With the supplanting of the veteran KTM 690 Duke with the all-new 790 Duke, the platform was looking for a home. KTM handed the Duke to the closely related Husqvarna brand, and the cafe-style Vitpilen 701 was born last year. Now, we have the Svartpilin 701—an upright version of the Vitpilen. The 2019 Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 takes inspiration from bare-bones flat trackers, reimagining the sporting Duke as a gritty urban motorcycle ready for the zombie apocalypse—both visually and functionally.
1. Husqvarna massaged the KTM 690 Duke into an urban dweller. After reprising the Duke as the canyon brawling Vitpilen 701 last year, the Svartpilen 701 gets modifications to make it a more effective motorcycle in downtown environments. Changes from the Duke that were carried over from the Vitpilen 701 include a larger diameter front wheel, quicker steering geometry, and supermoto-style rubber. For city battle, the Svartpilen gets longer suspension travel to make short work of potholes, plus fully upright ergonomics with a wide handlebar. Match the changes to the fabulous thumper motor, and you have an incredible motorcycle for city dwellers.
2. Handling is deft, with only a light touch needed to change direction on the 2019 Husqvarna Svartpilen 701. Weighing in at a featherweight 369 pounds with its 3.2-gallon fuel tank filled, the Svartpilen 701 is more than happy to change direction at the behest of its rider. Compared to the Duke, Husqvarna tucked the rake in 1.5 degrees to 25 degrees, and also shortened the wheelbase by an inch. Add in the narrower 18-inch front tire and the leverage offered by the off-road bend handlebar, and you get the message—the Svartpilen 701 is agility defined. It is pure fun when dueling with unpredictable traffic on cobblestone streets, as I did in Lisbon during the testing. 3. With a fairly tall perch, you get a good view of your surroundings.
Part of successfully navigating urban environments is seeing and being seen. The Svartpilen 701’s seat is nearly 33 inches above the pavement. Even though I’m 5’ 6”, that wasn’t a challenge for me as I also ride dirt bikes. It’s easy to see what’s going on around you when you’re that high, and I’m less likely to be missed by the four-wheel crowd. Of course, when you’re on a motorcycle that routinely turns heads—that keeps you visible, and is one of the benefits of owning a Svartpilen.
4. The ergonomics are welcoming to a wide variety of riders. Unlike the Vitpilen 701, the Svartpilen 701’s rider triangle is relaxed and upright with a wider, sweptback bend to the bars and riser mounting. They are easy to reach with only a slight forward lean, and the footpegs allow a relaxed, natural bend for my 30.5-inch inseam legs. The low-profile seat is definitely on the minimalist side, but the firm perch is surprisingly comfortable for the around-town sprints and the short canyon runs the Svartpilen is most likely to engage in.
5. The 2019 Husqvarna 701’s short-stroke thumper works perfectly for bounding around town. With easy power on tap from idle on up, the 693cc motor pulls effortlessly from any rpm. It’s not quite an electric motor, but it has an almost immediate, linear acceleration that is quickly addicting. The Svartpilen 701 will make short work of commuting blues, delivering you to work with an uncaffeinated adrenaline high.
6. With 75 horses on tap, the 701 is absolutely highway friendly, even on the most competitive urban freeways. As a naked bike with a wider handlebar, the windblast will likely keep you from indulging in extra-legal digits for an extended length of time. The Svartpilen is nicely stable at these full speeds despite the shorter wheelbase, and you can get a reassuringly secure and comfortable grip around the bike with your legs.
7. The powerband on the torquey 701 is extremely wide, so shifting the six-speed transmission is infrequent, and easy when you need to change gears. When you’re on the gas hustling through busy conditions, you’ll find yourself taking advantage of the up/down quickshifter that Husqvarna gave to the Svartpilen 701. It’s mostly flawless, and a feature that’s easy to get used to and come to expect.
8. The suspension and tires do an excellent job of absorbing rough urban routes. Husqvarna gave the Svartpilen 701 longer suspension travel than the Vitpilen and the Duke—it’s almost six inches now—and that helps quite a bit in the city. The WP units are fully adjustable front and rear, though that adjustability seems like a bit of overkill for city riding. The taller 18-inch front wheel and higher profile tires are well-matched to worn-out city streets. The Pirelli MT 60 RS tires roll over rumpled asphalt, train tracks, and brick lanes with assurance.
9. A bare-bones vogue doesn’t mean unsophisticated. Despite the Svartpilen’s no-frills couture, the Black Arrow has upscale parts and the latest technological wardrobe to improve power delivery, handling, and safety. Ride-by-wire throttle enables traction control and the Bosch 9M ABS. Both are defeatable should you feel the need to do wheelies—perfectly understandable with so much available torque and a 369-pound motorcycle. Traction control and ABS are not intrusive in normal riding conditions and provide a welcome safety net, as does the slipper clutch during aggressive downshifts.
10. With the Duke’s pedigree, impress your friends in the twisties on the weekend. The Svartpilen 701 is a fully capable sportbike. It doesn’t have the planted feel of the Duke, but the 75-horsepower motor is magic. The wide bars and upright seating give excellent leverage. Although the Svartpilen 701 is not nervous, quick handling means you’ll need to be on your toes. Tighter conditions will make the best use of the chassis.