Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 review: “They are so far ahead of the curve”
Story: Harry Fisher
Art can be a conundrum; is it merely for decoration or can it have a purpose? Yes, the purpose can be to convey a message or provoke an emotion but can it have a physical purpose? Can it be useful? Alternatively, can something that exists solely to have a practical purpose be considered art?
If you are wondering what has brought on this philosophical introduction, then it’s a very easy answer; the Husqvarna Vitpilen 701.
Now, if you are anything like me, then you will consider many engineering creations to be art, whether it is a building, a bridge, a plane, train, ship or a motorcycle. There is artistic beauty in engineering solutions, quite before the surface glitter has been applied; sometimes more so when the workings are left exposed.
The traditional cafe racer was a home-built race replica. Nowadays, of course, the concept has been adopted by several manufacturers for production models in the relatively recent retro bike class. While all have modern underpinnings, they all wear traditional clothing of more or less authenticity. There is a parallel with a work of art in that, while some artists might follow a particular style while incorporating modern subject matter, other painters develop their own style that owes nothing to anything that has been before. That, in a nutshell, is the Vitpilen 701.
This really is the cafe racer brought right up to date, even futuristic. The looks could be described as controversial but only because they are so far ahead of the curve. Live with them for a while and they grow on you and suddenly everything else is looking really old fashioned.
There is nothing old-fashioned about the performance, however. A 693cc single-cylinder engine might sound a bit underwhelming until you remember it is the engine out of the KTM 690 Duke; 71 bhp, 70Nm of torque, twin balancer shafts to make it totally smooth pushing along an all-up weight of 164kg. It’s a flyweight packing a heavyweight punch and it is ridiculous fun around town; light, nimble, super punchy performance. Having said that, it feels so unstressed and long-legged on the highway that you are often going much faster than you think although wind protection is absolutely nil.
A single front disc is not what you would expect to find but the equipment is all top drawer stuff and, with the light weight of the bike, is plenty strong enough, while maybe lacking the initial bite that twin discs would give. Suspension is WP front and back and fully adjustable and the quick-shifter and auto-blipper invite completely unnecessary gear changes. For once, the standard exhaust looks and sounds good.
The riding position is typical cafe racer; quite extreme with a stretched reach to the clip-on handlebars, which can get a little tiring when riding around town for any length of time. But it does make you feel very racy, especially if you use the available performance to its fullest; it really is a complete blast to ride.
But you just can’t get away from those looks. It’s so unconventional yet it works. It’s completely distinctive and every detail – and there are a lot of them – works perfectly with every other detail; the more you look, the more you see, the more you like. It turns heads like no other bike. In my time with the bike, I had drivers follow me into car parks just to find out what it was and have a closer look and that’s never happened even with the most exotic of superbikes.
The Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 – and its sister, the Swartpilen which has more of a flat tracker rising position – is completely distinctive and, beyond calling it a cafe racer, defies categorisation. It is unconventional in looks and every detail is impressive. It goes like stink and puts a huge grin on your face.
Not a bad mix, then.
Quick Specs – Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
Engine: 693cc single, DOHC, twin balancer shafts
Seat Height: 830mm
The Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 and the rest of the Husqvarna range is available from Biker’s Warehouse:
Tel: 011 795 4122