I hadn’t ridden a motorcycle in close to 20 years, but I maintained my motorcycle license for whenever that soulless phase of my life would end. While crossing an intersection on a walk with my daughters a few weeks into the COVID-19 quarantine, I froze in the middle of the crosswalk and did a double-take at something I’d never seen before. In an instant, my dormant love of motorcycles was awakened. All I could absorb before getting out of the way of the traffic before the signal changed was “Husq” on the tailpipe, alien glyphs on the side of a spaceship-like gas tank and an intense need to figure out what I had just witnessed. Soon I determined the glyphs read “701”.
Typing “Husq” into the googles finished the word: Husqvarna. Drilling further I discovered that my eyes, nay, my very core had been exposed to either a Vitpilen or Svartpilen 701 cloaked in a futuristic charcoal grey and bronze matte finish. Wow. And then I found the Svartpilen 401, with knobby tires, a skid-plate and a tank rack — what became the bike of my dreams.
For the next two weeks, under a shelter-in-place order from the California governor, I sat at my kitchen table fulfilling my 9-5 day job functions and spending the remaining hours of the day watching every video I could find related to the Husqvarna Svartpilen and Vitpilen 701 and 401, trying to decide which one I must have. Would the 401 not be powerful enough, considering my previous main bikes were a 650 and 750 — or would the 701 be too much bike for me, since I’m essentially a noob again after getting married, having kids, and finding “less dangerous” ways of entertaining myself.
Bolstered by the age old wisdom that it’s much more fun to ride a small bike hard than baby a big bike, along with the fact that for 2020, a 401 costs only $4,999US vs $9,499 for the 701 ($6,299 and $12,000+ for 2018 and 2019), I chose the 401. All my previous bikes were what I considered Japanese cruisers: a 1980 Honda CB750 Custom, a 1980 CB650 Custom, a 1970 CB450, and a 1980-something Kawasaki KZ550. This time I wanted something completely different and the futuristic Tron-style cafe-racer/scrambler Svartpilen 401 was exactly what I didn’t know I was missing in my life.
Husqvarna began in 1689 in the town of Huskvarna making rifles by decree of the king of Sweden. They are the oldest continuously operating company that makes motorcycles. Their logo is a rifle sight. In the US, they are best know for making chainsaws and sewing machines, but also for their prowess in the field of dirt bike racing.
Flash forward to 1987 and the Italian motorcycle company Cagiva acquired Husqvarna Motorcycles. In 2013 ownership transferred to the Austrian motorcycle company KTM. Around that time Husky decided to get back into the street-bike game and based the new lines, at least on the naming convention of their last street bike, the Silver Pilen, a notable favorite of Steve McQueen back in his day.
The 2018 and 2019 ‘Pilens were made in Austria, but for 2020 manufacturing of some of the models moved to India and possibly explains the drop in price. For me, it was the deciding factor in grabbing one of the last couple of new 2019 Svarts in Southern California after haggling the price down to as close to $5k as I could before the 2020 models arrived.
Defying the law of the land, I grabbed my bandanna and a ride from a corona-free buddy and drove into the Valley to close the deal and ride my bike home along the back-roads through Topanga Canyon and down the Pacific Coast Highway to Redondo Beach.
Riding a brand new Svartpilen 401 is so much smoother and felt so much quicker than any recollection I have of riding my bikes from the 80s, most of which weighed well over 500 lbs. The 401 and the 701 are 335 lbs and 355 lbs respectively. The 44-HP rated 401 is capable of pulling its weight far quicker than I should ask of it. The 701 has 77HP for nearly the same dry weight — but no knobby tires, skid plate, or road warrior feel.
The bike sits tall with a seat height of 32.87″. My 30″ inseam means one foot down or toes on both sides. That said, I was used to it immediately and it has not been even slightly an issue. It might though if I’m moving slow off-road in gnarly terrain, but that hasn’t happened yet. The positioning is more like a dirt bike than a cruiser or sport bike, but it’s incredibly nimble due to the higher center of gravity and extreme light weight. It’s narrow and shoots between tight cars at intersections, at least until I swapped bar-end mirrors for the antennae-like mirrors that provide mostly a view of my shoulders, and widened the bike by 8″ or so. Even so, it goes where Harleys and other big bikes have to stop and wait.
I made one of the more common modifications to the bike, besides swapping the mirrors, and removed the ugly, heavy rear bumper, which was installed to meet regulations requiring the license plate to be mounted behind the rear tire in some states. I made a DIY tail tidy / fender eliminator, but it’s not perfect and I may end up buying one. Under the weight of my new saddlebags, the license plate bounced into the tire and bent into a neat profile of the tire.
With only three model years so far, there are not many accessories built specifically for theses bikes and the Husky brand gear is rather pricey, but I found what I think are the best saddlebags one can get that fit the bike almost perfectly, the VUZ Moto Dry Saddlebags. They don’t hit the tail pipe and they don’t require any additional support rack to keep from sagging inward and hitting the tire, though to do that, I used the lower compression straps to secure the bag to the frame rather than the intended straps. I’m going to review these bags in detail in another article, so I won’t get int the rational here, but the bags work as well as can be imagined — espeacially for $89, rather the minimum $400 I’ve seen for equivalent name brand bags. Plus, the company that makes VUZ Moto gear is located in Chico, a great college town in northern California.
I have no complaint whatsoever. Only pleasure arises from sitting on and riding the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401.