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2018 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701: MD Ride Review


Breaking out into the streetbike market with a motorcycle that defies classification is no easy task. But to do it with a single-cylinder engine while also providing stunning backroad performance? Husqvarna has surprisingly accomplished this very difficult feat with its new Vitpilen 701.

After enticing consumer interest at the 2015 EICMA show in Milan with the Vitpilen 701 concept bike, you just knew that Husqvarna would transform the design exercise into production reality. While it took a seemingly endless three years for that to happen, the final result is a motorcycle that not only turns heads with its avante-garde styling, but also provides miles of fun for the rider by virtue of its surprising performance. Some will dismiss the new Husqvarna as just another retro-classic poser bike, but the Vitpilen 701 is definitely not an all-show/no-go machine.

Using the same basic 693cc single-cylinder engine and tubular steel trellis frame as the latest KTM 690 Duke gives the Vitpilen an excellent platform to build on. Enlarging the bore by 3mm and shortening the stroke 4.5mm over what was already a fairly stout and rev-happy design has transformed the new, more compact engine into a single with some teeth. Husqvarna claims 75 horsepower and 53 ft/lb of torque for the dual-counterbalancer-equipped powerplant, and has also equipped the Vitpilen with advanced electronics such as ride-by-wire throttle and traction control. The chassis is nearly identical to the 690 Duke (with the same pressure-cast aluminum ribbed swingarm), although the Vitpilen has much steeper steering geometry (25 degrees vs 26.5 degrees) and a shorter wheelbase (56.5 in. vs 57.9 in.).

The Vitpilen looks low, narrow, and sleek sitting on its sidestand and, for the most part, that’s how it feels when you throw a leg over the thin-looking saddle. While it may look as hard as a plank, the seat is actually surprisingly comfy for anything shorter than 45-minute stints, and has plenty of fore/aft room for different size riders. The seat height is a little tall at 32.7 inches though, so shorter-inseam riders will be tip-toeing a bit in the parking lot; the flip side to that equation is there is decent legroom. The bars are set a little low in cafe racer clip-on style, so your torso is canted forward a bit, but not uncomfortably so. There’s no denying the styling catches the public’s eye; everywhere we went on the Vitpilen, we received favorable comments from passersby.

The big single fires up quickly and easily, although the exhaust note is muffled down quite a bit to pass stringent EPA sound regs. The clutch action is light and has good feel, and there’s very little driveline lash when you click it into gear. Using the ample torque of the single-cylinder engine to pull away from a stop is as user-friendly as can be, and the Vitpilen has an amiable character that won’t bite unwary riders. But whack the throttle open, and you quickly find that the Husqvarna has plenty of steam to get you through tight spots in city traffic or easy holeshots from a stoplight.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Unlike many singles, the Vitpilen doesn’t run out of breath at highway speeds, and easily cruises along at 75 mph with plenty in reserve. And it does this without rattling your teeth fillings loose and numbing your hands like a typical big single. Employing an innovative design that incorporates the second counterbalancer up in the cylinder head as a sort of “pseudo overhead cam”—the layout mimics a DOHC setup, with the valves actuated off the rear camshaft, while the forward “cam” is the counterbalance shaft—allows the Vitpilen to be free of the paint-shaker vibrations that accompany other big singles at higher rpm. The only aspect that belies this surprising smoothness are the mirrors’ view that become a blurry mess at anything over 4500 rpm.

Husqvarna was mostly intending the Vitpilen to be an urban bike, so it needs a chassis/suspension package that can handle the nastiness of old and crumbling city pavement. Luckily the 43mm WP fork and single shock are upgraded over the 690 Duke setup, with the inverted fork boasting easily adjustable rebound and compression damping via tabs on top of each fork leg (left leg handles compression damping, right leg deals with rebound damping; unfortunately no spring preload adjustment), and the rear shock featuring adjustable spring preload and rebound damping. Even broken-up, sharp-edged bumps and potholes were handled in stride, with no jarring felt through the clip-ons (a good thing, considering the cafe-racer-esque ergos).

The Vitpilen feels very light and flickable, as well it should; at 362 pounds full of gas, the Husqvarna basically weighs the same as the KTM 390 Duke. Add the steep steering geometry, and you have a motorcycle that initiates turns almost as quickly as the thought process — without any twitchy or nervous handling traits. This comes in handy dodging errant four-wheeled vehicles and other urban hazards.

Even the braking system is well up to its task of bleeding off speed quickly. While there is only a single disc up front, it’s a full-size 320mm diameter disc clamped by a radial-mount, four-piston Brembo M50 caliper, with a 240mm disc/single-piston slide-pin caliper combination out back also helping slow everything down. A switchable ABS (via a hidden button on the dash) adds to the arsenal. Of course, the Vitpilen’s distinct lack of heft certainly helps tremendously here.

That the Husqvarna would fulfill its intended urban role well should be no surprise. But the Vitpilen stunned us with its competency when we decided to venture up into the local canyons.

The engine and chassis that proved so capable in the city was really able to prove its worth once able to stretch its legs properly. With a strong, flat torque curve mated to a revvy, 75-horsepower top end (my seat-of-the-pants dyno tells us that claimed number is not overly optimistic), the Husqvarna is able to jump off the corners with surprising speed. The six gearbox ratios are well-chosen for maintaining acceleration, and the standard equipment quickshifter/auto-blip downshifter make rowing through the gears a breeze.

The 693cc single revs willingly and continues churning out good power all the way up to near the 9000-rpm rev limiter, which makes the bright red shift light on the circular dash a welcome addition. Wheelies out of slower corners don’t require much provocation, although turning off the traction control helps considerably (also accomplished using the non-labeled dash button); otherwise, it tends to be a bit heavy-handed in its intervention if the front wheel comes off the ground.

Likewise, the lithe and agile handling that makes urban threading such an easy affair pays even bigger dividends in the canyons, especially the tighter ones where a larger, faster sportbike can’t make use of its power advantage. The Vitpilen can charge through a set of corners at speeds few sportbikes can match, with an ability to take any line you choose with very little effort. Flicking the Husqvarna through a set of switchbacks at speed requires less muscle than any sportbike I’ve ridden in recent memory; again, the Husqvarna’s featherweight mass plays a role here.

WP and Husqvarna were able to find an excellent compromise in spring and damping rates between city comfort and canyon firmness; there’s good traction feedback from both ends, and the Bridgestone S21 rubber provides excellent grip and bump absorption when leaned over.

There’s plenty of ground clearance despite the decent legroom, meaning that tighter lines are but a light steering input away. And slowing down the fun is ably handled by the minimalist braking system; the front brake’s initial bite is a little soft (ostensibly to keep aggressive braking from upsetting the suspension/chassis), but power ramps up nicely as you brake harder, with good feel and feedback. And to top this all off, even repeatedly pinning the throttle during spirited rides never dropped the mileage below 55 mpg, meaning there’s a good 160 miles in each 3.2-gallon tankful.

Gripes? Yeah, there are a few. The circular LCD dash is pretty dated in this age of full-color TFT instrument panels appearing on even lower-end bikes like the KTM 390 Duke. The information on the calculated numbers such as fuel range remaining or current mpg is very slow to update, and many of the numbers are small and arranged in a busy fashion that makes discerning them at a glance harder than it needs to be. The clear cover over the circular dash can reflect sunlight at various points during the day, obscuring the information. And we’re not sure why spring preload wasn’t included in the available adjustments to the front fork.

And then there’s the little matter of the Vitpilen 701’s sticker price. There’s no denying that $11,999 for a single-cylinder bike is pretty steep. But I’d argue that the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 has a lot more to offer than other competitors like the BMW RnineT, Triumph’s Thruxton R, and perhaps even Ducati’s Monster 821. The Vitpilen 701’s cutting edge styling defies categorization and stands out in any crowd, yet has surprising performance beneath that art design skin. For Husqvarna to accomplish all this in its first foray into the street bike arena with a single-cylinder machine is an extraordinary achievement—and the Vitpilen 701 is certainly no ordinary bike.


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69 Comments

  1. Vince says:

    Kent! Good to see your road testing journalism again! I look forward to future contributions on MC Daily.

  2. Miles says:

    That price at the end of the article is like a punch in the gut. 12 grand for a single? Woof! Knocks all the enthusiasm/air right out of me.

  3. Bruce says:

    I can’t wait to ride one but having ridden a Duke 390 and seeing the new Vitpilen and Svartpilen side by side and sitting on them both, I think the Svartpilen will be the most fun of the two new Huskys. Its actually more comfortable and better looking (to my eye) as well. Plus, as they both fit in the impractical toy category why not go for the much cheaper 390?

  4. steveinsandiego says:

    well, i exited mc life last september when i sold my 2015 suzuki v-strom 650; old age came upon me too early in life. however, i’m always looking, tho’ there’s no possibility of parking a scoot here.

    so what’s with the radiator shrouds? less is almost always better imho. but…is there enuff room behind the rider to screw mount a top box?

    great eyeball, again jmho.

    wonder how persnickity servicing might be. sure did like my kawi 1600 classic and ninja 650. easy to work on (well, ok, cheap to have’m worked on, and not very often…tho i averaged about 11k miles/year). and always reliable.

    stay safe out there.

  5. red says:

    I’m a sucker for sporty singles, so yep I REALLY like it. Specs sound awesome and it’s good looking – from the front. On the backside, that stubby seat/subframe let it down somewhat imo.

  6. PD says:

    Pretty cool, and good for Husqvarna. There are many different ways to design and produce a motorcycle–or ride one. I’m amazed we get so much to choose from.

  7. Onto says:

    I’ve been riding for 46 years and one thing I’ve learned is that the majority of motorcyclists never become really good riders. They just spend their whole life pretending that they are. If you want to become a really good rider, buy a bike like this, ride it hard and it will teach you. You’ll never learn advanced skills if you only ride fat, heavy bikes. In case you hadn’t noticed, Marquez rides a light bike.

    • todd says:

      The fastest riders I’ve ever known were/are riding singles, the slowest tend to ride 1000cc-plus bikes.

  8. Gary says:

    I am much more interested in the 790 Duke. I hope you guys snag one for a test.

  9. A nice bike and spiritual successor to the original Honda Hawk GT and the Suzuki SV 650, in terms of nailing the essence of a bike while also making it proficient.

    Questions:
    – Why not do a single sided swingarm?
    – Is the tank metal or molded plastic?
    – How’s the passenger seat?

    I also wonder if this bike will spur competitors. Maybe a Honda CB1 in that new CB1000R “neo” style? I wonder what one from MV Agusta would look like.

  10. Mick says:

    I wonder how this bike weighs 100 pounds more than a dirt bike. Even if you look at a 100 pound slab of solid steel, it is a fairly large object.

    My personal street bike has been one single or another since I sold my 916 Ducati and built a supermoto from an XR650R in 2000. Why people think you can’t ride any real distance on a single is a mystery to me. I am quite sure that most of those people never tried it. I would even wager that more than half of them haven’t riden a single at all.

    Street bike guys are a breed apart. They live in a world where a 360 pound motorcycle is considered light weight. I just bought one that weighs 110 pounds.

    • DeltaZulu says:

      110 pounds!?!? What is this mystery street bike? Not calling you a liar, just saying I don’t believe you.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        My daughter’s TTR-50 weighs 126 lbs. But I did ride it on the street. Like a boss.

    • Dave says:

      Then what dirt bike? A KTM Enduroo 690r is 310lb. Road lights, emissions equipment, appropriately stiff frame, swing arm, wheels for wider rubber, brakes + abs. It all adds up, quickly. A road bike is not a dirt bike.

      • roma258 says:

        The Enduro 690R is 310 dry, so ready to ride probably about 330-340? So…a 20 pound difference, maybe. The Viltpilen is maybe 100 pounds heavier than the KTM 350 EXC, with its 15 hour oil changes and 100 hour top-end rebuilds. Apples to oranges breh. Dude is out there in lala land.

  11. WSHart says:

    This thing is the motorcycling equivalent of Yoko Ono Fugly: So hideous no one would ride it in the dark, alone and wearing a “full face helmet”.

    Somewhere, the designer of the Suzuki Madura is at peace. Finally…at peace.

  12. todd says:

    I really like this bike (except the weird stubby tail and lack of storage). I’ve ridden a number of lightweight singles and it’s amazing how easily they out-perform supersport bikes, even when the singles were 40-50 hp. A 75 hp thumper would be amazing. I would want to raise the bars a bit and figure out how to add a tail, rear fender and storage to it for a commuter. The bike is worth the price to me (as far as new bikes are concerned) since nothing else like this is available.

    I am, however, holding my breath for a Yamaha T7.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Well, if the looks don’t disagree with you too much, the 690 Duke makes about the same power from it’s version of the this dual-counterbalanced, buttery smooth single. It also holds another .5 gallons of fuel, has upright bars, plus factory and aftermarket options for top cases and side cases. Which you could easily afford with the $3000 you’d save over the Husky.

      2016 was the first model year they used the new dual-counterbalanced engine, so you might even be able to find a used one.

      • KenHoward says:

        Yes. It appears that this reviewer knowingly avoided a direct comparison with the 690 Duke in those respects. Plus, how “comfy” can a seat be if it limits you to “anything less than 45 minute stints”? And that aggressive riding position? I wonder if that, alone, caused Dirck to choose doing the photography rather than the riding for this review?

  13. roma258 says:

    The local Husqvarna dealer already sold the 2 alotted to them. I think the bikes will sell just fine. It’s a cool, unique concept and the bike sounds like a backroad ripper. Not sure I’d want to do 300 mile days on it, but maybe if it’s all twisties it wouldn’t be so bad. The bike being so light, you could probably throw it on the hitch carrier and tow it to the twisties. Say somewhere in the middle of Smokey Mountains. Pure bliss.

  14. Tom R says:

    Sounds like a great bike if you happen to live at the base of your favorite twisty mountain road, and don’t want it for anything else. It is an impractical one-trick pony. They’ll sell about twelve of them.

    • todd says:

      Unmerited comment. I’ve ridden much less powerful – and heavier! – bikes very long distances and at fairly high speeds. I don’t see any reason why this bike would have a problem with that. .

      • Tom R says:

        “Unmerited comment”-that’s not a thing.

        “I’ve ridden much less powerful – and heavier! – bikes very long distances and at fairly high speeds.”-For you and the other eleven, that’s great!

        • todd says:

          You said it was impractical and implied it couldn’t be used on the highway. You obviously have no clue what you’re talking about or basis for that statement.

    • paquo says:

      except for the low bars that bike would be perfect for urban/suburban environments.

  15. skybullet says:

    Less is more. Less weight improves handling, acceleration and braking. I have a KTM 990 SMT and a Super Duke GT, yes, you pay a premium for top quality suspension, brakes, features.. but, you don’t have to replace components $$ to get better performance. The design engineers can spec out a better package without bean counter interference. No, it’s not a bike to travel on. It is optimized for maximum grins. I can’t wait to ride and maybe buy one.

  16. Tunde says:

    Hideous. Looks yonks away from the concept.

  17. Jim says:

    The line for street singles is short, $12k street singles even shorter. I wish them luck.

    • Sleeping Dog says:

      As a lover of singles, 2 in the garage and as someone who sells motorcycles for a living, I agree. Nothing makes it easier to sell a twin that is a couple of grand more expensive, than sending the buyer out on a single.

      The Vitpilen seems to be a great bike, but the buyer universe will be tiny.

    • Ilikefood says:

      Who cares if it’s a single. The line for 360 lbs wet, 75hp motorcycles is pretty long.

  18. xLaYN says:

    Photos in this website are always top notch.
    Dissecting the top photo notice the appendage that holds the cat on place… or how the rims look very light….
    Front fender has a lot of details, and the placement and structure that holds the lcd dash it’s kinda weird…

  19. Jim says:

    The line for a Street Single is pretty short. The line for a $12k Street Single will be even shorter.

  20. Pacer says:

    If you have the funds, this and a 1290 Adventure would be a nice pairing.

  21. falcodoug says:

    I like it.

  22. Pete says:

    I didn’t like it much before but after reading the article I love it. It’s too expensive for me to buy it so I’ll stick to my $4000 MTS1000S Duck

  23. Jeremy in TX says:

    I love it. I think the minimalist styling is amazing, being fully modern – maybe even futuristic – yet with a classic (but not retro) flare. Killer looks, 75hp, 362 lbs, nice brakes and suspension… I am not inclined to flinch at the price at all.

    The only curiosities to me are the couple that Dirck mentioned. Seeing as the bike is already $12000, just charge $300 more and add preload on the forks and a TFT display. Seems pretty silly to leave those features off for a bike in this price range, especially considering how well executed the rest of the package is.

  24. John Bowman says:

    I always liked the Duke. “Super single” is appealing to many. I had a hard time accepting the price of the duke, so the 701 is even a bigger nope. I would get the thruxton over this any day. 160 mi is a short ride for me, so that seat issue would be a nope. Sounds like the borexstroke change has made it a rev’r vs a thumper. appealing thoughts if I lived in WV or NC. Not in flat Michigan.

    • RD350 says:

      I think the Thruxton is better looking. But its heavy! The Truimph is 480lbs wet (96hp) against this Husky which is 362lbs wet (75hp). I think the Husky would outperform the Triumph everywhere (track, twistys, city, etc) except for highway droning. But you probably don’t want a cafe racer for highway anyway … even in Michigan. I hate heavy bikes no matter how good looking. I would take this lighter Husky based on weight alone!

      • Dirck Edge says:

        Husky is fine at highway speeds … just purring in 6th with plenty in reserve.

        • RD350 says:

          Thats good news indeed. I am anxious to sample the dual counter-balancer version of this motor.

  25. RD350 says:

    I love the KTM 690 motor and have owned a Duke in the past (great bike!). The styling of the Vitpilen 701 is a huge improvement over the current 690 Duke imo and the higher specification is a real bonus. (Anyone know if this is the same spec suspension as the latest Duke “R” which is not sold in the USA?)
    While this Vitpilen neo-cafe racer is certainly on my short list, I am equally or more excited to see the SVARTPILEN 690 scrambler which is hopefully on its way. My older bones feel better sitting more upright these days. I do wish Husky would capitalize on their great heritage by making a retro enduro or scrambler with the 690 motor but in classic Husky colors like the MOAB and Baja concept bikes.

  26. Tommy D says:

    I would like one. I think I will wait for them to sit on the show room floor or get sold used. Great idea but at least a grand more than I expected.

  27. Neal says:

    This is for tech money’ed pseudo-hipsters.

  28. John Bryan says:

    I wonder if Erik Buell occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night thinking “if only I’d have had a real engine sooner…”

    • Dave says:

      He needed a different dealer network much more than a different engine.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Clearly he needed more than an engine.

      • Provologna says:

        Amen.

        My Ulysses was a 2-wheel horror show, sold after 3 weeks. Thank God I bought it used (virtually mint condition) and lost little to no money.

        I don’t know about liquid cooled Buell’s, but from the Ulysses engineering I personally witnessed I wouldn’t ride a free Buell of any flavor. Trash. Not Kawasaki KH500 triple level trash, but in that direction.

        • Trpldog says:

          Bummer. I had 3 Buells. about 120,000 miles total on all. Lets see… Broke one clutch cable, and replaced tensioner bearings once. Wonderful bulletproof great handling motorcycles. Not quite trash I expect.

  29. yellowhammer says:

    Finally! A break from the racing personality discussion articles.

  30. Fivespeed302 says:

    This or the 821 Monster, it’s a tough call.

  31. Wendy says:

    How can it compete with its sister bike, the 690?

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I would buy this over the Duke.

      • SausageCreature says:

        Well, it certainly looks better than the 690…but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.

        • Pacer says:

          I think the Duke will go away with the addition of the 790. My guess is Husky will be the only street bike offering with this engine. The Svartpilen will be the “I wanted a Duke” option.

  32. Brimoto says:

    OK i’m over it . Bike makers have their head in their non ass. Where is the storage on modern bikes?
    No room for tools, let alone a cell phone! Heaven forbid you would acually use this bike to commute on…
    Incorperate storage space Please!
    I don’t want to where a back pack. I don’t like to have to spend upwards of five hundred dollers in racks and aftermarket bags to get a place to put my shit. Get over your no ass look and give me a streamlined storage area.
    And get of of my lawn you little punks…

    • Tommy D says:

      You sir are the target audience for the Kawasaki H2 SX Sport-Tourer. And when you get one I would like to ride it once and hear that blow off valve sound.

    • SausageCreature says:

      You’re not alone. I can sort of understand (or at least tolerate) the stubby, useless tail section on weekend playthings like this one. But the look has crept over to (and mostly dominated) general purpose bikes as well.

      I just don’t understand how the wasp tail look could possibly gain the manufacturers more customers than the lack of storage space, sane passenger accommodations and overall practicality loses them. It makes my head explode.

      • Dave says:

        Problem is, when they deliver more practical motorcycles, they’re rewarded with tepid sales. In Europe the scooter dominates the practical moto market and the US market is only now finally recovering.

        I have never cared for the truncated tail sections either, practical or not.

    • Neal says:

      You’re looking for a Versys, I think. This is garage candy for guys intimidated by Ducatis but know that they’re too good for an SV650 or FZ07.

      • Provologna says:

        I suppose the business and marketing argument for a race-replica spec SV650 and/or FZ07 is fail, because no such bike ever appears.

        But they might be able to presell every one of ’em. Even if the profit margin (in percent) was a little smaller than the standard models, the halo effect would be tremendous for the entire line, especially the standard models.

        Just the usual items: race replica brakes and suspension, special frame/swingarm tuning, special livery, HP head work, limited production numbers, document with signature of a member of the MotoGP race team who performed final performance tests (marketing touch), free race track class, etc. The motor could be enlarged if it would help.

        For lower SRP, such bike should outperform this 701, except for small weight penalty.

        I don’t think I’m the only one who’d prefer such bike over the same OEM Superbike, or a boutique OEM like this 701. For me, dealer support alone skews the scales toward the mainstream OEM.

        • Neal says:

          I think slapping something like the GSX-S750’s front end and a stiffer shock on the SV and calling it something like the SV650R would be enough. There’s over a grand difference in price between the SV and the S750, surely there’s room for an upgraded “R” version. Yamaha put out a Bolt R at a $400 premium, I wonder what the take rate on that was.

    • jimmihaffa says:

      I am surprised that a creative design has not been attempted to address the lack of luggage/stubby tail shortfall you, Brimoto. A 180 degree locking flip hinge tail section could be developed to add storage capacity or even serve as a mount for luggage without compromising appearance.

    • Dman says:

      OK, I’m probably one of the 25 that would seriously consider this bike, but not one of the 12 that would actually buy it, as suggested in an above comment. But seriously, the lack of fuel capacity and storage IS a real issue for me. A little more practicality wouldn’t affect the appearance much, or add much cost, but could double the number of potential buyers. By the way, I have an older Monster and a 650 thumper and ride the thumper more often and further distances than the Duc. Every new variation on the 690/701 brings me closer to buying one, but it will probably be a Duke or an Adventure … if they ever get around to making one. But this Vitpilen is pretty stunning.