The Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 (“white arrow” in Swedish) will make you rethink what you believe about single-cylinder motorcycles.
Yes the liquid-cooled 692.7cc single buzzes at high revs and feels lumpy if under-revved, but with two balancer shafts, 55kW of power and weighing only 157kg, it feels more like a twin.
Still, Husqvarna Australia is going to have a difficult time convincing road bike riders to spend $17,500 (+ORC) for a single-cylinder bike. That’s despite the 701 coming with a lot of standard “goodies” such as Bi-Directional Quick Shifter, Brembo Brakes with braided lines, LED lighting and WP Suspension.
That compares with the Ducati Monster 797 ($13,790), Honda CB650FA ($9999), Kawasaki Ninja 6540 ($999), KTM 690 Duke R ($14,495), Suzuki 650X ($10,190), Triumph Street Triple R ($15,850) and Yamaha MT-07 HO ($10,299).
Similarly, the learner-approved 401 Vitpilen has been a poor seller since it was launched earlier this year as it is also very expensive ($11,592 ride away), even though it has a lot of similar exotic components.
The 701 is a slightly bigger and easier bike than the 401 with a longer wheelbase and swingarm.
Together with a steep steering angle, the bike has that unique feeling of sharp and light steering together with high-speed stability.
It’s a combination that makes it reasonably versatile as well as great fun.
The WP suspension is a highlight of this package with a subtle and plush initial stroke leading up to heavy springing and hard compression and damping.
Result is a surprisingly compliant ride, yet with sporty cornering characteristics.
Rather than hating the single-cylinder engine, I quite enjoyed its low and midrange torque and its willingness to spin up and rev hard.
If you keep it singing in its sweet zone between 4500 and 6500 revs, it is smooth and delightfully responsive.
It revs at 4500rpm at 100km/h in sixth and needs you to drop down one cog for overtaking, but that’s quick and easy with the quick shifter that wrks in both directions – up and down.
The first couple of gears are a bit tall which makes it difficult for commuting, especially with an unlikely heavy hydraulic clutch.
But the spread of gear ratios is good for everything else.
After a long day in the saddle you would have tingling fingers from the buzzing engine.
The ride-by-wire throttle is smooth and helps with low-speed cornering and feet-up u-turns.
Stopping power is via Brembo with a single 320mm disc up front.
That might not seem like a lot, but it has plenty of initial bite and quick progression to awesome full stopping power.
In fact, with a little bit of drive in the forks from the initial plushness of the stroke, it feels like it will throw you over the bars in an emergency stop! It doesn’t, but it feels a little strange at first.
By comparison, the rear brake feels soft and requires a lot of pressure to reap full benefits.
The styling is modern and confronting with that big gap over the back wheel and the remote fender hugger with indicators and number plate. It looks like a stick insect.
But fit and finish on the 701 is quite good with bronzed accents, sturdy triple clamps and aluminium fuel cap.
My only styling concerns are the radiator that sticks out much wider than the very narrow bike, the messy cabling around the engine and the basic looking exhaust pipe.
The pipe has a quite muffled sound that is drowned out by the noisy mechanical engine.
Thanks to the single-cylinder engine, it’s quite a tall bike with an 830mm seat.
Riding position is unusual as you lean forward to clip-on bars with no fairing protection so you tend to lean heavily on the handlebars. Wind resistance at speed helps support your wrists.
It’s not the most comfortable riding position and together with a hard seat with sharp edges and a tank with similar sharp edges, you will be pulling up for a rest long before the 300km range of the 12-litre tank.
There is little room for a pillion and only a seat sash to hang on to.
The simple instrument pod is a single round pod with a glass cover and all-digital information like on the 401.
Information in the display is very small and difficult to read and the glass shield over the glass pod makes it almost impossible to read in high-glare situations.
If you can get over the price and the single pot, the Vitpilen 701 is a fun bike for commuting and short rides that will certainly turn heads.
Perhaps the more versatile Svartpilen “scrambler” model coming next year will be an easier sell.
We picked up the bike from Oliver’s Motorcycleswhich is hosting an official public launch on Thursday, 16 August, 2018, at 6pm. See their Facebook page for more details.
They are also offering a prize of a weekend away on the bike with a night’s accommodation at a Pepper’s resort thrown in.
Husqvarna Vitilen 701
Single cylinder, 4-stroke
55 kW (75 hp) @ 8,500 rpm
72 Nm @ 6,750 rpm
Electric starter/12V 8.6Ah
Keihin EFI (throttle body 50 mm)
4 V/OHC with intake cam levers and exhaust rocker arm