, yeah, but Husqvarna has done something completely original with them, like an artist using common colors to create a unique painting. This bike is something special, and a milestone for Husqvarna as their first foray into a new realm of premium, unconventional, and exciting streetbikes.

2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Brake
There’s only one disc up front, but it’s big and squeezed by a four-piston Brembo caliper.Courtesy of Husqvarna
2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
The Vit’s tail is mighty tidy.Courtesy of Husqvarna
2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
The extruded oval badging on the 701’s tank is its most striking feature.Courtesy of Husqvarna
2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 Gas tank
Every detail on the new Husqvarna is impressive.Courtesy of Husqvarna
2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 fender
A swingarm-mounted rear fender looks cool, but it’ll likely make changing tires a PITA.Courtesy of Husqvarna

TECH SPEC

PRICE $11,999
ENGINE 693cc liquid-cooled single
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 71.0 hp @ 8200 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 51.0 lb.-ft. @ 6750 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION WP 43mm fork adjustable for compression and rebound damping; 5.3-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION WP shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.3-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston caliper, 320mm disc w/ ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo one-piston caliper, 240mm disc w/ ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°/4.3 in.
WHEELBASE 56.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.2 gal.
MEASURED WEIGHT 362 lb. wet
1/4-MILE 12.1 sec. @ 112.6 mph
0-60 MPH 3.6 sec.
AVAILABLE April 2018
CONTACT www.husqvarna-motorcycles.com